Smartphone video – how to get killer image out of your smartphone?

Smartphone video – how to get killer image out of your smartphone?

Do your smartphone videos look unprofessional? Would you like to shoot better footage with it? This article will teach you how to improve the video quality of your phone.

Audio

Clear audio is what makes a good smartphone video. It’s more pleasurable to watch content with bad quality of the image, but crystal clear audio than with good image but bad audio.

In the end, it’s often the audio that gets the message through in a video, right?

You won’t get good audio from your smartphone if you just point the camera at yourself and start recording.

And it’s not that the microphone is bad. Even the best microphone won’t record good audio if it’s on the other side of the room! The closer the microphone is to your mouth, the better the sound will be. In the world of audio, this is called the Proximity effect

proximity effect
Look at how close the singer is to the microphone. This way her voice can be heard clearly, and the microphone picks up almost no background noise.

If you’d like to get clearer audio – move the microphone closer to yourself (your subject).

But how to accomplish that using a smartphone?

You won’t get good audio for your smartphone video with the internal microphone, unless you’re okay with your face occupying the whole frame!

However, let’s assume that you’re not okay with it and start looking for alternative solutions. I can think of four:

Get another smartphone ($$$)

Borrow it from somebody or use your old one. Then open the voice recorder app. Next, set the recording quality to the highest and voi’la! You’ve got a wireless audio recorder which you can hold next to your mouth. You could also buy yourself a spongy wind filter (like this one) for cheap to look like a real interviewer.

On the other hand, there is a con to this approach. Namely, you’ll have to synchronize audio with video in post. This, however, isn’t that much of a pain in the neck if you record continuously. However, if you ever have trouble with syncing your audio with video – try Red Giant’s PluralEyes.

Red Giant didn’t pay me to promote their products 🙂

Use your smartphone’s earphone mic ($)

white earphones with a microphone for smartphone video
The little hole on the right is the microphone.

Your smartphone earphones have a microphone. Certainly, it will be used as the main microphone when you record video. Just connect the earphones to your smartphone and boom! You’ve got a lapel microphone. Just tape it to your body under your clothes. If the earphone cable is too short for you, simply get a second smartphone, just like in the paragraph above.

Get a lavalier microphone ($$)

Lavalier mics, lapel mics – these are the little ones TV presenters wear. They are almost invisible if hidden correctly.

How to make sure an external microphone will work with my smartphone?
lavalier microphone for smartphone video
I once bought this one for cheap and I haven’t had any problems with it ever since.

You can get ones that can connect to your smartphone via a TRRS jack plug. This is the plug which your smartphone earphones utilize. Not only does it provide connection for the left and right audio channel, but also for the microphone. This is exactly the connector, which TRRS lavalier mics use to communicate with your smartphone. To check out the microphone I use with my smartphone on Amazon click here.

TRS and TRRS
Left – TRRS jack plug (this one will work with your smartphone) Right – TRS plug

Get an XLR microphone and a device with an XLR input ($$$)

XLR is the audio industry standard connection for microphones

XLR connection allows for better quality, less noisy audio. Therefore, if you’re one of the people who prefer futureproofing their gear to temporary DIY solutions – get an XLR microphone. It could be one of these three:

  1. Dynamic
  2. Shotgun
  3. Condenser

Which one you choose depends strictly on how you’re planning to use it.

  • Get a dynamic microphone for street polls
  • Get a shotgun microphone for
    • filmmaking
    • online videos, where you’d like to hide the microphone outside of the frame
  • Get a condenser microphone for podcasts singing or recording instruments

Of course, if you already have one of these then nothing stops you from using it for different purposes. Get creative 🙂

However, keep in mind that if you’d like to record audio through XLR – you will need either an audio interface or an external recorder. For instance, I use this cheap-o one from Amazon. To clarify, It is not the cheapest one from Behringer. Therefore, it already has a metal housing.

Behringer U-Phoria UMC22 audio interface
Behringer U-Phoria UMC22

Lighting your scene

Good lighting is the key to shooting great smartphone video. The sensor in your smartphone camera is tiny. As a result, it needs lots of light to produce quality video. Keep that in mind when you choose a spot for recording.

Avoid shooting in your basement with the lights off. Neither does shooting under a broken street light during the night seem a particularly good idea.

Instead, try one of these to light up you face:

  • lights of a storefront (Used for example by JR Alli in his New York City – Don’t Blink)
  • the window in your room
  • sunlight
  • a flashlight (if you’re shooting in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night)
  • the lights by the mirror in your toilet
  • the light from your laptop screen
  • a cheap softbox kit (like this one I found on Amazon: click here)
  • a work light which you may already have in your garage
softbox for smartphone video
Softboxes are a simple way to professionally light any scene

Stabilization of a smartphone video

Next step is to figure out how to make your footage stable. You’ll face the following problems:

  • First of all, it is hard to introduce camera shake when you’re shooting with a heavily rigged RED camera. It is, however, relatively easy to shake a light camera. Therefore, you’ll need to add weight to your smartphone or keep it mounted to something.
  • Secondly, lectronic image stabilization does not look good. Therefore, if your device has optical image stabilization – use it!
  • Finally, shooting with wider lenses equals less shaky video. Try out some of these cheap clip-on wide angle converters. This is what they look like.

Click here to check out our article on the topic of DIY stabilization!

But, if you want even smoother footage, an electronic gimbal will give you just what you need. Check out this one that’s made specifically for smartphones!

Zhiyun Smooth 4 gimbal for smartphone video
Zhiyun Smooth 4

External app for smartphone video

If your standard camera app doesn’t provide a lot of functionality – feel free to betray it. Look through the Play Store/App Store. There is a ton of filmmaking apps that are flooded with great options like:

  • Manual exposure controls
  • Manual focusing
  • Focus peaking
  • False color
  • Flat color profile

The most popular app for shooting smartphone video (at the time of writing this article) is FiLMiC Pro. You can get it for both Android and iOS. I used it on a Samsung Galaxy S3 a few years ago, and it was a huuge step up from the default camera app. This isn’t a sponsored ad 🙂

Post-production

Feel free to get creative in your editing software, but keep one thing in mind:

Smartphone video is usually heavily compressed. Consequently, it is no good for color grading.

color grading smartphone video
Heavy color grading your smartphone video often results in a noisy image

If you need to color correct some clips – do it. However, don’t puch the sliders and curves too far, because you’ll stars seeing artefacts and digital noise pretty quickly.

Did you leave the electronic image stabilization OFF? Great! Now you may be able to get some sweet results using software stabilization. I recommend you to try out the Warp Stabilizer in Premiere Pro. It does a great job stabilizing shaky footage! But make sure that no object are passing through the shot. These usually spoil the effect 🙁

In conclusion, smartphone video can look astonishing if done correctly. And doing it correctly is just a matter of following some simple steps! Come back to this article before you shoot your next smartphone video.

See you next week!

Bob

Cover Photo by Angela Compagnone on Unsplash

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