How To Vlog With A Smartphone & Gimbal
Are you thinking of starting a vlog but are on a limited budget, and can’t afford vlogging equipment that major influencers use for their social media content?
If you are thinking of starting out in the vlogging world, all you really need is a smartphone and few extras vlogging accessories to make an impact.
In this article, I’m going to guide you through some basic steps that will allow you to create winning content for your vlog, by using your smartphone, gimbal, portable lighting, and a microphone.
By the end of this post, you will have a better understanding of how to vlog with a smartphone that will help you bring attract followers and subscribers along with you during your vlogging journey.
How To Vlog With A Smartphone: 5+ Best Smartphone Vlog Tips For Beginners
Vlog WIth A Smartphone: How to Choose a Niche
Before you begin to vlog with a smartphone, if your goal is to grow a following, then you will need a niche that will attract viewers.
Vlogging in the past was just about a bunch of people recording videos of ordinary events in their daily lives and sharing them with the world of social media. But, that only seems to work for celebrities now, and if you are not a celebrity, then you need a niche to attract viewers.
What is a vlog niche? A vlog niche is a specialized topic area that you’ll be focusing on when recording content. Vlogging niches allow you to narrow down your audience and craft content so it’s relevant to them.
Some niche examples are beauty, fitness, tech, movie reviews, politics, travel, economics, history, and so on. There are hundreds or more possible niches for you to choose from.
One thing to keep in mind when vlogging is to always stay focused on your niche. Your audience will follow you because you have some knowledge they want to know more about in terms of your niche. This also is important on how effective a social media platform’s algorithms will bringing you new viewers.
For example, if you publish a video on fitness, the algorithm registers your channel as being about fitness and your video will show up in people’s feeds if they are looking for fitness tips. If you decide next to make another vlogging video about fashion tips, the algorithm will get confused and your vlogging channel won’t grow as quickly.
Plus, all the people who followed you for fitness tips are much less likely to watch your video about fashion. So the algorithm sees that not many of your subscribers are watching that video and decides your videos are not worth showing to anyone else.
That’s why when you choose a niche for vlogging that you make sure it’s something that interests you and you love talking about it. This way if you are obsessed with a particular niche, the more content you will create. By doing this, the algorithm will bring you visitors, and your audience will keep coming back for more new content you create.
Smartphone Vlog Equipment
To vlog with a smartphone for content creation, the vlogging equipment you need to start vlogging is 3 things. Sure you can start vlogging by just using your smartphone, holding it in your hand, and use the smartphone’s built-in microphone, but that won’t attract subscribers to your vlogging channel.
In order to create great smartphone vlogging videos, you will need great stabilization and crisp audio to keep your viewers watching.
When it comes to smartphone stabilization, if you are vlogging about a product review, a simple tripod will work out perfectly. For those who are thinking about smartphone vlogging on the go, I would suggest a gimbal stabilizer like the latest DJI OM products, or the Zhiyun Smooth products to keep your videos from looking blurry or shaky.
Another piece that is extremely important to help vlog with a smartphone, is an external microphone. Just adding an inexpensive $10 or $20 clip-on mic can make all the difference in creating incredible smartphone videos that will attract viewers.
Vlogging Video Capture
When it comes to vlogging with a smartphone, there are two primary types of footage you will need to shoot for your smartphone vlog, and that is talking to camera footage and B roll footage.
Talking to camera footage is footage that can be shot anywhere whether is footage of you around outside, sitting, or standing somewhere. This will depend on the type of vlog you’re creating. Travel vlogging clearly lends itself to walking and talking. For product reviews, you are more likely to be studio-based environment standing or sitting down.
When it comes to recording videos whether you are talking to the camera or shooting B-roll, I would suggest setting your camera to a minimum resolution of 1080p or higher and at 24fps or higher.
There are two categories of B roll: one is explaining how to do something and the other is cinematic high-quality visuals.
B-roll footage is the secondary video footage shot outside of the primary (or A-roll) footage. It is often edited together with the main footage to bolster the story, create dramatic tension, or further illustrate a point.
Just keep in mind that when you are shooting at 4K, the footage being captured will take up a lot of space on your smartphone hard drive, so get a smartphone with a minimum of 128 GB of drive space.
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Vlogging Smartphone - iOS Vs Android
The iPhone 12 Pro Max and Samsung Note20 Ultra has slightly different features that set them apart from each other in terms of built-in cameras, and video resolution recording capabilities.
Related Article: Best Smartphone For Filmmaking In 2021 – Video Recording
I use the app Filmic Pro for both because this app allows me to take control of the camera’s manual controls better than the installed software each phone has. But, you can use the installed video software on either phone to deliver incredible vlogging videos.
Smartphones have all kinds of software working to create the best-looking images and when you use manual control, this can neutralize them.
I know a lot of information to lock exposure when shooting video, but I only use this if I am shooting video from a dark area to a light area to avoid my videos looking poor.
But this is only if you are vlogging with a smartphone, if I was creating a short film with my smartphone, I would use the manual controls.
That being said, as dynamic tone mapping is becoming more of a dominant feature in smartphones, especially iPhones, I’ve been figuring out ways to work with this feature instead of fighting it.
Dynamic Tone Mapping
What is Dynamic Tone Mapping? Dynamic tone mapping (or remapping) has become more important to the look of smartphone shot videos. With recent iPhone releases, it helps you get the best video out of your smartphone.
The latest Android devices also have this feature, but it’s not as bold as the iPhone. What Dynamic Tone Mapping does is it tries to even out the exposure in different parts of the frame.
In a normal camera, exposure is even across the frame. But with dynamic tone remapping, the software picks out an area, like an overexposed area, and adjusts the ISO just for that area of the image.
The video below will explain how the software adjusts a part of the image to improve the video quality.
As you can tell, this is how smartphones produce a better dynamic range than would be possible, with such small sensors. You can go out and shoot a video for your vlogs without worrying about exposure settings as much as if you had a regular camera. The sky will be less likely to be blown out, for example.
The idea of why Apple and other companies are installing this software into their smartphones is so they can help you shoot better videos faster. The software is doing the work for us.
This is why many people who like using manual controls have a problem with iPhones now. With Samsung, the smartphone allows you to disable it when you lock exposure. But iPhones don’t, they force you to use tone mapping.
It’s a choice, but when you vlog with a smartphone, play around with your smartphone to find out what works best for you in the look and feel of your content creations.
Talking to Camera Shots
Most of the time when you vlog with a smartphone, you will be talking to the camera to describe a product in a studio setup, interviewing a subject, or even talking about an amazing tourist attraction you are traveling vlogging about.
When I film my talking to camera shots, I usually have the smartphone fixed on a tripod. But you could use a gimbal stabilizer with the mini tripod legs.
Using a gimbal is great for when you want to move around while talking. Just make sure that set the gimbal to object tracking on, so it will follow you around. When filming alone, if your smartphone has gesture control plus tracking it will help the smartphone lock on to you and start recording. But, this feature works best with a gimbal like the DJI OM products, or the Zhiyun Smooth products.
For audio, if you are just standing still and talking, you can use a simple wired clip-on microphone that connects to your smartphone for better audio.
Talking To The Camera - Vlogging Tip #1
When you vlog with a smartphone, use your main camera on the smartphone and not the front camera of your smartphone. Why? First, the resolution of the main camera is better than the front-facing camera.
Second, if you are using the front-facing camera, you may find it distracting because you will be looking at yourself on the screen and not the camera. You want to talk to your audience, not yourself, so looking and talking directly to the main camera creates better vlogging videos.
When you vlog with a smartphone, look at the camera when you talk, and think of the camera as a friend you are talking to. This makes your vlogging videos more personal to you and your audience, and they’ll come back for more videos.
So how do you do this? Before shooting, set your camera settings to the resolution want like 1080p or 4K, 24fps. Make sure your smartphone is on a tripod or gimbal with legs and set the angle just right.
Once you are set, just press record and run to the other side of your camera, take a deep breath, center yourself, and start talking. You can edit the running around and the deep breath out in post-production. If your smartphone has face detection autofocus, like the Samsung Note20 Ultra, it will automatically find your fac
Talking To The Camera - Vlogging Tip #2
When you vlog with a smartphone, make sure to have an interesting background. Choose a background that is connected to your chosen subject.
And, don’t worry if you don’t have any studio space to vlog in. The key is to avoid standing in front of a blank wall and don’t have your background too close behind you as it doesn’t show well on screen.
Also, give yourself some distance between yourself and your background, as this will make your background more blurry for better presentation.
Talking To The Camera - Vlogging Tip #3
When you vlog with a smartphone, the key is to make sure to frame yourself well in the frame of the camera. What you should make sure of when framing is to put yourself in the middle of the frame.
Not sure if you are in the middle of the frame? Your smartphone camera should have a grid option in your camera menu, and use the rule of thirds grid, and place yourself on one of the vertical lines.
Just make sure to avoid framing yourself poorly as it lowers the viewer experience a little and gives people a reason to click away from your video.
After your first go-around, watch the clip back and adjust the camera angle if needed. Then go again.
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Be Natural When Vlogging
This is your vlog, and make it however you want it to be. When you vlog with a smartphone, you should go with whatever works for you. But, vlogging is just like a diary capturing a moment in time, and your key to success as a smartphone vlogger is sharing your moment in time that is engaging your audience.
If your audience loves you, based on how natural you are, and you give them a glimpse of who you are, including the ups and the downs of your life, then you have a winning vlogging formula.
Some vloggers think that their vlogs require an element of professionalism to make them stand out from the crowd, but they are wrong in thinking that.
Showing off way too much professionalism in your vlogs can sometimes be off-putting, and give a cold and unemotional feel to the video.
I look at vlogging just like standup comedy, the more honest you are, the more natural your material is. The audience would rather see the real you, and not some fake persona that isn’t you.
If you are thinking right now, “how can I be natural?” Here are some tips to help you be yourself in front of the camera.
How to Be Natural
A lot of beginning vloggers feel really uncomfortable recording themselves. They find they can’t talk to the camera without umming and erring and correcting themselves, getting lost, forgetting what is supposed to be said, and so on.
Of course, there are vloggers out there who read from a pre-written script or use a teleprompter.
The downside of using a teleprompter is it can make you come across as less natural, which disconnects you from your audience.
Again, it depends on your subject and how good you are at coming across naturally while reading.
Another trick vloggers use, and I use as well in filmmaking is a very rough editing technique where you just cut out all the mistakes and leave the good bits. It’s a style anyone who has watched videos on YouTube will be familiar with.
Those techniques aside, what else can we do to come across more naturally?
The best way of being more natural in your videos is to practice. The more you talk to the camera the better you will get at it, so keep going.
I know some vloggers that as soon as they hit the record button on the camera, they feel under pressure not to mess up, which makes me them across as more serious and stiff.
One acting trick I use is before the director calls the action on set is to make myself laugh and then start talking.
The great thing about laughing beforehand is it relaxes you and makes you smile. Both these things are appealing to your audience. If you are laughing on camera as you sit down, you can edit out the laughing part in post-production.
If you don’t feel under the gun to pump out content, keep practicing until you start to be more relaxed in front of the camera.
Ultimately, the fear of getting it wrong will fade, and your natural self will come out. Just be patient.
Like Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” so the mistakes you make are what make you human. Just remember that making mistakes makes you more human, and your viewers will warm up to you if you make mistakes on camera.
5 Smartphone Vlog Tips for Beginners
If you are a beginner, seriously thinking about learning to vlog with a smartphone, you need to know some basic beginner vlogging tips to ensure you are producing the best vlogs ever.
1. Clean the lens of the smartphone camera
Our smartphones are part of our lives. We use them daily for so many things, that no matter how we hold them or store them, they collect dust from the air and grease from our hands, and they both go directly onto the lens.
The result of this is foggy-looking images that could distract your audience if you are not careful before filming. To avoid this, all you need to do is a quick wipe on the lens to make sure it’s clear of dust and grease and you are good to go.
I always carry with me a microfiber lens cloth to safely clean my smartphone lens before filming.
2. Check Storage Space Of Your Smartphone
Smartphone Videos take up quite a lot of space on your phone’s storage, so before you begin to vlog with a smartphone, make sure there’s enough disk space.
The first thing you should do is delete all the files from the previous videos recorded, and any other unneeded apps.
3. Check The Battery Level Of Your Smartphone
If you are using a gimbal, smartphone, and any other battery power device for your vlogs, make sure they are fully charged beforehand.
There is nothing like filming an incredible sequence and capturing incredible footage only to have you stop because your battery is dead and needs to be recharged.
If you are vlogging of the fly, like a travel vlog or anything outdoors, think about adding a few portable charging power banks in your vlogging kit, that are fully charged before heading out the door to ensure you never run out of juice.
4. No Roving Camera
Have you ever watch old family vacation videos, where someone presses the record button and just starts filming everything in sight? That’s what a roving camera is. The result of this is that you end up with a mess that is tough to clean up in post-production.
When you vlog with a smartphone, you need to think about adding cinematic shots to your videos. Have a shot list of what you want to cover in your videos, and stick to the schedule. Every shot should have a purpose because you only have so much time to retain a viewer’s attention before you lose it.
To vlog with a smartphone is to think of it as a movie. Your videos should have a three-act structure, where you have the story you want to tell with a beginning, middle and end.
Always be thinking of these three questions:
- Where do I want to start the shot?
- Where do I want the move the camera to?
- What is the point of the shot?
If you can remember these three questions each time you shoot, it will make your story follow and keep your audience engaged.
5. Try Different Camera Angles
Another thing that you may notice in family vacation videos is that everything is shot at eye level. Shooting vlogging videos at eye level is great for when you are doing product reviews or interviews because when you edit your videos, it will retain the look and feel for every shot.
But, if you are on the go vlogging around the world with a gimbal, adding different camera angles to the shots gives a more cinematic feel to them.
To add more value to your vlogging videos, especially for travel vlogs, think about adding low shots or high shots to your videos. Practice using the foreground to add depth, and add movement to the camera to make your videos feel less static and more dynamic.
Be creative, and don’t limit your creativity.
If you look at successful photographers or videographers, they are constantly looking for new opportunities to be creative. Try to use colors, use reflections, use architecture, use light. The more creative you are in your visuals, the more engaging your vlogs will be.
In filmmaking, I am a firm believer that the time you spend in pre-production equates to how good your film will be. If you spend little or no time planning beforehand, your film will not be as successful as it can be with better planning.
Sure vlogging has an element of spontaneity to it, which works very well with smartphone vlogging, but I believe that if you plan beforehand, and have some idea of what you are trying to achieve in your videos, you will have an engaging video that will draw an audience.
When you are planning beforehand, come up with a shot list or an outline of a structure for the video as this will be your blueprint for the video shoot.
If you don’t plan beforehand, during your shooting you will become preoccupied with worries about what you may be missing, that it will ruin the natural feel you are trying to portray on camera.
The Story You Want To Tell
During pre-production, you need to come up with a story with a great hook that can grab viewers and keep them watching longer. A story hook is something that’s unique that will get people curious, so they want to continue on to see what happens next.
You can start your vlog with a fascinating fact, you can start your video with a problem and offer a solution, you can open with a joke, you can surprise them, you can ask your viewers a question, and the list goes on and on to make a great hook to your video.
Then when you are in the editing process, think about your hook, maybe tease it at the start, but don’t give it all away as you want your viewers to continue to watch to find out what happens next.
Portrait or Landscape Mode?
With my filmmaking background, the question about whether you should shoot in Portrait mode or Landscape mode, chaps my but.
But lately, with the introduction of social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram Tv more focused on Portrait modes videos, vloggers now have a choice of how to shoot a vlog with a smartphone.
In the past, if you were shooting video, you absolutely had to shoot landscape. But that is now the past and no longer relevant. Now, it’s more about shooting the right orientation for your intended format.
Every vlogging platform now has video content to be viewed on smartphones held vertically because it’s easier for viewers to hold their smartphones this way.
If you are thinking about using Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat to post your smartphone vlog videos, you may want to think about shooting portrait modes for better engagement.
If you are thinking of vlogging quick 1-minute talking to the camera clips or short comedy sketches, you will probably want to shoot vertically.
But, shooting your videos in landscape mode opens up more options for you.
For example, if you shoot a 4K video in landscape, you can use that for landscape and portrait videos without losing quality.
Side Note: During Filming Avoid This Mistake
This is an extremely important thing to remember when filming your vlogging videos, and if you don’t pay attention to it, you will ruin your chances of getting your videos seen on social media platforms.
What is it? When you are vlogging on the go like travel vlogging, pay attention to any music that maybe playing in the background as your microphone will pick it up. Why is this an important detail to remember? Because any music that gets picked up by your mic, and you don’t have permission from the artist, could get flagged by YouTube for copyright.
And you will not be able to share your vlog with the world, and possibly lose any monetization for that video if you have ads running during the mid-break of your videos.
There are apps that allow you to edit directly on your phone. For iOS one of the standout editing apps is LumaFusion. This is a great app for editing YouTube videos. Also, iMovie is a very effective editing app for iOS that is installed in the latest Apple devices that can get you going.
So you can get started editing on your smartphone with a free app, but if you are in it for the long run, you will want to edit on a laptop or desktop computer with a more robust editing program like Adobe, Final Cut Pro, and Davinci Resolve.
Editing – Talking to Camera
If you are vlog with a smartphone and filming yourself talking to the camera, try to do it all in one take. I know that you may be worried about making mistakes, but don’t because they can be edited out in post-production. The reason for doing one long take is that you can drop the whole entire clip onto an editing timeline, and it streamlines the process.
Go through the editing timeline and start cutting all the bad material so you have a clip you are satisfied with. Many successful vloggers go through the editing timeline with a fine-tooth comb, cutting out the breath pauses, the ums and ahs, etc. This makes the editing process very fast-paced.
Some vloggers not only cut out breath pauses, but they also overlap the beginnings and ends of sentences, to speed things up even further. This aggressive cutting is what makes vlogs different from regular TV production. But, you will find your own style through practice to figure out what works best for your vlogs.
Editing – B Roll
Once you have your talking footage cut, you can add your B roll footage. B Roll is usually used either to demonstrate what you’re saying or in a montage on its own, with music.
Let’s say you are talking about how to plant seeds in a garden. This would be a good time to include a close-up of yourself, digging dirt in a garden, or planting seeds. Meanwhile, you have your voice continues overtop to make the shot continuous.
Editing – Music
If you are editing montage sequences and need music for the transitions, find the music first and then edit the sequence to the music.
Now, here comes the tricky part about music, make sure you have the licenses to use the music in your clip, or you will not be able to show it on any platform like Youtube.
Or, you can purchases music clips from sites like PremiumBeat and other music subscription services to get access to a library of tracks that you know will be good quality. But that will depend on your budget. Certainly, there’s enough royalty-free music on the internet library to get you started, so just keep looking.
Editing – Montage
Once you chose the right music track for the montage, place it on the timeline. Now go through your B roll clips, and scrub through each clip to find the best bit of that clip.
Time each clip to the beat of the music. Trimming and stretching clips to fit.
One trick is to create a clip with the correct length, then use that as a measure. Place the next clip above the first clip. Make it the exact same size, then place it after. Now it should fit the beat of the music.
Then it’s just a matter of playing around with the clips, to create something cinematic.
Editing - Color Grading
Now it really depends on the look and feel of each vlogging video you create, but you don’t need to spend hours and hours color grading each video.
But, there might be times when your videos need a little touch-up here and there that will improve the look and feel. The key thing to remember is the subject of your vlog video will determine how cinematic your video needs to be.
Here are some grading tips for getting the most from your smartphone video.
The first thing to remember when you vlog with a smartphone, the smartphone video footage you create is designed to look great straight from the phone. You can always use preset filters when filming if you want to capture a certain look to your footage.
Something to keep in mind when vlogging with a smartphone is that smartphones tend to add a lot of contrast and sharpness. So you might want to reduce contrast, brighten the shadows a little, darken the highlights to make your video look softer and easier on the eye.
But this is something you should play around with, and figure out what works best for you and your vlogging videos.
Editing - Adding a Tint To Your Footage
If you are researching popular vloggers on Youtube, you may notice that some choose certain colors to change the mood of the video.
One of the easiest ways to change the look of a clip is to use a tint.
Adding a tint is a bit like placing a colored filter over your camera lens. It basically adds a touch of color to the whole frame, like a layer.
One rule I always following in filmmaking and works well in vlogging as well is orange and red tin create a warm feel, while blue and green are cooler.
Just make minor touches in editing, because if you add too much tint, the image will look a bit off. Always have the mindset that if anything becomes distracting, then it’s too much. If your audience is looking at your video thinking “wow that’s very red” then you’re not doing it right.
Focus On Quality Not Quantity
In order to build a following by vlogging, the quality of your work is extremely important.
On a daily basis, the number of vlogging videos we see shared on social media, a vlogger might feel pressure to keep creating videos to stay relevant.
I know that when I see friends post a clip on Tiktok, they all track the number of likes a video gets, and then start to panic to create a new one when the likes begin to drop off.
The problem with this approach is that vloggers will sacrifice the quality of their content to create videos faster thinking they will lose their followers if they don’t.
The key to being a successful vlogger is grabbing the audience’s attention for as long as possible with quality, and not quantity.
While a vlogger should focus on quality versus quantity, another essential element to being a successful vlogger is being consistent.
For instance, posting regular content. Find the right momentum for producing videos and stick to it, like one per week or once per month, it’s up to you.
This is more beneficial to you than releasing multiple videos in a week and then nothing for 2 months.
Also, be consistent with the subject of your content as well. There are two primary reasons why viewers will watch your smartphone vlog. The first is to learn something about the subject and the second is because they like you and your style.
Strive to be consistent with the presentation of your vlog. For example, with most social media platforms, the thumbnails for the videos are one of the key factors to getting views. If the thumbnail affirms what someone is looking for, they’re more likely to click it.
Also, having a consistent thumbnail style helps viewers easily spot your other videos from the thumbnail. Why do many vloggers place themselves prominently in their thumbnails? Because it’s easier for their subscribers to find their other videos.
Never Give Up! Never Surrender!
My last parting advice on how to vlog with a smartphone is don’t give up!
While some vloggers start vlogging and are immediately successful, while others plug away for months before they start to see progress.
If you are serious about vlogging, just start and adapt as you go. Don’t agonize over things if they go wrong, or that your videos aren’t perfect. If you are getting subscribers and viewers, chances are they like you and want to come along with you for the ride. Most likely they will enjoy the fact you are learning as you go because they can learn along with you.
Most people actually like the fact you’re working things out as you go, as it makes your smartphone vlog more genuine. Plus they can learn along with you.
Also, don’t be afraid to invite people into your learning process.
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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.
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