How to Shoot Video with a Smartphone

Video Creative Producer
Published 5/21/18
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Back when I started in video production in two-thousand…well, let’s just say it’s more years than I’d care to mention here, video was starting an epic journey.  Once the domain of strictly professionals (or very serious amateurs), technological advances were starting to make what was only available to some, available to the masses.  I would be even so bold as to say that not since the dawn of the camcorder in the 80s had consumer video production experienced such a tidal shift.

Around the same time that YouTube became a thing, cell phones started coming out with video recording capabilities.  They were very crude by today’s standards, the very first camera phone boasted a .35 megapixel camera while today’s iPhone X?  12 megapixels.  Just last year, I was on location where a videographer was using his waterproof iPhone to shoot underwater. Why?  The waterproof case for his DSLR was financially out of reach and the iPhone shoots at the same resolution anyhow. 

There’s absolutely no question in my mind that the extraordinary success of internet video has been carried on the wings of the incredible trajectory of video technology’s increasing availability, affordability and quality – especially in the way it has evolved via the ubiquitous conduit of the smartphone.  Of course, the pitfalls with any mass availability of technology is the inevitable abuse.  Anyone can post a video to YouTube and well, I think we’ve all come across some painful examples of how not to create your own videos.  For you, our fair readers, we wish to help you go forth and create amazing content – be it gorgeous, moody, cinematic masterpieces, or the next viral cat video.  A few tips from our own toolbox:

Before you even get started shooting, ask yourself – where am I displaying this content?

You may want to consider the constraints of the three major platforms (YouTube, Facebook and Instagram) before you hit “record.”  

  • With the recent advent of IGTV, which offers a vertical format ideally suited to mobile phone browsing, you may need to switch from horizontal recording to vertical.  (We expect to see this format really take off in the next several months and become standard across other platforms).
  • Additionally, different platforms have different supported video lengths so make sure your content fits within the time allotment.  


First, if you’re recording yourself on-camera, choose your location wisely.

  • The location should be as quiet as possible – shut off any TVs, music, etc.  Wait for your dog to stop barking and tell your roommate to shut it.
  • Choose a location with as plain of a backdrop as possible.  A white wall is better than a messy office or other distracting backdrop.  Besides, you don’t need to inform the universe that you don’t make your bed or that you still have posters up in your bedroom like you’re a teenager (not that any of us do that…) or any other potentially embarrassing discoveries.
  • Bring in the light!  Make sure your location is well lit – natural light is preferred but bring in extra (temporary) lamps and other lighting as needed. 
  • Try not to backlight yourself – in other words, all light coming from behind you making you look silhouetted on screen. Unless that’s what you’re going for, and then in which case, don’t listen to us.  Who are we to hamper your creativity?
  • Throw a comb through your locks. Put on a shirt (preferably with no distracting graphics).  Put in a modicum of effort into your appearance – video is a visual medium after all.
  • Do a test! When you’ve got your location and lighting set, do a test run and check it out – you’ll be able to tell if it looks good… and very quickly if it doesn’t.

Second, set-up your gear.

  • Use the best possible equipment that you have at your disposal.  Filming with an iPhone or other similar smartphone is a fine option – most new models shoot in 4k.  
  • Check your phone’s camera settings to make sure you’re recording at the highest resolution possible.  
  • If possible, set it to 4k at 24 fps.  If this isn’t possible on your phone, 1080 at 30 fps is best.
  • Make sure you shoot in landscape mode (phone is horizontal), not portrait (phone is vertical).  Most players are designed in a 16:9 aspect ratio, meaning they’re widescreen in format.  Your phone’s portrait mode will create a video that is not widescreen.  If you take away one single tip from this blog, please, please, let it be this.
  • Avoid the up-the-nose shot (phone below eye-level).  The camera should be around eye-level or a little higher. However, be creative – if you’re going for low or high shots, just test first to ensure it looks how you want.
  • Avoid having someone hold your phone for you since this will cause a shaky video.  If possible, prop your phone against something stable to avoid any shakiness.  They even make tiny tabletop tripods with adaptors for phones that are relatively inexpensive.  
  • Try to compose the shot so that you are visible from the waist-up, and are filling at least half of the frame.  If you’re positioned too far away from the phone, the mic might not be able to pick up your voice and it may be more difficult for viewers to see you.
  • Have a friend help you compose the shot so that you don’t accidentally crop yourself in a weird way.  
  • If you don’t have anyone to help you, record in “selfie” mode so you can actively see how the shot looks.  Be warned, however, that this may decrease the resolution of the final video depending on how old your phone is.

Third, record your video.

  • Look into the camera, avoid staring off screen.  It creeps people out if they think that you’re talking to someone who isn’t there.  If that’s what you’re going for, again, don’t listen to us.
  • Talk at a comfortable pace.  Speak slightly louder than you would in normal conversation so that the mic on your camera picks up the sound clearly. Again, not UNNATURAL ALL CAPS loud, more like slightly larger font size, loud.
  • Practice makes perfect!  Shoot the video a few different times to get the best possible delivery.  Review recordings, cringe, make adjustments as needed.

Fourth, share it with the world!

  • …but, um, be sure about what you’re posting before you start posting it.  With the rate at which things get shared and redistributed across multiple platforms, it could take a hot minute to get something taken down if you have a change of heart.  Or try to run for political office.
  • After you’ve deemed it post-worthy, post it and be sure to share it across as many social media platforms as you can to get people to watch your oeuvre.

So, go forth, readers and inundate the internet with your creative soul – be it demonstration of artistry, musical prowess, expressive oratory or lowly planking, go on with your bad selves and be you!  (But also, let’s be kind, with great power comes great responsibility…and the internet already has plenty of the unkind).  

There you have it!  I know, it’s like we’ve provided you the ingredients to the secret sauce, you’re welcome!  There’s more to come, though, as we dive into apps to make your videos even cooler, ways to edit your video without ever touching a traditional computer (just like that ‘tween in that iPad commercial – spoiler alert, an iPad is a computer. So’s an iPhone…ok I’ll stop), and a recap of Emilie’s visit to VidCon 2018.