Smartphone Filmmaking 101: Learn to Shoot Mobile Video
Do you want to make a feature film using your smartphone but don’t know where to begin? The goal of this essay is to help new filmmakers who have never used a smartphone to shoot before, or who have some experience but need a refresher before going into production.
When it comes to everything we undertake in life, the first question that comes to mind is, “Where do we begin?” If you don’t believe you have the necessary talents to begin shooting a script you wrote, filmmaking can be intimidating.
I remember thinking that the first time I tried to make a short feature on a smartphone, the procedure was too much for me to handle. I’ve made mistakes since then, but I’m more confident with photography with a smartphone than I’ve ever been.
If you’re considering making videos with your smartphone, this post will walk you through the process and give you more confidence than you’ve ever had in shooting with a smartphone.
Practice And Make Mistakes
Filmmaking on a Smartphone – No matter what type of camera you use, all of the skills and practices of filmmaking apply. Film or video cameras used in filmmaking essentially perform the same function.
You might attend a variety of filmmaking classes, such as Masterclass or Udemy, to better your filmmaking abilities, but I believe that the best approach to learn anything is to practice and learn from your mistakes.
You will master the skills of filming and editing by practicing with a smartphone, which is a vital aspect of becoming a great filmmaker. The most important thing to remember when it comes to filming is to practice and establish your own style. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to being the best filmmaker in the world, so discover your own voice and style while you make your films.
Another thing I’d like to emphasize is that you can’t rush your way to success. Spend as much time as you have to improve your filmmaking skills by practicing as much as possible.
When it comes to smartphone filmmaking, keep in mind that there are many pieces to the puzzle that must be put together in order for your videos to pop off the screen.
To become a better smartphone filmmaker, every filmmaker needs to pay attention to the following characteristics of smartphone filming. When it comes to smartphone filmmaking, however, there are a number of considerations that are unique to the device. So here’s how it works:
Learn About Smartphone Stabilization
Smartphone Filmmaking – Optical Image Stabilization is incorporated into many high-end smartphones, and it works by shifting lens components to offset imbalanced handheld camera vibrations.
However, if you’re filming a lot of footage handheld, you can end up with wobbly camera pictures that are difficult to correct in post.
As seen in the movie above, unsteady shots can add authenticity to your footage, but if done incorrectly, they can also detract from it.
Because smartphone cameras are so small and light, even the tiniest of differences can be magnified. Many various filmmaking accessories can aid you with video stabilization if you’re thinking about stabilizing your smartphone camera.
A tripod is the perfect smartphone accessory to adding to your smartphone kit because it keeps your camera still. This way you won’t have to worry about any movement that will cause camera shake.
This is very important for those using smartphone lens attachments that may amplify camera shake.
Plus, when you use a tripod, your camera angle and framing become standardized for every shot you take.
This makes maintaining consistency on set a breeze! Once you figure out the best lighting conditions and subjects are framed perfectly, you can set your camera position and start shooting.
When looking for a tripod, look for one that will allow you to get ultra-smooth pans and tilts, and a quick-release plate for easily attaching the camera.
Non-Mechanical Smartphone Grip Gear
For those who want to go handheld with shots on a smartphone, and want little extra stabilization, using a non-mechanical grip like a smartphone video rig can make a huge difference to your smartphone filmmaking.
They improve the grip on the smartphone, improves stability, make it easier to use extra equipment such as lens attachments, flash, and video lighting, and adds extra protection against drops and stumps.
When I capture videos with my smartphone, I utilize a 3-axis gimbal. Why? Because it allows the cinematographer/camera operator to film handheld without having to worry about wobbly footage.
These gimbals work by using three brushless motors to keep the camera level on all axes while the cinematographer/camera operator moves the smartphone camera. As a result, every shot in your footage will have a seamless look.
Read more >>> Best Smartphone Gimbal Stabilizers
I use the DJI OM4 for all of my smartphone filmmaking because DJI makes quality products, no matter what creative avenue your cinematography skills are wanting. The OM is built sturdy, easy to operate, and the magnetic mounting bracket is a huge plus for people who want to get higher quality video and photos without having to bring a lot of extra equipment.
Learn Your Smartphone Camera Settings
Smartphone Filmmaking – Many of the high-end smartphones available today have great automatic controls so you can point and shoot anytime you want.
But, if you want to have more of a “cinematic look” on your smartphone you should learn how to manually adjust your camera settings to the look you want.
The difference between automatic camera settings vs manual settings is when you are shooting on automatic settings it will help you focus on just getting that shot.
The problem when you use automatic settings, as you move the camera the image will change.
The exposure settings will automatically change as the light changes, the focus point adjusts to whatever object is in the focus sight, and the color balance can change as well.
If you are panning left or right during the shot, the automatic exposure on your camera will start shifting the settings as the camera moves. It can make for problems in post-production editing.
If you decided to switch to manual settings for filming, learn how to start setting the smartphone camera manually. Operating systems differ, according to the smartphone.
So you will have to play around with the settings as you practice filming to find out the perfect settings for the looks you want.
Smartphone Camera Apps
I have problems with manually adjusting my smartphone camera when I originally began shooting with my iPhone X. It was confusing and limited to what I wanted to do with the camera.
The good news is there are several smartphone video camera apps for iOS and Android that make your smartphone camera easier to manage.
If you are serious about shooting features with your smartphone, you need to consider downloading this tool to make magic happen with your smartphone camera.
Smartphone Camera App FiLMiC Pro
Smartphone Filmmaking – While I am not an expert yet on how to use FiLMiC or other smartphone camera apps available for smartphone filmmakers, I wanted to give a quick guide to start filming today.
The three keys to using the FiLMiC Pro app that you need to understand are how to adjust the focus, exposure, and white balance of your shots.
Before each shot, you need to figure out what is the key subject that needs all the attention in the frame.
Are you going to use auto-focus and have the app do the work, or are you going to switch to manual focus so the camera operator has total control over the focus of the shot?
Test out the camera app to figure out which option you are more comfortable with, and master it.
I prefer to use the manual focus on shots vs. auto-focus because I have more control of the focus to get the shot I want.
Exposure is something that you will need to learn more in-depth from watching youtube videos and studying books, but here is a breif breakdown on exposure.
Regardless of whatever filmmaking camera you use, cameras are always challenged in low-light conditions.
If you are stuck in low light conditions, if you leave the camera on auto exposure, your smartphone camera will increase the gain.
This results in video “noise” appearing in your footage. You may find this result to be unpleasant to look at.
This results in video “noise” appearing in your footage. You may find this result to be unpleasant to look at.
The video above clearly shows the difference in video image quality between noise vs. grain.
While there is no right or wrong in which way you shoot, it just good to familiarise yourself with the difference between the two.
Regardless of whether you use your built-in smartphone controls or using FiLMiC Pro play around with the white balance settings.
Understand how the image changes in color from blue to green to orange and every other color of the rainbow.
The reason for adjusting the white balance is to get the most accurate color as possible for your smartphone footage.
As you can tell from the video above, setting your white balance correctly manually removes an unnecessary variable from your shots and makes color correction and shot matching more manageable.
The two most popular color temperatures you will use are daylight and tungsten. Daylight color temperature is about 5600K and tungsten is about 3200K.
FiLMiC Pro has wonderful daylight and tungsten presets, and using them is as simple as touching the sun icon or light bulb icon.
I find the presets the best way to ensure color is recorded as consistently as possible.
Smartphone Filmmaking – Smartphone mics are great for phone calls, but the outside noise that they pick up is not great for smartphone video.
To get cinematic sound from your smartphone then you need to either add a shotgun mic or a lavalier mic to your smartphone filmmaking kit.
If you are on a limited budget and need to use the built-in microphone in your smartphone, you will need to understand the limitations of the mics.
When I use the built-in microphone to record actors or people speaking in my films, I spend extra time in post-production using Adobe Audition to clean up and manipulate the sounds recorded.
Using External Microphones
Sound is the most important part of filmmaking. You can have the best locations, best settings set on your camera, and the best performances possible, but if the sound is horrible, you will lose your audience.
There are many great ways to capture audio externally for your smartphone footage that will keep the audience invested in your film.
By adding an audio recorder, boom mic, and even wireless microphones can make a huge difference to your smartphone videos.
An audio recorder is an external device to record audio separately from the footage you shoot on your camera and then they are paired back together in video-editing software such as Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere, or iMovie.
Once the enhanced audio recorded on the external device is synced with the footage, the inferior audio from the camera can be trashed, leaving an improved sound.
Shotgun Mic For Boom
A boom is an extendable and adjustable rod on which a microphone can be mounted on. Boom mics are used are positioned close to the audio source to get the best sound possible.
Wireless Lav Microphones
Wireless lavalier microphones are the perfect solution to make your audio setup much easier and quicker because there’s no need to run cables every time you want to record.
Plus, you can record audio from your actors in wide shots without ever having to worry about a boom pole coming into frame.
Things To Watch Out For In Recording Sound For Film
Smartphone Filmmaking – To get the best audio, always pay attention to the locations where you are shooting.
Are you shooting near an airport and have to deal with air traffic above during a shot? Are you in a large indoor room that has large amounts of echo and reverberation from the hard surfaces? Does the room you are filming in have air conditioning?
These might not sound like a big deal, but audio recording devices can pick up everything, even the low hum from an air conditioning unit or a plane from a faraway distance.
Background noise issues can also be fixed or reduced by using software such as Adobe Audition, but it’s best to reshoot a scene if an audio problem comes up.
Smartphone Filmmaking – When you are on a low film budget, there is no harm in using any available light source you can.
I shot a low-budget horror film with no lighting equipment, and the only thing we did for lighting was use headlights from the crew’s cars, and adjust the light balance on the camera when things got really dark.
The great thing about shooting digital is you can practice as much as you want to test your smartphone’s capabilities with any lighting condition without wasting actual film.
When you are scouting locations for a film project you are working on, test out the lighting conditions by filming the surroundings.
Test out several different angles, camera positions, and camera movement. Plan ahead and look at all the available light sources surrounding the location during the time of day you are shooting.
Sometimes you need a lighting kit for shooting because the lighting sources are not that great at your location.
Adding a Light Reflector to your smartphone filmmaking kit you can increase highlights, achieve warm glowing skin tones and block out unwanted light.
Another filmmaking accessory to add to your kit is a battery-powered LED Video Lighting Kit.
Also, the light from LED panels is good quality — and its color remains consistent while dimming.
Finally, LED panels are battery-powered, compact, and lightweight. So naturally, they don’t require the ballasts that HMI’s and some fluorescents do. Plus, they don’t get hot.
Smartphone Filmmaking – The fun part is over and now it’s time to put all the pieces of the puzzle together to make a masterpiece.
If you want to become a better filmmaker? Learn how to edit.
Editing your footage yourself means you have the power to make the right cuts for pacing cohesiveness.
It’s not going to be easy, imagine scrabble tiles on the ground and putting words together to make sentences, this goes with film as well.
You have clips that you have to put together to make a visually compelling story.
The reason why I believe editing makes a filmmaker better is when you are putting the pieces of the puzzle together, you will see shots you’ll wish had lasted longer or shots where the camera angle just didn’t work for the scene.
What Should You Use To Edit Your Film?
I have used a few editing programs in the past few years, and it breaks down to preference.
Again, I won’t give you editing help, because I am still learning as well. But, the internet is full of more editing tutorials and tips that you will never be bored.
Just remember that practice makes perfect and don’t be afraid about editing your footage. The main goal is to complete your film.
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Make A Film
Smartphone Filmmaking – Now is the time to get your smartphone out and start making movies. Keep in mind that the first film you make may not turn out precisely how you had hoped, but that’s okay.
Make a list of all the mistakes you learned from your first film and make sure you don’t make them again. I feel that the best way to learn is to make mistakes and then move on.
The footage you produce may appear to be terrible at first, and you may wonder why you put so much effort into something that didn’t turn out.
But, hey, what’s a little pain for a little gain, right? Just remember not to give up during the filmmaking process. If it’s something you really want to do, you’ll find a way to improve. Once you believe you’ve gotten into the swing of things with filmmaking, it’s like a narcotic, and you’re always looking for the next big rush.
To improve each day, remember to keep learning by making videos, following filmmaking tutorials on YouTube, and taking the odd online filmmaking course. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the path to my objective of becoming a better filmmaker, and I’m still making them.
But why should you stop doing something you enjoy?
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About the author: Trent (IMDB | Youtube) has spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.