Using your Smartphone to make amazing videos

Using your cell phone to create great videos is easy if you know the rules. Here are some to help you get started.
Use a Better Video App to Shoot than the Default Camera
While you can just press record in the Camera app to start filming, additional apps give you a finer level of control over how your video looks, from focus to white balance to frame rate, and then some. They may also give you control of some audio options and are compatible with external mics.
It’s easy to start shooting really great-looking videos with your smartphone—without breaking the bank. Best of all, once you have everything you need, your setup is portable and you can shoot virtually anywhere. Just make sure you have enough storage for your movie projects, and back up your data regularly.
Always Shoot Landscape
Nothing ruins great footage like having two black vertical bars along both sides of your video. To avoid this amateur mistake, make sure to use landscape orientation and not portrait orientation while recording. Not only does landscape make your video seem more aesthetically pleasing, it will also make it more enjoyable to watch when viewed on a widescreen or television.
Clean your lens
Clean your camera lens regularly. Wiping dust or grease away with a microfiber cloth takes literally 10 seconds. You can’t always tell that the lens is smudged until after you watch it on a larger screen.
Airplane Mode
Put your phone in Airplane mode. This is to avoid getting unnecessary interruptions and sounds from notifications while you’re shooting.
Use the exposure lock. Most phones will automatically focus on the subject and adjust to the proper amount of lighting your camera “lets in”, or exposure. If you’re shooting a video with someone talking, the constant automatic adjustments can make the footage choppy.
Now that you’re recording in the proper orientation, completely fill the frame with your subject. You can also put him or her or it slightly off-center to create a more visually interesting scene. Just play around and see what looks best.
Do NOT use the digital zoom in your camera – just ask any professional photographer. Most smartphones, unfortunately, feature digital zooms, which are just software tricks that will make your subject appear closer but not without copious amounts of pixelation. Just avoid it all together. In order to zoom in while recording without losing the crisp, vivid quality you desire in videos, get closer to your subject (or use an accessory). In general, you should always get as close as you can, especially for tight shots on faces.
We’ve all seen those videos where the subject has yellow skin and red devilish eyes combined with super dark backgrounds.
Smartphones, you see, come equipped with LED lights that are too bright and can easily skew the color temperature of photos. Also, a video will often time still come out poorly lit in the end. If you want to record a photo at night, you’ll have to find another light source. Get creative with available lights such as a neon sign or jukebox. They can add a little bit of needed glow while also jazzing up your video with color.
There’s something else you should keep in mind when thinking about flash and lighting in general: avoiding backlit-settings. You may be able to see people and their faces when they’re backlit, but your smartphone camera usually can’t and will output footage with a bright light haloing a dark figure. That figure will also have no visible features, meaning you just missed whatever it was you were trying to capture.
To avoid this situation, use a basic light setup. If you recording on the fly you can improve a backlit situation by moving to one side or another. Although some stock camera apps try to reduce the effects of backlighting, you should try reducing the effects on your end as well.
If this is something you will be shooting it is recommended to use an application designed for time-lapse, like Hyperlapse or Lapse It. Otherwise, creating a time-lapse video with your smartphone will be both tedious and take up large amounts of storage.
Smartphone cameras are just not as good as the powerhouses, mostly because smartphone cameras and their stock camera apps lack fine controls and other things. If you want to take your smartphone video-recording skills to the next level, without having to buy a pricey DSLR, you might want to consider buying accessories that reveal your camera’s true potential. You can get everything from tripod mounting systems to creative lens add-ons. Many third-party companies make lenses that you can physically attach to your Phone to distort the look of your photo or video. For example, you can get a fisheye or wide-angle lens for added flair. You don’t need these, but they do expand the creative and stylistic possibilities.
Professional cameraman typically use sophisticated rigs, like Steadicams and gimbals, to hold their camera steady and make the footage come out more polished. Smartphones do have optical image stabilization, which automatically tries to offset any shakiness, but nothing beats having something like a tripod to hold your phone steady.
Steadicams and gimbals are ideal if you want to shoot video on the move or really want to go the extra mile.
Depending on how you will be using your footage and if you are live streaming or capturing, you might want to consider keeping your footage effect free. This allows you more freedom in post to manipulate the footage various ways vs. being tied to a particular look or effect that was added.
sometimes a little editing is required in order to make your footage go from “meh” to “wow”. Nowadays you can do some intense editing on your smartphone as well, meaning you won’t need to invest in fancy desktop software. Everything from basic trimming to adding transitions, titles, and effects is simple on both iOS and Android devices. Whether your next video is a montage or a school project, mobile apps can streamline the video-editing process. These apps offer fast video editing options for those simple projects.
Give Your Video Quality Sound
Unfortunately, the smartphone’s built-in mic alone isn’t great, especially if you’re shooting in noisy environments or want to focus on specific sounds. Either a lavalier microphone or a shotgun microphone is a good option. If you had to go with one, consider the type of video you want to make. Are you doing an interview or making an explainer? Or are you doing a travel video? Depending on your video, each has its pros and cons:
Lavalier Microphone: They’re omnidirectional, and while a wired lav mic is a cheap option, hiding it from viewers is tricky. You can attach a lav mic to your shirt collar and run the wire under the shirt, but if you fidget too much, you pick up annoying noise from your shirt rubbing against the mic. Some people get around this by wrapping the head of the mic with moleskin, but lav mics are best when people sit or stand still.

Shotgun Microphone: A shotgun microphone makes your audio sound more natural. It’s a directional mic, and since you point the shotgun mic in the direction of the sound you want to pick up, it’s best for recording whatever is in front of it. It’s also great to block out sounds from the sides, while being invisible on camera. If you’re shooting outdoors, you’ll need some sort of wind blocker to handle the harsh sounds from the slightest of winds. RODE VideoMic Me and The Mighty Mic are both mini shotgun mics that attach to your phone.

Ideally, you need to be as close to your audio source as possible. That can get complicated if you want a specific shot, but you also want great-sounding audio. You can get around this by using another phone to record just your audio or using an external microphone or audio recorder like the Zoom or TASCAM.


Make sure to test your mic before you start shooting. Reshooting something because you skipped a simple equipment check sucks. And here’s a pro tip: Clap loudly or use a clapboard to establish a reference point when you’re editing your audio tracks later. It’ll make it easier to sync your multiple audio tracks later.


The challenge:

Take an everyday event (how to prepare a food dish, an interesting story, filming artists at work, etc.) that you think people would find interesting and apply some, if not all of the above rules when shooting. The video MUST be shot on a cell phone and MUST have a title and credits. These can be emailed to

Here is a sample Cell Phone Video to inspire you.

Gary Logan