How to get the most out of your mobile phone footage?
Updated: Mar 17
As a production company, we love video and believe it is a fantastic way to promote any business. Obviously, we are keen advocates of using the proper broadcast standard equipment and experienced crew to film and to tell your story in the best light. However, we understand that sometimes using a professional crew and kit isn't always possible, whether it's to do with budget or just an urgent need to capture something unmissable.
Mobile phone cameras have come a long long way in recent years in quality, but we often slightly cringe at how they are used and so we would like to talk about how to get the most out of your mobile phone footage for social media content to ensure that you get the most engagement out of your content. This is a condensed version of the advice we gave to our client IT Schools Africa, when they had a volunteer out in Africa working for them, and they wanted to get some footage without having to pay for a whole crew to go to Africa. The footage was cut with footage filmed in the UK, the film can be seen here.
1. Turn the phone right way
As a whole video should be shot landscape - it's what everyone is used to, it matches the shape of our eyes and vision, and will work well across pretty much all social media platforms, and if for any reason you need to drop your footage into another edit, it will work better later on giving a more consistent feel. However, there are times when portrait is the right way! For example, a Facebook or Instagram story will look better on a phone when it is in portrait. So know your platform that you are looking to use it on. 90% of the time you can't go wrong with landscape.
2. Stabilize the phone
Unless there is an artistic need such as to create drama with footage, try and stabilize the phone to avoid really shaky handheld footage as this can be distracting to the viewer to the point that they might switch off. Whether it's attaching it to a tripod (which can be brought for a low price), or balancing it against something a steady shot will always work better. If you do need to hold the phone, then try and rest your arm/hand against something as this will avoid some of the shake.
3. Avoid filming in a noisy environment
Whilst mobile phones have come along way with the camera quality, the microphone has seemingly been forgotten and aren't the greatest. Though that said, even the best phone microphone will not sound 'clean' as in each phone there is a series of fans and motors, imagine it as a small computer, so the microphone will pick up internal noise from the phone's workings. This combined with filming in a noisy setting will mean that your message is lost. By filming an interview in a quiet area will allow for the interview to be heard a lot better in the edit. If possible attach an external mic to the phone, this will help the sound a lot. These can be picked up relatively cheaply and will help give a much cleaner sound.
4. Film in a well-lit room
All cameras benefit well from light, some cameras can cope better in the dark, however, mobiles prefer as much light as possible, as they have low data rates, and the colour can not be fixed in the edit to easily.
5. Avoid creating silhouettes
Whilst having a well lit filming space is important, try not to interview someone in front of a light source, such as a window. As this will create a silhouette, meaning that the interviewee will be in darkness, but the outside will look good or may even look too bright as the camera will try and balance out the darkness.
6. Think about the framing
Is what you are going to say a direct message to the audience or is it more a general bit of information that you are providing? Having this thought can make a massive difference in how you frame the shot. If you are speaking directly to the audience, then looking at the camera is probably a better way to go, if not and you are giving more general advice, then look to the side of the camera - as if you are talking to someone in the room? Why not be interviewed by someone and get them to sit next to the camera, this will give a more appealing eye line.
Looking at the camera directly is quite a hard skill, as it almost becomes a reminder that the camera is there - but is a great method of talking to the audience. When thinking about the composition of a shot, also be aware of the background. Is there something offensive there that you wouldn't want on camera? Or is there a plant that will make it look like you have a shrub coming out of your head? Try and move things around so that the background is clean but try and avoid boring white walls, for example, move the plant from coming out of your head to the side. Also, try and allow a bit of space at the top and side of the frame, so your face doesn't fill the screen fully as this will feel a little more natural. Your eyes should be just below the top 1/3 of the screen.
7. Leave Gaps
If interviewing someone, get them to leave a gap after asking the question before answering, and same for once the question is answered, leave a gap before asking the next question. The gap doesn't need to be overly long, but more of an extended thinking pause. This practice will mean that you aren’t talking over each other, and if you then need it edited later, will make the editors' job easier.
8. Put the question into the answer
When interviewing, get the interviewee to put the question into the answer as this will help with telling the story in the edit, and means we can take the question out. For example, if the question is ‘what did you have for breakfast’ and the answer is ‘cereal’ a much better answer would be ‘for breakfast I had cereal’. This approach gives context to the answer. For the same reason ask open questions instead of closed questions that produce only yes and no answers.
9. Don’t be afraid to refilm
If someone gives a great answer, and there is a loud bang in the middle, or the camera moves, or the answer has a cough in the middle of it, don’t be afraid to ask to refilm it, and explain why you are doing it. At the end of the day you want the best film possible, and the person in front of the camera will want to look as good as possible, so refilming it will give a better end result. Also if there is an answer that isn’t quite perfect, give them the chance to answer again. Sometimes rewording the question can help get the desired answer, or focus on a particular statement within the answer. A follow-up question can sometimes be a really useful tool and can give extra insight. Using the breakfast question again, a good follow up question might be - what cereal did you have? Or why did you pick cereal and not a fry up?
10. Don’t move the camera too much
If an action is happening, it is better to capture the action that moving the camera to try and get a different shot. Every time the camera is moving, think that it is something the editor won’t use. A good rule of thumb is to hold a shot for at least 10-15 seconds, then move position and get a new angle. Also with a mobile try not to zoom in, as this creates a grain effect on the screen, instead move closer to the action.
11. Think about the edit
If the video isn't just going to be used as a vlog or a social media story, then the chances are the film will need to be edited. The real skill of a director is thinking about the edit and the end film. Have you got all the footage you need to tell a story? There is a general rule that 3 shots are needed as a minimum to make a sequence of shots. It is better to slightly over-film that not have enough for the edit, however, don’t keep the camera rolling for the sake of it, as more data, and more for the editor to look through and work out. Also if someone mentions something in their answers, and it is possible to film said thing, then go and get that shot. It will really help the edit. If you are editing it yourself, there are some great basic apps that you can edit on mobile. Whilst we don't use it ourselves, we have heard good things about Adobe Rush.
12. Can your audience understand you?
This is a really important point and one that shouldn't be missed. You have taken the time to make a film, whether it's just speaking to a camera or a little more crafted edited, you want your audience to be able to engage and interact with you and your message. So if you are putting your video on a social media platform, bear in mind that the audience will probably be watching it on a mobile device and without headphones. So use subtitles to help make sure your point is 'heard'. There are some great bits of software out there that can help you transcribe the video. Though we would go to YouTube and use their auto caption function to auto transcribe. We would then take the SRT file and use software to drop it on top of the video. (Most social media platforms will let you take the SRT and drop it in directly). Just beware with auto transcription software that mistakes will be made and think you have said a different word to what you have said so just go through it and check.
13. Clean your lens
This should probably be higher up the list, but really important to just give your lens a quick wipe before you press record. Mobile phones are often touched all over during the day, so it's worth just making sure you have a clean lens, as the last thing you want is a fingerprint on the camera.
14. Be safe
Lastly and it goes without saying really but always be safe, don’t take risks filming. It is better to film from a safe distance than put yourself in danger (i.e filming on a road).
These are our top tips to filming and editing on mobile, but if filming on a mobile is not for you, and you want to explore professional video for your business to promote your service and products, get in touch as we would love to help.