With ever-growing changes to the workplace, down to you know what…*cough*, Covid-19 (yup, I said it), we’re seeing a greater need for “self-filmed” content for professional use. At this very moment, we ourselves are in fact being commissioned to edit client-generated content. And while we’d always advise on having a professional film your corporate videos, not everyone has the choice at these times. So on this basis, we wanted to pull together some top tips when filming yourself with a smartphone. I must stress, this isn’t going to be an intimidatingly complex breakdown, more so a checklist to get you started. Following that, you never know, you could be the next Scorsese!
Filming with a Smartphone or Tablet
More often than not, people are being asked to film with what they have available, and in most cases, this will be either a Smartphone or Tablet. Now, given the right environment, these can be very powerful tools, generating some really quality footage. Let’s take a look at how we get there;
Use the rear camera for optimum quality
In most cases, Smartphones (and Tablets) will have a camera on the back, and on the front. To date, on nearly all models, the rear-facing camera captures higher quality video. For this reason, try where possible to use the rear camera.
The front camera allows you to monitor
Contrary to the above, using the front camera will allow you to “monitor” yourself, as the screen will display what you are filming. This is quite important, and If that helps you get the job done, then don’t let the slight quality difference put you off.
Film In landscape
Unless specifically requested, avoid filming anything in portrait (upright smartphone). Instead, make sure your device is on its side filming in a 16:9 landscape view.
Stick to 25fps (or 30fps if the only option)
Without going into the technical detail of frame rates, always try to film in 25fps (unless specifically requested by the editor). Some devices can film in 50fps or 60fps, but this is only really used for when the footage is going to be converted into slow motion. If the clip is to be played back in real-time, there’s no need for the higher options, as 25fps replicates the “frame rate” at which our eyes and brains use. Some devices don’t allow you to shoot in 25fps, only offering 30fps, in which case just go with the latter. Alternatively, see if you can change the settings from NTSC to PAL, which should then give the option of 25fps
Lighting Yourself Correctly
Natural light is your friend
Soft, natural window light can often create beautiful results when filming. If speaking into the camera, try to place yourself near a window, but avoid harsh direct sunlight. You should also aim to have the light spill hitting the front or side of your face.
Avoid light being behind you
Avoid having strong light behind you, that will also go straight down the lens. This will cause underexposure when filming in auto, as the camera is battling with the strong direct light source.
Using artificial light
Lighting is an art within itself, but if only tackling one small LED panel, aim to position this about 45 degrees off to one side, facing you. This will help create a little contrast and depth to your shot, with one side of your face being lit and the other side ever so slightly darker. Ring lights are also a user-friendly option, but create a much flatter look due to the direct/face on position.
Switch off ceiling lights
Ceiling lights are not our friends. These can create harsh shows on your face, as well as a colour conflict between the tungsten colour of the typical light bulb and the cool blue light of the Sun or LED panel. So whenever possible, switch these off and rely on natural light coupled with a daylight-balanced LED panel or Ring Light.
Recording Quality Sound
Avoid ambient microphones
Although onboard microphones can perform very well in ideal conditions, they can leave you with less than desirable results in a noisy environment or room that suffers from echo. If this is your only option, place yourself as close as possible to the device whilst maintaining good visual framing, otherwise consider the items described in the next section.
The Lavalier microphone
The Rode Smartlav is a device specifically designed for use with Smartphones and Tablets, and in my opinion, worth their weight in gold. The ability to place a microphone closer to the sound source, being you, means that you get much better results and should be able to cancel out background noise a little more effectively. Note: It’s ok to see the microphone itself, but be sure to hide the cable under your clothing. It’s normally easiest to pass the wire under a shirt or blouse, then feed the mic through one of the button gaps before clipping it to your clothing. Be sure to place it around 15cm below your chin.
If being tethered by a cable isn’t your thing, and a wireless mic setup is out of your budget, consider the Sony TX-650 clip-on mic. This will give very similar results to the lavalier mic, but won’t record the audio straight into the Smartphone. Rather, the audio will need to be synced with the video footage in post-production.
Ideal Tripod Setup + Framing
A simple tripod is fine
Nothing too complex is required here, just be sure to purchase a solid set of legs that suits your budget and pay particular attention to the mount you require. For example, are you planning to use a Smartphone, GoPro, Tablet etc? There are some great tabletop options too, although you get less flexibility when adjusting the camera height.
Place camera around chin height
When filming with a wide lens, placing the camera around chin height should set you up for the correct framing angle. You never want to be looking excessively up or down into the lens.
In most cases when speaking into the camera, you want to aim for a “medium/closeup” as we call it. This means framing from just below the sternum, up. You also want to avoid having the top of your head out of frame too, leaving what’s known as “headroom”.
Final tips to filming yourself with a smartphone
Speak “into” the camera lens
Always try to keep your gaze down the camera lens itself as much as possible when speaking and not the screen (if you decide to self-monitor using your front camera). This creates the illusion of “eye contact” with your viewer and reinforces engagement. For more information on this, head on over to our article about 5 tips when being interviewed for video to help you feel more comfortable in front of the camera.
Avoid camera movement
Some tripods may have undesirable play or movement, so for this reason, allow for any wobble to subside before you start speaking. Keep your gaze into the camera for at least 5 secs before you start speaking, doing the same before you lean in to hit “stop” when you finish. This also doubles up for a little breathing space in the edit to add crossfades.
Keep the background tidy
Plain, clutter-free backdrops are always advisable. You need to be the main focus here, not your ironing pile in the background.
Place yourself centre screen
Unless advised by the editor for creative reasons, try to position yourself centre screen when speaking into the camera.
Editing your video clips
We hope these filming tips have come in useful to you and if you have any questions let us know. Often the part of the process that brings your videos to life is the editing. We’d advise using something like iMovie or if you have access to Adobe Premier then even better. However, if you require some professional video editing support then feel free to get in touch.