TIPS FOR FILMING ON A SMARTPHONE
Updated: Jun 2
Firstly, an uncomfortable message to my fellow video professionals, who, like us, have been trying to deny it for several years - Filming on smartphones is here to stay. In fact, as technology improves, smartphone cameras become higher resolution with high dynamic range and better depth of field options, sound improves with better noise cancellation and third-party manufacturers continue to produce better accessories, smartphone filming will become much more prevalent.
Although they can’t replace a company or sales video produced by a professional, skilled, creative and knowledgeable production company, smartphones definitely have an important place in your video marketing. In fact, I would say that businesses will ignore this valuable tool at their peril. It is, by far, the best method to get the instant message out to customers and colleagues as most social media platforms now enable you to stream live videos from your handsets. There are even Apps available on your phone that enable you to quickly edit your film and upload it to hosting sites instantly. If you are not using your phone to spread your message, you risk being left behind by your competitors.
Product updates, vlogs, event news, internal messages to your troops, facility tours – the smartphone can be used to film them all.
BUT BEWARE! There are many pitfalls to filming on a smartphone which can mean the difference between a very amateur and much more professional video product. Below is a list of the top mistakes we see on a regular basis, with advice on how to fix them.
1. FILMING IN PORTRAIT
This is not how you view the world. It is not the way your TV or computer displays an image and it is not what you see when you go to the cinema. The fact that your eyes are side by side provides you with a WIDE view of the world rather than tall and narrow.
We understand why people do film this way as it is natural to hold your handset in portrait but it only works on a smartphone. However, most viewers will watch your videos on computer screens or tablets and there is nothing more frustrating than a video with two, large, black, blank areas either side of the image.
For a much more professional look, turn your phone through 90 degrees and film in landscape. Presto - No black bars and a much more natural view of the world.
Light makes the image. Every object you see is due to the way light reflects off it. It’s as simple as that. Phone cameras do not cope well with low light areas so if you try to film in a dark location, say a concert venue or moody restaurant, it will not be easy to see who is giving the information. The other problem that low light throws up is ‘noise’ or ‘grain’ in the image. This makes for a very low resolution, broken and pixelated image, which will only serve to make the viewer uncomfortable and distract them from your message.
We are not suggesting that you invest in expensive, professional lights for you instant smartphone message filming but at least find a location with a good level of natural light to enable the subject to be seen clearly.
The automatic camera on your smartphone will naturally expose for the brightest part of the image. Therefore, if you stand your subject in front of a strong light source, say a bright window or brightly lit, white wall, the exposure will drop to compensate for the background and the presenter’s face will be left in darkness. It is much better to stand before a neutral background with the presenter facing the light rather than with their back to it so that every part of the image is properly exposed.
4. FRAMING THE SHOT
Cameras on smartphones mostly provide wide angle views. If you place the camera too close to your face, this will have the effect of distorting your face and accentuating the nose, making it seem much larger, which is unflattering for most people.
Place the camera too far away and your audience will not be able to relate to your facial expressions, which are a large part of communication.
Place the camera too high, with the head towards the bottom of the screen and too much space above and this will make you look small, insignificant and unimportant.
The most flattering and relatable shot size is a mid-shot, or medium close up, with the bottom of the shot just below the chest and your eyes about two thirds from the bottom of the screen without too much space above your head.
5. KEEP THE SHOT STABLE
Holding the phone is fine if you’re walking and talking or doing a tour of a facility but for most of the time too much movement while you’re presenting can be distracting and disorientating. Holding the phone will also give that constant “selfie arm” in the shot – the arm holding the phone.
Instead, rest the phone on something that provides the best background, frame and most stable shot. This will not only eliminate the camera shake but will also leave your hands free to gesticulate and punctuate what you’re saying. Remember, body language is a major part of communication.
This is a biggie as, more often than not, the sound you record is reliant on the microphone built in to the phone. There are accessories you can buy to help with this, which we will discuss below.
The quieter the location, the better. Background sound can be incredibly distracting. Examples of background sounds to be particularly aware of are other people’s conversations, laughter, music and radio (which may also infringe copyright in some situations), roadworks, traffic noise, aircraft, machine noise and alarms. It is also worth considering the amount of echo in a room as this can be incredibly difficult to remove in editing.
The closer to the microphone you are, the better the sound will be (remembering that being too close will distort your face). If you’re standing 300 metres away in a field, the microphone is unlikely to pick up what you have to say without you screaming.
It is tempting and absolutely natural to watch the phone screen while you’re filming yourself as this is where your image is displayed. The camera, however, is normally at the top of the handset near the speaker. If you watch the screen, it will look to your audience as though you are not looking at them, which may seem a little rude.
Instead, try keeping your eyes on that tiny dot of a camera beside the speaker. This way, it will look as though you are addressing your audience directly.
Bearing in mind all the points above, there are accessories you can purchase to make filming on your smartphone much easier. In general, you get what you pay for. The higher the price, the better the product will be, but you don’t need to spend a fortune on these accessories. It is worth shopping around, doing a little research and reading the reviews before you invest.
MICROPHONES - There are many types of microphones you can buy for your smartphone, from mini, directional microphones that clip to the top of your camera to clip-on lapel mics connected to the phone via a cable and more expensive radio mic systems, which allow you to stand further from your phone, free from cables. Microphones vary a lot in quality and the type you need will depend a lot on where you plan to use them. The cheapest are often not the best.
TRIPODS – Tripods can be bought for around £20-40, which include attachments for smartphones. They allow you to set the height and angle of your phone much better than simply resting it on a table. Again, the cheaper they are, the less robust and plasticy they will be so think about where and how often you may need to use one.
LENSES – You can buy lens sets that clip over your phone camera. These normally include macro, fish-eye, wide angle and telephoto options but effects lenses are also available. Make sure you research these properly if you are thinking of buying a set as the quality varies massively between manufacturers.
GIMBALS – These can be quite pricey but if you’re looking at a way of keeping your shots rock-steady while you’re walking with your phone, these are definitely the best method.
9. ABOVE ALL, BE SAFE!
It is easy to be so concentrated on your phone while filming that you are unaware of hazards around you (trip hazards, bump hazards, traffic, machinery, etc.). If you are using a tripod to film in a public place, REMEMBER, not only does it present a hazard to the people around you but also provides a tasty little target for opportunistic thieves.
Now, armed with all of the above information, go and film some beautiful smartphone videos.