How to shoot cinematic footage on a smartphone

The best camera is the one you have with you. More often than not that's going to be the camera in your smartphone. To counteract your Gear Acquisition Syndrome I've made a list of tips on how to shoot better cinematic content with your smartphone.

You don't need a fancy cinema camera to shoot great cinematic content. In this article I'll be sharing my 5 top tips on how to shoot better cinematic content on your smartphone.

COMPOSITION

I’d say composition is the most important element of all five points I’m talking about today. 
An image can have a boring subject or bad light but can be saved by a powerful composition. 

If you’re ever in doubt on how to frame something go for the basic rule of thirds:
Divide your image into nine parts by two equally spaced horizontal and two equally spaced vertical lines. 
Place important elements in the photo on the intersection(s) of these lines.

A lot of phones have a ‘grid’ mode you can enable, which helps you frame up your shot while shooting.
Naturally this rule of thirds also works well for photographs.

Once you’ve mastered this basic rule, you can break it. Push subjects to the edges of your frame to mix things up.

LIGHT

There’s nothing worse than shooting in extremely harsh sunlight in the middle of the day. 
The soft, golden light around sunset or sunrise is much easier to expose for and to shoot with.
We call this time of day golden hour.

Wavelengths of the sun’s light get absorbed by earth’s atmosphere, resulting in less blue light hitting our sensors. The absence of the blue wavelengths results in a more golden coloured atmosphere.

You can witness this evolution of colour by keeping an eye on the clouds at sunset. You'll see them go from white to golden to pink to purple.

You don't have to limit your entire shoot to golden hour, just keep in mind that there's nothing worse than shooting right around midday.

SUBJECT

As cute as you think your cat or your dog is, there must be something more interesting to capture around where you live!

Leave the house, venture out, go explore! Heck, open up instagram and see if there are any photo hotspots around where you live by using ‘search nearby places'. Then once you get there try not to copy the exact same photo, do try and get creative to give it your own spin.

If you're ever at a tourist spot and there are a dozen people around you pointing their camera in the same direction make sure you run away fast. I've always disliked shooting exactly what others are shooting. It's challenging yet fun to come up with new angles of places that have been shot to death!

Look for patterns. The human brain loves repetitive stuff. Look for contrast or interesting juxtapositions like nature and man made elements. This is all entirely subjective of course but that's the beauty of it all, isn't it?

ANGLE and LEVEL

Switch up your angles! Again, contrast is key. Juxtaposing wide and tight angles make for a captivating edit. Not only focal lengths should be diversified, also make sure to focus on shooting up and down, high and low.

We see from an eye level perspective our entire lives, it can be very refreshing to get a new view on a subject by capturing it from a frog or bird perspective. Just look at how incredibly popular drone photography has become over the last few years. The main driving factor behind that is because they allow us to see the world from a different angle.

Also, the more diverse your shots are the easier you will find the post processing to be. Nothing worse than an ugly jump cut that could have been avoided by shooting more, different angles.

On top of switching up my angles from high to low: I rarely stay still, I most often move around. Static shots definitely have their place, but adding a little bit of subtle motion can draw in the viewer even more. It can add a sense of moving forward to the end result. You'll very rarely see me shooting a lot of static footage.

To increase the feeling of movement and depth you can ‘shoot through' things such as leaves, branches or flowers. Not only will they add a bit of blurry, out of focus elements to your image (trust me, it makes it look better than a boring, straight on shot with no foreground) they will also show off the parallax effect more. The parallax effect is what you call the faster movement of subjects closer to the camera in relation to whatever subject is further away when moving the camera laterally.

ACCESSORIES

The point of this video and article is to show you that you don't need expensive, fancy equipment to make great cinematic footage. That being said, there are a few affordable accessories that you can add to your mobile phone photography bag to differentiate yourself from the competition!

Joby mobile phone clamp and tripod. Get it here.

Joby mobile phone tripod

A cheap mobile phone lens kit. Get the cheaper one here.

Cheap mobile phone lens kit.

A more expensive mobile phone lens kit is made by Moment. Check out the Moment wide angle lens here.

Moment mobile phone lens

To get next level camera stabilisation check out the DJI Osmo 2 gimbal here.

DJI Osmo 2 phone gimbal

Get this Rode VideoMic Me for better mobile audio recording here.

Keep in mind that you need a headphone jack to use this microphone!

Conclusion: it's easy to create beautiful, cinematic content on your phone. Just keep these 5 elements in mind next time you shoot and you'll be golden! By the way, why not challenge yourself and leave the bigger camera at home next time you go out to shoot! I'm sure you'll be surprised at what you can come up with.

I hope you found this video and article useful! Thanks for reading, Matt.

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