6 tips to shoot great video with your phone

Using video in your business can be a great competitive advantage and relying on a pro to create certain assets is a must (shameless plug).

February 4, 2020

Using video in your business can be a great competitive advantage and relying on a pro to create certain assets is a must (shameless plug). Fortunately, there are plenty of things that companies can create without outside help using cell phone cameras as mentioned. Your 15-year-old flip phone isn’t going to cut it, but there aren’t many of those dinosaurs left and the newer phones are amazing. Here are some tips to ensure you’re getting the absolute most out of your phone when shooting videos: 

 

  • The most important ingredient to ensure you get a clean (unpixellated) image on your cell phone is light. Make sure your subject is in a bright place, and make sure they are the brightest thing in the frame. Natural light is always a great option, so have your subject face a window, back up about 6-8 feet and place the phone directly in front of the window. You never want your subject to stand with their back to the window because chances are good that person, who in some cases may be you, will be way too dark. Why? Because cell phone cameras default to something called auto exposure, which means that the phone will find the brightest thing in the frame and ensure that image looks good, adjusting everything else accordingly. That’s the reason you end up with the person talking in full silhouette while the tree outside the window is perfectly exposed. 


  • In addition to defaulting to auto exposure, cell phone cameras rely on auto focus. That means that the phone’s brain chooses the most important part of your image and ensures that section is sharp, while the rest may look a bit blurry. A great way to help your camera lock in on the person speaking in the video is to choose a motionless background when possible. If there are televisions or cars, for example, behind the person speaking the camera may lock in on that motion and leave your subject out of focus. 


  • While natural light is a great option while available, it’s a good idea to have a small video light or an affordable light kit on hand when needed. Many people misunderstand the true value of video lights. Sure, they will brighten your subject up when there isn’t enough ambient light, but perhaps more important is that they eliminate unflattering shadows under the eyes, chin, etc. Chances are good that you’ll be shooting a lot of your DIY video in your office building, and most offices have overhead lights. When your subject stands under overhead lights, shadows under the eyes or chin can be a problem. A small video light, available at many online or big box retailers, is cheap to buy but invaluable to own. 


  • While you’re shopping for that single light or affordable light kit, pick yourself up a cell phone tripod. Remember the movie The Blair Witch Project? Some recall the film because it was scary or because it made a ton of money on a small budget, but it is perhaps best known for being shaky. The shakiness was totally appropriate for the subject matter in that case, but it definitely isn’t warranted for your business videos. There are plenty of table top tripods but I’d recommend getting a tall version that will allow for your subject to stand sometimes. When shooting with clients I often have them stand as opposed to sit for a few reasons. First, our voice often sounds better when we stand, which is why you never see professional singers record music sitting down. Second, many of us have bad posture when we sit. Our shoulders slump and we hunch over, making our clothes look sloppy. Standing fixes that problem in many cases. But perhaps the most important reason I prefer subjects to be out of the chair is that sitting stifles your energy. 


  • The most overlooked aspect of videos is not the visuals but the audio. I’ve lived in Philadelphia my entire life and one of our most beloved sports figures of all time is a basketball player by the name of Allen Iverson.  In an effort to get the crowd pumped up, Iverson would run around the court cupping his ear with his hand, a non-verbal request for the crowd to make some noise. Before you hit the record button I want you to think of Allen Iverson. Put your hand to your ear and just listen. Do you have loud HVAC or white noise pumping in the room?  Can you hear voices coming from the adjacent room? Whatever you can hear with your ear is what will be picked up by the phone’s mic so choosing a quiet space is key. What we've learned over the years is that people will forgive less than world-class video quality, but they simply will not continue watching a product with bad sound. Typically, rooms with carpet and some furniture or other soft objects will be ideal for preventing echo/reverb because those cushy surfaces absorb the sound. Conversely, tile or hardwood floors with high ceilings and naked walls are a recipe for audile disaster. And while you’re shopping for an inexpensive phone tripod and video light, I’d highly recommend getting a microphone for your phone. A lavalier/lapel/clip-on mic would serve you very well and they are super cheap. I found one online for $13 and it makes a world of difference in the audio quality when compared to your cell phone’s built in microphone. 


  • Framing refers to the space your subject occupies in the frame, or video image. This can go terribly wrong, but there are some easy-to-remember guidelines to ensure your stuff looks good. One of the biggest mistakes we see is allowing way too much head room above your subject, which means that there’s a bunch of empty space between the top of someone’s head and the top of the frame. Your subject’s head should come very close to the top of the screen with no more than about 10 percent of the vertical space visible above them. And finally, a quick note on eye line, which refers to where your subject’s eyes line up in relation to the camera. Typically, you don’t want your subject looking dramatically down at the camera for two main reasons. First, it will make the speaker look very imposing. That’s great for a monster movie but not for communication to customers or employees. Second, having a camera shooting straight up someone’s nostrils isn’t flattering. You also don’t want your subject looking dramatically upward. It will make them look meek and small. Rather, keep them camera at eye level or just slightly above or below, whichever you feel looks best. I really believe it’s a matter of preference. 

Pat is our resident video storyteller and can most often be found in The Green Room, our production studio. A documentary filmmaker both by passion and trade, Pat helps companies tell their stories in creative and compelling ways to attract customers and inspire employees. He loves hockey, hates coffee and spends his time away from the camera with his wife, Courtney, and their two kiddos, Skylar and Cameron.

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