3 Ways to Set Up an Overhead Camera Rig

Big flat lays are very much in trend both commercially and with social media. Here are three ways that I set up the camera on an overhead rig as well as their pros and cons.

Flat lays seem to be here to stay. As a food photographer, they are a staple of my portfolio. I probably shoot more flat lays than any other angle in my line of work. They are also becoming more popular as thumbnails on YouTube and for any brand to display their products on social media. 

In this video, I look at the three methods that I commonly use. The C Stand seems to be the trend on YouTube at the moment, although it is incredibly unstable. There is the super clamp on to the studio background stand, which is my preferred on-location option if the space allows. And then, there's the massive studio stand, which is great in a studio, but not really a viable option anywhere else. 

Although these are the three main options that I cover in the video, I have myself used a few other rigs in the past, including dangling off a high ladder with a Phase One in one hand while the other grips the ladder tightly. Camera shake, framing, and safety are perhaps somewhat an issue here, but when the surprise monster flat lay is sprung upon you, it can get you out of a tight spot. Please don't attempt it yourself.

I don't mention it in the video, but when I use the C stand or super clamp option, I tend to tether my camera to it with either the strap of something similar, just in case it does drop. It is always good to have a backup plan. 

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10 Comments

T Van's picture

I like placing a mirror to bounce the shot off for another option.

Jon The Baptist's picture

Option 4 - Induro 505XXL and a Manfrotto 131D.

The C-Stand is hilariously unstable for on location. The Induro gets tall enough where nobody is working on their knees (this I have ABSOLUTELY NO PATIENCE FOR, your stylists deserve better than that), and you can still walk under and around it. Hang a sandy from the center, you’re solid as a rock.

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1158032-REG/induro_git505xxl_t505...

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/554331-REG/Manfrotto_131DB_131D_L...

Deleted Account's picture

2 light stands.
3 superclamps.
Ball head.
Piece of 2x1 planed timber.
Superclamp on top of each stand.
Timber clamped between them
3rd clamp in middle with ball head and camera fitted.
A round horizontal bar is poo. It rotates all the time. Annoying.
Failing that I just clamp the camera on the railing of the mezzanine above my studio floor.

(Obvs, need a mezzanine floor and railing for that one and is less portable)

Robert Montgomery's picture

I follow Wyle E. Coyote Acme Designs in my set up .

Lee Christiansen's picture

To be honest, I happily use a C-Stand for my overheads. But I do have there weights (one on each leg) up to about 15kg in total.

As to wobble / focus accuracy... I can't imagine why anyone would want to shoot a flat-lay with shallow DoF. I shoot my overheads at f11 - f20 (Capture One does a lovely job of undoing diffraction effects at high f-stops)

I do like to get my camera high up and use a longer lens so as not to have distortion on objects, (more important on product than food), and because I'm shooting on a perspex table to get a white background a couple of feet underneath, that height is very useful.

I have a simple tripod tilt head on an adapter which goes on a grip head with spigot. Because my camera is pointing down, I don't have issues with twisting.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

It doesn't matter how much you weigh down the base, the flex is due to the dimension of the arm and the weight at the end of it.

The only remedy is to change the weight ratio and dimensions of the arm.

C-stand with single-arm seems to be very popular amongst beginners for overhead shots, it's like they never heard of a tripod.. :-)

EDIT: Just to clarify I do NOT refer to Lee Christiansen as a beginner. I'm referring to various youtubers who recommend this to their subscribers, this without taking into account of the fact many people starting out do not even know how to set up a C-stand properly.

Tony Clark's picture

I shoot mainly on location and my preference is the heavy tripod with arm, C Stand with Super clamp or travel tripod with articulating arm. It is all about stability and confidence in having your camera up high. It's amazing how people on set don't pay attention to where camera, lights and scrims are and bump into them. Survival of the fittest or natural selection?

Zeph Colombatto's picture

Question and open to suggestions here.
I have a shoot coming up where the client wants a top down shot of a hotel lobby floor design... Preferably as wide as possible. I have access to the second story balcony looking down over the lobby floor.
I was going to shoot a top down shot of the area in the close vicinity of the balcony with the C stand rig, and thought to use that for the rest of the areas around the floor as well.
Now I'm considering adding the cross bar and two light stands with the super clamp set up as well for other spots...
All while the camera (Sony a7r3) is mounted and tethered to C1 below and out of frame.

Thoughts? Suggestions?

Originally the client suggested drone shots of the space interiors, but theres a massive chandelier and the hotel will be open to guests as we do this. Not to mention I'm not a drone pilot or shooter at all. So I want to be as unobtrusive as possible.

Thanks!

alex muccilli's picture

rolling stand and super boom. lots of safety cables and counter weights

eric krouse's picture

Here's mine from last week. It was the maiden voyage for the rig. 8ft length of aluminum square tube superclamped to two light stands (1004BAC's) The A clamps on either end were to cover the ends (protective endcaps now installed.) Future Improvements: shoot tethered- I'm 6'4", the AD was 5'4". At a certain height, the flippy screen doesn't cut it. We resorted to Live View on the Fuji app, but ask anyone how they like that gem of software and prepare to duck flying beer bottles. A geared head would have sped things up considerably, too.