The release of Steven Soderbergh’s new psychological horror Unsane, which was shot completely on iPhone 7s, has re-lit a fire under the discussion of whether or not phones can “replace” cameras and if we should be using our phones more to capture content.
In my opinion, if you’re now feeling inspired to make a blockbuster hit, you should stick to using a professional camera whenever possible. However, if you’re looking to create great video content for your brand and social media platforms then a smart phone, coupled with some extra accessories, is all you need.
Shooting content on mobile might seem daunting at first, but with a little practice, a good setup and some key rules to follow it can be just as simple as putting out an Instagram or Facebook post. There are 3 key areas you need to master if you want your videos to be technically on point; lighting, audio and stabilisation. If you nail these, then nothing can stop you.
Lighting is the most important element to consider when filming any kind of content on your phone. Due to the small size of mobile camera sensors, they don’t react well to low light or sudden changes in light so strong and consistent lighting is the name of the game; be it natural or artificial lighting.
Natural lighting is a great way to illuminate your subject when you don’t have other lighting options available. See the sun shining brightly through a window? Position yourself or the subject of your video directly facing the window and let the sun do the rest. If this doesn’t provide quite enough light, then you can always use a table or floor lamp to brighten any shadows, or add more light by positioning it just out of shot and directing it towards one side of the subject’s face.
One big drawback to using natural lighting is the lack of consistency. If you live in a country with long and frequent sunny periods then this won’t be as much of an issue, but if you are in gloomy old England like we are then the light blocking clouds will quickly become your worst enemy. The small camera sensor in your phone will struggle with the sudden change in light and ruin the image quality of the shot. It’s not necessarily a deal breaker, but it can be a real pain.
If you have a budget for your video production then a cheap lighting kit can go a really long way. Something like this Excelvan Lighting Kit (£42) will provide enough light for most of your video needs and is virtually foolproof, only requiring a few minutes of setup time. Positioning the lights on either side of your camera, both facing the subject will provide nice simple even lighting. Once you feel more confident you can try moving either lights closer and further away to create some more dynamic shadows on the subjects face.
As with the lighting, you have two main options when it comes to shooting video on your phone. Either you can record the audio internally to the phone, or externally using a separate device. Both have their strengths and weaknesses.
You don’t need a fancy external microphone setup to capture good useable audio on your phone, something like the Rode SmartLav+ is perfect for creating talking head videos. You clip it onto your lapel or collar, plug it straight into your phone and you’re ready to go, although you may need to use a 3rd party camera app so you can adjust the audio levels to make sure it isn’t so loud it’s distorted or so quiet that you can’t be heard. Just whatever you do, don’t use the built in microphone!
External microphones can get very expensive but they do provide unbeatable audio quality. If you are serious about creating videos for your brand or social media platforms and have some money to spend on equipment then either a lav or rifle microphone coupled with an external recorder, such as the Zoom H1 is what you need. This setup simply requires you to plug your microphone into the external recorder, put memory card in, adjust the setting and hit record. Just don’t forget to purchase your clapperboard, as one of the main drawbacks to using an external recording solution is that you need to sync the audio and video during the editing process. In theory this is possible through the Adobe Premiere Clip app but would be very hard to get perfect. If it’s an option, syncing the audio using desktop editing software is the best way to go.
Shaky handheld phone footage is the worst. If you’re doing a to-camera video then the simplest solution is to make sure the phone isn’t held by anyone. Place the phone on a firm stationary surface (ideally in a landscape orientation) and prop it up using a heavy object in front and behind the phone; I often use heavy battery packs. Not having to hold your phone allows you to really focus on the content of your video rather than the composition and stability of the shot. Adding a mirror behind the phone can help you see the phone screen and make sure you’re still in the shot.
If you have a bigger budget, or know that you want to do more than static shots in your videos, then a mobile tripod or hand held stabiliser is definitely one to consider. You can spend £10 on a “gorilla pod” flexible tripod that you can attach to anything or you can spend hundreds on a hand held stabiliser like the DJI Oslo Mobile, which will give you beautifully smooth shots on the move. Don’t feel like you like you need these gadgets to shoot good video though, propping your phone up works great for nearly all straight to camera videos.
With every year that goes by a plethora of new video editing apps appear for iOS and Android each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Being a huge Adobe fan, my vote goes to the Adobe Premiere Clip. It is extremely user friendly, allowing you to easily mark the in/out points of clips, split clips up, and add transitions. It also allows you to add your own music or choose from a library of royalty free music, which is a huge plus as sourcing music for videos can be time consuming and expensive.
When you’re editing your video try to follow the rule of ‘less is more’. You don’t need to do much more than add some clean transitions, a simple title card and some subtle background music, if the content of the video is interesting and engaging this is all you will need.
Although some of the more advanced options in this guide start to cost a decent amount of money, when you compare it to a full camera kit with lenses and all the accessories it is still a very cost effective way to capture content. On top of this, you can continue to build on your mobile kit by investing in add-ons such as aMoments mobile lens to really take the image quality to the next level.
Whether you’re working to a tight budget or working on the fly, now you know how to create awesome video content from your mobile. It might take a practice run or two to get your videos up to standard but once you have worked out any kinks in your workflow you’ll be a fully-fledged content machine, so go forth and spread your brand message… Or if you have a more complex and advanced video project in mind, get in contact and we will do the hard work for you!