Technology advances these days at a lightning speed. Thanks to the massive improvements in camera performance as well as Android and Apple software updates, a smartphone is the go-to tool for creating high-quality videos to attract an audience and build revenue.

While all the updates made to phone cameras over the past few years are nothing short of amazing, they can also be tricky to get the hang of and even quite daunting if you’re brand new to filming with smartphones.

Below, I have broken down the three stages of filming: pre-filming, filming and editing. Within each there are several considerations I suggest going through. Let’s begin!

Pre-Filming

Plan the Content

The planning and preparation of your content should always be the first step when it comes to creating any kind of video. Even if you’re the type of person who likes to jump in headfirst and you don’t feel too much need for preparation, it’s highly recommended that you at least create a basic outline of your video content. Some people prefer to use simple bullet points that cover the key topics, while others prefer writing down the entire word-for-word script.

Regardless of how intense you get with preparing your content, the key here is that some level of preparation is necessary. With the right preparation, you’ll not only be able to shoot videos on phone cameras faster, but there’s a very good chance that the content will be more engaging for your audience too.

Filming

Film Out-of-App

Always, always, always film on your phone’s camera. Not in TikTok, not in the Instagram app, not on Snapchat. I don’t care if you think the filter makes you look prettier, we can edit this later if you want to. The quality is so much better and having the raw files in your smartphone also allows for the content to be repurposed without worrying about watermarks and other limitations.

Make Sure to Film in 4K

This is such a simple tip but you would be surprised how many forget to do it. When filming on your phone camera (remember – not in app otherwise this option will not be available to you) go to the top right (for iPhone users) and tap where it says HD. Tapping on it will change it to say 4K. You will notice the quality shift straightaway. This is particularly important if filming with natural lighting as 4K reduces the light that hits the subject from the back. 

Lighting

When it comes to good lighting, the subject of your video (what you want your viewers to focus on), should be your main priority and what you light first.  From there, you can then use additional lights to brighten up the background and other areas of your shot.
It’s possible to utilize natural light, but for some, there’s not enough natural light to make a pro YouTube video on your phone. In that case, you can use just about any kind of light that you have around the house to brighten things up, like a lamp from your bedside table.

Location

After preparing the content, the next step is to decide on a shooting location. Some of us are more limited on video shooting venues than others, and that’s OK. The main thing to remember is to find a filming location with the least amount of distractions possible.
There are a lot of things that can get in the way of your video as well as your train of thought, like your neighbor mowing the lawn, airplanes flying overhead, or kids playing outside. These things can and probably will be distracting for the viewers, and they can also be distracting for you. So just try to find a quiet space with minimal background noise.

Another important factor in deciding on where to film is the overall vibe. By that, we mean the vibe of the location should match the vibe of the video content you’re about to produce. No Food Network videos are shot in commercial gym settings – they’re produced in the kitchen, and there’s a reason for that.

Choose Either the Front or Rear Camera

After locking down your filming location, it’s finally time to start playing around with your camera. When it comes to your camera’s orientation, there are 2 options: the front-facing lens (AKA the selfie camera) or the phone’s primary camera.

The primary camera on an Android smartphone is the main camera lens located on the back of the device. Using this lens typically results in the highest quality videos, so you might think it’s a no-brainer to go with this one. However, using the primary camera does have its drawbacks.

The biggest one is that it can be difficult to shoot videos alone since the screen will be facing away. That means you won’t be able to quickly glance at the screen for updates on video quality and recording progress. The good news, though, is that there are some helpful tools that make filming with smartphone devices on the primary camera easier, like using a mirror.

The other option is to use the phone’s front-facing camera, which you might know better as the “Selfie” camera. This is the easier filming choice since you’ll be able to quickly glance at yourself while filming to make sure all is good. And with Android camera updates, even the front-facing lens is perfectly capable of delivering high-quality footage.

An important thing to remember while using the selfie camera is to always make eye contact with the lens. It’s a common mistake for the video maker to stare at himself/herself rather than the lens when filming in Selfie mode. When that happens, there’s no eye contact being made with the viewers. This looks unnatural, not to mention it’s unengaging, so always keep your eyes on the lens and not on yourself!

Focus

Simple as it sounds, make sure you or your subject is in focus otherwise viewers will be focusing more on a white wall than the necessary subject. If you’re filming yourself from the back camera, a test video is especially important to do, see further on for details.

Clean the Lens

This next step may seem like common sense to most, but you’d be surprised by how many people record videos through a dirty iPhone lens. Fingerprints, dirt, makeup, and facial oils can greatly hinder filming quality, so make it a habit to wipe off the camera lens before you start recording.
Even if it looks clean, just spend 5 seconds to ensure that it actually is. To avoid scratching the lens, it’s best to use a microfiber cloth or lens cloth that you’d use to clean a pair of glasses.

Set Phone to Flight Mode or Do Not Disturb

Your phone isn’t just a camera, for this reason, your device should always be set to Flight mode or Do Not Disturb mode while filming to prevent all notifications, texts, and phone calls from coming through.

Chances are, this smartphone is your main line of communication, so there’s no telling how many texts, emails, or calls you’ll get while you film a video with your phone. These could potentially distract you, or even worse, delete what you’ve already filmed. 

Positioning

There’s nothing professional or enjoyable about a video that’s shaky and unstable. Even if you think you’ve got steady hands, you’ll realize those hands aren’t as steady as you once thought after you playback the footage.

There are plenty of different options for stabilization when filming with smartphones. It can be as simple as propping the device up against a bookcase, and even a selfie stick can reduce shakiness significantly. If you plan on moving around in your video, a gimbal stabilizer like the Osmo Mobile definitely can come in handy.

For video creators who plan on staying in one position with no movement at all, there are plenty of other options for stabilization. Just make sure to secure the phone at the right height, ideally so that the lens is located ever so slightly below eye level. An Arkon Tripod + Phone Mount can help with that. This tool doesn’t break the bank – it’s in the $20 price range – and it gives users the option of filming in either landscape or portrait mode while holding a smartphone securely in place.

Film a Test Video

You’ve already made it this far, so do yourself a favor by recording a test video before you move on to the real deal. This will give you a chance to check out the lighting, audio, and fix any flaws that need fixing.

For the test, set everything up as if it’s the real thing, sit exactly as you plan on sitting in the video, press record, and present for 10 to 20 seconds to see how everything is reading. This is a real time-saver, and the best part is that it will only take a few minutes of your time.

When you playback your video to make sure everything is ready for shooting, you might have to unplug your microphone to hear the audio. If that’s the case, just be sure to plug everything back in once your test is complete so that you don’t end up creating a video with no audio.

Accessories

Let’s be honest: smartphone cameras are fantastic but they’re designed to be a multi-use device. For this reason, the quality just isn’t as good as the powerhouses made by Canon, Panasonic or Sony, mostly because smartphone cameras and their stock camera apps lack finer controls and other things, even though they are getting much better.

If you, therefore, want to take your smartphone video-recording skills to the next level, without having to buy a pricey DSLR, you might want to consider buying accessories that reveal your camera’s true potential. You can get everything from tripod mounting systems to creative lens add-ons.

Lighting add-ons can also be a huge help without the need for more expensive filming equipment. There are a few affordable LED lights out there that can make a world of difference, like the YONGNUO YN300 Air. This is a great choice for filling in shadows and allowing the subject video to stand out against the background.

Editing

Once you have filmed your video and have all the raw files in your gallery, it is time to edit the content. Oftentimes, different platforms require different edits of the same content. For example, TikTok allows for 3 and 10 minute videos whereas Instagram Reels have a maximum of 2 minutes. For that reason, I sometimes edit my singing videos, posting the whole song to TikTok (usually between 3 and 4 minutes) and posting only a verse, chorus and bridge or outro to Instagram Reels (usually between 1 minute and 1 minute 40 seconds).

Several editing aids make these slight changes a lot smoother for me. Let’s unpack…

Mobile Apps for Help (InShot)

Everything from basic trimming to adding transitions, titles, and effects is simple on both iOS and Android mobile devices. Whether your next video is a montage or a school project, mobile apps can streamline the video-editing process. Apple’s own iMovie for iPhone and iPad, for instance, includes titles and transitions and even supports making theatrical trailers on the go. Other features include picture-in-picture, split screen, and slow-motion effects. It’s very similar to iMovie on the Mac, in fact. For iPad Pro, you might want to give LumaFusion or Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve a go, although those are quite pricey if you want a full suite of features.

My personal favorite app is InShot. It is totally free (with a premium option) and allows you to frame any content for TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and more. You can also extract audio, color grade, add cinematic text and more.

Color Grading

If you’re filming on a dull day, want to enhance color or give your content a specific cinematic or grainy feel, it is worth color grading your footage. I recommend watching YouTube videos and searching “how to color grade for a X look” replacing X with a term that describes the look you’re going for e.g vintage, bright, 80s, glossy etc. 

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