DIY: Adjustable Overhead Camera Flash

Pedco camera flash mount
Adjustable overhead camera flash setup mounted to 3⅜”-thick ceiling beam

Along with the cocktail menu, one of the defining features of Fantabulon is the photo booth. Beginning with Fantabulon: Summer Camp!, the photo booth provided a way of capturing hundreds of pictures throughout the nights and has served as a reliable way of preserving memories of the parties—especially important with such free-flowing libations. For the upcoming Fantabulon V!!, I wanted something more ambitious than what was used in the past: a point-and-shoot camera running CHDK connected to a laptop via an Eyefi SD card and lit with those cheap, industrial-looking clamp lights with daylight CFL bulbs. That setup kind of worked, but the camera couldn’t be tethered and didn’t have a hot shoe for flashes.

Since the room housing the photo booth is being converted from a bedroom to the Champagne Room (a sort of lounge area within Fantabulon), bright, continuous lighting of the sort previously used would ruin the mood. Instead, I’m going to use flashes (aka speedlights). The problem is that I want my light sources to be as close to the subjects as possible, so positioning the flashes along the opposite wall of the room is less than ideal. Mounting the flashes on stands in the middle of the room would likewise detract from the vibe of the room. The solution? Mount the flashes on the exposed beams in the ceiling!

Here’s what I needed to do that:

Pedco UltraClamp flash overhead ceiling mount components
Components for making an overhead camera flash mount

At roughly 8′ high (a common ceiling height), the beams are too high for directly mounting the flashes, and at 3⅜” thick, a very large clamp is needed to handle the beams. The Pedco 4″ UltraClamp and the Neewer 15″-31″ telescoping pole were just what I needed to bring the flash down to a reasonable height. (The latter comes with an ugly foam handle for selfies, which is easily slid over the bottom end.) The two are joined by a common ‭¼”-20 screw adapter, and an adjustable flash shoe is fitted to the telescoping pole. To diffuse the flash, I elected to go with the Fstoppers flash disc, although something else like a Rogue FlashBender or a shoot-through umbrella will do—as long as the light modifier is lightweight enough. I elected to add an external battery for a faster recycle time and longer battery life, and the particular one I chose has a ‭¼”-20 screw, which is perfect because the Pedco clamp has two ‭¼”-20 holes.

The whole setup (batteries included) weighs about 3 lb, well under the 6 lb weight rating of the clamp, and it feels really solid when properly tightened to the beam. Rubber and vinyl coverings on the clamp keep it from marring the surface of the beam and probably provide a little extra friction over bare metal.

This isn’t the most budget-friendly solution. At the time of this writing, everything pictured will run you about $220 or so, but you could knock off about $90 by using a bare flash and a cheaper flash shoe mount and omitting the external battery. Depending on your particular application, you may be able to get away with using a smaller clamp too.

In the event you don’t have exposed beams, you may still be able to achieve a similar effect by mounting a pole overhead (perhaps a shower curtain rod or by hanging a thick dowel or lighting truss from the ceiling). I’ve used the dowel trick to mount a pinspot for the disco ball and LED PAR lights in the main party space. All it took was some chain, a few quick releases, and a few eye screws.

One last thing: since the flash is mounted off camera, you’ll need a way of remotely triggering it. I’m using a Yongnuo YN560-TX, but any sort of radio trigger or optical slave mode will work.

[Disclaimer: In attempting to mount something overhead, you assume any and all risk associated with said thing falling on your or someone else’s head. Just because this worked for me is no guarantee that it will for you.]