DIY Overhead Shooting Rig


In all aspects of my work, I try create the conditions that allow for me to go as quickly as possible from having an idea to acting on that idea.

If I have to spend time looking for the right materials and setting up a space to do the work, then I’m giving Resistance the chance to rear its ugly head and provide a reason NOT to make the thing that I want to make.

Since my primary method of sharing ideas is video, I’ve built for myself an overhead shooting rig that has everything I need to make videos like the one you see above, videos in which I get to sketch out and narrate ideas that I find to be interesting and worth sharing.

With past setups, I’ve had to grab a tripod from the corner of the room, set it up, extend its arm, attach the camera, align the camera to point straight down, stand on a chair, pull down lights that were hanging from the ceiling, and hope that the bulbs hadn’t gone out yet.

I decided to make it might goal for every piece of this setup to be connected to my primary work desk. No tripods off to the side. No lights hanging from the ceiling. I wanted a fully self-contained unit.

Since I know that many of you are also interested in sharing your ideas in a similar way, I thought I’d lay out my entire setup and each of its components.

The Materials

First a quick rundown of the materials I use (some links below are affiliate links), then I’ll give a more detailed description of the setup:

The Setup

I decided to drill directly into my desk steel pipes from home depot to form an upside-down U which provides all of the support for cameras, lights, and any other accessories I might need while recording.

To attach my camera to the upper section of that support system, I use two things: a Manfrotto 386B Nano Clamp and 492 Micro Ball Head.

To that I attach my dedicated overhead shooting camera – a Canon Rebel T5i. Once I secured that in place and adjusted it so that it points directly downward, I decided to leave it there permanently so that it’s always ready to use.

Next, let’s talk lighting.

I’ve been using the small but powerful Aputure Amaran AL-M9 LED Mini Light, one on either side of the camera, at about the same height as the end of the lens, and attached to the side supports using Dinkum Systems ActionPods.

Those clamps have gorilla-pod-style arms that are flexible, which makes it easy to point the lights down toward the desk when recording sketches, and then toward me if I want to record a talking head portion for that video.

To keep the lights charged I’ve attached a power strip to one leg of the desk and run USB power cables along the support pipes. That keeps me from worrying about how long I’m able to record before the lights go out. (Though I do have to keep an eye on the battery for the camera – I don’t currently have cord power connected to that.)

The paper that I’ve been using lately has being either 24 x 36 in newsprint – that’s what you see in the video above, 18 x 24 in white drawing paper, or 9 x 12 in drawing paper, which I often will stick to the desk using double sided tape.

My go-to pens are Sharpie paint markers, double-tipped Permapaque markers from Sakura, and the Pentel Energel 0.7 pen.

That covers the shooting rig itself.

A couple of other tools to mention: the microphone I use for these narrations is the Blue YETI Microphone, which I connect via USB to a Macbook pro, which is also where I edit these videos using Adobe Premiere Pro.

And for talking head and b-roll portions of a video, I use a Canon G7X Mark II.

Keep Iterating

I’d say this is about the fourth iteration of my overhead shooting right. It requires a decent amount of setup, but once it’s up, it’s good to go, and it has served its purpose of closing that gap that used to exist between having an idea and doing something useful with that idea.

If you have similar goals, feel free to create your own setup like this one and tweak it as necessary to meet your needs.

If you’d like a deep dive into the entire planning process and editing workflow of videos like this one, check out my course How To Make Sketchnote Videos:

Good luck creating your own systems for conquering resistance.

See you again soon.

-Doug

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