In America, 90% of adults own a cell phone. Of those with cell phones, 58% own a smartphone. Sixty-four percent of America’s adult population carries around technology that, just 20 years ago, was reserved strictly for the film industry.
So, why do smartphone videos continue to look like they were filmed on a cell phone?
The answer: Most people don’t know the best way to utilize the smartphone camera. Learn some tips and tricks to improve your smartphone videography skills:
Vertical video shooting
Shooting video vertically is, by far, the biggest no-no in smartphone shooting. You take away over half of the picture, and if you decide to use the shot, you have to crop another chunk of your picture out to get rid of the blank space.
If you decide to commit the biggest sin in smartphone videography but realize your folly mid-video, stop the video. THEN change your orientation, or else you end up with this junk:
You’ve probably all seen the gridlines on your phone at some point. Four lines divide the screen into nine rectangles. These gridlines help you obey the rule of thirds. The rule of thirds is the idea that placing your subject on the gridline intersections will make a more pleasing image. In the pictures below, one follows the rule of thirds and the other does not.
This image has our subject, the crane, primarily in the central quadrant. While our eyes are drawn to the crane, because of the unnecessary blank space at the top of the screen, they are drawn there in a boring fashion.
Using the rule of thirds, we establish the crane as the subject of our shot, and it is done in a visually appealing way.
Don't rock the boat
Do you ever re-watch your videos and wonder if you were trying to recreate Cloverfield or The Blair Witch Project? If so, the problem is not that you can’t hold the camera steady, it’s that you don’t know how.
The best practice for a steady shot is to tuck your elbows close to your body and place the camera close to your face. Hold the phone with just your first and second fingers on each hand and make a C shape with them. To add just a tiny bit more stability, pull your hands outward slightly on the phone. This creates a tension that improves the shot’s stability.
Not every situation is ideal for you to stand still and shoot your video. What if you need to follow your dog as she romps around the yard?
Think of when you fill your drink up to the brim of the cup, but then realize that you need to walk from the kitchen to the living room. Instinctively, you bend your knees to lower your center of gravity, poke your butt out to centralize your center of gravity, hold the cup away from your body with elbows bent to absorb shock, and begin walking with a heel-toe roll method to smooth your steps out. Stabilizing your camera is no different than walking with an overfilled drink.
This method of walking is actually a real maneuver called the “Groucho walk.” It is used by law enforcement to shoot firearms while moving and pro camera operators to steady shots.
Join the dark side (depending on your scene)
Lighting can be a tough thing to tackle and frequently you end up with this problem:
Here we have an overexposed exterior with an underexposed interior. Since smartphones do not allow much adjustment in terms of how much light enters your camera, you have to get creative.
If you’re inside: turn on as many lights as you can, close the blinds to cut down on external light, set up some lamps, and use another smartphone’s flashlight capability.
If you’re outside, use the sun in your favor to light your scene. DON’T MAKE YOUR SUBJECT LOOK INTO THE SUN! If you do, you will get this:
The ideal outside condition is overcast weather. The clouds act as a diffuser to the sun giving you a shadowless scene. Some smartphones allow you to lock the exposure settings. This is incredibly useful if you find your lighting sweet spot.
Click, click, ZOOM
Most smartphones don’t have the traditional zoom functions you see on DSLRs where glass physically moves to change how light is focused. Instead, smartphones tend to have an digital zoom feature. This means that the image is zoomed in on digitally. The downfall to this type of zoom is that video quality drops dramatically as the image is zoomed in. The best way to overcome this obstacle is to, as Ron Hubbard says, “Zoom with your feet.” Get closer shots of your subjects by actually moving closer to them.
Can you hear me now?
Sound can make or break a video, such as:
While smartphone camera visuals have made leaps and bounds, smartphone camera audio is far behind the pack. The default microphones are functional, but not exactly ideal. To fight back against this problem, you can do a number of things. First, choose a quiet setting to shoot video with audio. This means that you listen for EVERYTHING in a location, such as: air conditioning noise, light humming, machines running, voices down the hall, the sound of your shoes and hands, even your own breathing. Stay away from windows and vents. To help with the capture of audio, try moving your hand closest to the microphone (should be in a C-shape already) so that it can funnel the sound into the mic.
With these practices, you can create quality videos on your phone.
But remember, the most important cinema tool you have is YOU. No matter how good the camera or how much you have been taught, nothing replaces a creative person behind the lens.