How to Craft Cinematic Masterpieces on Your Smartphone
By Scott Barker, NAU Social Media | Digital Communications Coordinator
The realm of mobile videography involves a combination of technical knowledge, creativity, and careful planning
Here are my tried and true tips to elevates your mobile videography, and transform your ordinary smartphone footage into captivating visual stories.
1. Stabilization is Key
Stability is a fundamental aspect of videography, and it’s essential in smartphone videography.
Shaky videos can distract the viewer and detract from the narrative you’re trying to portray — undermining your content’s overall quality and impact.
In contrast, stable footage looks professional, makes it easier for viewers to focus on your subject or scene, and gives your videos a high-quality, cinematic feel.
Good news. There are several tools you can use to achieve stability with smartphone videos:
- Tripods are excellent for static shots where your smartphone remains in one position. They are handy for time-lapse videos or scenarios where you need your camera to be entirely still.
- Gimbals use motors and sensors to support and stabilize. Smartphone gimbals, like the DJI Osmo Mobile series or the Zhiyun Smooth series, are fantastic when you need to move the camera smoothly. They counteract handshake and other movements to give you smooth, cinematic footage.
- Built-in stabilization comes in most modern smartphones. These systems reduce blurriness caused by small movements during handheld video recording. They’re beneficial when you can’t use a tripod or gimbal but may only sometimes be as effective as those dedicated tools.
A little investment in the right tools and techniques for stabilization can go a long way in improving the quality of your smartphone videos.
Practice and experiment with different tools to determine what works best for you and your unique filming style.
2. Master the Rule of Thirds
When filming, imagine your frame is divided into nine equal sections by two horizontal and two vertical lines.
This grid aids you in framing your video shots. Placing your main subjects or key elements along these lines or at their intersections often creates a more balanced, visually exciting picture than centering the subject.
This technique naturally guides the viewer’s eye around the frame and can add depth and dimension to your footage.
When the action or subject is placed off-center, it creates a sense of movement or anticipation. This technique is especially effective in scenes where the subject moves, giving them “room” to move within the frame.
Keep the Rule of Thirds in your videography toolkit, and don’t be afraid to experiment to see how it can enhance your storytelling.
The Rule of Thirds is a guideline, not a hard-and-fast rule. It’s okay to break it when the situation or creative vision calls for it.
3. Consider Your Light Source
Light is a key element that shapes everything we see and, therefore, everything we capture in our videos.
The quality, direction, and color of light can dramatically alter your footage’s mood, emotion, and overall impact. Good lighting accentuates details, creates depth, and adds a dramatic effect to your scenes.
It’s essential to be mindful of the time of day when shooting.
- When shooting outdoors, the best and most accessible source of light is the sun. Natural light gives an organic, pleasing aesthetic that can be difficult to reproduce artificially. Early morning and late afternoon, often called ‘Golden Hour,’ provide the most flattering light with soft, diffused illumination and long shadows.
- Generally, avoid shooting subjects with a vital light source directly behind them unless you’re going for a silhouette effect. Backlighting can cause your subject to be underexposed, rendering them silhouettes and making it difficult to see their features.
Lumberjack Tip: When shooting indoors, consider the direction and intensity of light sources such as windows, lamps, or overhead lights.
I once interviewed a professor in a room with a large window behind them. The bright light from the window caused the professor to appear as a dark silhouette in the footage, obscuring their facial expressions and reducing the impact of the interview. This taught me an essential lesson about light positioning.
From then on — I’ve have made it a point to position our subjects so that the primary light source is either in front of them or to their side. This illuminates their features clearly, adding depth and detail to the shot.
In summary, understanding light and using it to your advantage can significantly improve the quality and aesthetic of your smartphone videos.
- Always be mindful of your light source when planning your video shots.
- Ensure that your subjects are well-lit and avoid backlighting unless you’re intentionally aiming for a silhouette effect.
4. Capture High-Quality Audio
Quality audio is crucial.
Studies have shown that viewers are often more likely to tolerate lower video quality than poor audio quality.
Ensuring your sound is clear, balanced, and free of disruptive background noise can significantly elevate the viewer’s experience.
Smartphone cameras have dramatically improved — but built-in microphones often lag and are prone to recording unwanted background noise.
To overcome these limitations, consider using an external microphone. There are various types of external mics available for smartphones.
- Lapel/Lavalier Mics These are small, clip-on microphones you can attach to your subject’s clothing. They’re perfect for interviews or presentations as they can pick up the subject’s voice clearly — even in noisy environments.
- Shotgun Mics: These are directional microphones that capture sound from the direction they’re pointed at while minimizing background noise. They are ideal for scenarios where the sound source is far from the camera.
- Condenser Mics: These are often used in controlled environments (like indoors) for their sensitivity and ability to capture a wide range of frequencies.
I learned the importance of quality audio the hard way. I once shared a video of a student-athlete interview that had been recorded using the smartphone’s built-in microphone.
The viewers needed help understanding the student’s speech, reducing the video’s impact before including captioning.
After receiving feedback, we decided to invest in a lapel microphone.
The difference in audio quality was significant.
With the lapel mics, the speaker’s voice was clear, and the message was conveyed effectively — enhancing the overall impact of our video.
The experience was a powerful reminder of the importance of audio and we have since prioritized capturing high-quality sound in all our video projects.
In summary, while visuals are vital to any video — always appreciate the importance of clear and quality audio.
Invest in a good external microphone and be mindful of your sound environment.
5. Plan Your Shots
Videography is a storytelling medium. Each shot is a sentence that together conforms to a complete narrative.
Without a plan, it’s like trying to write a story without a plot.
Without a plan, the result can be a series of disconnected clips.
My advice: plan it out
- Establish the Purpose: Before you start filming, define the objective of your video. Is it to inform, entertain, inspire, or persuade? Your video’s purpose will guide your shots’ tone, style, and content.
- Storyboard: A storyboard is a scene-by-scene visual representation of your video. It doesn’t have to be artistically perfect; it’s just a way to map out the sequence of shots and visualize how they’ll come together.
- Plan Transitions: Transitions smoothly connect one shot to the next and help maintain the flow of the video. Think about camera movements, the order of scenes, or using editing techniques to merge clips seamlessly.
In my early years, I’d hit record and hope to capture something interesting.
However, the resulting videos often felt disjointed. After acknowledging this shortcoming, I shifted my approach to include more thorough planning.
I now invest time in identifying the purpose of our videos, storyboarding our shots, and planning our transitions.
The impact of this change was evident. Our videos became more coherent, the storytelling was more robust, and viewer engagement improved significantly.
In sum, the realm of mobile videography involves a combination of technical knowledge, creativity, and careful planning.
Ensure your footage is stabilized, apply the Rule of Thirds, pay attention to your light source, capture high-quality audio and above all, thoroughly plan your video out.