Guide to Making Broadcast Quality Video With A Smart Phone

Making broadcast quality video with a smart phone is easier than you might think.

When I was working in New York as a freelance cameraman for shows like ABC’s 20/20, CBS’s 60 Minutes and many more, the cameras we used in those days cost about $60,000. Today that same quality can be achieved with a smart phone camera. If you have a smart phone, you already have a broadcast quality, High Definition video camera. And just because it’s so small, don’t think it cannot make great video.

In fact a lot of professional videos have been made with smart phones. The BBC has trained hundreds of VJs – Video Journalists to shoot news stories with smart phones. Most US newspapers are also doing video these days, much of it with smart phones.

Bentley Motors the luxury car company produced a short documentary about their car entirely with iPhones.

Granted these were professional filmmakers using additional lenses, stabilizers and other filmmaking gear, but the only camera they used was the iPhone. Smart phones can make very impressive professional video. The best camera is the one that you have with you.
Here are some tips shoot professional video with a smart phone.

Before you shoot, is your battery fully charged? Do you have enough storage space – SD card or internal memory. Shoot a few seconds with sound and then play it back to make sure everything is recording properly. Close all other apps.

1. Shoot in landscape mode. Just as your TV screen is a horizontal format, so is video. Don’t shoot video in portrait format. Save that for still photos.

2. Don’t zoom with any kind of video camera, especially a phone. When you want a close-up shot. Stop the camera and walk over to the subject. Get your close up that way. It will be much better. Zooming in and out is a sure sign of an amateur.

3. If shooting outside, it can be very difficult to see the red light on the screen to know you are shooting. Take a moment and shield the light from your screen and look for the red light. When you know it is definitely recording, better to keep it running than risk making a mistake thinking is running when it is paused. Sometimes you can keep the sun off the screen with a hat, umbrella or any cover you can improvise.

4. Audio is often the most important part of video, some say it’s the most important. The main reason audio sounds so bad in many videos is that the microphone is too far away from the subject. So to get good audio, move closer to the subject – 3 or 4 feet. For the shots you don’t have good audio, you can later add music, narration, or interview to the audio track. This is called editing.

Your phone’s waterproof case may degrade the audio. Try recording a test, both with the case on and with the case off.

5. Look carefully at the light on the subject. Can you see the subject’s eyes? Shadows give you a clue where the light is coming from. If the light is coming from behind the subject, your video will be too dark. Move so the light is behind you.

6. You don’t need a tripod if you will practice holding the camera steady and keep a wide shot. Remember no zooming.

Here’s how to shoot a documentary scene with 6 shots. Excerpted from How To Shoot a Documentary Scene. All of these shots will be static shots. The subject can move but not the camera. No zooming. no panning, no shaking. Let’s say you find a person building a small wooden boat. Here’s how you could shoot a scene:

First get a closeup on the hands of a subject shows WHAT is happening. Get this shot by moving your camera close to the subject. Don’t zoom to get it. That would be shaky. Compose it so it looks beautiful and then hit record. Get 10 seconds and then move to the next shot.

A closeup on the face shows whose hands are working. You’ll probably want to shoot up so you see their eyes if they are looking down. Make this a great shot. Hold it very steady, no camera movement. Ten seconds and move on.

Now move back and get a wide shot which showing the environment WHERE this is happening. 10 Seconds

Move in again and shoot over the shoulder of the boat builder. This shot will link the previous three shots

Now look for an unusual, or side/low shot provides a context. Again get Ten seconds.

Finally, interview the subject. Be close – 3 or 4 feet away so your microphone will get good sound. Ask the subject a leading question about his or her work. How do you feel about building this boat. You only want to record their voice if possible so don’t talk during the interview. Let them do the talking. A couple minutes is good.

These shots will edit together very nicely and easily.




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3 thoughts on “Guide to Making Broadcast Quality Video With A Smart Phone

  1. Kenneth Lyons

    This is great information and tips.
    I’m already a fan of Video Entrepreneur, a fantastic place for quality information.

    Reply
  2. John

    Learning how to tell a story is such an important part of the craft but what do you do if you are unable to get really close to the subject, such as when other people might be milling around or pushing? Does this approach only work really well when the subject can be petitioned off away from others?

    Reply
    1. Hal Post author

      To get shots you need, you have to be a bit aggressive or, as some would say, proactive. Looking people in the eye and smiling will help dispel any idea that you threatening in any way. You can also say just Excuse me! camera coming through. Talking to the person before you film is also a good idea. Tell them what you’re doing and why. Most people will be flattered. Some will not want you to film them and in those cases, you probably should choose another subject.

      You won’t always be able to get the shots you want, so improvise.

      Reply

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