At ReelSmart we have identified five simple steps on how to create better DIY smartphone video content for your brand from the safety and comfort of your own home: choosing an appropriate location, properly lighting your subject, capturing clean audio, properly positioning and stabilizing your phone, and using the right recording settings. In this 10 minute tutorial video, with convenient chapter markers, we walk you through each of these steps, and provide guidance on what affordable equipment (costing $100 or less) you can purchase to enhance your results.
(Note: Links to all equipment mentioned in the video are listed at the end of the transcript.)
Since the start of the COVID crisis and social distancing, a lot of clients have been asking me about how to create their own video footage that they could then send to me for professional editing. Typically, they’re looking to shoot interview or talking head style footage of themselves or their staff, and they turn to me for advice on capturing the highest quality footage using the smartphone cameras they and their staff have in right their pockets.
While they’re no replacement for the quality and precision of professional equipment, smart phone cameras are getting better and better with each passing year. And with a few easy techniques and under $100 worth of equipment, you can use them to capture fairly decent DIY interview and talking head footage.
With that said, as I explain in another video, we at ReelSmart have adopted policies to allow us to safely provide you with professional shoots during the pandemic. But if for any reason, having us come in is simply not a possibility right now, I’ve put together this short tutorial to fill you in on those techniques and bits of equipment you’ll need to get the best DIY smartphone video. Specifically, I’ll cover how to choose a location, how to get the best lighting and audio, how to position and stabilize your phone, and what recording settings to use. I’ll even take a brief look at some apps that can provide you with greater control over your camera settings.
Choosing a Location
The first thing you want to do is find a good shooting location and you should keep three things in mind when you do so:
How to Properly Light Yourself or Your Subject
The easiest way to properly light yourself is with the natural, abundant lighting of the sun. The advantage of natural lighting is that it’s free and saves you from having to rig up your own lighting kit. The disadvantage is that it places some limits on your control of both the direction and intensity of the light.
So, the first thing you need to do is find a position where the windows will either be in front of you or off to the side, rather than directly behind you, so that you can avoid backlighting.
Next, if you’re using natural lighting, try to do the recording on a day when the sky is completely clear or fully overcast, so that that the light’s intensity and your camera’s exposure settings remain constant. If the sun is constantly moving in and out of the clouds, the intensity of the light and thus the exposure of your shot is going to fluctuate massively.
If for some reason you can’t illuminate your face with natural light (or if, in addition to natural lighting in a room, you want to make your face pop out a bit more), there are a couple of things you can do:
How to Get Clean Smartphone Audio
Another big challenge for DIY smartphone video is getting crisp, clean audio. You can’t rely on the phone’s built in microphone, because its sensitivity drops off dramatically once you move it just a few inches from your mouth, and you’ll need to be seated a few feet away from it. So, unless you want it to sound like you’re talking through a drive-through speaker, you’ll have to spring for a mic attachment for your phone. The good news is there are plenty of affordable lavalier mic options on the market like this one from Polson which I purchased for $30 from B&H Photo Video.
Just plug the lav right into your mic jack or iPhone lighting port, feed it up under your shirt, and clip it to your collar like so and you’ll be good to go. There should be no need to adjust your levels, as your phone should do that automatically.
How to Position and Stabilize Your Phone and Frame Your Shot
The next thing you need to know for DIY smartphone video is how to properly set up your camera and frame your shot. As I mentioned earlier, I recommend seating yourself in front of a desk so that you position your phone and other equipment on top of it. For this setup, I recommend that you purchase a desktop tripod and smartphone mounting attachment. Here I’m using the Manfrotto PIXI Smart Mini Tripod, which costs just $27, and for just $36 you can buy it in a bundle with a Smartphone clip attached.
I recommend using a tripod over simply propping the phone on your desk because it ensures greater stability for the camera, and makes the job of framing your shot a lot easier.
To properly compose your shot, set up the camera horizontally so that it is level with your face, with the screen facing you and the screen side camera switched on. The then follow the “rule of thirds” to frame your face. This is a standard composition technique in which we divided the screen into thirds both vertically and horizontally. If you go into your phone’s camera settings, you should be able to choose an option to turn on a “grid” that divides the screen up in exactly this way. This grid will not show up in the recording.
If you’re shooting an interview-style video in which you’ll be looking off camera, use the rule of thirds to position your eyes at the intersection of the two lines at the top of the corner of the image on the opposite side from the direction that you’ll be looking. You always want to be looking across the field of the frame, not off to the side that your face is positioned on.
If you want to do a video in which you’re talking directly to the viewer, like I’m doing with this video, AND if you want to have text appear on the screen like I do in this video, frame your face in the same way as the interview style but make sure that you look directly at the lens at the top of the phone, and remember to avoid looking at yourself on the screen as your talking. While it’s tempting to watch yourself speaking, always stay focused on the camera dot.
If you want to talk to directly to the viewer and don’t need to have text appear on the screen, you can position yourself in the center of the frame with your eyes along the upper thirds line. But again, remember to look at the camera, not at your image.
Adjust Your Phone’s Recording Settings and Clear Storage
The final thing you need to do before shooting is to set up your phone’s video recording settings. Because there are so many different brands and models of phones, I’m going to leave it to you to search for tutorials on how to navigate your specific phone’s functions. Some of the newer models of phones like the iPhone from 8 on up have fairly advanced settings that allow you to fine tune things like your shutter speed and white balance, and these adjustments can make a noticeable difference in the quality of your footage, so I highly recommend finding watching a tutorial to learn how to use them.
But for our purposes here, those most important settings you’ll need to know pertain to your resolution, frame rate and shutter speed. I recommend that you shoot with a 1080p resolution and at a rate of 24fps if that setting is available. If your phone does not have a 24fps setting, go with the 30fps setting. If your phone allows you to adjust the shutter speed, set the speed to 1/48 for 24fps, or 1/60 for 30fps. As you’ll see, in each case the denominator of the shutter speed is twice the number of your frame rate. This is in line with what we call the call the 180 degree shutter rule in the video and film production world, and without getting too into the weeds, it results in footage with a more cinematic look.
As an additional note, if you’re wondering why I recommend using a 1080 HD rather than 4K resolution, that’s simply because the higher 4K resolution will take up about 2.5 times more memory on your phone than 1080HD and the added picture quality you’ll get from it is unnecessary given that most people will be watching your videos on a screen that is smaller thank 4K such as a laptop, tablet or phone.
And while I’m on the topic of storage, before you press record, make sure that you have enough free memory to accommodate your footage. Keep in mind that at 1080p and 30fps, you’ll need approximately 130 mb of free space for every minute of footage that you shoot.
Finally, make sure that you choose a file format like H.264 that is compatible with the major editing software programs like Adobe Premiere. Most phones will have such a format chosen by default, but just make sure that is the case before you start recording.
How to Export Your Footage (And Get An Editing Discount!)
Once you’ve recorded your clips and your ready to send them off to your editor, you can either directly upload them from your phone to a cloud storage site like Dropbox or Google Drive, or you can connect your phone to your computer and import them through your photo/video management program. If you need to know exactly how to do this, either search for a tutorial or contact us at ReelSmart and we’ll be happy to help walk you through it.
And of course once you’re ready to edit, ReelSmart is here to help you with all of your editing needs, and for watching this video, we’re happy to offer you 10% off your next editing project when you send us a quote request through our quote page and include the code DIYDiscount in your message.
Thanks again for watching our DIY smartphone tutorial. Be sure to keep an eye out for more video tips for the quarantine era in the coming weeks, and if you like what you learned today please don’t forget to share the link to this post with your social networks.
Until next time, stay safe and healthy.
EQUIPMENT PURCHASE LINKS
Tripod (if you’re not buying a light kit with one):
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