How to create better videos on your smartphone

As you might have seen from our YouTube channel, I tend to film quite a few hands-on videos.

Professional kit isn’t used, but with a bit of cleverness, you can get a professional-looking video. Some of the “tricks” I’ve used in recent years have been stored in my head, but I figured it’d be good to detail them in a post. Some might sound quite simple, but they all add up and should hopefully result in a better footage.


Here’s a few of the steps I try to take..

Try to get a phone with proper Optical Image Stabilization

Known simply as “OIS” in the smartphone spec-sheets, it’s in smartphones like the Xiaomi Mi 8, the OnePlus 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S-range. Smoother, more liquid-like footage can be captured with this. It’s ideal if you’re walking or moving around with your phone and if you don’t have a stand.

Oh, and while we’re talking about those…

  • Get a tripod or holder

I personally don’t have one of these, but I do have a flexible smartphone holder that can be bent and twisted into any particular shape. This is ideal for filming in the car or when I’m doing ad-hoc filming outside. I can just attach it to a table, a chair, a window-ledge. Done.

 

  • Make sure the area is brightly lit

I love the daylight and you’ll usually find footage filmed near a window or outside it possible. If it’s a video under electric light then you have to ensure that there’s far more light than you would normally need for day-to-day activities. Plus, aside from making sure the area is brightly lit, using soft lighting can make a big difference as well. It will be more even, and the shadows it creates won’t be as hard. When filming a smartphone, for example, you’ll get a lot of reflection off the screen, so softer and more uniformed lighting is better.

  • Adjust the resolution and frame rate

Increasing the resolution can improve your video definition, and nowadays it is best to record in 1080p at least. Using a higher frame rate can make your video look smoother – but it will require a faster shutter speed, which in turn will require more light.

If your smartphone supports it there are benefits to recording in 4K – even if you don’t want to ultimately export the video in that resolution. Notching it down to lower resolutions on YouTube won’t matter quite as much.

  • Use an external microphone

Bit tricky this one, but if I have the time I’ll try and record with a corded microphone. Most of the time I’m fairly close to the phone I’m filming on, so this isn’t a great problem, but if you’re further away then it’ll sound like you’re shouting at the phone to make yourself heard. That’s going to sound a bit rubbish on the final footage, so check into USB microphones which can offer this sort of functionality.

  • Avoid using the digital zoom

Zooming rarely works unless you’ve got some good optical zoom functionality. There’s more smartphones coming out now with different lens arrangements, and they tend to let you magically switch between the lenses as you zoom – this can work, but again – make sure you have the right smartphone with a decent set of lenses.

If you don’t have that, you can always zoom in afterwards in “post-production”, and this is where things head to the next stage.

Sure, you can upload direct to YouTube and edit your footage there, but you can also use apps like Movavi Video Editor or iMovie for PC to tweak your video after. Personally I’ll admit to using a Mac to do this bit as it works without breaking a sweat. You can cut and join clips, apply effects, add audio tracks, insert text, and more.

That should cover the basics that you need if you want to record good videos using a smartphone. The only other thing that you’ll need is a bit of practice so that you are able to familiarize yourself with how your smartphone responds to different types of lighting and movement.

I’d love to hear any additional tips if you have them. My wife tends to watch lots of YouTube bloggers and I’ve seen a lot of face-pointing lighting rigs, radio microphones and slick editing. All of this can cost money, so cheap and effective solutions would be interesting to cover here!

Samsung Galaxy A80 - Rotate and rise camera in action
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