The Smartphone Videography Guide

In 2020, people and businesses all over the world have had to shift to the work-at-home lifestyle. More people are realizing that video is the most engaging way to stay in touch with each other and are taking advantage of video technology. This means that on top of the million other things on their to-do lists, they now have another job title: Videographer.

While being a videographer can be great, the realm of Actually Making Videos Yourself is new to many people. The good news is that most of us already have access to a high-quality video camera – our smartphones.

Here are a few tips that anyone can use to film with a smartphone and not look like a total noob.

Video Settings

via GIPHY

Most of us have a smartphone, and if your smartphone was made in the last five years, it can record pretty decent-looking video. The newest smartphones can record in 4K resolutions, which is a bit overkill for most purposes, but awesome news for video people. Most likely, your smartphone can record video in 1080p HD resolution, which is the maximum HD resolution.

Camera Settings

Before you start recording, you’ll have to go into your camera settings and make some adjustments to get the most out of your smartphone camera. Below is a demo of how to do it on the iPhone. Be aware that these changes will create larger files on your smartphone; make sure you have enough space before filming.

Resolution and Frame Rate

Go to Settings > Camera > Record Video and select the desired resolution and frames per second (fps).

Recommendations for simple shooting:

  • 1080p HD at 30 fps
  • 4K at 24 fps

Camera Format

Next, go to Settings > Camera > Formats and select Most Compatible. There is some debate online about this setting, but in theory, it will give us the best quality image for our video.

Recommended iPhone video settings

Tripods

A tripod, or something stable to mount your camera to ensures that your video is free from shakes and bumps while filming. Allowing yourself to go hands-free while filming lets you focus on talking directly to your audience.

Tabletop Tripod Kits

A kit like the Joby GorillaPod Starter Kit has everything you need to start making high-quality videos. The kit comes with an adjustable tabletop tripod, and clamp for your smartphone. The tripod’s leg design allows it to be wrapped around something like a bookshelf or tree branch, or you can just go handheld.

Joby GorillaPod Starter Kit ($29.95)

Smartphone Mount + Tripod

Another option is to get a tripod and a smartphone clamp to attach to it. Manfrotto’s Compact tripod line is affordable, high-quality, and can handle most of your filming needs. I’ve had mine for going on 5 years and use it for shooting videos that don’t require complex camera movements.

Joby GripTight Pro Smartphone Mount ($29.95)
Manfrotto Compact Advanced Tripod ($94.95)

Audio

Having good sound is just as important as your video quality. No one wants to hear your air conditioner running in the background for the entire video. And no one wants to listen to a screaming baby in your video unless your video is about screaming babies.

Optional Upgrade: Lavalier Mic

If you plan on filming indoors, your smartphone’s mic should be sufficient as long as you stay close enough to your phone to pick up decent audio. One upgrade to your audio game is purchasing a wired lavalier microphone that hooks up directly to your phone. The Rode smartLav+ is designed specifically for smartphones and is compatible with both iOS and Android devices.

Wind = The Enemy

If you are filming yourself outdoors, make sure it’s not in an open, windy area, or the wind will overtake your audio. These videos are unpleasant to listen to, regardless of how beautiful your video looks. It is recommended that you shoot in a quiet spot indoors that has the least amount of noise distractions for you and your audience.

Know Your Neighborhood

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Does your neighbor’s kid practice the bagpipes at 10 am every day? Is it garbage day? Make a mental note of what goes on in the neighborhood during the day and avoid filming during noisy times. Sometimes this is unavoidable, especially with a lot of people at home right now.

Have a “Plan B”

Be flexible and always have a backup plan. This can be as simple as scheduling two possible filming times in case the first one gets foiled by your neighbor choosing to mow their lawn that day.

Use Available Light

There are a few basic things to know about lighting when filming by yourself. These things will get easier to remember the more you do it, so don’t worry too much in the beginning.

Natural lighting

Natural lighting (using available sunlight) is always the best option. One of the reasons why is because it’s free. However, using natural light is more than hitting “record” just because the sun is out. To use natural light the right way, we need to properly position the camera and our subject.

Avoid backlit photos

Light is no use to us if the sun is behind our subject, creating a backlit photo like the example below. Backlit photos make it hard to see who is talking or what’s happening. Backlit images can be beautiful, but are distracting for video interviews where the subject is talking.

Photo by Stephen Baker on Unsplash

Proper Positioning for Using Natural Light

The general rule of using natural light is to shoot with your (camera operator) back to the light source and to never shoot against the light. If you look at your video and notice that your subject’s face is darker than the background, turn the camera around and start over. Check out the diagram below.

Natural Lighting Positioning
Position yourself correctly to make use of natural light

Artificial lighting

There are a few instances where using natural light is not possible. Maybe you can only film at night when the sun is down, or you live in a basement with no windows—not judging! Luckily for you, there are a ton of options for lighting on a budget. Ring lights are affordable and ready-to-go out the box. Some ring light kits, like this one from B&H Photo, come with a light stand, ring light, and smartphone mount.

GVM Bi-Color LED Ring Light (18″) ($88)

Wrap Up

Being a brand new videographer involves paying attention to the little details that you might not have noticed before. It can seem daunting, but it gets easier the more you do it. If there’s anything to take away from this post, remember: don’t shoot towards the light, and pick a quiet, distraction-free place for filming.

Did you enjoy this guide, or have more questions? Let me know in the comments and I’ll do a part two.

To support the site, check out any of the gear from this blog post on my kit.co page.

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