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Making an overhead camera stand for online teaching

As I transition to holding online classes to supplement live and in person classes, I needed an overhead view of my work table. The traditional way to do this (outside of a fancy filming studio) is with a “C-stand” that is sturdy/heavy, stands on the floor next to your work table and has a boom arm that extends over the table. Then you hang the camera/iPad/iPhone from the boom arm. Cue COVID delays in shipping. I tried the one I could get in time for this week’s Perfect Bindings class at the first ever Mancuso online shows. The accessories didn’t fit the boom arm. Back they went!

Cue: Mama’s brainstorming, Mama and son’s (Joshua) creativity, and Joshua’s awesome tools (Band saw! drill! Random bits and bobs) and construction experience and help, and a stand using leftover stuff and $5 in supplies.

A DIY overhead camera stand

The wooden “light stands” were built based on information from Holly Knott’s wonderful “Shoot That Quilt” section on her website about taking great photos yourself of your quilts to enter in shows and magazines: two pieces of 2×4 lumber and four cheap shelf brackets for each stand.

Ignore the dust, cat hair, pug hair and thread. Please. Sorry. Here’s the link to Holly’s useful webpage on quilt photography.

Joshua, our older son, did some electrical work for Mom and Dad (us) a while back, and introduced us to something called Unistrut. Link here. It is a bit heavy, which is why I looked at C-stands to begin with, but that is also its virtue: it is totally rigid. Rigid helps keep your camera (in my case my iPad) stable.

The upper brackets were from something else that was modified. Knew they’d be handy! I bought two small black brackets with one hole on each side. Joshua said I needed two holes to prevent the small L brackets from wobbling, so using his awesome power tools (tool envy!), he just drilled an extra hole. He cut the Unistrut in about 8 seconds with his band saw. It would have taken me the better part of an hour with a manual hacksaw! The length is the width of my table plus an extra inch or so to help maneuver the stand into place.
The ruler is serving as my iPad’s stunt double because I was too lazy to run upstairs and get the iPad while taking photos. Can you tell from the clutter how chaotic it has been?
I CAN’T WAIT to have a MASSIVE TIDY ATTACK!
I wanted the iPad above the bar for added stability and so I could have full access to the screen while teaching live online workshops.
A close up view of the stand attaching to the unistrut. Here’s a link to the iPad holder on Amazon. It isn’t the most rigid thing and the little grip thingies that hold the iPad in place aren’t huge, so that’s another reason to have the iPad on top supported by the cross bar and not just those four little pads.

SO if you are wondering what your teachers does to get ready for you, this is just one small but vital component. If you are going to TEACH online, I hope this helps you–please feel free to ask questions! MASSIVELY HUGE thanks to Lyric Kinard for her help on so many things on the technical side over the years, and to Lee Chappell who gave us newbie online teachers for the Mancuso show a studio tour by Zoom to share with us how she set things up. And THANK YOU to my wonderful, creative son who comes home and always wants to do some sort of “fix up” something for his mom and dad. Joshua, you ROCK!

2 Responses to “Making an overhead camera stand for online teaching”

  1. Janis Doucette Says:

    Wow, Sarah! Good instructions! One question: will that table now be a dedicated to this task? Seems daunting to disassemble and re-assemble each time you need to use it.

  2. Sarah Ann Smith Says:

    It is already disassembled until the next time. The whole rigamarole is why to intrusive and bulky and annoying to leave set up! The white umbrella diffusers for the lights are the most claustrophobia-inducing, but the overhead camera set up is like working with overhead cupboards in front of your nose LOL! So yeah, it’s a fuss to set up and take down, but that is way better than living with it set up!

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