Whether you are using a smartphone, a tablet, or a $10,000 Hollywood studio camera, there are few staples in video production that remain true regardless of the circumstance. These are actions that will make or break your broadcast, your film, your vlog, or any other video that you are creating. These are actions that separate the professionals from the amateurs when others view your content.
Luckily, these are all components that anyone can accomplish easily when creating mobile video, and they can all be done with little-to-no cost!
Lights, Camera, Action!
Poor lighting is the number-one killer of all video content. People can’t see through darkness, and they will quickly tune out of your product if the visual quality is bad. A hardship that most mobile video creators face is that most mobile phones quickly lose their quality in low-lighting settings, creating more grain and faded colouring than standard digital camcorders typically encounter. Filming in poor lighting means hours spent trying to restore some of the quality using a post-production software editor, and live broadcasts are unfortunately past the point of saving in these circumstances.
The reverse is also true. Overexposing your images with blinding whiteness also makes things impossible to see for the viewer. Even worse, whereas underexposed images still retain some of their rich detail beneath the surface, overexposed images are stripped of those details, making it next to impossible to improve in post-production. You are simply stuck with that footage, and that’s not something that you want to have as a representation of your brand.
Your mobile phone’s default camera app and the native streaming apps typically rely on automatic camera settings with little control over image quality. Granted your phone is “smart” and will typically provide good results in most cases; however, having the ability to manually adjust control camera settings can have a big impact on the quality of your video and improve the viewer experience.
Nonetheless, there are a few steps that you can take to ensure that you have great lighting for your production.
- Avoid shooting toward windows. You want to avoid backlighting your subject and darkening their face. Either close them up or use the light to your advantage and let it shine on your subject from the same direction in which you are shooting.
- Temporarily rearrange some of the lighting sources in your home (lamps, clamp lights, etc.) and angle them on your subject. Even a simple lighting source can greatly improve the light quality in the room. Try to purchase clear light bulbs over the standard off-white variety.
- Place a stand-in (a person or even a large stuffed animal will do) where you plan to have your subject in the video, and check how things look through your lens. Is the lighting too bright? Is it too dark? Is half well-lit while the other isn’t? Make your adjustments accordingly.
- Sometimes adjusting a light source mere inches in a different direction can cause a drastic change. Never jump right into your recording or broadcast without doing a lighting check and making necessary adjustments. Even if you accidentally bump a light before or during your production, check and make sure that everything is still lit correctly.
Gotta Stay Focused
Just like checking your lighting before you begin your recording or broadcast, also be sure to check your camera’s focus. If you have an adjustment lens for your mobile phone, you will probably need to adjust that manually. If you are using your smartphone’s built-in lens, this can normally be adjusted by tapping lightly over the intended subject on your screen. This can also adjust the aperture (how much light is coming through the camera’s lens) of your smartphone, making for a better light adjustment.
Some phones and phone apps, like Switcher Studio, also come equipped with Camera Control sliders, which let you adjust the zoom, white balance, and exposure of your image, just like you can on a standard DSLR or studio camera. These controls allow you to fine-tune additional components before finalizing your focus for the best results rather than relying on automatic settings.
Just as you must do with your lighting, you should place a stand-in of some sort where your subject will be in your video. This will allow you to accurately adjust your focus prior to the recording or broadcast beginning. If you plan to move around during your recording or broadcast, you will also need to have your stand-in move into the intended areas to make sure that your image is framed correctly and that your lighting remains adequate.
NOTE: With Switcher Studio and Switcher Go you can stand in frame and adjust advanced camera settings on your own using the remote camera feature.
Prevent The Earthquake
No matter how stable you think your hands are, your viewers will always notice if you are free-handing your camera. And this will also show when playing back your recording or broadcast. Camera shake is distracting, can cause your audience to tune out, and can cause your camera’s focus to go haywire if you are using an “AutoFocus setting”. When recording or broadcasting, it is important to eliminate camera shake as much as possible.
Of course, using a tripod is the staple of filmmaking to eliminate camera shake. There are many tripods that have been made specifically for smartphones. Using websites such as iOgrapher and Amazon, you can search for a tripod made for your specific smartphone (i.e. “iPhone 7 tripod”) for relatively low cost. There are also many other alternatives to tripods that you can use to reduce the camera shake in your project when in a pinch.
- Balance your smartphone or tablet on a sturdy surface like a table or a shelf, and use a book or other object to prop it up. It may take some fine-tuning to get your shot framed in the way that you want (many people find themselves adding and removing books to get their height correct), but it will give you the steadyshot that you would not get from your hands.
- If you do not have anywhere to lay your device, you will want to anchor your arms and elbows into your sides while filming. This helps to steady your hands while holding the device to prevent camera shake, with your arms acting as a tripod’s legs.
- If you have a miniature tripod or a filmmaking case, you will also want to attach those to your smartphone or tablet. Having these types of devices attached to your smartphone or tablet will help to stabilize them, even while holding them, for the best camera quality possible.
The Pitter-Patter Of Tiny Feet
One thing that surprises most mobile video creators (and content creators, in general) when watching the playback of their footage is just how much background noise makes its way onto a recording. The ambient noises of people chattering in the background, cars passing by on a nearby road, birds singing at the feeder, and even chair legs scraping against the floor may be nearly undetectable to a creator while filming, but reappears in a big way when trying to piece the video together in post-production or for viewers watching live.
When recording, take a few moments of silence and try to recognize any noises in the room. If the noises are slight, will they add to or detract from your production? Is there anything (like a fan, TV sound or air conditioner) that you can switch off until your recording completes? Is there somewhere else that you can move to prevent as much noise from entering the camera?
Using an external microphone can also minimize unwanted background noises and help control what audio is included in your recording or live video. You can learn about these external microphones and more later on in the guide when we discuss additional optional equipment accessories that you can use to bring more oomph to your broadcast.
NOTE: Use the audio headset/mic combo that comes prepackaged with your phone to get good results without spending extra. Your audience will forgive the wires if it means they can hear what you are saying.
Practice Makes Perfect
It may be cliché, but it’s true. Even the most talented of content creators will admit that their first broadcasts and recordings were rough. They stuttered. They lost their place while speaking. The cameras went out of focus. The tripod fell over. The audio did not record. The lighting was too dark. The list goes on…
Your first videos may be frustrating, but as you puff out your cheeks and prepare to reshoot for the second time (or to make sure the next live broadcast does not endure these pitfalls), you have already learned a new skill. You have learned what to do or what not to do, and that is important. These mistakes made in the beginning phases of mobile video creation will lead to speedy and well-executed videos in the near future. Practice really does make perfect, and mistakes can teach you more about mobile video creation than tutorials ever will.
If possible, broadcast your first live video to only a few people or to a private Facebook group, and allow them time to give you feedback. Practice talking in front of a camera to get used to the feeling and how to keep your train of thought going. Watch your past recordings and take notes on what was great, what needs work, and what to never ever do again. After a few passes, you will feel more natural and comfortable, and your created content will reflect this.
Above all: don’t give up! Anyone can learn to be a mobile video creator, and a successful one at that! In the next few pages of this guide, we will discuss more things you can do to further your video creation dreams and further any career with the help of mobile video.