Filming With a Phone

Most smart phones are great for shooting video, but it is worth knowing how to get the best out of them and what they are not so good at doing. These notes mostly apply to cheaper or older phones – advances in phone camera technology are being introduced all the time.

Orientation

Shoot horizontally – landscape mode makes better looking video for use on laptops, televisions, Facebook and websites. It avoids the black bars down the side of your films, unless you want a vertical look (perhaps for split screen).

Keep your phone steady

No matter how steady your hands are, you are going to have to work hard to stabilise a handheld shot. Slight movements can be really distracting in your final edits.

The more stable the camera the less intrusive the mechanics of filming are to the viewer. It sends a message of quality, and allows you to focus on the subject, unless you want to use camera movement to show that it’s a personal point of view, or adding to the atmosphere involving a high degree of realism or naturalism (verité).

If you do not have a stand or tripod there are some techniques you can adopt to minimise shaking: hold your camera with both hands and keep your elbows as close to your body as you can (and don’t breathe!), or rest it against something or on a bag or rolled up jumper.

One of the joys of filmmaking is adapting your equipment to the environment you are filming in, so think about using gaffer tape or rubber bands to fix your phone to things like: trees, lamp posts, a long pole or even car bumpers – you’ll find new and innovative viewpoints that you may not have originally thought about.

You can also use an image stabilising app like Hyperlapse.

Lenses

Unless you have one of the more advanced latest phones, avoid using the built-in camera zoom. Most phones do not zoom optically, it just enlarges the picture digitally, which means you will lose quality very quickly. Move closer to your subject instead. (However, as phone technology changes this isn’t necessarily the case! There are now phones with optical lenses, in effect these are just a different lens with another fixed focal length.)

Lighting and exposure

Lighting is one of the difficult challenges with mobile phones. Phone video looks great in natural light outdoors or near large windows, and not so great in dimly lit places.

Most mobile phones are set to auto everything, including ISO. This means that using your phone in a dark environment may push the ISO beyond what you want it to be – you may not notice the result until you view it on a large screen.

You phone will also automatically focus and expose your shot. This means that your phone will keep adjusting exposure and refocusing as you shoot video. If your phone allows it, use the exposure and focus lock. This will help to keep the focus and exposure constant throughout your shot.

So – avoid auto settings if you can. Changing light levels and focus are distracting, unless your approach is to feel very immediate, personal and raw.

Check what settings your camera allows you manual control over – at a minimum this should be ISO and focus.

Video Recording apps

If you want to take your video recording a step further you can control your camera settings using a specialist app on a smartphone or tablet, like MoviePro (£5.99 and for iPhone only) or FiLMiC Pro: Professional HD Manual Video Camera (£11.49). Both MoviePro and FiLMIC Pro are for recording, and give you limitless choices of resolutions, aspect ratios, frame rates, adjustable video/audio quality, separate focus & exposure, white balance control and many more features. There are some free Apps as well but we haven’t tested any.

Storage Space and Battery

How much storage space you need on your phone will depend on what you’re making. 
Anything less than 10 minutes, and you should be ok with 1GB of space. (One minute of footage at HD 1080p uses around 150MB.)

Don’t forget to charge your battery! Especially on older phones where the battery can run out quickly.