Knowing a few simple rules can elevate your video shooting from casual to expert.
Cameras on smartphones get better with every generation, making them ideal not just for photos but also recording videos.
Just like for shooting still images, a little knowledge goes a long way in improving the quality of your video recordings.
If you want to take your videos to the next level, here’s our guide on shooting more effectively on your Android and iOS smartphones.
Make and model
Not all smartphones are made equal, especially when it comes to the quality of the built-in cameras.
It’s pretty safe to say that all current Android and iOS smartphones can shoot decent 1080p (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) videos at 30fps (frames per second), with most even allowing you to shoot at 60fps for smoother videos.
If you’re serious about recording videos on your smartphone, you should be looking at high-end models like the Samsung Galaxy S7/S7 Edge, Huawei P9/P9 Plus or the iPhone 6s/6s Plus, as they offer several advantages.
One of the advantages is the ability to shoot in Ultra HD or 4K, which has a resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, four times that of 1080p.
However, most smartphones can only manage 30fps for UHD so you get much higher resolution but at the expense of not being able to shoot smoother-looking videos.
So which option should you go for? If you want to produce the best possible video, we suggest turning on the UHD option.
But you may want to use it sparingly as UHD takes up a lot of storage space.
Pro tip: One other thing to consider when getting a new smartphone is if it comes with OIS (optical image stabilisation).
OIS produces smoother video by compensating for camera shake. It’s usually found on mid-range and high-end smartphones. For example, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have built-in OIS but for iOS only the iPhone 6s Plus does while the iPhone 6s resorts to digital image stabilisation which is not as effective.
While you can do without OIS, it helps to produce more professional-looking results, especially when you are shooting while walking.
Many first timers tend to record videos just like how they capture still images – by holding the phone vertically or in portrait orientation.
This is a big no no – unlike photos, we are used to watching videos in landscape format so you should hold your phone sideways at all times.
The humble selfie stick has become somewhat of a joke these days, but there’s no denying its usefulness.
It gives you a little more working distance so you can shoot a video that gets a little more of you in there than just your head.
Also, selfie sticks are cheap and the mount for attaching the smartphone is often removable – it can be used to attach the smartphone to a regular tripod, which is handy when you want to record videos from a distance.
Loud and clear
The next thing you need to do is to be able to record sound. While the smartphone’s built-in microphone will record audio, it’s not all that great as it also captures ambient noise.
You have the option of using a separate audio recorder but then you will have to manually sync it with the video – that’s why professional filmmakers use a “clapper” to make a sharp sound as it makes the process a little easier.
In any case, we don’t recommend it as it makes editing the videos a little more difficult.
Instead you should consider investing in an external microphone so that you can get the best possible audio directly into your video.
There are essentially two types of external microphones – lavalier and shotgun.
Lavalier microphones are the ones that you clip onto your shirt – these microphones have a limited range so they are great for videos where you need to interview a person.
Even in noisy environments it’ll pick up the interviewee’s voice clearly while leaving out most external sounds.
However, lavalier microphones require a long cable so that it can be attached to your interviewee which makes it less than ideal for some situations.
For run-and-gun situations or if you are shooting fast moving events, opt for a shotgun microphone instead.
Shotgun microphones are capable of capturing sound from all directions but the area of sensitivity is mainly focused forward.
They will pick up more ambient sound than lavalier microphones in noisy environments but as they are focused forward, they will be able to capture anyone speaking in front of the camera reasonably clearly.
For the lavalier microphone we recommend the Smartlav+ (RM350) and for the shotgun microphone we recommend the VideoMic Me (RM350), both from Australian company Rode.
It’s one of the few companies that makes relatively affordable microphones specifically for smartphones.
One thing to consider before getting an external microphone is if your smartphone is compatible with Rode’s products, as not all 3.5mm audio ports are made the same.
While all earphones will work with any smartphone, the same cannot be said for microphones. The reason being there is no official standard for microphones connecting via the 3.5mm audio jack and some brands have the connections wired differently.
Rode has a list of products which work with the Smartlav+ and VideoMic Me which includes most Samsung smartphones, Apple iOS products and Google Nexus devices.
Look for the light
While it is sometimes not possible to do so, try to shoot in bright light – smartphones (or any modern camera for that matter) tend to produce more noise in dimly lit situations.
If you’re outdoors, try to shoot with the sun behind you so that everything in front of you is lit evenly.
It’s possible to shoot with the sun in front of you but this tends to fool the camera’s autoexposure mode into underexposing your subject.
If you’re indoors there’s a bunch of professional lighting options available which offer continuous lighting but these tend to cost a lot of money so buy them only if you’re a serious YouTuber.
Nevertheless, if you shoot only occasionally indoors at close range, you will be able to get away with two or three cheap table lamps fitted with bright, daylight-balanced fluorescent bulbs.
It’s in the technique
Hardware considerations aside, there’s quite a bit of technique involved in shooting effective videos. Here are a few basic tips to get you started so you can make your videos more coherent for viewers.
First, the 180° rule for shooting videos – if you’re shooting two or more subjects in a scene, you should imagine a line passing through them which you should never cross.
If it sounds confusing, image a football match – your camera can be on either the left or right side of the pitch but you should never switch sides.
The idea here is to maintain the spatial relationships between the goal post on the right and left – should you switch sides, you will confuse the viewer as the position of the goal posts will now be reversed.
Similarly, in a situation where you are shooting several people in a room, adhering to the 180° rule will allow viewers to understand where every person is standing in the room.
Another good tip to know when shooting interviews is that the closeups of the interviewer and interviewee should always be facing each other even if they don’t appear in the same shot.
So if the interviewee faces left, the closeup of the interviewer should be shot facing right.
And if you want to do a panning shot, angle your body towards the end of your pan and then twist your body to the area you want to start the pan and shoot – this way your pan will be more stable and steady.
One other problem that most face when shooting videos (and still photos as well for that matter) is how to frame a human subject – just where is it okay to “cut off” the legs, for example?
The general rule when framing a human subject is that you should NEVER cut off the body where the joints are, such as at the ankles, knees or elbows.
Instead, frame the subject so that he or she gets cut off above or below the joints, so anywhere between the knees and the ankles, or knees and waist is okay. For a tighter shot, aim for above the waist.
Pro tip 1: When shooting a human subject that is leaving the frame, the general practise is to have the subject exit on the left side of the frame. Should he or she re-enter the scene, it should be from the right side of the frame.
Pro tip 2: Don’t attempt 360° pans unless you want to give your audience motion sickness – panning shots should be only as far as your body can twist.
Pro tip 3: Try not to have the same camera angle for too long. Typically shots from one camera angle should only last for no more than 10 seconds. If it’s a long interview, you can break up the monotony by shooting inserts of related videos (also called B-roll).
The editing room
If you’re a professional, you would probably own a powerful PC with Adobe Premiere Pro for editing and cutting your videos.
For most of us who shoot videos on our smartphones, being able to edit right on the device is the preferable option.
On Android try PowerDirector from CyberLink – it’s a powerful app but it displays ads and also adds watermark to your videos unless you purchase the full version for RM23.99.
If you have an iOS device, Apple’s own iMovie is great (and free). It’s a really powerful video editor and is also relatively simple to use.
If you want to try something different, check out Pinnacle Studio – it has better titling options so if that’s important to you then this is the one to go for.