Smartphone Video Production


Why video?

Video incorporates many other forms of media, such as audio and graphics.  This can make it more dynamic, but it also means that it’s more complex with many more variables to think about.

More of the Why?  Can you get your point across with another form of media?  How much time and resources do you have?  Do you have a plan?

Question:  Does anyone currently create videos in their courses? What have the outcomes been like? For you and your students?

Pre-Production (Planning Your Shoot):

Scripts and Screenwriting 

What is your story?

Each story has three essential elements: a beginning, middle and and end.

Create an outline for your script.  It doesn’t have to be a word-for-word written script, like you’re writing a fictional movie, but a one-page description of your story and the project.

Write out your interviews questions beforehand, about 5 questions for a 2-5 minute piece, for about 3 people.

Think of how those questions tie together to form your story or to answer your research question.

Never interrupt or talk over your subject when interviewing them.  Allow them to finish speaking before you start talking again as the the pauses will help in the editing process.

Create a shot list or storyboards

Scoreboards can help you provide a visual representation of your shot list and the sequential order of your story.  In effect, storyboards can act a a map for filming, and the script becomes the content below them.  The descriptions below the storyboards can be quotes from dialogue, interview questions or a description of what happens in the shot.

Finish your script with a conclusion that answers your question.

Go over your script and your shot list.  Do you have all of the shots that you need?  Are you missing anything?  It’s always a good idea to take additional shots to use as “B-roll”

Plan for enough time.  Give yourself a generous amount of time to shoot.  A two-hour setup is not uncommon.  Shooting often takes much longer than you think due to the logistics of traveling to your location, moving gear, talking to the subject or other people, ensuring the place stays quiet, setting up the camera and lighting and audio.  Plus, there is always the possibility of disruptions or technical interruptions or challenges.


Scout Your Location:  Look for the following:

What is the lighting look like?  Is there a big bay window that drowns the room in bright sunlight?  Fluorescent lights?  Are there enough outlets to plug in additional lights and are they on different circuits?

What is the location like?  Is there enough space to shoot?  Having more space adds depth to the shots, so a larger room can be preferable for depth of field.  A larger area also gives you more room to work with, especially if you are using 3-point lighting.

What does it sound like?  Is it totally quiet?  Are there loud noises such as buses, noisy neighbours, construction, kids playing, heavy traffic or sirens?  Are there subtle noises that you haven’t heard before, such as air conditioners?

Make sure your batteries are charged and you have enough memory to record on.  There’s nothing worse than running out of power or having a full memory card with no back-up.


Video Length

The length of your video should vary based on the purpose of the video.  A social-media video has a different audience with different expectations – they are watching it purely for some quick entertainment value and they don’t want to invest more than a minute or two.  With Educational videos or tutorials, you have more of a captured audience as they are looking to learn something, which can allow the video maker to extend the timeframe.

  • Educational Videos – 6 minutes or less  (*some studies indicate that you can have successful educational videos 9-12 minutes in length)
  • Social media video – 1-2 minutes
  • Teaser trailer – 10-30 seconds
  • Landing page video – 1 minute
  • Customer testimonials – 1 minute

Production (Shooting Video):


Exposure: refers to the amount of light hitting the image sensor.  DSLR cameras can control all of the following functions, while smartphones, functions such as ISO and Shutter Speed are automatic (unless you have an additional App like Filmic Pro or Camera +), but Aperture can be controlled and locked in.  

There are three functions on the camera that affect this:

Aperture – measures how open the iris is to light.  Opening up the to a wider aperture (so a lower f-stop) lets in more light, while a narrow aperture (higher f-stop) lets in less light.  This is what you will most likely be changing in most shoots, while ISO and Shutter Speed may be changed in more changing conditions such as a night or a room with no lights.

ISO – controls the sensitivity to light.  A lower ISO is usually better, as a higher ISO can allow for more sensitivity in dark locations, but it adds messy noise and grain to the image. 200-400 is fairly standard under normal lighting.

Shutter Speed – Determines how long the shutter will be open on the camera. 1/50 to 1/100 of a second is a fairly standard for everyday shots.  For fast motion, you may have 1/400 up to 1/4000 of a second.  Very low light might be open for 1-30 seconds.


Other functions:

White Balance: White balancing your camera removes any strange color casts so as to take shots that more closely mirror that of the human eye. Lighting conditions determine the colour temperature of an area, whereas our eyes compensate for the colour change.  The white balance will try to match the colour, based on the whites, for the human eye.  Related to this is colour temperature, which is the hue and intensity of light, measured in Kelvin.

Zebras: are diagonal lines on the viewfinder that help you to determine over or underexposure.  The sweet spot is just a touch of zebras on the nose, cheeks or forehead of the subject.

Lenses: Standard lenses include:

45-50mm – good portrait lens with narrow depth of field

35mm – most closely resembles what the human eye sees and a standard in the film industry

11-23mm – wide angle, used to cover large areas.



Depth of Field: refers to the distance or the focal range between the nearest and furthest objects in a shot that are sharp and in-focus. A large depth of field is called a deep focus, while a small depth of field is called shallow focus.  The blurred background that is pleasing to the eye is called a bokeh.  A shallow depth of field can produce a better bokeh.  

Shallow depth of field (background blurred)

Deep depth of field (almost everything is in focus)



Focus peaking is a camera function that can help to focus on the depth of field or the subject that you want in focus.  It often appears as a glowing or glittery red or green aura around the edges of objects.



Three-point Lighting: Three-point lighting is the base for shooting good video as it provides a basic and standard look for filming. This includes your key light (main light facing the subject, shone to one side of the face), the fill light (which fills in the opposite front side) and back or rim light (illuminates the back of the subject’s head, creating a halo or bright aura).

If you don’t have a lighting kit, look for adequate ambient or present lighting.  

Smartphones tend to overblow images in bright sun or light.  Do not shoot into the sun or into a bright window, with the sun directly behind the subject. This will blow out your image and turn your subject into a dark silhouette.  Shoot with the sun or window to the side or front of the subject (if you have to).  A better place to shoot is in a shaded area to avoid the bright sun.

Use a well-lighted room or outdoor area but try and stay away from ugly fluorescent lights (they can give an ugly greenish hue) if possible and dim lights.  Household lamps are often smaller wattages, so they don’t give off much light, so regular room lighting is better.

Contrary to what you might think, shooting in a lightly, evenly shaded area can provide you with good lighting that is not too bright, nor too dark.

Smartphones will use a slower shutter speed in low light situations, such as at night, in shaded areas or inside where there’s dim lighting.  With low light, the shutter needs to stay open longer to allow enough light in to correctly expose the image.  Since the shutter is open longer to compose the picture, any little jitter or shake can disrupt the image as the shot is no longer instantaneous.


Use a tripod or a makeshift tripod.  A tripod helps to stabilize your shot so there’s less jitter and shakiness.  This serves a couple of purposes:

Your shot will look better with less unintentional movement.  A steady shot makes the view focus on the subject, rather than being distracted or annoyed by the camera’s movement.  It can also give a professional, classy look to it.   

Sudden movement or “whip pans” (moving your camera to side really fast to change shots) can add ugly pixelation.  The sensors in the camera can only pick up so many pixels changing at once, so while a steady shot has a limited number of pixels changing due to movement, the sudden and drastic change of every pixel changing 30 times a second in a whip pan can lead to the blurriness being captured as distorted pixelation.  In effect, the camera’s sensors can’t keep up with the sudden changes.

In lower light, as tripod is needed as the shutter may have to be open longer.  Since it’s open longer, it’s more prone to being negatively affected by any jitter of the camera and wrecking your shot.



Framing is the placement of the subject within the composition of the shot.

Headspace: The space between the subject’s top of the head and the top of the frame is called headspace.  Too close to the top and it looks like the top of the frame is suctioning the top of the head to the frame.  Too much headroom has the viewer staring at all the space above the head.  The best spot is a couple of inches below the frame.


Medium Shot: the standard shot, where the subject is framed from the top of the head to the hips, or the belt. A Medium shot with two people is called a Two-Shot.

Paul Rudd on MLB Network’s Intentional Talk.

Close-Up: usually a head with maybe a bit o shoulders (an Extreme Close Up would be a shot of someone’s eyes or hands).

Wide Shot: this would be your shot furthest away from the subject, incorporating the landscape behind the person.  Wide shots are often using as the first Establishing Shot, which sets the setting for the video.

Variety of shots: Wide Shot, Medium Shot, Full Medium 2-Shot, Close-up, Extreme Close-up

Rule of Thirds: guideline that follows that the most interesting compositions are formed on the lines or intersections on an invisible grid that separates the pictures in nine parts. It creates more tension and energy and it draws our eyes in different ways than centering a subject.

Don’t cross the axis.  This follows the 180 degree rule where two subjects facing each other are on an imaginary line that connects them.  The camera stays frame-left to the first character and frame-right on the second character.  By doing this, the viewer can better follow the action in their heads as crossing the axis – shooting from the other side, disrupts the viewers’ sense of space around the subjects.

Vary your shots to keep your audience interested. Keep in mind that audio and content should be considered over this.  How, other shots other than just people talking can make your video more dynamic.  For instance, adding the shot of the bagpiper was a nice change in shot and environment.  Sound wasn’t an issue so the shot worked and added variety to the piece.

Greenscreen shooting tips: Light your green backdrop brightly and evenly, so no shadows or dark spots.  Bring your subject several feet out from the green screen to avoid green light “spillage” onto the person’s shoulders and hair.  This allows for the composite to more easily remove the green background in your editing or compositing program.

Smartphone Shooting Procedures


  • Extend the bottom most legs first
  • Use the bubble level to ensure that the head is not slanted, the knob beneath the head adjusts the gyro
  • The panhandle is use to pan back and forth, or tilt up and down
  • Screw the iPhone clasp into the plate (the plate snaps into the head of the tripod)
  • Place the phone in tightly (it’s either knob-controlled or spring loaded)

Smartphone setup for filming

  • Set your phone to Airport mode to avoid interference
  • Settings – Photo and Camera
    • Record Video: 1080p
    • Grid: On
    • Plug in the iRig lavaliere mic into the headphone jack
    • Open VocaLive App
  • Go to the top right corner in VocaLive with three horizontal bars
    • Settings
    • Background Audio: On
    • Use your Home bottom to get out of the program – there should be a solid red bar at the top of you phone indicating that the app is still working

Frame your subject to the right side of the frame, using the Rule of Thirds (use the grid in Photo to get an approximate placement, then switch back to Video)

Adjust the light so that one side of the face is well lit, while the other side has some shadowing. Placing the light more dead centre towards the subject will give more even lighting. The light should be above the subject’s height slightly, with a tilt towards them.

Once the light is in place, you need to set your focus and exposure as they can automatically change, which you do not want in a controlled shoot.

  • Tap and hold on the screen while in Video. The yellow square will flash and “AE/AF lock” will appear. They are now locked but any adjustments made will not change automatically.
  • Pinch your fingers and then slide your finger to zoom in or out.
    • Do not zoom in more than about 30% as the digital zoom will distort your image quality
  • Tap the screen once to get the Exposure control (sun icon). Drag your finger up and down to open or close the exposure, thus letting in more or less light
    • Since we are using a really bright light, your Exposure may have to come all the way down.
  • Be careful with tapping and pinching as a another single tap can accidently remove the lock!

You can now start recording.

Other Smartphone shooting tips

Shoot in landscape/widescreen rather than portrait or vertical when shooting on a smartphone.  Holding the phone vertically feels more natural, but it can look amateurish and, well, like it’s filmed on a smartphone.  It creates a video with large black areas on either side when editing the video.  Widescreen shots make it have the same sort of basic look as a tv show or movie, which is more of the standard format.

Keep your smartphone steady about a foot from your body if filming handheld.  Handheld can be tricky, as the one filming can get shaky arms from holding the smartphone for too long.  Using both hands can help keep it steady.  Make sure not to cover the camera with your fingers.

Small tripods for smartphones include the Manfrotto MTPIXI-B PIXI Mini Tripod and the Joby JM3-01WW GripTight Stand, which has articulated legs that can even wrap around a pole or tree or merely adjust to uneven terrain.  If you have a tripod, there’s the Shoulderpod S1 Professional Smartphone Rig, which allows for your smartphone to attach right to the top of the tripod.

Always keep in mind that your smartphone camera is also your microphone.  Moving it further away will affect the audio quality of the shot.


Smartphone Audio Recording:

  • Put your smartphone into Airplane mode to avoid interference.
  • Don’t choose noisy environments to shoot in.  Listen to your environment for any loud sounds that may interfere BEFORE you start shooting, things like: fountains, construction, heavy traffic, kids playing, buses, airplanes, sirens, dogs, even heavy wind or rain.  Choose something like a quiet room in the house or backyard or a park or a quiet spot on campus (although many rooms can sound very echoey).  Some background noise, if it’s quiet, can be okay, but the basic rule is to choose the quietest place you can.  If something suddenly happens while shooting after choosing a location, such a bus going by, just stop filming and wait for it to pass by.
  • Move in closer with tighter framing.  Smartphones have a limited range for picking up sound without another microphone attached, so shooting in a tighter Medium shot will provide better sound.
  • iRig microphones ($50 USD) are designed to work right with your phones, using their free app called VocaLive.  Currently it’s only for iPhones, but some gear may be used with Androids.  The microphone plug right into the pre-iPhone7 headphone jacks and easily used with the Camera app.

Audio (On a Zoom Recorder)

People will forgive poor shots or framing, but they will tune out or stop watching a video it if they can’t hear it.

Lavaliere Mics: Lav mics or lapel mics are clasped onto a subject’s jacket edge, tie, or lapel.  These small mics are most common in interviews.  They are generally placed a couple of inches up from the bottom of the sternum, in between your top and second button.

Test your audio.  Lav mics can suffer from radio or cellular interference, or even from certain buildings.  Interference can be introduced in the form of static, although sometimes it’s a simple as a connector not plugged in fully.  Make sure your levels are not “peaking” which means it’ll be distorted.  

Recording the audio.  When you’re recording, make sure that the audio is audible, that you can clearly hear everyone who speaks.  Aim for a gain or volume of between -6 to -12 db.

Editing (Post-Production)

Software Recommendations

Camtasia – $264.47 CAD
– great screencasting program that’s also a very good video editor, easy to use and intuitive

ScreenFlow – $99 USD
– similar to Camtasia, cheaper but only on Macs

Adobe Premiere – approx. $50/month
– professional level editing program, but it can be a difficult learning curve!3085!3!194345952661!e!!g!!buy%20adobe%20premiere&ef_id=V6ISMgAABWsoxJNP:20170615202113:s#x

Tutorials: There are plenty of free  turorials on or YouTube for mobile recording.


What is Editing?

Editing is used to tell your story through video.  So you need a beginning, a middle and an ending, which is like saying that you introduce your story and set it up (beginning) and tell people what it’s about, then you go in detail describing that story (middle) and finally reach a climax and a conclusion about your story (end).

Think of how you tell a story verbally to another person: first you explain your story as to what it is you’re going to say, then you tell that story in a detailed way, and finally you wrap it up with a punchline or a something that’s learned that’s interesting about a change or a revelation of some sort.

 Editing in iMovie on an iPhone

Editing in iMovie on an iPhone is easy to do, but the features are limited.  Learning to work within these limitations can actually free you up to perform simple edits without adding confusing extra settings and parameters.

iMovie on the iPhone (or iPad) allows to to make transitions (cuts, fades, dissolves, slides), add titles and add photos, videos, and audio.  You can create a picture-in-picture look, create a split screen and use cutaways to overlay videos so that the audio from one track is headed beneath the video of another track.

Trimming A Video Clip on an iPhone

  1. Launch the Photos app from your Home screen.
  2. Tap on the video you’d like to edit.
  3. Tap the hamburger menu on the bottom of the screen.
  4. Tap and hold on the left or right side of the timeline to engage the trimming tool.
  5. Drag the anchor left or right to trim (the yellow “<” arrows on either end of the clip).
  6. Tap and hold an anchor to expand the timeline for more precise editing
  7. Tap Done on the bottom right of the screen.
  8. Tap on Save as New Clip or Trim Original to replace the original clip.

Record a Voiceover on iMovie on an iPhone

  1. Press the + on the left side of the screen to add a Voiceover (above the timeline to the left of your shot).  This takes you to a menu listing Videos & Photos.
  2. Scroll down and select Voiceover near the bottom.
  3. This will take you back to your timeline with an audio meters pop-up over your shot.  Speaking into the iPhone to test the sound levels, you can see how the meters increase from the green bars into the yellow and red regions as you talk.  Red indicates that the sound is “peaking” and it will distort the sound, so avoid going into the red.  Your voice should register in the upper green to yellow range on average.
  4. Press Record when you are ready and a 3-second countdown will start.   You can then speak into the iPhone.  Press Stop when finished.
  5. A Recording Finished popup appears, and you can choose Cancel, Retake (re-record your piece), Review (listen to it) or Accept. When you press Accept, iMovie automatically places your voiceover on the timeline where your playhead is.
  6. Tap and hold down the voiceover and move it to whatever place on timeline you want.

Add Media to iMovie on an iPhone

Modify or Add Transitions to iMovie on an iPhone

Exporting Videos from your iPhone to a Laptop

  • Plug in your phone to the computer
  • Open Photos
  • Import and Select your Videos
  • File
    • Export
    • Export Unmodified Original for Videos (.MOV)
    • Name and Select your folder on your Desktop
    • Drag and Drop into the folder

Trimming a Video Clip on an Android Phone

  1. Display the video in the Gallery. Do not play the video; just have it loitering on the screen. Videos in an album are flagged with the Play icon.

  2. Choose the Trim command. Touch the Action Overflow or Menu icon to find the Trim command. In some versions of the Gallery app, the Trim icon appears on the screen, similar to the one shown in the margin. If you can’t see the icon, touch the screen. If it still doesn’t show up, the video is being shared from another source and cannot be edited.

  3. Adjust the video’s start and end points. This is how to trim a typical video: Adjust the Start and End markers to trim the video’s length. Touch the Play button on the screen to preview how the shortened video looks. Adjust the Start and End markers further, if needed.

  4. Touch the Save or Done button to save the edited video.


Editing in Adobe Premiere

Organize your file folders before starting.  Video tends to have a lot of files both within your hard drive and within the editing program, so keep it as organized as possible or you’ll find yourself lost very quickly.  Have folders for each of the following to keep everything in place on your hard drive:

Video footage

Audio (voice, sound effects and music)


Additional media (Youtube clips, other media)

Within the software itself, you’ll also create folders for:


Titles (opening titles, lower thirds, credits, on-screen questions or information)


Create your Composition, Sequence or Project.  Again, create Bins or Folders to organize your material before you start.  Make sure you know where you are saving your project.

Edit according to your shot list, storyboard and script.  Editing is the third place to form the story, and you can modify it accordingly.  Try and find a good pace to the piece.  Editing to music can help with the pace as you edit to the music.  If you don’t have music, try to remember that a quicker is better.  Try to edit out unnecessary pauses

Edit out anything unnecessary.  Remove the parts that don’t directly relate to your story.  Remember, shorter is better.  If something seems extraneous or off-topic, it probably is, so edit it out of the piece.

Keep the editing simple when starting out.  iMovie is a good program to start with as it doesn’t really allow you to make common mistakes.  However, this also limits what you can do with the program (ie. no layering beyond adding titles).  Professional programs like Final Cut and Premiere allow you to do a lot more, but they can also get complicated and confusing very fast.  However, editing a more spartan video on a professional program can offer flexibility and added features if you learn it, while a basic program like iMovie can still produce quality videos if the content is good.

Length: most videos on social media or Youtube should have a length of 2-3 minutes, or even shorter.  A promo video of about :30 is ideal for social media.  Longer videos are acceptable if you have a captive audience with a subject they are interested in.  Youtube does not effectively have limits in length, but social media like Instagram can limit video files to 1 minute lone, so know the venue where you want to put it.

You can scale down, but not scale up.  Scaling up, or zooming in on a shot in the editing process, will give you a blocky, pixelated, ugly look.  Think of a jpeg.  When you increase it’s size, it looks terrible.  This is because the same amount of pixels are being used, so you’re zooming in on those scarce pixels when you punch in.    However, this idea can work if your final product is a 1080p video and you’re shooting in 4K.  Downscaling from 4K to 1080p will allow you to zoom in about 30-50% with no loss in quality.

Titles and Lower Thirds: Titles are used in the Opening Sequence or Credit Sequence, in the section titles, or to present information on screen or ask a question.  Lower Thirds are the titles at the bottom part of the screen – the lower third – which identifies a speaker’s name with their position and/or organization.  Titles and Lower Thirds would be on screen for 4-6 seconds.  This can be extended if it doesn’t feel like there is a reasonable amount of time to watch and read the information.  For fonts, try to steer away from really thin fonts.  Din Pro is SFU’s standard font, with Helvetica and Futura being other common options.  

Transitions: the cross-dissolve or fade is the most common transition.  A fade of about 15 frames or half and second is a good average length to use.  Other transitions, while used, often make the video look cheesy. A very quick transition of only a few frames is gives you a flash fade, often using white as a cross-dissolve colour.

Adding B-roll: B-roll refers to the additional insert shots that you use to create a more dynamic video.  These are shots such as hands shaking, an audience at show, another person listening, something interesting happening in the background that relates to the topic, scientists performing duties in a lab.  On top of making the video more dynamic, they also serve to act as transition shots to cover up cuts.  Talking heads can become boring very quickly, so B-roll can make it more interesting.

Still photos and the Ken Burns Effect: stills and logos should only be onscreen for as long as they are interesting.  A still with no movement should be onscreen for about 3-5 seconds. A way to add interest to a still is to do a slow zoom and pan across the photo, with what’s known as the Ken Burns Effect (iMovie had this built in).  Not only is it more interesting than an immobile photo, it also allows you to extend the time of the clip, perhaps as long as 8-10 seconds.  A good average length of time to have a photo or logo on screen is about 4-6 seconds.

Exporting and File Compression: Compression or transcoding refer to re-packaging the finished video into a format that is more usable and viewable, while reducing the size.  Often the editing program will suffice for exporting videos.

However, this can sometimes be tricky as there are plenty of formats and compression can differ greatly among them.  The program that I use the most is Adobe Media Encoder.  Media Encoder works by dragging your project file right into Encoder.  A pop-up will ask which Sequence you want to compress and you select it.  You can then drag over one of the pre-formatted settings onto the file, such as exporting for Youtube.  Many times, you can simply press the green triangle above to compress the file.