With so much mobile video content being produced every minute, good technique can help your video stand out. Here are some of my tips to ensure you record the best video possible on your smartphone.
1. Familiarize yourself with your phone
Many people don’t take the time to learn the full capabilities of their phone. This includes the camera. There could be professional settings lurking in your camera that can affect white balance, exposure, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity and aperture. Learn what they do so you can apply them in the proper situations.
Some phones have multiple slow motion modes. Be aware of how slow they are and what types of shots look best. For example, my phone has a super slow-mo mode that is relatively useless unless the phone is perfectly still and in an ideal lighting situation. The regular slow-mo mode is much better and forgiving.
Also, remember to toggle on and off any stabilization feature your phone may have. This feature is good to have on if you are going handheld with your phone in situations such as a breezy outdoor landscape shot. But, remember to turn this feature off if you are doing subtle pans or tilts for visual interest, as the stabilization feature will override it and sometimes cause your recording to stay still and then jump. Also, if you use a moving shooting style (like the camera in “The Office” or “Modern Family”), you will want this feature off.
2. Eliminate shake
Speaking of stability, shaky video is one of the biggest turnoffs to a viewer. If you can’t hold your phone steady or make nice even camera moves, then there are tools to help you.
On the inexpensive side, a one or two-handed mobile rig can help you hold your phone while using a pistol-style grip. Some come with neck straps for added stability. For a little more money, three-axis gimbals run on battery power to help deliver smooth stabilized images.
3. Record horizontally
As any pro video editor will tell you, the biggest mistake you can make is shooting in portrait mode (vertical) instead of landscape (horizontal). When you shoot in landscape, you will fill a typical 16:9 screen and not need black bars or fill in the empty parts of your image.
There are a few exceptions to this rule, which include Instagram Stories (only accepts vertical video), TikTok (accepts horizontal video, but vertical is most popular) or Facebook video ads (some people prefer the vertical style to deliver a message).
4. Don’t forget about lighting
Nothing upgrades your mobile video game like proper lighting. Smartphones have smaller sensors than professional cameras and often do not suitably react to changes in light.
It is important to pick a good setting for your video. If your camera is shooting into bright light sources, your footage will be blown out. If you shoot in low light situations, your image will have noise and grain.
Small portable battery-operated lights are abundant and reasonably priced. Proper use of them helps set the mood of your video, capture accurate skin tones and lower the chances of noise in dark areas of the video. Get a few and use them as a key and fill or to brighten up the background.
5. Audio matters
Many people forget that quality audio is an important aspect of video (perhaps the most important aspect). The built-in microphones on a phone are not placed in optimal areas for video production. They are usually low quality and capture a lot of surrounding environmental noise.
To fix this, small and inexpensive microphones are a necessary addition to your shoot. They have different ways to attach to your phone rig and offer optimal audio pickup patterns and quality. They can attach to your phone’s headphone jack using a TRRS cable.
6. Avoid digital zoom
Most smartphones utilize digital zoom, not optical zoom. Digital zoom is a processed zoom that provides a lower quality image because it increases the size of the pixels in a section. Keep in mind, most phones are recording in MP4 codec. Although this is a good codec, it is still a compressed format. Therefore, lowering the quality of your recording with digital zoom and recording in a lossy codec is not optimal.
Some phones do provide an optical zoom, but it is usually only 2X. Sometimes, focusing on interesting shot composure can overcome video that is more zoomed out than you would like.
If you do need to zoom, there are two ways to do so. The first is what I call manual zoom. Just walk closer to your subject (which incidentally also helps your mic capture better audio). But if you really need to zoom, get a zoom lens that clips onto your phone to go over your camera lens. 12X lenses are quite inexpensive.
7. Be creative
Static video depends heavily on the action in the scene to hold viewer interest. But you can generate more interest by adding camera movement or different perspectives.
Here’s an idea. Start with your camera pointing away from the subject and then quickly move it to the subject and hold for the recording. At the end, move it away fast. This is a way of making your own swish-pan. In post-production, adjust the speed and add a blur and you have something visually interesting.
Or, try a different perspective. Hold your phone low to the ground and shoot up for an interesting look. Get an establishing shot from higher ground. Try different camera moves and angles with your rig. All of this adds interest and production value to your video.