Simple stories, well told …

Getting the story out quickly is sometimes more important than high production values, especially if you have a compelling story to tell. Plus, due to logistical problems and/or budget constraints user generated content may be the only option. On these occasions smartphone footage can be the most appropriate way to film, and by following these tips it’ll ensure that the footage is up to scratch.

Suggested iPhone uses

  • Exhibitions/conferences
  • Customer quotes
  • Piece to camera
  • Content gathering

Filming people/interviews

Try to have the person framed as a head and shoulders shot with their eyes a third of the way down the screen. This will provide an element of continuity in the edit. If filming interviews or a piece to camera get in as close as possible (don’t zoom). This will help to capture better quality audio. Shoot at eye-level of interviewee.

Additional footage (B-roll)

If you watch a TV interview you’ll realize that, in order to retain viewer interest, the interviewee is not on-screen the whole time. Instead other relevant footage (B-roll) is included to add more detail to the piece, helping to illustrate the story. This also provides the editor with a way of trimming the interviewee’s footage, creating a more succinct and engaging story.

To make sure that the b-roll footage is relevant it’s best to film this after the interview has been filmed. You can then make sure you capture footage that helps to tell the story.

Tips

  • Take a variety of shots, a wide shot and a few medium/close ups.

  • Film in 8-10 second bursts, keeping camera movement to a minimum.

  • Get the light behind you and don’t shoot towards a window, unless it’s for dramatic effect.

Mobile phone filming: The problems

Filming with an iPhone has several challenges, but it is possible to achieve good quality footage by following some basic guidance and adding some extra kit.

The main problems with user-generated footage are:

  • Poor quality audio
  • Faces out of focus/faces too dark
  • Footage filmed in portrait mode
  • Grainy footage

The solutions

  • Make sure the phone is as close as possible (head and shoulders shot)
  • If possible move to a quiet area (avoid filming outside without external mic)
  • Touch (and hold) the face on the iPhone to set correct focus/exposure
  • Turn the phone around to landscape mode
  • Try to film in a well-lit area (look at how bright the face is)
  • Never zoom, just move forward!
  • Don’t film people in front of a window. Yes, the view of London may be magnificent, but the person filmed will then be in shadow!

This video from Wistia sums up the points above.

Preparation: Make sure you have enough power and storage

Make sure the phone is fully charged. An iPhone stops filming if the battery level goes down to 20%. When using the Apple filming app, a fully charged iPhone will film for between 20 to 40 minutes depending on the conditions (temperature, settings etc)

Take external power (power pack and cable) and make sure you have plenty storage space on the phone. A 5 minute iPhone video (at 30mb/s) will be a 1GB file (200mb/min).

Audio: bad sound ruins everything

Poor quality sound is the most common problem with iPhone footage. These tips should help to get good quality sound. A viewer will tolerate poor visuals but if the sound is bad they will switch off.

The cheapest way to capture good quality sound (even in a loud environment) is to use the free Apple buds that come with the iPhone. By plugging them into the phone and dropping the earphones down the front of the interviewee’s t-shirt the microphone is then perfectly placed to pick up the interviewee’s voice. This then allows you to frame a perfect vox-pops style shot, framing the interviewee to one side of the shot.

Phone settings

Make the screen as bright as possible otherwise you will over expose the footage.

Make sure the battery is fully charged.

Put your phone in Airplane mode to prevent phone calls during filming.

The basic set up (approx. £2!)

Buy a selfie-stick and mobile phone tripod from Poundland. The selfie-stick is a surprisingly useful piece of kit as it provides a number of ways to get steady footage. It can be used as a monopod, and even a basic crane. Apple buds for audio recording (free with iPhone). Edit on phone, iPad or computer.

Additional kit

The iPhone footage can be further improved by adding a few simple accessories. These will improve the audio, avoid shaky footage.

Mics

Using an external mic helps to eliminate background noise as it picks up audio directly in front of it and not all around. This is the one thing that will give the greatest improvement to footage quality.

Rode VideoMic Me: £50. No hot shoe mount needed plus headphone jack to monitor audio.

Lavalier wired mic: £40. Good for pieces to camera but tethered to phone.

These won’t work on iPhone 7 and above.

Rode SC6 cable: Allows you to plug 2 mics into one iPhone

Lenses and cases

Manfrotto Pixi Mini Tripod (£20) Can also be used as handgrip

Joby iPhone mount: (£15) Combine with Manfrotto Pixi tripod for lightweight set-up

Olloclip lens (£70) provides a clip-on wide angle and telephoto lens in small package.

Osmo gimbal (£290): Provides super smooth shake free footage as well as face tracking. Great for walking shots, hyperlapse footage and adding silky smooth camera moves to your footage.

SanDisk iXpand Lightning stick: Easily transfer footage from phone for editing/archive.

External power (eg Anker): keep filming all-day (and talking!)

Additional apps

FilmicPro (£14.99). Not cheap for an app but adds professional features to iPhone camera. Used in top two examples below.

ProMovie (£2.99) Cheaper alternative to Filmic Pro

Legend (£1.99) A kinetic animated type creation app

Hyperlapse (free) Instagram owned video timelapse creation

Vont (free) Add text overlays and titles to your videos.

Inspiration: These pieces were all shot on the iPhone

Wasfia: Amazing shots but extra kit used (lenses etc)

Bentley advert: Shot on iPhone, edited on iPads but extra kit used (lenses etc)

Tangerine: Sundance 2016 festival winner

Editing the footage

Having shot all of this great iPhone footage you now need to edit it, even if it’s just trimming the beginning and end. You can do simple edits on the phone but for more complex edits and for ease of use create your edit on the biggest device you have available (iPad, laptop or desktop). If you’re Mac based use the free iMovie app as it’s very intuitive. Alternatively there’s a large number of free PC based apps you can use eg HitFilm (Express).

To transfer the footage to the computer just plug in the iPhone using USB cable and drag from the camera roll (avoid using iTunes as it can be a pain!). A great way of archiving footage and freeing up storage space while filming (your phone will fill up quickly!) is to use an iPhone to USB flash drive. This also allows you to copy it to another Apple device (or PC/Mac computer) for editing.

Now you can trim away, add music, titles etc and add to your social media channels of choice!

Raising the bar still further

To add a more professional touch to your videos why not commission an animated intro/outro to your videos? These short clips can be created using your company branding (logo, colours, fonts, photography, web address etc) and then dropped into your edit to top and tail your video. This instantly makes all of your video content consistent and professional.