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Kirk Loftin

Ten Easy Tips for Shooting Better Videos with Your Phone

Short-form videos for social media are becoming increasingly important to businesses. One of the best ways to get real, authentic content is to shoot with your phone. But how do you make it look like...well...not garbage? Here are ten easy tips for shooting better videos with your phone, whether it’s a cheap prepaid smartphone or the latest and greatest offering from Apple.

  1. Plan Your Video

I know it’s tempting to just grab your phone and start recording, but plan your video ahead of time. Do you know what you’re going to say? Having a clear outline with avoid a lot of “ummmmmmmm”s that might otherwise be in your video. Do you have all of your equipment? Are you sure you know what the point of your video is? If you can’t clearly state the purpose, save yourself (and the rest of us) wasted time and don’t make one yet. 

  1. Use Enough Lighting

Using inadequate lighting is probably the most common mistake most people make when shooting a video on their phone. Sure, you don’t want to lug around expensive light kits when you’re just shooting a phone with your video, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make sure the lights are turned up enough to be able to see what you’re shooting. Natural lighting is often better than the lights in your house. 

  1. Get Your Phone Ready

Since you’re shooting with your phone, it’s important to make sure it’s ready to go. You always want to shoot horizontal (never vertical), and use the back camera (not the selfie camera) since the back cameras are almost always far superior than the front. Check your settings: Set the phone to capture video at the highest possible resolution. Turn on the grid feature to help keep your shooting stable. Put your phone on airplane mode as you shoot to make sure you don’t get any phone vibrating alerts, messages, or calls. Clean the camera lens on the phone with the right kind of chemical/cleaning cloth (not just using your spit and the bottom of your t-shirt). Make sure your phone has plenty of hard drive space before shooting so you don’t have “phone storage full” pop up halfway into your video.

  1. Think About Your Background

Where are you shooting? Is the background going to make sense? If you’re making a video blog about being organized, and you shoot in your bedroom with dirty clothes spread all over the floor and a bowl of cereal from three days ago on the desk, it’s not going to be a very convincing video no matter how good the content is. Is a blank wall ideal, or is it bland and boring? Is office bookshelves the good look, or does it look too much like a commercial for a local law office? Are things happening in your background (like people walking past outside a window)? 

  1. Get Up-Close and Personal

Most phone cameras use a digital zoom, which doesn’t look great, honestly (since the phone is actually reducing the resolution when you use the digital zoom). It’s much better to put the phone closer to the subject of your video than to stand far away and zoom. Avoid using the zoom as much as possible, especially since on bigger screens the more zoomed the image, the grainier and worse it looks. 

  1. Capture Better Audio

Depending on the level of time, expertise, and equipment, audio can wildly differ in phone-shot videos. Although it is true you can fix some sound things in post, you don’t want to over-rely on that (you may not be able to fix everything), and the more problems you avoid during shooting, the less fixing you have to do later. Simple things like shooting in a quiet location, turning off ceiling fans, using lapel mics, and being aware of outside noises like airplanes and lawn mowers. 

  1. Avoid Shaky-Cam

I don’t want to make anyone feel bad, but The Blair Witch Project was twenty years ago. Shaky-cam isn’t cool anymore. Using something like a phone tripod or a stabilizing hand grip will help keep your video stable and not give your audience motion sickness. It also helps you look more professional (and they’re really not that expensive).

  1. Take Your Time Editing

You don’t need the world’s most expensive editing software, but you do want to factor in time for editing. This includes editing the audio, video, adding any kind of texts or graphics. The more time you spend in editing, the better the final product looks (to a point, don’t edit a 30-sec video for the next two years). Find ways you can improve. Some things you’ll be able to “fix in post[-production],” like turning down the audio when no one is talking to eliminate white noise. You may notice mistakes that you would have to reshoot for, and re-shooting may not make sense, but now you learn for next time what to do (or not do). Here’s a helpful video about podcast editing (that also applies to video). 

  1. Preview Your Video on a Bigger Screen

It’s a common mistake when people shoot a video with their phone, and just post it without ever seeing it on a bigger screen. Although a lot of people will watch it on a phone, there are also lots of people that will watch it on larger tablets or computer screens. Make sure your video looks good on a bigger screen, and makes sure there isn’t something embarrassing in the background. 

  1. Make Lots of Videos!

It’s great to read blog with tips on how to make videos (thanks for visiting!), but the absolute best way to learn is to go do! Go make mistakes! Go figure out stuff! Have a problem, and then troubleshoot it! The more videos you make, the more you’ll learn. You’ll discover shortcuts, hacks, and tricks as you go along that will continue to increase the quality of the videos you make. The more you plan, write, shoot, and edit, the more you’ll learn and the better you’ll be. After you make ten videos, go back and watch the very first one, then the tenth. You’ll probably see a pretty big jump in quality!

It is not only possible, but fairly simple to increase the quality of your phone-shot video content. You don’t have to have the newest, most expensive iPhone with the fancy cameras (although, if you do, more power to you). You can make even a simple smartphone video look better than when your mom posts shaky video of the grandkid that’s out of focus and you hear your dad watching cop shows in the background. Every little thing you can do to increase the quality of your phone-shot videos will make you look more competent, professional, and impressive. And who doesn’t want that?

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