Top 20 Tips to Shoot Better Video on Your Smartphone

Updated on March 20, 2018
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Varsha is a research enthusiast and a tech geek. She loves to photograph people and places.

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The following are some of the tips to help you shoot better videos with your smartphones. By following these tips, you can remove most of the human-made issues that can affect your videos and create high-quality videos everyone will want to watch.

Shoot In Landscape Mode

Don’t shoot video in portrait mode. Ever. Well, at least try to remember not to. You view your TV in landscape mode, your PC, too. So it makes sense to shoot your videos in landscape mode. When it comes to editing, it’ll also be much easier to work with.

Use Maximum Resolution

Most smartphone video capture apps are easy to use, but unless you specifically select it, they probably won’t capture video at maximum resolution. The reason is that the more pixels or the more detail you capture, the more the phone’s processor chip has to do and the more that will draw down on battery life. The other issue is that the extra detail you capture has to be stored somewhere, which means chewing up extra storage.

As a result, many phones will choose a ‘medium’ detail by default and leave you to set the ‘fine’ or ‘high’ detail mode yourself. But make no mistake — you want that ‘fine’ detail mode to capture the best quality your phone can give you. Some Android phone apps will give you the actual video resolution options in the app’s video settings; for example, 2160p, 1080p or 720p video. Always go for the highest quality available.

Deshake

Even the best-laid plans can go awry, particularly when it comes to capturing those once-in-a-lifetime moments. The worst of it usually appears as shaky handheld video. But thanks to some clever coding, there are ways you can remove or at least greatly reduce the shakes in your videos after you’ve captured them — and for free.

The best but most complicated method is to use the old VirtualDub video app with the excellent Deshaker plugin. It takes a while to get used to but the results can be stunning. Another alternative that’s pretty close is YouTube’s own Stabilize enhancement option.

Use Video Compression

Android supports a decent range of video compression formats these days, including the new H.265 or HEVC codec, plus Google’s own VP8 and VP9 codecs stored within the WebM file format. But for portability, you can’t go past H.264. It’s not as space-efficient as HEVC, but it requires less processing speed, so it’s a good compromise if you’re using a phone with only a dual-core processor and/or ordinary battery life. More importantly, it’s the de facto standard for video and playable on almost all the devices.Any video-editing app worth its code will support it, too.

Set Anti-Flicker

Sometimes, when you’re trying to capture video screens such as laptops, PC monitors or TV displays, you’ll later see flicker occurring in your videos. The reason this can happen is that the video capture frame rate won’t sync up with the display refresh rate of the TV or monitor, hence the flicker.

Many phones now have a camera settings option for ‘anti-flicker’, which allows you to set a frequency of 50 or 60Hz. Why these numbers are important is a long story, but in short, they match the AC mains power frequency. If you don’t have an ‘auto’ setting to use, choose 50Hz when capturing TV screens and 60Hz if capturing a PC monitor when in Australia or the UK. If you’re in the US (or other countries using US TV standards), just set it to 60Hz and you’re done.

Use an External Microphone

Why an external microphone if every smartphone already has a mic built-in? Because not all built-in mics are straight from the top drawer — some can be surprisingly noisy, resulting in poor audio. If you’re shooting a podcast, an external microphone can be the solution and there are two main options here — use a lapel microphone that plugs into the phone’s headphone socket, or try a separate USB sound card.

Phone headphone sockets are also known as TRRS or ‘tip-ring-ring-sleeve’ and support not just stereo earphones, but also an external microphone. Alternatively, a USB sound card can help. Since Lollipop/5.0, Android has natively-supported USB audio devices and you should be able to feed a quality condenser mic into the USB sound card input to get high-quality audio. Just make sure your device and video camera app support USB-OTG (on the go).

Get A Video Camera App

Most video camera apps bundled with Android devices are pretty basic affairs. To get the best out of your phone’s image sensor, look for a decent-grade camera app on Google Play. Cinema FV-5 Lite gives you control of ISO levels (light sensitivity), EV settings and can monitor live audio through your headphones. There’s also a paid version, but give the free one a go first.

Stay Away From Digital Zoom

Every phone supports digital zoom, but that’s not a good reason to use it. Unless your phone has an optical zoom lens, don’t use the pinch-screen option to activate digital zooming. As far as we’re concerned, it’s a poor feature when applied to video because all you’re doing is ditching the outer pixels and magnifying the middle ones.

It might work reasonably well when taking still shots because you’re working with the phone’s maximum image sensor resolution — but video? Nope. To maximize video quality, stay away from digital zoom and get as close as safely possible to your subject.

Use Airplane Mode

Phones are pretty smart these days — they’ll help themselves to your Wi-Fi or data network connection and begin downloading app updates, emails, social media posts at any time. But it’s really the last thing you want when capturing video.

However, rather than upset any specific settings you may have, just turn on your phone’s aeroplane mode to switch off all wireless communications, just while you’re capturing video and turn it off afterwards. Your phone will then revert back to your previous settings. Another reason to use flight mode? All wireless communications chew on the battery.

Keep Battery Charged

OK, yep, pretty obvious, this one, but the obvious ones are easy to forget. It’s actually pretty important here, too — capturing video is yet another activity that chews through phone battery life. From the image sensor to image signal processing to video compression, there’s plenty going on, adding to the load on your phone’s battery. So charge it up. Even better, if your phone supports a removable battery, grab a charged-up spare just in case.

Sufficient Storage

Depending on the maximum video capture quality of your device, you might end up capturing as much as 5–10MB of video per second. At that rate, it won’t take too long to start racking up some serious storage.

If your device has removable storage, that’s the way to go. If you’re stuck with internal storage only, be aware of the storage you have and budget it carefully. Every time you double in video capture resolution, you basically have to double the storage to maintain overall quality. It’ll be a pain to begin capturing and then to run out of storage, particularly if you can’t upgrade it on the go.

Set Exposure Manually

If lighting conditions are such that your videos are appearing too dark, try adjusting the exposure value (EV). Good video camera apps will allow you to adjust the EV over something like a +/-2EV range. Positive numbers slow down the shutter speed to increase the brightness and vice versa. If you can shine more light on the subject, more’s the better, but adjusting the exposure manually might also help.

Check The Audio Levels

Most phones employ a technique called ‘automatic gain control’ (AGC) to keep audio at optimum levels. But if you’re recording an interview, for example, you can get what sounds like ‘breathing’ as the audio amplification factor or ‘gain’ continuously ramps up and down in response.

Having manual audio recording level controls stops this, but you won’t find it on most default camera apps and it’ll also rely on your phone’s hardware supporting manual control. But if you’ve got it, use it.

Follow The Guidelines

If you’re like me and have a tendency to shoot video that drifts a few degrees off the horizontal over time, many phone camera apps will feature a built-in guideline or gridline option that shows you where your horizon is. This will help you straighten up your videos and stop those watching suffering from head-tilt.

Use A Tripod

Handheld video capture is fine if your phone has optical stabilisation, but since most phones don’t, think about using a tripod. Capturing steady video, to begin with, will always be a better option than post-capture de-shaking. If you have a tripod for your DSLR or video camera, just get hold of a phone tripod adapter. There are universal adapters that work with almost any smartphone and the base features the standard tripod screwthread mount.

Using hand-held video capture can work well in some applications, but for most video work, a tripod is almost always better. One way to stay mobile, but still get some of the tripod’s benefits is to carry the phone by the tripod — it’ll act as a stabilising weight to smooth out the ‘lumps and bumps’ in your video. It’s not as good as a ‘steadicam’, but definitely better than nothing.

Rule Of Thirds

While there are plenty of technical things to look at to create great video, don’t forget the creative side as well. One simple rule is the ‘rule of thirds’ — imagine dividing the video frame into a 3 x 3 grid. Ideally, you want to frame different aspects of the video image so that they fit loosely within this 3 x 3 grid of squares.

One method that always works well is setting your subject in an outer square facing towards the centre. It also allows you to later overlay text on the opposite side if required.

Boot Your Phone

Phones like to load up their internal RAM with lots of apps and you never really shut down an Android app. But when capturing video, you want your phone processor’s full attention.

Personally, anytime I want to spend a day shooting video, I’ll reboot the phone first to ensure any processor-hungry apps I may have been using at some point (games) aren’t running and potentially loading down the processor chip. This’ll be less necessary on flagship phones with plenty of processing headroom, but on older or budget phones, I like starting with a clean slate.

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Shoot In Good Light

Very few video cameras can shoot great-quality video in the dark and most phones need good lighting to get decent results. That means ensuring you’re not shooting in shadows and certainly have the sun behind your back, not your subject’s.

If your phone has an LED flash, don’t assume it’ll be enough to light up your subject unless the distance between you is no more than a metre. Not to mention that the internal LED light chews hard on your phone’s battery. If you have access to them, external video lights can work wonders — it all just depends on how planned you can or want to be.

Clean The Lens

One for the road, this is another obvious one and something you’d think to do on a DSLR camera, but who does it on a smartphone? The problem is unless you’re aiming for that soft-focus look, you can’t expect to get the best quality your phone has to offer if you’ve got dumpling-sauce all over the lens. Next time you clean your phone’s touchscreen panel, remember to give the lens on the back the once-over as well.

No Filters

f you’re really serious about video quality, ditch the filters and effects. Using filters of any kind when you capture video isn’t smart for lots of reasons. First up, it adds load to your phone’s processor chip and that reduces battery life. Second, once you add that filter, you usually can’t remove it, so what might have seemed a good idea at the time is stuck with you forever.

It’s much better to capture good, clean, raw video and then use your video editing tools to add filters or effects after the event. Raw video might be boring, but it is the perfect canvas to work with.

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