Shooting With Your Phone

In these remarkable times, our Smart Phones have become complex digital extensions of our lives. It’s wild enough that we can text, check email and just plain talk to another, pretty much anywhere in the U.S. and most of the world. Wilder still, it doesn’t stop there.

A host of apps are available – games, directions, lights, compasses and calculators – and they come standard. No wonder so many folks seem addicted to them.

That’s still not all. Your smart phone these days likely has a pretty good camera, usable for video or stills, and an adequate, if not splendid, mic built right in.

Even though now common-place, an appropriate response might be ‘Holy Shit’, since it is truly remarkable. And works in real-time, with apps like skype and facetime for one on one visual communications.

iphone shooter

Ah, good questions. Yes it is possible. No it is not stupid. And yes, some understanding of the tool and process is highly beneficial to creating ‘visual assets’ that you’ll be happy with. So let’s hit on some dos and don’ts…

‘Steady as she goes’. The old sailor’s term is an apt one. Unless we’re going for some mad shaky-cam footage like used in Blair Witch Project, keep the camera steady. Yes, it has some software inside to help stabilize the shot, but your hands or whatever’s holding the phone/cam is the bigger deal.

Buy a mic. You’ll be pleasantly surprised, if not amazed, at the better quality audio you get if you spend some money on a decent mic. This is a classic area where ‘you get what you pay for’, so don’t think that $15 puppy will sound as good as one that costs $150.

Because your phone doesn’t have a ‘zoom lens’ or even a focusable lens, you have to first, understand the limitations of your phone’s ‘glass’, and second you have to be use broad motions to go from a wide shot to a close up. And don’t imagine you’re going to get the lovely ‘long lens’ look that’s so rich with a short depth of field. Again, understand the limitations.

shallow depth of field

Beware of bright backgrounds. If you shoot someone, particularly if they’re dark complected, they turn into a silhouette in your shot. That’s because phone cams have an ‘auto-iris’ which measures the light coming into the lens, and adjusts the camera’s exposure based on that light level. So, bright sun outside a window means the person in the room in front of the window will look dark, maybe even unusably so.

Okay, you understand a few basics and dammit, you want to make a short film with your phone!

Go for it. What we humans find most compelling in videos and film are pretty simple to achieve. We love movement, going back to Neolithic times and hunting for food or danger, our brains engage in a more focused way with a bit of movement. Lazy, slow camera movements are usually best, unless you’re trying to depict danger, death, hyper-stress, etc.

We humans also find human emotion compelling, which is why really good actors get paid the way they do. Few visuals feel more flat than someoneĀ trying to act. We’ve all seen it, and we know it’s painful. Your talent, to create emotion in the viewer, must have a genuine emotional experience for the camera/phone to capture. Otherwise, well, it’s a bad film.

And finally, your video/film needs a good story. Hollywood movies are meticulous in mapping out every single edit and special effect that shows up on screen. There are hundreds of folks making a living just producing the storyboards, animatronics and other pre-production techniques to help imagine a scene/film.

We don’t need to be about all that, but you better have your story, with all it’s twists and turns, and your visual content in pretty good order before starting production.

All in all, there are obviously better tools for making videos and films than with your phone. The world of DLSR cameras is a good place to step up to. But for a little ‘immersion therapy’ for a budding film maker, that smart phone will work just fine.

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