8 tips for shooting better video with your smartphone

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Whether you want to record a live event or make a small video crowdfunding your cause, using your smartphone as the main video tool is strating to be great option!

Smartphones are turning into low cost, but good quality video tools, in the reach of almost everyone. Even professional video content creators are starting to see it as a viable option under certain circumstances.

 

However, you risk having a poor quality video, if you don’t have the right technique. In this article I’ll walk you through some good tips for shooting better video with your smartphone.

1. Choose the right orientation

The simplest rule-of-thumb is to ensure you always keep your smartphone horizontal when you are recording. This way your stakeholders will be able to see the video at full size on a monitor or TV screen. While shooting, this won’t seem like a problem, but when you play the video anywhere else outside your smartphone, you’ll see two large black bars on either side of the screen.

Do

shooting better video with your smartphone_05
Horizontal orientation

Don't

shooting better video with your smartphone_05
Vertical orientation

 

2. Make the image steady

In order to avoid distorted, blurred or annoying shaky image to your audience, you need to keep your phone steady while recording. The key thing to do is to hold your smartphone with both hands, and lock your elbows into your body. Plus, instead of using your arms to move the smartphone, use your whole body to make small movements and rotations.

Stabilizers, tripods and camera cages will also improve the stabilization of your smartphone. And if a tripod or stabilizer is too expensive for you, than resting your phone in a table, a shelf or a chair, can also be an option.

3. Shoot from different angles

Depending on the type of video you are making, you may want to shoot 10s to 15s small videos from different angles. After shooting the master shot, you can focus on small details and actions you want to highlight and shoot medium shots or close-ups. This will create a more dynamic and engaging video. Plus, it will allow you to split any text or dialog you want to say in front of the camera, making it a lot more easy to memorize.

 

4. Avoid zooming

Unless you have a dual-lens smartphone or camera accessories, avoid at all cost using the digital zoom. Since smartphones use digital zoom rather than optical zoom, by zooming you are just enlarging the picture digitally and increasing it’s pixelation. In other words, by going closer to your subject, you’ll ensure less digital noise and better image quality.

5. Compose your shots

A way to make your shots leave a lasting impression on your stakeholders is to apply some basic composition rules, designed to draw the viewer’s attention to a particular part of the shot. You’ll start to be more sensible to this with study and experience. But here are some tips that might help you to start:

  • Use the rule of thirds. If possible, activate a grid on your camera app and put your subject over one of the lines. If it’s a person, put its head over one of the top points, turned inside the frame.
  • Make your shot aligned with the floor or walls.
  • Give space behind the subject, so the shoot can breathe a little.
  • Avoid objects and movements in the background, that might steal your viewers attention from the main subject/action.
  • When you are composing a close-up of a person, is better to chop off the top of their head, than the chin.

6. Take attention to lighting

Proper lighting has an important impact on smartphone videos, because this cameras have smaller lenses and image sensors. Here are some tips to help you out:

  • Unless you want a more dark and dramatic style, you should shoot in even brightly areas. Avoiding hard shadows or poorly lightened grainy videos.
  • You should also avoid pointing the camera directly at bright light sources (avoiding this way lens flaring or overexposed footage).
  • Finally, when outdoors, try to film in a short period of time (since the light changes with time) and avoid filming in the middle of the day (where the shadows are stronger).

 

7. Set the exposure and focus to manual

To avoid your smartphone to keep adjusting the exposure and focus while you’re filming, try to press and hold on an area of the screen to activate the AE(Auto Exposure)/AF(Auto Focus) Lock function. This way, you’ll be able to lock and adjust the exposure and focus on a specific area of the screen. Giving you good exposure and focus for the whole shot.

8. Record good audio

The sound of a video (voice, music, sound environment, sfx, …) is as important as the image. It will give ambiance, focus, credibility and emotion to your video. So don’t underestimate it! And this is even more important if your are recording in a smartphone, that usually have poor builtin microphones.

Here are some options for you to consider:

  • Invest on an external microphone. It can cost you from 10$ to 60$ in Amazon, depending on the quality and type of the microphone. ANY external microphone is better than none. Plus,  it will mix the good quality audio with your footage from the start, leaving the edition of your video way more easy.
  • Record the sound with a second smartphone, near the sound source you are recording. In edition, you only have to join the video of one smartphone with the sound of the other.
  • Record the video and get rid of the audio. This only works for videos where you don’t need the source audio, like music videos, videos with voice-over, …
  • Finally, you can record the sound directly with the smartphone your are shooting and hope it will be fine.

If you are going for the last option – filming without an external microphone or extra smartphone-, the location is key. Avoid at all costs spaces with a lot of echo, like empty rooms, halls or tunnels. Also avoid places with wind or intense ambient noise (like cars, people talking, …).

Shoot your video in a quiet space, if possible indoors and with less ambient noise. Go as close to the subject as possible and, if necessary, use your hand to cover around the smartphone’s microphone (to reduce wind noise). Also, be gentle when moving your smartphone with your hands, since it will capture that sound as well.

 

As you can see, you can shoot great video with your smartphone. You just need to follow these tips and experiment a lot! Don’t be afraid to try different apps for shooting and edit your video. And if you really want to jump to the next level, than I suggest you to: train your skills with the help of a professional in video and think about investing in some smartphone accessories. Like a smartphone tripod or a stabilizer, an external microphone, an adaptable lens and even an artificial light to shoot better video in low light situation).

Before you start shooting - Checklist!

Here is a pre-production checklist for shooting better video with your smartphone!

  • Define your goal, budget, audience and how you’ll distribute and promote the video;
  • Share your idea and receive feedback to improve it. If possible create a script and a storyboard
  • Prepare your shooting (Location Scouting, Permits, Crew, Talent or Presenters, Weather, Schedule)
  • Memory: In case of a 16GB smartphone, make sure you clean all your photos, videos, apps you don’t use and music you don’t listen, before. To give you an idea, 1 minute of footage at Full HD (1080p) in android, uses around 130MB per minute.
  • Battery: Charge your phone! If possible, take your USB charger cable and an extra battery.
  • Stabilization: Try some apps or extra accessories that might help you to stabilize your image.
  • Image resolution: Shoot a Full HD. If you have low memory, you might want to film at HD.
  • Audio recording: Think about what type of audio you need and how you’ll record it.

Finally, put your phone in airplane mode (it will save you battery and avoid interruptions in the middle of a shoot). 

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