Ultimate Guide to Filmmaking on a Smartphone
When most people think of filmmaking, a smartphone usually doesn’t come to mind. However, modern smartphone technology is more than capable of allowing any current or aspiring filmmaker to create their own film.
In the past, filmmaking has only been possible with high end cameras, but the rise of smartphones has made filmmaking more accessible to creators without access to expensive equipment.
Filmmaking on a smartphone is not only possible, it’s relatively easy, but there are a few things that can make it even easier. Your phone already has most of what you need, but a few key pieces of filmmaking equipment can take your film to the next level.
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Table of Contents
Are You A Smartphone Filmmaker?
Mobile Filmmaking Equipment
Many modern smartphones have two or more lenses, which may be all you need to start your filmmaking journey. However, a detachable lens can give your film that cinematic look you’d never expect from a smartphone.
Consider the Moment Gold Flare Anamorphic Lens. This lens will give you that cinematic 16:9 widescreen look and incredible Hollywood style gold flares (Moment also has a Blue Flare option – Sandmarc has a combination gold and blue flare). Want to know more? Read our review of the Moment Anamorphic. Moment’s lenses work with filters as well, so you can make sure your video has just the look you’re going for.
You’ll also need to consider how you want to stabilize your phone while filming. Camera shake isn’t a good look when it comes to filmmaking and tripods don’t typically work well when you’re filming action. They’re fine for still photography, but can be difficult to work with for videos.
Your best bet is to invest in either a rig or a gimbal, depending on your specific needs. Rigs rely on your own hands for stabilization, but give you better handles to grab onto and plenty of space for accessories.
Gimbals, on the other hand, are available in two and three axis options to ensure your video is stable, no matter what you’re filming. They’re meant to eliminate camera shake and give you that buttery smooth movement you see in your favorite Hollywood films.
Another secret to professional quality films is impeccable audio. Be sure to invest in a high-quality external microphone. If you need help choosing a smartphone microphone, we’ve done the research and found the best microphones on the market.
Remember, if you work with a rig, you’ll likely be able to attach your microphone to it. When purchasing equipment, it’s crucial to make sure that it all works together, so keep that in mind as you shop for gear.
Depending on the location of your shoot, you might also want to consider external lighting. Don’t rely on your smartphone’s flash or you’ll end up sacrificing that Hollywood vibe. This is especially important when filming indoors, where you may not have much natural light to work with.
Finally, you might want to consider using a third-party camera app to film with. Sure, the app that comes on your phone is fine, but many third-party apps give you a wider range of options and settings to choose from.
Having full control of your camera will give you true freedom with your creativity, but it’s important to find the right app. If you need help choosing, we’ve got some suggestions for you here.
Though it might seem obvious to many, it’s still worth mentioning that you should always shoot in landscape orientation (unless shooting specifically for TikTok, Instagram Reels, or Pinterest Videos). Think of all your favorite movies and how different they would be if they were shot in portrait orientation.
If you shoot with your phone upright, it’s going to be obvious to your viewers that the film was made on a smartphone. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it will take away from the sleek and professional look you’re aiming for. That being said, in 2021 sometimes that filmed on a smartphone look is what resonates with people.
Another often overlooked aspect of mobile filmmaking is lighting. Though many newer smartphones are capable of filming in low light environments, generally speaking, quality lighting will just look better.
Consider filming during golden hour for some of the best natural lighting. It’s also recommended to avoid shooting outdoors in the middle of the day when the sun is at its harshest. If you must shoot during this time, then you’ll want a smartphone lens filter so that you can use the correct shutter speed. If you’re shooting indoors, you might consider using supplemental lighting.
As with still photography, it’s important to consider every aspect of your shoot. From the background details to the overall composition, viewers are sure to notice the little things, so make sure you keep distractions out of your shot.
One of the downsides to filmmaking with a smartphone is that you’re going to eventually run out of battery power. This can put a damper on your shoot, so be sure to plan ahead. Don’t forget your charge and consider bringing along a fully charged portable battery pack.
Many portable battery packs are small enough to be carried around, so you can continue to film while your phone stays charged. Doesn’t that sound better than having to sit around for an hour mid-shoot while your phone charges?
While we’re on the subject of portable devices, you might also want to consider bringing extra storage, especially if you have to travel to different locations. An external storage device will ensure that your phone doesn’t run out of memory in the middle of a scene.
Most portable hard drives weigh less than a pound and are capable of storing an insane amount of data, so you can save every second of video without worrying about what to cut before you even start editing.
Don’t Forget to Edit
Speaking of editing, this is a key aspect of mobile filmmaking. Good editing will separate your film from the crowd, so don’t forget to edit!
Adding those final touches to your film can make or break your success, but using the right app is essential. There are hundreds of video editing apps out there, so how do you choose the right one? For starters, here are our favorite video editing apps.
With smartphone filmmaking, you have the option of either editing your video right on your phone or uploading it to a computer. This kind of flexibility is something that appeals to many aspiring mobile filmmakers, since editing can be done whenever and wherever you want.
For context, though, I edit my full length Youtube videos on Final Cut Pro instead of a phone because video editing is a messy process. The ability to see the whole timeline and your editing tools isn’t something available on any mobile video editing app to my knowledge. Let us know of any video editing apps that you’d like reviewed in the comments!
3 Tips for Mobile Filmmakers
1. The Native Camera vs a Third-Party App
If you know anything about your phone’s camera, then you know it’s impressive, albeit devoid of useful control. Regardless of whether you’re an iPhone or Android shooter, the necessary control just isn’t there. So, a third-party app has to be the solution, right?
Well, not really all the time, In certain circumstances, like when you have unlimited time or need crystal clear audio, a third-party app for manual control is ideal. On the other hand, if you’re on a hike and see a bear that you want to quickly shoot a video of, then you won’t want to waste time with those manual controls the native camera will be sufficient.
For a little context into this debate, in Andy To’s Moment Lesson he argues for using the native camera over a third party app.
2. The 180° Rule
Let’s say you want manual control, though – what’re the ideal settings? If you don’t know anything about cameras, then understanding the settings can be seriously tough technically. The single most important thing you can know about your phone camera’s settings, though, is the 180° Rule which states that your Shutter Speed should be twice the frame rate.
- 24 frames per second (cinematic natural motion) – 1/48
- 60 frames per second (dreamy motion that can be normal speed or slowed down) – 1/120
- 240 frames per second (super slo-mo) – 1/480
By following the 180° Rule you’ll find that the motion in your videos is very lifelike. If your shutter speed is higher than the frame rate, then the results are still usable. If, on the other hand, the shutter speed is too low then the video becomes extremely choppy and likely will be unusable.
3. iPhone Versus The Rest
There are a number of great phones for photography, but none of them quite match the iPhone in terms of video capability (slo-mo aside). To explain, the third-party iOS app options for mobile filmmakers are exponentially better than the Android equivalents (which, coincidentally, don’t exist). Additionally, the user-face in the iPhone native camera app is very intuitive and the cameras perform both impressively and consistently.
Newer model iPhones also likely have a multi-camera set-up. While other phones, like my Google Pixel 4a with 5G, have similar set-ups the performance of each camera is not consistent. With the most recent iPhone releases you’ll also gain access to Lidar, 10-bit Color, and Dolby Vision all of which are serious improvements for filmmaking on a smartphone.
FILMMAKING ON A SMARTPHONE
Are you ready to do some filmmaking on a smartphone? In 2021 it’s not only possible, it’s much easier and the results are better than you’d expect. If you want more information about specific gear, then check out our complete phone videography guide that focuses more on the tools than the practices of the trade. If you shoot something that you’re particularly proud of then comment your Youtube channel so that we can be sure to check it out!