Smartphones have advanced significantly in recent years, and their cameras are now capable of producing high-quality content that rival those created using expensive camera gear. These advancements make smartphone filmmaking a fantastic choice for content creators, whether you’re a YouTuber, social media influencer, hobbyist, or looking to start a freelance business. In this article, we will provide an in-depth guide on how to film with your smartphone, including the apps to use, the settings to consider, gear worth purchasing, filmmaking hacks, and how to get started with editing.
First, let’s talk about smartphones themselves. While most modern smartphones from major manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, and Google perform well in capturing cinematic content, we recommend the iPhone 14 Pro or the Samsung S23 Ultra if you are in the market for a smartphone upgrade. These two phones have advanced cameras that offer excellent performance, although the Samsung S23 Ultra does offer the ability to shoot in 8K resolution. However, it’s worth noting that 8K footage can come with a significant crop factor, and it may be optional for most smartphone content creators. When choosing a smartphone, it’s essential to consider the ecosystem you prefer (iOS or Android) rather than just the camera.
Now, let’s talk about apps. While separate third-party camera apps are not necessarily necessary for creating great content, they can be helpful by allowing you to take more manual control over settings. The additional management capabilities are beneficial for avoiding the exposure shift that can occur with auto modes, which can be distracting for viewers. Some popular pro camera apps include Filmic Pro, Cinema FV-5, and ProCam. If your smartphone has pro features built into the native camera app, you may not need a third-party app. Win!
Regarding gear, it’s crucial to balance capturing high-quality content and not overloading yourself with too much equipment. Some items that may be worth purchasing include a tripod, a microphone, and a stabilizer. A tripod will help keep your shots stable and steady, while a microphone can improve the audio quality of your content. A stabilizer can help smooth out any shaky footage and is especially useful for shooting on the go.
Lighting is a crucial element in determining the quality of your content, as it can significantly impact the appearance and mood of your shots. Proper lighting can highlight your subject and create a sense of depth and dimension in your footage. On the other hand, poor lighting can result in flat, dull, and poorly-exposed footage.
It is essential to consider lighting before you start shooting to ensure you capture high-quality content. Take the time to scout out your location, assess the available light, and consider using additional lighting sources if necessary. Many affordable lighting options, such as the Yongnuo YN300 and the Godox SL60, can provide a lot of value for the price. These bright and versatile lights can help you achieve professional-quality results with your smartphone footage.
Different light sources have different color temperatures, which can change the color balance of a scene. White balance is critical, ensuring that the whites in your video look natural and not overly warm or cool. For example, if you’re shooting in a room with tungsten light bulbs, the light will have a warm color temperature, while if you’re shooting outdoors in the shade, the light will have a cool color temperature. White balance helps compensate for these changes by adjusting the image’s color temperature to match the light source.
While auto white balance is a valuable feature that can help to correct the color balance of your footage, it can still result in an unnatural shift while filming. While using the auto feature, the camera constantly adjusts the white balance based on the changing light conditions, which can distract viewers. To avoid this, lock it to keep the white balance consistent throughout your recording, ensuring that the whites in your video look natural. If the white balance still looks slightly off after locking it, you can fine-tune it by using the bar provided in the app until the colors look more natural on camera.
Shot selection and lens choices
Shot selection refers to the range of shots in your footage, such as close-ups, medium, and wide shots. Varying your shot selection can add visual interest and variety to your content and help you better convey your story. For example, use a close-up shot to show a character’s emotions and try a wide shot to show the setting or context of a scene. Choosing the right shot for your story can create more effective and engaging video content.
The standard wide camera on most smartphones is usually the best option for image quality. The larger sensors, wider fixed apertures, and better stabilization technology contribute to better video quality. However, sometimes you may need to sacrifice image quality in favor of creative storytelling. For example, you may want to use the ultra-wide camera to capture a wider angle of the scene or the telephoto camera to get a closer shot of your subject. Remember that the image quality may suffer slightly compared to the primary camera in these cases.
To improve image quality without sacrificing focal length, consider purchasing third-party lenses for the primary camera. These lenses can modify the focal length of the phone, allowing you to get different shots without sacrificing quality.
Composition and shot selection are also important considerations when filming with a smartphone. Composition refers to arranging the elements in a scene, which is crucial in creating visually appealing and effective video content. One quick and easy way to improve your composition is to use the rule of thirds, which divides the frame into nine equal parts with two horizontal and two vertical lines. This rule helps you align your subjects and other elements in the frame in a visually appealing and balanced way.
Most importantly, create depth with your composition. Depth makes your content feel immersive, three-dimensional, and life-like instead of flat, two-dimensional, and boring. There are a million and a half ways to create depth in an image, but my favorite strategy is to create more layers in your video. We’re all familiar with the terms foreground, middle ground, and background. When I say create more layers, I mean try to add foregrounds and backgrounds to your shot. An easy hack to accomplish this is to film up against things, essentially creating a foreground, which adds a new layer to your image, increasing the perceived depth of your content.
Movement good, shakes bad
Next, I want to talk about movement. Movement is another crucial aspect of content creation that separates amateurs from pros. As with composition earlier, the best thing you can do is be deliberate in using movement rather than randomly pan and tilt to showcase your subject. It’s also important to be mindful of your own movement and how it may shake the camera while filming. Shaky footage can distract viewers, so using a tripod or other stabilizing device is a good idea to keep your shots steady and smooth.
Plan out a specific scene and then use movement to highlight that scene. Doing so will make your actions more controlled because you put more thought into them. They’ll help reinforce everything we discussed earlier in the composition section because the movement exists to highlight the subject of the scene rather than just existing randomly for no apparent reason.
Uncertain about what to shoot?
Whenever I’m unsure of what I want to do, I always perform a push-in movement, a pull-out movement, a truck (when you move your camera from right to left), and a jib movement (when you move your camera straight up and down). Those straightforward movements with a clearly defined subject will upgrade your content significantly. It’s much better than just planting yourself in a specific spot and then moving your body to keep your subject in the frame.
Now you might ask, “Okay, well, how do I create these smooth movements?” Well, I’m glad you asked. Believe it or not, modern smartphones have excellent built-in image stabilization to capture smooth handheld movements. The key is that less is more when creating these movements. You can’t sprint down the road filming handheld and expect the footage to look smooth. Instead, plan out small controlled movements that highlight your subject. Tying in an earlier concept, by filming up against something in the foreground, you’ll actually increase the impact of small actions because the foreground will move much faster than what’s further away in your image.
If you want to push it one step further and purchase additional gear to enhance your projects, my number one recommendation for smartphone filmmaking tools would be a motorized gimbal. A motorized gimbal will allow you to move faster and farther with your camera while keeping the footage smooth. My favorite is the OM5, sold by DJI.
Capturing clean audio is essential for creating high-quality content, regardless of the type of content you are making. If you’re filming videos with people talking, using a good-quality microphone is vital to capture clear and intelligible audio. One affordable option is the Pop Voice Pro Lavalier Mic, which can be plugged into your phone with the correct adapter and clipped to your shirt for easy use. This mic is suitable for recording videos where the speaker is within arm’s reach of the camera.
If you need to capture audio from a speaker farther away from the camera, you can use a lavalier mic connected to their phone instead. Simply have the speaker hold their phone with the voice recording app open, and the mic will capture their audio as they move around the room. Then, sync this audio with the footage you captured in post-production.
You’ll need to consider audio differently if you’re creating content without dialogue, such as a travel video. You may want to capture ambient sounds like the ocean, birds, or other natural sounds to include in your final edit. In this case, you can either use the on-camera microphone to capture what you can or download sound effects from the internet to represent the sounds you want to include. YouTube and sites like Pond5 offer a wide variety of sound effects that you can use for any project.
Some content creators may use shotgun microphones on their smartphones, but these are less effective than lavalier mics for recording sound effects, especially when moving farther away from the camera. Lavalier mics are more reliable for capturing clear and consistent audio in these situations.
Touching on editing, you can use several desktop and mobile apps to polish your footage and create professional-looking content. Some popular desktop options include Adobe Premiere Rush, iMovie, and Final Cut Pro. These apps offer a range of features and tools that can help you trim, cut, and add transitions to your footage, as well as correct color and add effects. Two popular smartphone editing apps are VN Video Editor (free for Apple and Android devices) and Lumafusion (for Apple devices). VN Video Editor is great for shorter, simple content, while Lumafusion is better for longer pieces like YouTube videos or short films. Lumafusion recently announced it would soon be available for Andriod users, with a beta version available on their site.
By focusing on lighting, composition, smooth movements, and high-quality audio, you can significantly improve the quality of the content you shoot with your smartphone and have great fun editing with a wide range of apps and tools. It’s been said that your best camera is the one you have with you. We look forward to seeing what you can create with yours.