Shooting video on smartphones

I was asked by one of my regular clients to produce guidelines to help a handful of their customers film good quality video on their smartphones. The customers would record themselves reciting a section of a poem, and then send their video files on to us, who would edit them together into a montage to be released online next year.

Our main concern was how to ensure the quality of footage was consistent across all participants; hence the requirement for guidelines to be produced. I had my reservations about relying on user generated content at first, but nevertheless I found the process of going back to basics quite satisfying. I started by asking myself ‘if I knew nothing about recording video, what are the fundamental things to consider when you pick up a camera/smartphone for the first time‘.

I didn’t want to overload the customers so inevitably there were a few things omitted from the guide such as stabilization devices and 3rd party apps that ‘unlocked’ the smartphone’s video potential to a higher degree (e.g. Filmic Pro app that allows higher bitrate and frame rate recording). Also I opted against explaining white balance and colour temperatures.

Anyway, here’s what we went ahead with, hopefully it’ll help the customers with the basics. At the very least I’d hope it was in focus and shoot the right way up (horizontally, obviously!)

Video Guidelines

The cameras you find on smartphones are generally very good nowadays. They perform well in low light and their microphones have come on leaps and bounds. However there’s still some things you can do to ensure the highest quality output from your smartphone’s video camera.

Setting up for filming

  • Have the camera set to video mode, and make sure you have plenty of battery left. You may also want to switch to flight mode to avoid any interruptions during recording.
  • If you can have someone behind the ‘camera’ keeping an eye on things that would be ideal. You may also want to pop some headphones into the 3.5mm jack for them to monitor the audio levels too (much sure you’re not too quiet or too loud).
  • One of the most distracting thing about poorly shot video can be ‘shaky cam’. To avoid wobbly footage, you’ll want to pop your smartphone on a tripod or gorillapod. Failing that, put the camera on a flat surface such as a table or the arm of chair and use something to prop it up and hold it in place for the duration of filming.
  • Something most people overlook when they start filming is their lighting. If you’re outside this is less likely to affect you, but if you opt to film indoors make sure there’s enough light falling onto your subject (YOU). If the image starts to look grainy, like an old photograph you may need more light in your scene. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, just a desk lamp tilted towards you can sometimes make a huge difference.
  • Most smartphone cameras use Auto focus (AF) and Auto Exposure (AE). If possible, try to turn these off and dial in the focus and exposure yourself. Adjust the focus until your subject (that’s you again) is ‘sharp’ i.e. not blurry/fuzzy around the edges. Then adjust the exposure (that’s the amount of light that’s let into the camera) until everything in your scene is lit evenly.
  • Shoot horizontally! This is a biggy! Make sure your phone is turned on its side, in the landscape position. Some smartphone cameras allow you to turn grids on to help with your framing too.
    You’ll want to place yourself right in the centre, trying not to cut the top of your head off out of frame.
  • Most internal microphones on smartphones are pretty good, however we advise using an external microphone if you have one. If you’re planning on doing a lot of filming in the future you might to think about buying the Rode SmartLav. It’s a relatively cheap way of recording great audio with your smartphone.


During filming


  • Before you shout ‘ACTION’ have a quick look in the mirror; look out for spinach in your teeth or that odd stray hair.
  • Quiet on set! Make sure everyone around you stays as quiet as possible during filming. Turn off the radio or TV, and ask everyone in the room pops their phones on silent.
  • Once the camera is recording, wait a couple of seconds before reciting your lines, breathe, then go for it! Same goes for when you’ve finished too. It will help mentally prepare you, but also gives us ‘wiggle room’ for when we come to edit the video together.
  • Try to look right into the camera lens during each take.
  • Don’t rush! Be as clear as you can with your speech, especially if the camera is quite far away from you.
  • Don’t be afraid to play it back, show your friends and family, and get some feedback.


Once you’ve finished filming

  • Locate your video files on your smartphone. Choose your best ‘take’ and send the file using WeTransfer to……….
  • The files are likely to be quite big so you might want to connect to WiFi before uploading with WeTransfer.