Pro tips: How to shoot video with your phone

Shooting better video with your phone

Neal Augenstein | November 14, 2014 8:34 pm

WASHINGTON – With the explosion of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, anyone can be a moviemaker.

From shaky handheld footage of a child’s birthday party to wacky animal videos and low-budget independent films, video images shot and produced on smartphones are all around us.

It’s easy to shoot video with a smartphone. It’s not easy to do it well.

Built-in cameras in today’s smartphones allow you to record high-definition video, but the challenge is knowing what to shoot, how to frame your subjects and how to edit the images to tell your story in the most effective way.

How should I hold the phone?

Hold the phone horizontally, in the landscape orientation. If you don’t, here’s what will happen.

Photojournalist Van Applegate with ABC7 in D.C. says since a television screen is wider than it is tall, the camera should be held the same way.

“We’re often hampered in TV news by the layperson getting great video at the scene, shooting video vertically. This limits the quality, and our ability to enhance” the smartphone images, Applegate says.

Should I use the built-in camera app or a more sophisticated movie app?

Most of us shoot video with the smartphone’s built-in camera, because it’s designed to be intuitive.

Glen Mulcahy, innovation lead with RTE Ireland, teaches students to shoot video with iPhones. He says while the convenience of the native camera app is great, his favorite video app for iPhone is FiLMiCPro, which costs about $5.

“The extra features like higher bit rate, audio monitoring, with on-screen LEDs and image stabilization, are really a fantastic improvement on the native cam,” says Mulcahy, who publishes a blog training journalists to use consumer products to make multimedia content.

Mulcahy shot this iPhone workflow tutorial with FiLMiCPro.

How should I frame the shots and how long should they be?

“Start wide, establishing the scene, then try to go tight,” says Applegate. “Most people just want to see what’s going on as if they were there, so I find a wide pan to be effective.”

Mulcahy tells his students to “look for the most interesting parts of the action and then capture those as the detail/close-up shots.”

Without enforcing a specific order in which shots should be gathered, he suggests students “get one wide shot, two mids and then three close-ups.”

As for how long each shot should be, Mulcahy says, “The general rule is either a minimum of 10 seconds or as long as the action requires, particularly if something is entering or leaving the scene.”

What are guidelines for editing video and sharing on a mobile device?

The pros suggest when choosing how to shoot video, consider whether you’ll be quickly sharing your images or producing a more polished movie.

The popular Vine app for iPhone or Android, which is free, provides an easy-to-use method of shooting up to six seconds of video and quickly sharing through social media. The newer, free Instagram video feature for iPhone or Android allows up to 15 seconds of video and basic editing.

Here’s an example of an Instagram video I shot this summer.

You can download the video images to your desktop for editing. All mobile platforms offer video editing software, which enables you to string your shots together on your phone.

Regardless of the technology, when editing, Mulcahy’s strategy is simple: Use your best shot first.

“The audience’s attention span is short. If you want their attention, you need to ‘hook’ them at the start,” says Mulcahy. “This often means using a strong picture and ideally a strong natural audio track to set up the story.”

What about audio?

Good audio is very important in shooting video. If you’re just shooting your child doing something cute, the built-in microphone will be fine. However, if you’ll be producing a more polished project, the pros suggest using a handheld microphone, with an adapter cable specifically made for your smartphone.

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