You will often hear people say that the best camera is the one that you have with you. After all, any photo or video is better than no photo or video at all. But that doesn’t mean that your smartphone is only there to make videos when you have nothing else available. Smartphones are useful filmmaking tools in their own right.
Being hand-held, smartphones give you much more freedom with your movement and angles than other cameras, as well as spontaneity. If you embrace this flexibility and combine it with strong storytelling, a clear subject, and a deep connection to your audience, you are on your way to making great videos. To help you even more, we’ve put together some tips and tricks for making videos with your smartphone.
This post is about getting the most out of the capabilities of your device for making videos without using any smartphone camera accessories. The first thing that you need to do is set it to record at the highest possible quality. This can be managed in settings. You should also be able to choose your frame rate here, too. Of course, the frame rate you choose will depend on how you want your film to look.
To assist with your framing and composition, it’s a good idea to turn on the grid overlay, too. Having a grid showing up on your screen will stop you from having to guess at the rule of thirds and give you more control when it comes to lines and subject placement.
Locking your autofocus and exposure every time that you start to shoot is highly recommended. This will stop your focal point from shifting and different parts of your scene slipping in and out of focus, and the exposure from adjusting to changes in light conditions. Your resulting video will look much more professional.
Keeping Things Stable
A shaky image is really distracting for your viewers and, unless you want to include camera-shake deliberately for story-telling reasons, it’s best avoided. If you’re hand-holding your phone, the easiest way to manage a shake-free video is to hold your arms pressed into your sides. Stick your arms out, and you reduce your stability. It might look a bit odd, but it will help.
There are gimbals out there for smartphones, so if you’re serious about using your smartphone as a filmmaking tool, it might be worth investing in one. A gimbal will give you the freedom to experiment with motion and angles and really help you make the most of a phone's portability and compactness. We have an article introducing the gimbal here at Artlist, which is worth a read.
Most smartphone cameras have a slow-motion setting. While you might want to use that anyway for creative reasons, it’s handy to remember that slow-motion is great if you’re struggling with camera-shake. Sure, filming in slow-motion won’t eliminate your camera-shake, but it will make it less jerky and noticeable.
Make the most of your smartphone’s small size by shooting from unusual angles and getting in close to your subject. A smartphone is far less distracting than a camera when held close to someone’s face, and much easier to hold when you’re in an unusual position. They’re also great for filming small children and animals because they find small phones much less intimidating than big cameras. It will be much easier to get down to eye-level and film them effectively with your smartphone.
That’s definitely something to remember, whether taking photos or making videos: get down to eye-level when you’re working with children and animals. Looking down on them isn’t a very effective story-telling technique (unless you are doing it deliberately, of course), so get down onto your hands and knees!
It’s easy to think having lots of cuts and transitions will make your videos look ‘more cinematic’, but there are some suggestions you might want to follow.
First of all, your video transitions need to be consistent and made for a reason. Why are you switching from one scene to another - how is this driving your story? When you do make a transition, it needs to flow. Second, not only does the subject matter need to work from one shot to the next, but try to keep the direction of motion the same or similar, too. It can be jarring for your viewers to be moving in one direction and then suddenly another, and you want to keep them engaged rather than disoriented.
When you are panning, make sure that you keep something in the foreground of your shot. For a start, this keeps it relevant rather than just being padding. But it also helps to provide a point of reference and a sense of scale for anyone watching. You never want anyone to watch a video and think ‘What am I meant to be looking at here?’
This tip is really important when it comes to shooting with a smartphone (and it applies just as much to photography as filmmaking): don’t zoom unless you really have to. It degrades the picture quality terribly. Instead, ‘zoom with your feet’ and get physically closer to your subject with your phone.
Fun Ideas to Try
Have you had a go at making a hyperlapse? We have a how-to article here on the Artlist blog, and it’s definitely something that you can try using your smartphone. If you’re not sure what a hyperlapse is, it’s a timelapse video with added motion. They are incredible to look at and you can definitely have some fun with them.
If you’re shooting with a smartphone that has dual lenses, you can sometimes switch from one lens to the other by pressing the 1× or 2× button. Give it a go and see what happens!
Before you release your smartphone video, make sure that you color grade and correct it. You want to be certain that the colors are accurate and help to tell your story. It’s the final, finishing touch that will make all the difference between an okay video and a really slick-looking one.