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The Complete Guide to Great Video with a Smartphone

Church video without a video camera?

Sometimes our ambition is bigger than our budgets. Nowhere does that discrepancy become larger than with church video production. We dream like Spielberg and budget like a deacon. But just because you don't have a professional (or even amateur) video camera, doesn't mean you can't make a decent video.

Nowadays we all have a capable HD camera in our pocket. Let’s figure out how to make it work for us. Smartphone cameras CAN take great video, if we control what they do and what they see.

The Complete Guide to Great Video with a Smartphone

Step 1 - Manual Controls

The very first thing we need to get a good, controllable image out of our cell phone is to get manual control over the camera. Most smartphones do NOT have manual controls for video built in, but of course, there is an app for that. The best option on both Android and iOS is Filmic Pro. Filmic Pro is a paid app that cost $15. Expensive for an app, but still cheaper than a DSLR. Filmic Pro will give us the ability to control exposure and focus. Nothing makes a video look more amateur than the camera constantly adjusting exposure and focus during a shot.

Step 2 - Lighting

Good lighting = good image. Bad lighting = bad image. It's that simple. Remember, you are NOT taking a picture of an object, you are taking a picture of the light bouncing off an object. When it comes to budget lighting for filming, your two best options are:

A Cloudy Day/Shade - Clouds have the wonderful ability to turn the sky into a giant soft box. The light from a cloudy day is bright, soft, and high quality. That is hard to beat.

A Soft Box Kit - If the weather just doesn’t want to cooperate with you (which it usually doesn’t), then a cheap soft box kit from Amazon should do the trick. You can buy these kits for around $60 and it is money well spent when it comes to getting a good image. Here is the soft box kit that I currently use: (Full Disclosure: I will receive a small commission on anything purchased through the Amazon affiliate links at no extra cost to you. Thanks for the support.)

Step 3 - Tripod

Unless you have a reason NOT to use a tripod, use one. Shaky handheld video is a subconscious clue to the viewer that this footage was shot on a cheap camera without much effort. Putting the phone on a tripod will immediately set your footage apart from 90% of videos shot on cell phones.

Step 4 - Audio

Good audio is one of the biggest differences between professional video and amatuer video. Getting good audio into a cell phone can be tricky, especially since microphone input compatibility varys wildly with different cell phones.

3 options for getting good audio are:

The Complete Guide to Great Video with a Smartphone

A Lavalier Mic: If you are doing interviews and your phone accepts microphones this may be your best and cheapest option. Just make sure you buy a lav mic that has its own power source (batteries) since your cell phone probably won’t power the microphone.

The Complete Guide to Great Video with a Smartphone

A Specialty Smartphone Mic - If a lav mic is not an option, you can purchase microphones made specially for cell phones, but they may not be much better than the built in mic on your phone.

The Complete Guide to Great Video with a Smartphone

A Handheld Recorder: If you don’t have the ability to plug in a microphone (or just don't want to), then a handheld recorder is your best option. Of course you will need to sync up the audio and video later in a video editor. I personally use the Zoom H1 and am impressed with the quality of audio you can get from it.

Step 5 - Post Production

Even if you set your lighting, exposure, and focus just right, you still may not get the image quality you are looking for. Though cell phone cameras have become really impressive recently, they still have the disadvantages of tiny sensors, cheap lenses, and poor image processing when compared to a DSLR or pro video camera. You can greatly improve your image with just a little editing. Often cell phone images will need deeper blacks and color correction (cell phone pink face I call it).

Following these 5 steps will get you a long way toward great looking cell phone video. But the best way to get great images is to practice. So start shooting, start playing around, start experimenting, and the next thing you know, you’ll win the world’s first Oscar from a cell phone.



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