Five tips for filming with a mobile phone
Author: Phil McMillan – TELT
The quality of mobile phones and tablet devices has advanced significantly in the last ten years with better screens, improved battery and overall performance and lower costs. These devices have become the ‘do-it-all’ gadget that allow us to complete complex professional work in a small form factor. One of the biggest progresses in the last decade is the advancement in the camera lenses and processor power allowing 4k and High Definition videos to be easily shot and edited directly on the device. They are now used everywhere to create videos from vlogs on YouTube to short films on Vimeo, and adverts by Apple. Even Hollywood has taken notice with two-time Oscar winning director Steven Soderbergh’s film Unsane, being shot on a smart phone, and well received 2015 film Tangerine gaining the Audience Award at the Gotham Independent Film Award.
Story and content are always key but clearly mobile devices are a great way to capture video. Therefore, here are my 5 tips for shooting video with a mobile phone or tablet, with a few helpful considerations too 😊.
Important – before you shoot
Here are some considerations before you begin… some are obvious, the rest common sense, but you’ll be focusing so much on the content you may (will) forget.
Videos take up space, lots of videos take up lots of space… a few minutes could be 100-200mb of space and depending on the resolution you use they could be a few gigabytes per video. Most pricey 2020 phones have 128gb of space as standard, older phones (2-3 years old) may have 64gb and anything coming up to its fifth or sixth birthday could only have 32gb. Older than that? Then the phone will struggle to store more than a couple of videos. Thankfully at UCLan all staff and student have free access to 1 terabyte of space on Microsoft OneDrive.
OneDrive (Other cloud storage is also available)
Download the OneDrive app first via the App Store (iPhone) or Google Play Store Android) and then enter your UCLan email address (JBloggs@uclan.ac.uk) and password to login to your OneDrive.
iPhone / iPad users
- Shoot the video first and then select it.
- Press the upload button (At the top, Square with arrow coming out of it pointing up).
- Choose OneDrive.
- Press Upload Here (If you’ve made a file in OneDrive you can save the video there or do this later via the Office 365 website).
- Your device will say Saved to OneDrive to confirm the upload.
- You can now delete the video from your device.
Android users (Non iPhone)
- Shoot the video first and then select it.
- Press the sharing button (At the bottom, three circles with lines – looks like molecules)
- Select OneDrive.
- Press the tick at the top of the page, you can press the + to create a new folder to add the video. (You can create a folder later via the Office 365 website)
- Before you delete your video, make sure the video is on your OneDrive, check this by going the to the app and finding the video, if the progress bar has gone and you can play it back you can now delete the video from your device.
After a few hours of keeping up to date with daily politics of loved ones and friends, checking if people still like the picture of your childhood cat on Instagram and browsing the H&M sale, your phone’s battery evidently dies. Often phones carry around 3000 mAh batteries within them giving you 4-6 hours of light use, this can be a huge problem when filming as your battery will deplete quickly. An obvious work-around is to bring your phone charger and plug, charging every so often in-between shots. Another option is a portable battery power bank like ones made by RAVPower on Amazon. Simply charge the power bank and then plug your phone in via the phone cable you have, giving you 10,000-20,000 mAh of additional power, enough to shoot all day.
Shoot in landscape mode!
Cinemas, TV and computers screens are in landscape (16:9 ratio) format, so turn your phone this way. Shooting portrait like your nan does means that you will have black bars on the left and right side if you play it on a TV or computer and this, like your grandad, looks rubbish.
Wipe your lens!
No one wants dust and muck on their lenses and no, you can’t get rid of it in post-production! Life advice – always wipe.
Here are my 5 tips for creating better videos on your mobile phone
- Framing (Shot Types and Rule of Thirds)
Shot types are the foundation of any video production. When you watch TV or film, shot types will change depending on the action taking place and the intention of the director. For example, an Extreme Long Shot (also known as a wide shot or establishing shot) shows the audience the location where the action is used to establish the settings. In comedy shows like Friends, they show the outside of the coffee shop to tell the audience where the character is then it cuts to them inside the coffee shop. In news interviews, a Medium Closeup is mostly used with a Big Closeup if the interviewee is saying something groundbreaking or vitally important or is emotional. Basically, when you create your videos, you want a variety of shots depending on the actions taking place, if you only use one type of shot, your video will quickly become boring and the audience will struggle to see what is going on. Practice makes perfect but the more shots you have, the more options you have when editing your work.
Rule of thirds is used in video and photography for framing to help your shot types look more professional and correct. They are the structure to the foundation of shot types. On your phone, you have an option to add ‘Grids’ or ‘Grid Lines’ when taking a picture or filming a video, these aren’t there for an ad hoc game of Connect 4, they are your rule of thirds.
They are nine boxes with two vertical and two horizontal lines, where the lines intersect (red cross in image) is your points of interest. The top horizontal line is also your eye line, no matter the shot type, set the eyes of the person you are filming on this line… watch any TV show to see this in action!
Points of interest are for points where you can set your shot. When shooting people, you only have two points of interest options as we need to use the top horizontal line for the eye line. You can see in the examples above that they are both Medium Close Ups shots but use two different points of interest. The blank spaces used show depth in the shot, the surroundings and offer space known as looking room used in conversations on TV or film. These shots are commonly used in news interviews. The example below is a two shot, with the taller character on the right occupying the eye line and top right point of interest, with the second character, shorter and on another lower point of interest.
Knowing these rules and considering your shot types and framing is the main takeaway here. Lots of directors have their own style and some may even break the rules for some shots or scenes depending on the action or the intended effect on the audience, but you need to know and showcase the rules in order to oppose them.
- Video Settings
Do you want you video to look more Blair Witch Project (the 1999 one… filmed on archaic Hi8 video cameras) than Star Wars – Rise of Skywalker? No, no you don’t, and even if you did always shoot in the highest setting you have as you can always downgrade the quality in post-production.
When you click a YouTube video for example, you often change the settings to the highest number, usually 1080p. The numbers 1080p, 720p, 480p,360p, 240p, 144p relate to the number of pixels that make up the screen, the higher the number the sharper the footage is and the better the quality is. It is also known as the video resolution. 4K is currently the best quality and will appear on newer phones, otherwise everyone else should be aiming to use 1080p.
The image above shows the exact pixels for each setting;
- 480p is actually 720 pixels across by 480 pixels down,
- 720p is 1280 x 720,
- 1080p is 1920 x 1080
- 4k is 3840 pixels across by 2160 pixels down.
You can check your video settings by going to the camera on your phone, selecting video and looking for a settings button or a cog icon. Here you will be able to change the resolution to 4K (best quality but will take up more storage space) or 1080p (good quality and takes up less phone storage space). Choose 1080p unless you are hoping your video will be shown at the cinema.
Audio is important, in fact it’s just as important (if not more) than your video image. Bad sound will make viewers stop watching far quicker than a bad quality image. Common sense is key here… don’t film your interview next to a group of people talking, don’t film on a loud street, or any street probably. You need the voice of your subject to be far louder than the background noise.
Microphones on phones or tablets are omni directional meaning that they pick sounds from all angles equally. This means that if you subject is in front of the mic and you also have someone talking to the side at the same loudness, both will be picked up by the mic. Remember this and pick quiet places to film.
If you are still struggling with bad audio, there are other mics that you can buy as add on’s to your phone such as uni directional mics like the Rode VideoMic Me that will only pick up the sounds that they are pointed at, in one direction (Hence uni), or lavalier mics (AKA tie clip mics) like the Rode Smartlav+ which can clip onto clothing and are used in interviews on TV.
Oh, and that furry thing that goes on a mic is called a windshield or a deadcat (I didn’t name it) … it’s for outside to stop light winds entering the mic and ruining the sound. If you have one, and you’re outside, use it!
Common sense rules here, unless you have studio lighting you will most likely be using natural sunlight, outside and indoor lighting, er… indoors. Outside the sun can be used as a key light to shine on to your subject, just be careful of harsh white (known as over exposure) patches on your subject and avoid shade (under exposure). Inside, look for light and stand your subject near that, try not to shoot with a window as a background as your subject will be silhouetted (unless that’s what you want).
Remember to tap that screen where you want to be focused, out of focus video can be unusable and your audience will struggle to see anything. For the arty types, you can even tap from one focus point to another, which looks great if you have something in the foreground (close) of your image and something in the background (far), simply tap from one to another to pull the focus, just like Spielberg!
***BONUS TIP (A January gift from me to you)
Stability is key
You already know how to hold your phone, but minimal camera shake is a must in video as it will make it look more professional and less like a family holiday video. You can buy cheap camera grips for a few pounds, all the way up to expensive gimbal systems from DJI or Zhiyun, that will counterbalance the shake. But the simplest, cheapest and obvious way is to hold your phone with two hands and be as still as you can. For more stability you can use your arms, tucking your elbows into your stomach, to create more contact points and pivot with your waist to move your camera. If you are walking with the camera, instead of just walking as normal, try to cushion your footsteps, crouching slightly and walk slower to reduce the shake, (look out for your surroundings!). Just remember to have the phone in landscape orientation.
There we go…As long as you are aware of these tips, you are on your way to shooting better video with your mobile device. Once completed, you are ready to start editing your clips into a short film, vlogs, documentaries, music videos… I’ll discuss editing in another blog post soon.
Aside from my role as a TELT Learning Technologist at UCLan, my background has always been media based. I started creating short films, documentaries and music videos in 2004 with my media degree, moving to teaching film theory and production in 2007 and then teaching BTEC Level 2 and 3 Media Production until 2017. My work has appeared on Channel 4 and ITV and I have produced video content for Graff Diamonds (Harrods), universities around the country, and worked with actors such as Johnny Vegas and Craig Parkinson. At UCLan I support staff and students using Adobe software and work with the LIS video production team, creating internal and external video projects.
Shoot in landscape mode – https://lx.uts.edu.au/blog/2018/09/11/quick-guide-filming-mobile-devices/
Types of camera shots PDF – https://learnaboutfilm.com/film-language/picture/shotsize/
Rule of Thirds – https://digital-photography-school.com/rule-of-thirds/
Back to Basics: The Rule of Thirds in Filmmaking – https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/rule-of-thirds-filmmaking/
Rule of thirds in Film: An Incredibly Easy Method That Works – https://www.cgdirector.com/rule-of-thirds-in-film/
4k vs 1080p and upscaling – Is UHD worth the upgrade? – https://www.rtings.com/tv/learn/4k-ultra-hd-uhd-vs-1080p-full-hd-tvs-and-upscaling-compared
10 Mobile Photography Tips Every Photographer Should Know – https://www.nationsphotolab.com/blog/mobile-photography-tips/