Smartphones are today’s cameras. Almost everyone has a smartphone today. In fact, everyone shoots videos using their smartphones. I do that too. Can you shoot quality videos on your smartphone? You definitely can. How you do makes the difference all the time. Unlike DSLR cameras, smartphones have smaller cameras and fewer pixels. But you can still do it!
How do you record professional videos using your smartphone? First, ensure you have a quality phone camera. This is crucial. Smartphones come with an array of camera ranges. The high-end phones almost always have better cameras. Besides getting a great phone, good lighting is also important. The flash won’t help you any much if you are shooting in poor lighting. Shooting with the phone in a horizontal position definitely goes into the list of hacks you should use.
I am constantly on the lookout for great things to shoot. Sometimes, I do not have a camera with me. But my phone always works. Here’s the thing though, phone cameras are of slightly lower quality and shoot horrible splits if the shoot is not done well. How do I get great video shots with my phone though?
Here are 15 of my greatest smartphone camera hacks.
Shoot with the phone in a horizontal position
If you play one of your videos on a large screen, and the video boundary chops the video right at the half of the screen, you definitely shot your video while the phone was upright. Simple!
Shooting videos on your phone does not work the same way shooting pictures works. Tilting your phone to the horizontal position automatically increases the screen area of the video. The upright position is not recommended when shooting on your smartphone.
Don’t be fixated with vertical video syndrome. Yes, that’s what trying to shoot a video in a vertical position is called. Not only does it hurt the final video quality, but it also makes for very pathetic editing. The boundaries cannot be removed from the video. You might have the best video in the world, if it looks pathetic on bigger screens, you are doomed!
Use the “landscape” camera feature
Instagram and Snapchat have drugged the video industry. On most occasions, content producers on such platforms use portrait mode on their cameras when shooting their videos. Sometimes, they can be as brazen as using “beauty mode” which literally dampens the video.
On smartphones, the mode with the most natural focus is the landscape one. In case you are shooting a video, shooting in landscape mode gives you a wide berth, both to manually reset the focus and to allow the camera to adjust to different shooting environments.
The highest resolution comes with higher quality videos
Let’s be honest, smartphone cameras do not come with enough qualities to shoot high-resolution videos. They can’t hold a candle to the power of Nikons and Canons in resolution. However, you can toy with your camera’s resolution to produce high-quality videos.
On most smartphones, the default video shooting resolution is set at “medium.” Purely, this is based on the fact that higher video resolutions need more processing power, and more battery life to run. Given you don’t need ” medium quality videos, you need to manually reset the video settings to allow for the highest resolution that the phone can shoot.
Most recent smartphone releases shoot on 4K resolution on the maximum. This is the resolution you should hunt down.
Zoom in with your feet, not your phone.
Digital zooming is a videographer’s worst enemy! That statement cannot be said enough. It has to sink down. Yes, the zoom option is available, but it’s not good! In fact, the ” don’t zoom” principle applies just as much in DSLR cameras with high zoom capacity as it applies in smartphones.
Smartphones use digital zoom, rather than optical zoom. Digital zooming makes for pathetic shooting at the best. It trashes the final video cuts. When zooming, the smartphone camera sacrifices clarity for positioning. The subject comes closer but gets blurred!
Truth said, phones have pathetic zoom. Even when you add a lens as an accessory, it still sucks. If you try digitally zooming in on the subject with your phone, your video loses most of its clarity, and the subject loses all the sharpness that defines the video. Your great video suddenly goes down the drain, all because you couldn’t move closer to the subject, rather than zoom in and out.
Keep your hands steady
How many shaky videos are we going to shoot until we learn how to keep our hands steady? It’s not excusable. Here’s the thing, smartphones don’t come with visual stabilizers as cameras do. You, therefore, have to find a way to keep the shoot as steady as possible.
For most people, holding the phone using both their hands works pretty well. It is the easiest hack in the book. For those who find this a little tricky, getting a smartphone tripod is the only solution. Alternatively, you can always place your phone on a steady surface, as long as you find a way to support it and to place the subject directly in front of the focus.
If you can’t afford de-shaking tools, using video apps that come with digital stabilization might work. Though the reviews for such apps are rather nasty, they work pretty well. For instance, Snapchat comes with an inbuilt video stabilizer.
Good lighting is crucial
Have we spoken about lighting enough? At least not yet. We can not exhaust topics related to good lighting for videos.
If you are shooting using your smartphone, it means that you have probably not thought of complicated lighting rigs to go along with your video. It also means that you have to do with whatever is around you.
Smartphone cameras shoot better in areas that have a lot of lighting. In fact, most videographers state that the best time to shoot using a smartphone is during ” magic hour.”
In retrospect, you are always advised to shoot in the sunlight as much as you can. Even then, you should shoot with the sun behind you, not in front of you! If the sun is not available, using your indoor lights can become a handful. However, you should ensure that the subject is cast in bright light, which does not glance on the camera. Rather, the light should come from behind the camera onto the subject, or from above.
Change the exposure and focus manually
Have you seen videos where the subject appears as a dark haze? You probably have and hated it. You probably have also seen videos where the subject appears as a washed out character because there was too much exposure. That also sucks, doesn’t it? Let’s cut the chase, how would you feel, if the videos were yours?
Having the controls to how your video appears is important. This is why you have to set your camera’s exposure and focus manually. For the exposure, dig into the camera settings to work the change. You can do this before the shoot, while testing which exposure value works well for the lighting, and the subject. High exposure values produce relatively whitewashed videos, while low ones will almost always be a mass of black
Changing the focus can be as easy as pinching your screen, or tapping on the screen while shooting. However, the focus should always be set to the highest available value if you really want to shoot great videos.
Don’t use the flash!
Have you ever used the flash while shooting your videos, because ‘the lighting was not good enough?’ How was the experience? Rather, how did the video look like at the end? I know, it probably didn’t appear as good as you wanted it to. Perhaps, it appeared a little pink, especially on the edges.
Here’s the thing, smartphone flashes are not really meant to be for use as photography flash. They make good torches. Given that the light units are essentially mini- LED bulbs, the amount of light produced is too much for videos. On most occasions, videos shot with the flash on will have a lot of color clashing and pink lines on the edges of the subject. These lines are really hard to edit out.
Do not shoot with backlighting
Shooting with light from the window is a good idea, isn’t it? It sounds so good until the window becomes a back-light that spoils your footage.
Backlighting happens because of lighting from behind the subject you are shooting. Since you are shooting with unbalanced light opposite the camera, the lens struggles to filter the light. Besides, the wide span of most building windows means that you will have shadows at the center of the footage and extremely bright light on the edges.
The perfect solution to backlighting is to move. Moving your subject away from the window, further into the room will work great. Besides that, you should move the smartphone towards the window to make the light come from behind you. This transforms the horrible back light into great light for your video.
Time-lapse and slow-motion are great ideas when shooting with a smartphone
Smartphone cameras might come with doomed physical power, but they come with a few powerful video tools to fill the void that their lack of power causes. Two such tools, that should be your best pals are slow-mo and time lapsing.
How do you pull off slow motion and time lapses on a video? First, slow motion can be fun, if you are shooting fast moving objects. You just have to reduce the frame rate on your camera. Time-lapsing, on the other hand, is all about scenes that keep changing over time. With the latter, keeping your phone literally still and steady throughout the shoot is crucial. In fact, time-lapse shots work best if a tripod holds the phone.
Apart from making the final cut look creative, these methods of actual distortion make the shoot way easier for the small power of smartphone cameras. However, it’s not only about creativity, but it’s also about making the video clearer, and easier to watch.
Put those accessories to good use
How many camera accessories do you have to complement your smartphone camera? Probably none, if your video shooting is restricted to the occasional Instagram flick. If you are serious about this, you should invest in accessories.
Given that these smartphone cameras are rather low on power, finding accessories that ‘increase the power’ is a great idea. For instance, plug phone lenses are great accessories. They are also really cheap. Aside from such complementary lenses, getting tripods to help in stabilization during long shoots is crucial.
Accessorizing your smartphone camera is not just about the hardware. The camera software matters too. In fact, it matters more than the hardware. You should download a few shooting and editing apps to go along with your default camera app. Unlike the default camera app, third-party apps come with more tools and features.
Avoid filters like a plague!
Yes, I understand, Snapchat filters are today’s in thing. I get it too, that Instagram comes with a great array of filters to complement your videos. The bottom line is that such filters degrade most videos instead of helping them.
While videos pimped up with such filters look aesthetically pleasing, they also look really unnatural. Most filters distort the actual video focus. They also strip the sharpness off the videos that do not focus on a person’s physical features. In any case, how many people would sit down to watch a video edited on Snapchat, and posted on YouTube? They probably won’t see the process, but you are damn sure they will see the unprofessionalism of the whole video.
Yes, you need to communicate with the world. Unless you are doing a live shoot, keep your phone on airplane mode at all times during the shoot.
Isn’t this a little radical? Yes, it is, but it’s very important too. See, calls and notifications will remove your attention from the camera, for a moment. That single moment is all it takes to completely lose the video focus, and spoil the video.
Besides distorting your attention, taking phone calls also means you have to stop shooting for a moment unless you are using wireless headphones at the same time. Even then, the increasing frequency will tamper with your camera focus to some extent.
Take good care of the audio quality
Do you have a microphone to complement your phone’s inbuilt microphone? No? You are not serious enough about that video! Good audio is pertinent to a great video.
While inbuilt smartphone microphones have really improved in recent years, they are not yet at the level to compete with real microphones. Here’s the thing, these microphones are still mono-directional. This means that they can only pick audio from a single direction. It also means they can not record the high-quality audio needed for high-quality videos unless we completely isolate the scene of the shoot from any kind of noise.
However, you can get external microphones to accessorize your camera phone. This is the easiest way to ensure that your audio complements the video shot.
The rule of thirds
The rule of thirds in photography is both creative and technical. It is the mettle for any starting videographer. Essentially, the rule implies that you should place your subject on a third of the screen space.
How do you achieve this? First, imagine that your screen is split into three, both vertically and horizontally. Some smartphone cameras support this splitting. However, it is really unlikely that you can use the feature for videos. Once you have the lines on the screen, place your subject at an angle that positions them in the corner thirds rather than the center ones.
Besides helping you get great shots, the rule of thirds also helping in contrasting. In fact, it makes the contrasting areas in the video scene smoother.