Use these seven tips to get more cinematic footage with your smartphone videos

Mar 27, 2019

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Use these seven tips to get more cinematic footage with your smartphone videos

Mar 27, 2019

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Shooting video on a smartphone has become far more commonplace now than it used to be. Even for quite serious projects. And, sure, it was part of a Samsung Promotion, but even The Tonight Show has now shot an entire episode using nothing but Samsung Galaxy S10+ Smartphones.

But what can we do with our own phones to help up the production value in our smartphone videos? In this video, Zach Ramelan shares 7 tips to help you get the most out of your smartphone video footage to produce better results.

Shoot different framerates

Most phones, especially with 3rd party apps like Filmic Pro, can record in multiple frame rates. With phones offering anything from 24 up to 1,000 frames per second these days, it often pays to take advantage of these features. Shooting and playing back at 24 frames per second can give you that similar sort of feel of movement and motion blur that we often see in movies. But shooting at 1,000 frames per second (or even 120) and playing back at 24 can make for some very nice slow motion effects.

Good lighting is vital

This is the biggest contributing factor when it comes to making footage look “cinematic”. No matter how perfect everything else is, if the lighting is dull, flat and horrible, it’ll never get that look you’re after. While good lighting at alone won’t give you an instant cinematic look, it’s the one thing that will let everything else down of it’s not spot on.

If you’re shooting outdoors, consider shooting at golden hour. It’s not the only time you can shoot, but it’s one of the easiest. You can shoot in brighter daylight conditions if you position yourself well relative to the light, and you can bring your shutter speed under control with neutral density. You can also shoot fine at night as long as you have some supplemental lighting, although the shadows might still get quite noisy.

Use a gimbal

Gimbals for smartphones have become incredibly cheap now. Even something fairly advanced like the Zhiyun Smooth 4 or DJI Osmo Mobile 2 are only around $120-140. But they make a massive difference in your footage. Eliminating that shaky handheld feel is the single biggest difference you can make to your smartphone video footage. I’ve been using a gimbal of some sort or another with my phone since 2016, and they’re absolutely invaluable to me.

Shoot in 4K

Even though your project might not require 4K, it’s worth shooting 4K footage. Why? Because if you do need to stabilise in post on a 1080p timeline, then you’ve got a little wiggle room to run the warp stabiliser without it having to zoom your footage in and losing detail. You can also recrop or digitally zoom the shot in post while retaining maximum detail on a 1080p sequence.

Use manual exposure controls

The native camera app for iOS doesn’t really offer anything in the way of manual controls, but most Android phones offer a “Pro” mode that lets you override the default ISO, shutter speed, white balance and various other options. 3rd party apps, like Filmic Pro will also offer you a greater degree of control over your shot. So, take advantage of whatever manual exposure controls are available to you. It lets you get consistency between your shots and have them look more the way you envisioned in your head.

Treat it like you’re using a real camera

This is a tough one to get over because we’re just so used to quickly whipping out our phones and grabbing a clip of whatever’s going on around us. But you really have to treat it more like a cinematic tool, just like any other camera. When you put some real thought into your composition, movement and other factors of the shot, you’ll start to get much better results.

Ok, so you’re almost never going to make phone footage for an entire film, even a short one, look like it was shot on a DSLR, mirrorless or cinema camera. But if all you have is a phone, then it’s good to start putting these things into practice now so that when you are able to move to something more advanced, you’re not starting completely from scratch.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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One response to “Use these seven tips to get more cinematic footage with your smartphone videos”

  1. Sayedul Avatar
    Sayedul

    With the advancement of smartphones things have become really easy. We can now capture cinematic footaged with these smartphones. But such tips which are mentioned here can help us enhance our skill to capture great cinematics with smartphones. Thanks a lot to John for sharing these amazing tips here.