Film­mak­ing on your phone

Take your smart­phone videos to the next level with a few sim­ple tricks and tips.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - Story and photos by TAN KIT HOONG bytz@ thes­tar. com. my

CAM­ERAS on smart­phones get bet­ter with ev­ery gen­er­a­tion, mak­ing them ideal not just for photos but also record­ing videos.

Just like for shoot­ing still images, a lit­tle knowl­edge goes a long way in im­prov­ing the qual­ity of your video record­ings.

If you want to take your videos to the next level, here’s our guide on shoot­ing more ef­fec­tively on your Android and iOS smart­phones.

Make and model

Not all smart­phones are made equal, es­pe­cially when it comes to the qual­ity of the built- in cam­eras.

It’s pretty safe to say that all cur­rent Android and iOS smart­phones can shoot de­cent 1080p ( 1,920 x 1,080 pix­els) videos at 30fps ( frames per sec­ond), with most even al­low­ing you to shoot at 60fps for smoother videos.

If you’re se­ri­ous about record­ing videos on your smart­phone, you should be look­ing at high- end mod­els like the Sam­sung Gal­axy S7/ S7 Edge, Huawei P9/ P9 Plus or the iPhone 6s/ 6s Plus, as they of­fer sev­eral ad­van­tages.

One of the ad­van­tages is the abil­ity to shoot in Ul­tra HD or 4K, which has a res­o­lu­tion of 3,840 x 2,160 pix­els, four times that of 1080p.

How­ever, most smart­phones can only man­age 30fps for UHD so you get much higher res­o­lu­tion but at the ex­pense of not be­ing able to shoot smoother- look­ing videos.

So which op­tion should you go for? If you want to pro­duce the best pos­si­ble video, we sug­gest turn­ing on the UHD op­tion.

But you may want to use it spar­ingly as UHD takes up a lot of stor­age space.

Pro tip: One other thing to con­sider when get­ting a new smart­phone is if it comes with OIS ( op­ti­cal im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion).

OIS pro­duces smoother video by com­pen­sat­ing for cam­era shake. It’s usu­ally found on mid- range and high­end smart­phones. For ex­am­ple, the Gal­axy S7 and S7 Edge have built- in OIS but for iOS only the iPhone 6s Plus does while the iPhone 6s re­sorts to dig­i­tal im­age sta­bil­i­sa­tion which is not as ef­fec­tive.

While you can do with­out OIS, it helps to pro­duce more pro­fes­sion­al­look­ing re­sults, es­pe­cially when you are shoot­ing while walk­ing.

Go hor­i­zon­tal

Many first timers tend to record videos just like how they cap­ture still images – by hold­ing the phone ver­ti­cally or in por­trait ori­en­ta­tion.

This is a big no no – un­like photos, we are used to watch­ing videos in land­scape for­mat so you should hold your phone side­ways at all times.

Shoot your­self

The hum­ble selfie stick has be­come some­what of a joke th­ese days, but there’s no deny­ing its use­ful­ness.

It gives you a lit­tle more work­ing dis­tance so you can shoot a video that gets a lit­tle more of you in there than just your head.

Also, selfie sticks are cheap and the mount for at­tach­ing the smart­phone is of­ten re­mov­able – it can be used to at­tach the smart­phone to a reg­u­lar tri­pod, which is handy when you want to record videos from a dis­tance.

Loud and clear

The next thing you need to do is to be able to record sound. While the smart­phone’s built- in mi­cro­phone will record au­dio, it’s not all that great as it also cap­tures am­bi­ent noise.

You have the op­tion of us­ing a sep­a­rate au­dio recorder but then you will have to man­u­ally sync it with the video – that’s why pro­fes­sional film­mak­ers use a “clap­per” to make a sharp sound as it makes the process a lit­tle eas­ier.

In any case, we don’t rec­om­mend it as it makes edit­ing the videos a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult.

In­stead you should con­sider in­vest­ing in an ex­ter­nal mi­cro­phone so that you can get the best pos­si­ble au­dio di­rectly into your video.

There are es­sen­tially two types of ex­ter­nal mi­cro­phones – lava­lier and shot­gun.

Lava­lier mi­cro­phones are the ones that you clip onto your shirt – th­ese mi­cro­phones have a lim­ited range so they are great for videos where you need to in­ter­view a per­son.

Even in noisy en­vi­ron­ments it’ll pick up the in­ter­vie­wee’s voice clearly while leav­ing out most ex­ter­nal sounds.

How­ever, lava­lier mi­cro­phones re­quire a long ca­ble so that it can be at­tached to your in­ter­vie­wee which makes it less than ideal for some sit­u­a­tions.

For run- and- gun sit­u­a­tions or if you are shoot­ing fast mov­ing events, opt for a shot­gun mi­cro­phone in­stead.

Shot­gun mi­cro­phones are ca­pa­ble of cap­tur­ing sound from all di­rec­tions but the area of sen­si­tiv­ity is mainly fo­cused for­ward.

They will pick up more am­bi­ent sound than lava­lier mi­cro­phones in noisy en­vi­ron­ments but as they are fo­cused for­ward, they will be able to cap­ture any­one speak­ing in front of the cam­era rea­son­ably clearly.

For the lava­lier mi­cro­phone we rec­om­mend the Smart­lav+ ( RM350) and for the shot­gun mi­cro­phone we rec­om­mend the VideoMic Me ( RM350), both from Aus­tralian com­pany Rode.

It’s one of the few com­pa­nies that makes rel­a­tively af­ford­able mi­cro­phones specif­i­cally for smart­phones.

One thing to con­sider be­fore get­ting an ex­ter­nal mi­cro­phone is if your smart­phone is com­pat­i­ble with Rode’s prod­ucts, as not all 3.5mm au­dio ports are made the same.

While all ear­phones will work with any smart­phone, the same can­not be said for mi­cro­phones. The rea­son be­ing there is no of­fi­cial stan­dard for mi­cro­phones con­nect­ing via the 3.5mm au­dio jack and some brands have the con­nec­tions wired dif­fer­ently.

Rode has a list of prod­ucts which work with the Smart­lav+ and VideoMic Me which in­cludes most Sam­sung smart­phones, Ap­ple iOS prod­ucts and Google Nexus de­vices.

Look for the light

While it is some­times not pos­si­ble to do so, try to shoot in bright light – smart­phones ( or any mod­ern cam­era for that mat­ter) tend to pro­duce more noise in dimly lit sit­u­a­tions.

If you’re out­doors, try to shoot with the sun be­hind you so that ev­ery­thing in front of you is lit evenly.

It’s pos­si­ble to shoot with the sun in front of you but this tends to fool the cam­era’s au­to­ex­po­sure mode into un­der­ex­pos­ing your sub­ject.

If you’re in­doors there’s a bunch of pro­fes­sional light­ing op­tions avail­able which of­fer con­tin­u­ous light­ing but th­ese tend to cost a lot of money so buy them only if you’re a se­ri­ous YouTu­ber.

Nev­er­the­less, if you shoot only oc­ca­sion­ally in­doors at close range, you will be able to get away with two or three cheap ta­ble lamps fit­ted with bright, day­light-bal­anced flu­o­res­cent bulbs.

It’s in the tech­nique

Hard­ware con­sid­er­a­tions aside, there’s quite a bit of tech­nique in­volved in shoot­ing ef­fec­tive videos. Here are a few ba­sic tips to get you started so you can make your videos more co­her­ent for view­ers.

First, the 180° rule for shoot­ing videos – if you’re shoot­ing two or more sub­jects in a scene, you should imag­ine a line pass­ing through them which you should never cross.

If it sounds con­fus­ing, im­age a foot­ball match – your cam­era can be on ei­ther the left or right side of the pitch but you should never switch sides.

The idea here is to main­tain the spa­tial re­la­tion­ships be­tween the goal post on the right and left – should you switch sides, you will con­fuse the viewer as the po­si­tion of the goal posts will now be re­versed.

Sim­i­larly, in a sit­u­a­tion where you are shoot­ing sev­eral peo­ple in a room, ad­her­ing to the 180° rule will al­low view­ers to un­der­stand where ev­ery per­son is stand­ing in the room.

An­other good tip to know when shoot­ing in­ter­views is that the close­ups of the in­ter­viewer and in­ter­vie­wee should al­ways be fac­ing each other even if they don’t ap­pear in the same shot.

So if the in­ter­vie­wee faces left, the closeup of the in­ter­viewer should be shot fac­ing right.

And if you want to do a pan­ning shot, an­gle your body to­wards the end of your pan and then twist your body to the area you want to start the pan and shoot – this way your pan will be more sta­ble and steady.

One other prob­lem that most face when shoot­ing videos ( and still photos as well for that mat­ter) is how to frame a hu­man sub­ject – just where is it okay to “cut off” the legs, for ex­am­ple?

The gen­eral rule when fram­ing a hu­man sub­ject is that you should NEVER cut off the body where the joints are, such as at the an­kles, knees or el­bows.

In­stead, frame the sub­ject so that he or she gets cut off above or be­low the joints, so any­where be­tween the knees and the an­kles, or knees and waist is okay. For a tighter shot, aim for above the waist.

Pro tip 1: When shoot­ing a hu­man sub­ject that is leav­ing the frame, the gen­eral prac­tice is to have the sub­ject exit on the left side of the frame. Should he or she re- en­ter the scene, it should be from the right side of the frame.

Pro tip 2: Don’t at­tempt 360° pans un­less you want to give your au­di­ence mo­tion sick­ness – pan­ning shots should be only as far as your body can twist.

Pro tip 3: Try not to have the same cam­era an­gle for too long. Typ­i­cally shots from one cam­era an­gle should only last for no more than 10 sec­onds. If it’s a long in­ter­view, you can break up the monotony by shoot­ing in­serts of re­lated videos ( also called B- roll).

The edit­ing room

If you’re a pro­fes­sional, you would prob­a­bly own a pow­er­ful PC with Adobe Pre­miere Pro for edit­ing and cut­ting your videos.

For most of us who shoot videos on our smart­phones, be­ing able to edit right on the de­vice is the prefer­able op­tion.

On Android try Pow­erDirec­tor from Cy­berLink – it’s a pow­er­ful app but it dis­plays ads and also adds wa­ter­mark to your videos un­less you pur­chase the full ver­sion for RM23.99.

If you have an iOS de­vice, Ap­ple’s own iMovie is great ( and free). It’s a re­ally pow­er­ful video ed­i­tor and is also rel­a­tively sim­ple to use.

If you want to try some­thing dif­fer­ent, check out Pin­na­cle Stu­dio – it has bet­ter ti­tling op­tions so if that’s im­por­tant to you then this is the one to go for.

The es­sen­tial com­po­nents for shoot­ing bet­ter video on your smart­phone – ( clock­wise from right) a di­rec­tional mi­cro­phone, a selfie stick, head­phones, lava­lier mi­cro­phone, wind shield for di­rec­tional mi­cro­phone and of course, the smart­phone.

Sound ad­vice: Di­rec­tional mi­cro­phones like the Rode VideoMic Me al­low you to get bet­ter au­dio in your videos than with the smart­phone’s built- in mi­cro­phone.

The 180° rule is meant to pre­vent con­fu­sion about the spa­tial re­la­tion­ships of peo­ple in your video. You can po­si­tion your cam­era at any point in the green area but the cam­era should never cross this imag­i­nary line be­tween the two char­ac­ters.

Many selfie sticks have a re­mov­able head for mount­ing your smart­phone. This head can also be used to at­tach phones to a tri­pod or mono­pod.

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