‘Unsane’ (2018) is a psychological horror directed by American filmmaker, Steven Soderbergh. It follows the story of a woman who is involuntarily locked in a mental institution while being relentlessly pursued by a stalker.
You’re probably wondering why I’m bringing this up. It’s because this film, in its entirety (1h 38m), was shot on an iPhone 7+.
Did you just do a double-take? I don’t blame you.
There are so many great reasons for making videos using your phone.
Camera and audio quality of phones have developed exponentially over the years, meaning that spending tens of thousands of dollars on heavy-duty audiovisual equipment is no longer necessary. The portability and convenience that phones afford also make filming even easier.
So if this intrigues you and you want to learn more about how to realise your dreams of affordable and convenient content creation, then keep reading! Here are 7 of my tips for making quality videos using your phone.
1. Clean the Lens on your Phone Camera
When you’re making videos using your phone, clean the lens on the camera! Front and back. It might seem mind-numbingly obvious, but it really makes all the difference.
You may not notice how much dirt and oil from our hands get on our phones daily. Not cleaning this residue off the camera lens before filming is the equivalent of not defogging your windshields when you drive.
“Fingerprint oil” isn’t an Instagram filter for a reason – it doesn’t look good.
So before you even think about shooting videos using your phone, do yourself a favour and take a clean, soft cloth to your camera lens. The T-shirt you’re wearing will do the trick too.
2. Film your Videos Horizontally
The number one rule of filming videos using your phone is to shoot horizontally!
You know just as well as me, that there’s nothing more frustrating than watching a video on a TV or laptop that has the vertical black bars on either side of the image. It practically screams ‘amateur filmmaker’.
So take that vertical phone you’re holding and turn it 90 degrees.
You’ll be able to capture more of the setting, more of the action and more of the emotions, all while maintaining a happy audience.
3. Have Enough Phone Storage and Battery
Imagine this. You’re an hour or two into a shoot. You’re getting all this great content for your new short film or your YouTube video. Everything is going great. Everything is going smoothly.
Then suddenly… ‘Not Enough Storage. Free up space by deleting unused apps and photos, then try again.’ Or even more commonly, ‘Low Battery. 10% Battery Remaining.’
Cue the next hour frantically backing up your photos to the cloud so you can delete them from your phone and uninstalling all the apps you’ve opened once since downloading them. Cue the pacing back and forth beside a power outlet, aggressively willing your phone to charge faster.
The sun’s going down. You’re not going to get the video shot in time and you’re going to miss the film festival submission deadline or be behind on your upload schedule.
I’m getting stressed just typing out this hypothetical situation…
Don’t let this be you!
Shooting lengthy HD videos using your phone can take up a lot of space, so make sure you have enough available memory before you start. This goes for your phone battery as well. Come prepared with a fully charged phone and have a portable charger on standby.
Avoid these troublesome situations and focus all your energy instead, on getting quality content.
4. Get Good Lighting for Videos and High-Quality Audio
Just because you’re making videos using your phone, doesn’t mean that you should completely forget all the rules of good filmmaking.
Poor lighting and shoddy audio are real deterrents.
Take your subject out of the shadows and put them in a well-lit environment. Avoid using your harsh phone flash as a primary source of light, unless discoloured skin and red-eye is your aesthetic. Instead, use room lights, lamps, or even nature’s light – the sun – for that added goddess-like glow.
Remember that the main light source should be placed in front of the subject and not behind. Backlighting can look amazing under some circumstances, but if you want discernable facial features and more than a blinding background, then light your subject head-on.
In a similar fashion, when you’re making videos using your phone, ensure that your shooting location is relatively quiet. Wind, car horns, and loud talking are all guaranteed to drown out your audio. Shoot indoors where possible or in secluded areas away from the public.
Phone microphones have improved drastically over the years. But in saying that, they still have their limitations.
For one, their sensitivity is pretty low. So if you’re trying to capture audio from far away, you might run into some issues. In situations where you can’t maintain a close enough distance to your subject, a secondary microphone might be necessary.
There are some great options for Bluetooth mics out there but if you’re tight on money, borrowing a second phone and putting it on or near your subject will do the job too. You can edit the audio together with the visual later in post-production.
5. Keep your Phone Steady while Recording
Unless you want your intention is for your audience to go cross-eyed and get a headache, stabilise your camera and capture steady footage.
The easiest way to do this is to not be lazy! Hold your phone with two hands, instead of one, and keep your elbows close to your body.
If this gets too tiring, simply look around you and see what sturdy objects you can use to rest your phone on. Things like tables, chairs, shelves, or even stacked boxes work well.
These are two of the most cost-effective routes that have been truly tried and tested.
But, if you’re invested and want a more permanent solution and optimal stabilization, then consider purchasing accessories such as phone tripods or gimbals.
The former tends to be much cheaper than the latter, though gimbals offer flexibility in movement that tripods don’t. Both provide stability in their own right, but you should first consider your video-making needs before making any hasty decisions.
6. Use Time-Lapse and Slo-Mo on your Phone
Take advantage of the built-in features in your camera settings. Experiment with different frame rates to create more aesthetic and captivating videos that make your audience go ‘wow’.
These effects can take the mundane or fleeting aspects of life and enhance them in the best way possible. Take an ordinary thing and make it extraordinary.
Use time-lapse to film the blending colours of the setting sun or a stunning art piece emerge from a blank canvas.
Use slo-mo to capture a sphere of water floating in mid-air after its balloon is popped, or to capture a one-time trick shot miraculously land.
Take your video to another cinematic level!
7. Get Video Editing Apps for your Phone
Now you’ve got all this incredible footage, it’s time to string it all together to make your next viral video or Oscar-winning short film.
Lucky for you, there’s no need to invest in crazy fancy desktop software. There are great third-party video editing apps you can download onto your phone that will let you do just about anything – from trimming and arranging, to transitions, title cards, captions, and effects.
Take into consideration that editing isn’t just mechanically piecing together short clips to make a whole video. It’s an art and skill that requires creativity to transform isolated events into a dynamic story.
So, play around with the arrangement and pacing of clips, music soundtrack, framing, and off-screen narration to produce a unique and engaging video.
And the best part is that it can all be done from the palm of your hand.
Now you can see, creating videos doesn’t need state-of-the-art, bank-breaking filming and editing technology.
The same device you use to text, make calls and browse social media is more than enough to make aesthetic, quality, and exciting content. So there’s no excuse!
If you still don’t believe me, check out more amazing films which were all made using a phone.
And if you want more information about content production and social media platforms, visit The Online Creator Institute!