Shoot Cinema Quality Video Using Your Smartphone

We all know how limiting our smartphone cameras can be and how we have learned to accept average video and photos from the "smart" phones thinking this is the best we may get. There are ways however to "Shoot Cinema Quality Video Using Your Smartphone". Let's explore how we can overcome the weakness of small sensor, soft shutters, limited aperture etc. & make some great videos. Who knows if your next video can be a hit on dreamstime and get you some good cash!

Streaming media on tablet PC

Check your smartphone settings: Start off by opening camera settings for your phone. Most phones will have them right on the screen when you open the camera. Choose the lowest possible ISO, high shutter response and a suitable aperture if it allows you to adjust it. Low ISO will allow you to get higher quality with minimum noise. You will need good light in the scene to allow you to use a low ISO. More on that later. You can choose to stabilise your image if not using a monopod/tripod, although I would highly recommend the latter.

Check your phone lens:Often an ignored part of the phone, the camera lens needs to be sparkling clean in order to take it's best shot. Finger print smudges and dirt on the lens limits the light entering the lens besides getting unclear photo/video. Use a lint free cloth and phone screen cleaning solution to achieve good results. Be gentle while cleaning this part as any scratches can make the situation worse. clean in a circular motion and use a dry lint free cloth next, for good results. I have found little cleaning pads that come with sunglasses quite useful for the job.

Close up of a woman cleaning mobile smart phone with fabric in dark background

Orientation: For cinema standards, wide screen formats are the way to go, so keep your phone horizontal. Vertical videos are hardly viewable in most cases and do not look good on end user devices like monitors and tv screens. The only exceptions are when you are exclusively shooting for a smartphone or tablet device or on client specifications. Today there are options for FHD, 4K and custom resolution (usually based on native phone screen format). 4k is the way forward, with FHD the next best option in most cases.

Good Lighting: Dialling down on ISO to increase quality will need you to shoot in well lit conditions. Who says diffused studio lights are only for pros, they work great for phone cameras too. Good light ensures low noise, well balanced scene and high quality at good frame rates. Use reflectors, umbrella lights or any other setup of your choice. You can hardly go wrong with soft light sources placed in the right places.

Three point lights: You may choose to use hollywood's famed three point light strategy, namely backlight, fill light and keylight sources. While shooting a subject the backlight acts from behind or on one side, giving the subject more definition by separating it from rest of the scene while highlighting the contours. Key light is the main light source illuminating the subject directly, in case of outdoors its the sun. A fill light is used to illuminate the dark areas of the subject that occur due to direct shadows from the key light. These are supplemented by adding a background light at times where the background needs colour effect or additional illumination. Using this light scheme can greatly enhance your scene.

Curtains and projector

Get Close to Your Subject: Do not use digital zoom, it is just a sensor crop and takes away all that resolution and quality from the image. Use optical zoom if your smartphone is one of those special ones. Some would still face distortion while using optical zoom due to miniaturised optics. So ensure you are getting good results before going in for that option. Getting close to your subject physically and away when required is the best option for preserving quality.

Stay Steady: Use a tripod, monopod or a rested selfie stick to get stable shots. Moving your phone or shaking it will get nasty unprofessional results. You could also train yourself to be really steady while shooting and this should be done while using image stabilisation. Talking about which, there is a quality loss, even though too little to notice. So keeping it steady is the best option in any case.

SUKHOTHAI, THAILAND - MAY 30 : ZHIYUN Crane 2 - Set of different

Special effects: Avoid using filters while shooting, it takes away edit-ability and you may not find the effect desirable when watching on a bigger screen. It's best to shoot in the basic raw format without any enhancements and then later extract to a computer and edit on a file copy. Always remember to keep the original copy as it was shot. This will allow you to do later copy and edit as you desire.

Can your storage catch up: for full 4k videos, it's essential to have a very fast card or use your phone's in built storage. A 4k stream is quite data intensive and needs very fast storage to simultaneous recording before the buffers overflow. If you want to free up space there, move the video to your cf card after shooting.

A word on slow motion effect: If you want slow motion effects then it's best to switch to 60FPS video if supported. This will enable you to slow down the video in smooth fluid slow motion at less than half the speed. Applying slow motion effects to 30 or 24 fps will get choppy results. Slow motion is often desirable while editing moments of excitement, actions, emotions and other key timelines in a video.

In essence it’s not the camera but the photographer and his/her skills that decide how great a video can turn out to be. I am sure you have something to add, so please leave your kind comments.

Photo credits: Elnur, Pop Nukoonrat, Phanuwatn, Scanrail.

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December 10, 2018


Nice article. You could always mount a smartphone on your professional video camera and shoot with both simultaneously. Very handy if using to different focal lengths, our you can angle it for lateral recording. It might even provide an adequate B roll source from a single operator...

July 10, 2018


Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

July 10, 2018


Excellent blog.

July 07, 2018


Well written advises! Thank you for sharing!

July 06, 2018


@Trinijacobs: Thank you for your kind comment.@Vladimirkz: yes it's true one would not have all and not have a DSLR, but some of us might have one of them, like a phone tripod or a few odd lights or maybe a cheap reflector made at home, so just some ideas for that kind of setup :-)

July 06, 2018


Thank you for good advice! My personal opinion, to shoot video in the studio, with studio lighting, with a tripod, even a very good smartphone, at how to hook a cart to an airplane!

July 05, 2018


These are facts we often ignore. Thanks for sharing

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