9 Tips for Better Smartphone Filmmaking

The latest generation of smartphones come with pretty much everything you need to live a digital lifestyle, from apps that help keep you fit through to maps that can steer you in the right direction should you get lost. They’re also useful for making phone calls too!

One of the key areas, however, where they really have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years is in the quality of video footage they can deliver. No longer is this facility just there to give you a blurry, low res memory of an event you might have been to. Now the modern smartphone is being looked at as a serious filming device in its right, with the capability of delivering 4K footage and meeting the demands of a professional clientele. Crucially these devices are lightweight and compact to carry, pretty much everyone carries one these days and an entire outfit that will enable high quality footage to be produced can still be carried in one small over-the-shoulder bag.

You can’t just vaguely wave your phone at a scene, press record and hope to come away with a high quality film, however. You still need to employ time-honoured filmmaking skills and invest in some crucial accessories that will help you to optimise your results. Follow our top ten tips, however, and that state-of-the-art smartphone in your pocket could give you some formidable results!

  • Think about the format you’re shooting in. It might feel more natural to hold your phone in an upright position, but it’s more filmic to shoot with it orientated in a horizontal way. The footage you produce will also fit the format of a TV or a film screen, which is likely to be where your results will ultimately be viewed.
  • Have a pre-conceived idea of what you’re setting out to shoot since, unlike a conventional camera, it’s often not possible to switch out batteries during the shoot and if you’re using an iPhone you won’t be able to move to a fresh memory card either, although you can do this with the Samsung Galaxy models. Buy a smartphone with the biggest on-board memory you can afford – i.e. bigger than 16GB - and it will give you more shooting time.
  • Keep things steady. This really is the key to everything, because wobbly footage generally doesn’t look great, and only really tends to work if you’re going for a deliberate ‘fly-on-the-wall’ type look. There are dedicated smartphone rigs out there now that will house your phone while providing fixing points for accessories at the same time. Some of these will come with fixings for supplementary lenses, giving you the choice of a wider or longer view, while it’s also possible to buy supplementary lenses from a variety of sources that will fit directly to the smartphone and substantially increase your options. Don’t try to go for long shots by zooming in on your camera, since all you’re doing is digitally cropping into the image and you’ll degrade the quality of your output.
  • Source one of the many accessories out there that will clamp around your smartphone to provide a tripod bush. Suddenly this opens up a whole new avenue of possibilities, and you can think about using your smartphone on an accessory. The Kenro Smart Lite Smartphone Adapter paired with the Kenro Smart Lite Mini Tripod and Grip is perfect for this job!
  • Think about audio. Just as with a conventional camera, the on-board sound you can record with a smartphone will be very ordinary and is really only suitable for use as a guide track. If you want something that’s substantially better but which still leaves you with a very portable device that’s flexible to use. The Kenro Lavalier Microphone pairs perfectly with most smartphone devices to give you crisp, clean audio.
  • Manually set exposure and focus. The latest smartphones are all geared up to offer automatic functions, but as a filmmaker it’s crucial that you’re in control and the footage you’re producing is consistent, and not obviously changing to suit conditions as you pan around. So you don’t want the focus hunting or the exposure changing as you film a scene, and the best way around this is to activate the AE/AF lock button if your smartphone happens to have one. Manually setting the focus will work well, providing that you’re not moving from a subject close in to one that’s on the horizon within a single shot: plan your scene and keep the action within the same area.
  • Think about lighting. For filming you’ll need continuous lighting and there are all kinds of options out there. Whether you're looking for ring lights for beauty shots that have smartphone adapters built in for easy set up, or whether you're looking for something more portable with a long battery life like the Kenro RGB Smart Light range including the Compact LED Video Lights or RGB Tube Lights.
  • Think about other, less obvious lighting solutions. If you’re keen to travel light, which is something it’s very easy to do with a smartphone set up, pack a collapsible reflector, which takes up very little space but which can be popped open when required, allowing you to bounce a little extra fill light into a face or an impenetrable shadow.
  • Get your head around editing. Just because you’ve shot your footage on a smartphone doesn’t mean you can cut corners at other stages of the process. Upload your material into your editing software as usual and take just as much time over achieving the perfect end result as you would have done with footage shot with a dedicated video camera.

It’s very possible that you may already have a powerful filmmaking device in your pocket, so go online and take a look at what others have been doing with their own smartphones. The quality and breadth of what’s being achieved is truly astonishing, and if you follow the rules you too could be producing films that have that professional feel.