The overhead video shot has taken social media by storm, thanks to Buzzfeed’s series of “Tasty” videos. Here’s an example of this style of video:
But it doesn’t just work well for food—the overhead, bird’s eye view-style offers a unique way to showcase any type of how to, project, or display that takes place on a table. It can be used for dramatic effect—or just to add a little bit of variety to your video. And it's also popular for stop motion videos.
But this look may feel out of reach for those without fancy equipment. We’ll show you how to set up an overhead video shot with what you have on hand—or with equipment that can be acquired easily (and on a budget).
Camera or smartphone with tripod attachment
Optional: Pile of books or boardgames
If you’ve got a tripod, this one’s easy. Simply extend the legs to their tallest setting and aim the camera down as far as it’ll go.
If you’re feeling adventurous, lean the tripod against the table you’ll be shooting on. Try leaning 2 of the 3 legs for maximum stability. You can place a pile of books or another object under the third leg in the back (we used board games!). Just make sure your setup is stable before you begin shooting (tips below).
If you can’t get your camera to point down at exactly a 90-degree angle, that’s ok. You can still achieve this look without a completely true-to-life bird’s eye view.
Here are a few tips to help you use achieve an overhead shot with a tripod successfully:
Stabilize your tripod.
The first thing you’ll want to do is stabilize your tripod. You don’t want it to lean in the wrong direction or fall over while you’re shooting. Depending on the size or weight of your tripod, you may be able to achieve this by setting up some books or weights on the floor or using some gaffer tape or other tape that won’t destroy your table when you pull it off.
Do a walk through.
Before you start recording, do a quick walk through with all your props as a test. Look through the viewfinder each step of the way to preview your shot. Ideally, you’ll be able to keep the camera in the same position for the entire time you’re shooting without anything getting cut off, so make any adjustments needed to make this possible.
Mark off the the visible area of your table.
Along with doing a walk-through, you may find it helpful to place tape or an object just outside the area you can see in your shot. This’ll help ensure that you don’t accidentally place any important objects outside the field of vision while you’re recording.
Charge your battery or set up near an outlet.
Make sure your battery is fully charged or, if you don’t have a long-lasting battery, make sure your table is near an outlet. There’s nothing more annoying than having to stop in the middle of a process you’re recording to charge. It may also be hard to get your phone or camera set up in exactly the same spot again if you have to move it to charge your battery.
Be conscious of your tripod.
When you’re focused on what’s happening on the table, it can be easy to forget about the camera and tripod that’s recording the action. Make sure to be conscious of the tripod while you’re shooting to avoid accidentally kicking it mid-shoot. With this setup, the dreaded tripod kick is likely to happen if you aren’t paying close attention.
Watch out for steam.
This is important if you’re creating a recipe video. Having your camera or smartphone too close to the pot could result in a foggy shot (or worse yet, damage to your camera!). So be sure to position your camera high enough, or at an angle, that it doesn’t get in the way of the steam.
Smartphone with a camera
This is a super hacky approach to a DIY overhead shot setup, but it works—we’ve tried it! This hack involves creating a cardboard case for your phone, with an opening for your camera, that can be taped to the ceiling or the bottom of a cabinet. We’ll show you how it works in this video:
Some of the tips from our previous setup apply here too—like making sure your phone is charged before you get started. Here are some tips that apply to this overhead shot hack in particular:
Do a walk through.
You’ll have to approach the walk through a little differently for this one. Because this setup doesn’t let you view what the camera sees in real time, you’ll have to do a test recording and then remove your phone from the casing to preview. For this reason, it may take a little longer for you to get your shot set up just right.
Make sure your phone is facing the right direction.
When you attach your casing to the ceiling or cabinet top, make sure it’s set up so it’s facing in the right direction for your project. Are you recording a vertical shot? Landscape? While you’re doing your walk through you can also pay attention to how your final clips are oriented.
Make sure your casing is secured!
This one is important. Make sure that you use enough tape to ensure that your case is secure so your phone doesn’t fall in the middle of your shoot. Some phones are heavier than others and might need a little extra tape.
Use non-stick tape.
As we mentioned in the leaning tripod setup, be sure to use a variety of tape that won’t destroy your ceiling or cabinet when you peel it off.
Flexible Camera Tripod
Camera or smartphone with attachment
Something to wrap your tripod around
Flexible tripods can be wrapped around and secured to almost any object. I personally love the JOBY GorillaPod, but you can find other options by simply searching for “flexible camera tripod.” They’re affordable and really come in handy for shooting video on the go. Because they are so flexible, they work well for holding cameras in non-traditional directions, such as face down for an overhead shot.
Try attaching your flexible tripod to a cabinet above your counter or to a tall object on your counter, such as a lamp, a curtain rod secured to the wall, or anything you’ve got on hand. Get creative and have fun with it!
Again, a lot of the same tips we listed above apply here—do a walk-through to preview how your shot will look before you officially start shooting, make sure your phone or camera is charged, and stay conscious of your setup while shooting so you don’t bump your camera mid-shot. Here are some flexible tripod-specific tips:
Get the right attachment.
If you’re purchasing a GorillaPod or other flexible tripod for the first time, make sure you get one with the right attachment for your needs. They come with attachments for smartphones and different types of cameras, so just double-check you’ve got the right one in your cart before making your purchase.
Make sure your camera is secure.
When attaching your flexible tripod to whatever you’re attaching it to, just be sure to double check that it’s secure. You may have to try bending the legs in a few different ways before you find the one that works best.
All of these setups require some creativity, but this last one is about really diving in, getting creative, and making up your own setup with what you’ve got around the house.
I do a lot of stop motion and, when I’m putting together something that requires a bird’s eye view, I use a very professional setup with a tripod, a couple of weights, and some stackable plastic drawers! I use the floor for my setup, but something like this could work on a tabletop too.
If you want to try a setup that’s a bit more advanced, check out this great article from Wistia. We’re especially intrigued by the mirror rig setup!
Now you’re armed with what you need to elevate your video footage (get it?!). Once you give it a try for yourself, we’d love to know how you set up your shot. Let us know in the comments or share a photo or video with us on social media. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or join our closed Social Video Marketing Community on Facebook.