Video Production Visual Storytelling

Shooting video with a smartphone

Smartphone videoLots of articles have been written about how to produce videos with a smartphone. Most of them describe how to use the equipment and skip over the need for video production skills. This can be misleading. If you don’t have video production skills, you won’t create useful videos and it doesn’t matter what type of equipment you use.

Don’t get me wrong. I think using a smartphone to shoot video is a great idea. Why? Because it enables you to see if you can develop the skills that go into producing an effective video. And you can do that without spending a lot of money. If you’ve decided to shoot your own video using a smartphone, these are some of the skills you’ll need.

Skill #1: Shooting strong visuals

A smartphone lets you practice the basics of capturing strong visuals: composition, camera moves and lighting. With a smartphone, you can experiment with angles and level of focus. You can try simple camera moves like panning and tilting. You can also learn about effective lighting. Try shooting under various lighting conditions. See what the shadows say when they move across a person’s face. Lighting allows you to capture mood, but when used carelessly it can ruin a video.

Most people go through a few stages in their discovery. Your first reaction may be, this is cool. I can actually shoot video. Wow. Your friends and family will cheer you on. Then the next stage will arrive. You will start to discover errors. If you care about improving, you will likely reach the stage at which you think everything you shoot sucks. Congratulations, you are on your way. The everything-I-shoot-sucks stage is the most important stage because it means you are actually learning to tell the difference. Dig in. Soon you will begin to improve in significant ways. There will be plateaus, yes. Never mind. Keep pushing and soon you’ll move up the learning path.

Skill #2: Capturing quality sound

As your images improve, you may come to realize that the sound quality is not on par. Try watching a selection of YouTube videos. People will stop watching a video with poor sound sooner than they will stop watching poor visuals. If you’re going to produce your own videos, you need to learn how to capture quality sound. This will likely involve using a better microphone than the one on your smartphone. You’ll need to test microphones and different techniques until you find the best ways to get quality sound. This will take you as much time and effort as developing visual skills.

Skill #3: Telling an interesting story

The whole time you’ve been learning about visuals and sound, you should be developing your storytelling skills. Without story, videos are boring. Watch anything good. The more a video sticks with you, the better its story. A person who cares about creating good stories should be constantly looking for them in books, movies, newspapers, TV shows and everyday conversation. Whenever you find a good story, ask yourself what makes that story good. Many books have been written about story plots and how they work. You can excel at storytelling if you take the time to study these books.

Skill #4: Editing down to the essentials

The final step is editing. Without editing, you will not have a video people will watch. Everybody shoots stuff that is not useful or engaging. If material doesn’t add to the story, take it out. Keep reducing, always challenging yourself to remove more. The better you trim, the sharper the end result.

So those are the essential skills and they take time to learn. As with any skills, the more you practise, the better you will become. And yes, you can do all of this with a smartphone.