Cameras in mobile devices have significantly improved over the past few years: now you can shoot 4k video and timelapses, apply filter presets, and even edit video right within the phone itself. But just because these cameras can capture high-resolution imagery doesn’t mean that you’ll always come back with awesome-looking video. Below are some simple tips to improve the quality of your mobile shoots, and help make sure they match your personal vision.
1. Keep It Steady
It can be challenging to shoot steady footage with a mobile phone. Smartphones are light and small, making them hard to keep stable. Always shoot using both hands, keeping the device as close to your body as possible. Consider propping the phone or your arms on a fixed structure, like a table or wall, for more stability. And for the steadiest shoots, consider getting a small tripod like this Camkix adjustable tripod or a GorillaPod to lock down the phone (more about tripods later), or even look at handheld gimbals like this ikan FLY X-3 model or a Lanparte HHG-01. Lastly, always pay attention to your fingers and make sure they don’t cover up the lens when shooting!
2. Light It Up
Smartphone cameras have small image sensors and low dynamic range. Shooting in dark environments will give you grainy, low-quality footage, so you should try to shoot your video in brightly lit areas. In addition, the auto exposure on mobile phones is typically slow to adjust when changing from one scene to the next, so be cautious of this when moving from dark areas to bright ones. Most cameras offer touch focusing and exposure; use this feature to expose a specific part of a scene or subject. There are also a few LED lights on the market that are small and easy to use.
3. Orientation and Composition
Vertical or “portrait” video is a style of shooting that should be intentional, not accidental. In general, most mobile video should be shot horizontally or in “landscape” mode. It looks better, and you won’t run into the issue of some online video platforms publishing your video with black bars on the sides. It might play back nicely on your phone, but it won’t look as good on your computer.
As far as composition goes, get close to your subject! Getting closer will result in a sharper, better exposed image. It’s also not really possible to zoom with a smartphone since they don’t have telephoto lenses, so if you’re not close enough to your subject the only option is digitally pinch and zoom. This reduces the quality and results in pixelated, blurry video.
4. Don’t Forget About Audio
Audio quality is just as important as your image quality. In some cases, it’s arguably more important — terrible audio can ruin a perfect shot. Camera phones have low quality, built-in microphones that pick up unwanted ambient sounds like wind, traffic, and other background noise. Perfect audio might not be an issue if you plan on filming something like a sporting event or concert, but if it’s something like an interview, be sure to find a quiet location to film — or look into microphones specifically built for mobile phones (more on that in the next section).
5. Invest in Accessories
Lenses: Most smartphones use a fixed focal length wide-angle lens, equivalent to a 28mm. You do have the option to zoom in on your subjects using the camera’s built-in digital zoom, but this will noticeably degrade the image quality. Instead, think about getting a telephoto lens adapter to attach to your phone’s lens. There are many different affordable lens adapters on the market, including fisheye and macro lenses. Ask yourself what you plan on shooting; if you like shooting insects and flowers, a macro adapter would be great to have so you can capture those fine details.
Tripods: As mentioned, holding your phone steady is always a challenge. Shaky video might be your style or intention, but in most cases, it’s not. Invest in a small support system, like a tripod, GorillaPod, or handheld gimbal (see above) to lock down those shots. Don’t go overboard with a bulky DSLR tripod, though; keep it light and small so it’s easy to carry around. A tripod can also be used as a pole to capture those high angles, or if you want, to get above the crowd.
Closeup View of a Portable Three-Legged Frame by Hiperdino
Remotes: Sometimes you don’t have the option to be behind the camera when shooting. If you plan on putting the phone on a tripod to film yourself talking, it’s best to have a remote like this Muku Shuttr or the Hapurs remote control.
Microphones: To capture the best quality audio, consider using an external audio recorder or shotgun microphone that plugs into your headphone port. This will cut down on unwanted noise like wind. The Rode VideoMic Me is pretty awesome, as is the Shure MVL lav mic.
Lights: We’ve already addressed the fact that smartphones don’t do well in low-light conditions, so if you plan on shooting in a low-light environment, it’s a good idea to get a small light like the Photojojo Pocket Spotlight to attach to your phone. These can range from basic LED lights to higher-end lights that can be controlled by an app on your phone, which is what the concepter iblazr2 does.
Photojojo Pocket Spotlight from photojojo.com
Cases: Smartphones can also be slick, making them even harder to hold steady. Consider getting a sweet case from Moment Lens or Otter Box, to provide extra grip for stability, and protection if you drop it.
6. Get Creative with Apps
There are many video-enhancing apps available for mobile devices that can improve the functionality of your phone’s camera. They can include image-enhancing tools, specialty shooting techniques like hyperlapse and slow-motion filming (some phones/tablets have this built-in already), and even video editing and visual effects capabilities.
Smartphones can be limiting in many ways when it comes to shooting video, but don’t underestimate them. They have plenty of powerful features that you can harness when you’re creating, and since most of us are carrying them with us at all times, it means we have easy access to a production tool that is easy to use and can produce some great imagery.
Explore media used in this post in our Better Mobile Video collection below.