It’s 2021, no one is asking if you can shoot films with your smartphone, the question is how? And please, for the cine purists (eyes rolling) no one is saying the smartphone is replacing the Sony Venice or your new mirrorless baby. We can all agree that smartphone cameras coupled with 3rd party apps have opened a new gateway for cinematographic expression for both the eager novice and expert.
See what Steven Soderbergh Oscar winning director of Traffic (2000) and the Ocean’s Eleven trilogy has to say about smartphone filmmaking. His last two works, Unsane (2018) High Flying Bird (2019) were both shot on an iPhone.
“I think this is the future,” he declared at Sundance while promoting Unsane, which he shot in two weeks for just $1.5 million using the iPhone 7 Plus. “I look at this as potentially one of the most liberating experiences that I’ve ever had as a filmmaker.”
Famous directors Sean Baker and Zack Snyder have also shot critically acclaimed films on smartphones.
Click here for a list of films shot on Smartphones.
So, it’s settled. We can make magic with our smartphones. Just don’t approach it like you would a normal dslr.
At GSRPro, we believe Smartphone filmmakers can sound a bit limiting. We prefer the term ‘Smartphone Creators’. This encompasses all the possible expressions of creativity a smartphone can facilitate. Filmmaking (Shorts, Features, Documentaries) Music Videos, Travel Videos, Commercial Adverts, Photography, Vlogging, Social Media Influencing.
We put together the guide below for anyone who wants to get started on their smartphone creator journey. It’s nowhere near comprehensive but it can be useful for beginners and professionals who might be looking to use a smartphone as an alternate camera for fitting projects.
The Easiest Approach
The easiest approach to shooting on your smartphone is using the native camera with automatic settings in place. Your device will automatically adjust to suit the lighting. You will get usable footage in most instances. You might even have a smartphone that allows you adjust the ISO settings, so you avoid light changes in your video. This might be suitable for quick videos to post on social media or personal videos. Videos shot like this have the color, lighting etc baked in and you can only do so much when editing. This limits your creativity and the potential impact of your video in most cases. So, when creating professional or semi professional content, you will want to retain the ability to manipulate your image when editing it. This means you should shoot in raw format. Most phones don’t have this future as a native option. The Sony Xperi1 does, but we haven’t tested it yet. This means you must use a 3rd party app that gives you manual control over your smartphone camera. We use FilmicPro, one of the most popular ones, but they are quite a lot out there. We have heard good things about the Mc24pro app for android and we use our Moment app to take pictures and shoot videos sometimes. But we are most familiar with FilmicPro. If it’s good enough for Sean Baker and Steven Soderbergh, its good enough for us
So, our recommended first step for the Smartphone Creator, download a 3rd Party App that gives you manual control over your smartphone camera. This guide will lean heavily into using Filmic Pro but you can apply the same principles when shooting with any other app
Here’s the FiLMiC Pro Quick Start Guide. Check it out, see if it works for you.
Also check out Mc24pro for Android
Moment App for IOS
Manual control over your smartphone camera is an invaluable tool to have when shooting with your smartphone.
What you need to have manual control over when shooting with your smartphone.
What do you want your audience to see clearly within your shot? FilmicPro gives you a focus wheel and green lines around whatever is in focus. You can also lock the focus on your subject.
This has to do with light. Too little light or too much light is bad, especially for your smartphone. You will get grainy video noise. Avoid this. We learnt the hard way. FilmicPro helps you by using zebra lines to show you what’s properly, under or overexposed.
Lighting is key when shooting with your smartphone. When shooting with Filmic Pro on our Iphone, we keep our ISO fixed at 22-24.
When shooting outdoors you will need to use ND Filters to cut down the light coming into your phone. In low light manual mode you will need to increase the light to help your smartphone see what you want it to record properly.
Adjusting white balance is critical to getting the proper colors when recording footage on digital cameras. This is also true for smartphones. If it isn’t done right your footage colours may end up totally different from the scene you shot, Filmic Pro lets you adjust this and lock it in place, so you don’t have to worry.
You should avoid shaky shots; at least before you get to the level where you creatively blend shaky shots into your footage for creative purposes. You will feel bad if a very nice shot is too shaky to use. Also, when doing commercial photography or most other professional content creation you will want your smartphone stable. Filmic Pro has in-app OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) and your phone might have EIS (Electronic Image Stabilization), but you still need external stabilization to get the best out of you device. Remember it’s a phone.
You will need a Tripod and Smartphone Holder to hold your smartphone when it’s mounted on your tripod. This is the most basic set up. I advise you buy a sturdy tripod upfront, because you will eventually mount add-ons to your smartphone, this will increase the weight.
Another thing you should consider is a Gimbal
There are motorized or non-motorized gimbals. The non-motorized works very well when shooting handheld in particular situations. The motorized gimbal is very useful for moving shots, tracking shots, whips, pans etc. Very good to have for music videos and B-roll.
Here’s a list of Smartphone Gimbal Stabilizers.
Smartphones microphones are cool but are fit for purpose. Your conversations. To get proper sound you must use an external mic attached to your smartphone or a shotgun mic to record audio separately into a recorder
See a list of mics and sound recorders suited for smartphones.
Please try as much as possible to get your sound recording right from the get-go. Trust me, we learnt the hard way. If the project is important, hire a sound engineer. If you can’t afford one, practice properly with your gear before starting your shoot.
Sound Recording Tips
- Use locations where you can control the sound
- Try shooting B Roll only in noisy places
- Watch out for low humming sounds. Air conditioners etc.
- Planes flying overhead can also be a big bother
- Above all, watch out for chatter from crew or others on set.
Many times, during the edit process of our work, we heard snatches of conversations that were not supposed to be in the footage. The equipment can be very sensitive. Take note of this
When shooting with your smartphone, you might find yourself using available light a lot. If you are planning on shooting fiction, you should have a lighting plan. Try and stick with 50+W lights for anything aside from Vlogs or Youtube Videos.
After you have your shots, the next part is editing your footage into a coherent whole. This process is as important as shooting. Some might argue its even more important. A bad edit can ruin good footage. A good edit can save badly recorded footage, well sometimes.
There are various smartphone apps you can edit your footage on. Lumafusion seems to be the best for mobile out there. However, you will most likely be cutting your footage with Adobe Premier or Final Cut Pro. If you can’t learn how to master these apps (there are some that are easier to get the hang of) you will have to hire an editor to cut your footage for you.
Here is a list of Smartphone Editing Apps
This is an incomprehensive guide. Its just to give you an idea of where to start from. In other articles posted we have listed Youtube channels where you can learn a lot about smartphone filmmaking. Make sure you check them out.
Also, you can read this and watch all the tutorials on YouTube, but if you don’t start now, we are never going to see your masterpiece.
Never forget, the best way to master a thing is to do the thing.
Looking forward to see your masterpiece
All the Best