February 15, 2023 8 min read

Mobile Filmmaking 101: The Ultimate Guide to Filming with Your Smartphone

Thanks to great advancements in everyday technology, we have the ability to make professional-level content on-the-go. Most people with a mobile device are using smartphones, and the camera on modern smartphones has improved so much that many filmmakers are skipping the fancy camera equipment and using their mobile cameras to create great feature films. If you’re an amateur photographer or videographer, and you’re not quite ready to invest in professional camera gear, you can test out your skills with your very own smartphone. But, there are some accessories you’ll still need to purchase like a smartphone microphone for enhanced audio. Check out our guide to filming with your smartphone and start creating today.

The Rise of Mobile Filmmaking

Although traditionally films and short videos have always been made using high-quality DSLR or other professional grade cameras, the smartphone industry has revolutionized this creative process. Because the camera lenses in our smartphones are so advanced, you can produce quality videos without the need for expensive equipment. Over the last decade, filming on an iPhone or other smartphone device has become increasingly popular as the quality has been refined. Filming from your smartphone is also particularly appealing to many creators because it is so much easier to quick share footage directly to social media pages.

If you’re an action filmmaker, you can even use your smartphone to edit GoPro footage in the app and instantly share it with your friends. This is probably the most appealing aspect of filmmaking on a smartphone, but many people also do it as a way to test out their filmmaking skills. Maybe you’re interested in film, but you’re still a beginner. You can use your smartphone to give video-making a try. Invest in an affordable smartphone video kit and start small. Before you know it, you may just be entering your work in film festivals all over the world.

Tips for Beginners

Find a Way to Stabilize the Camera

When you’re using your smartphone to shoot your project, you will definitely need some method for stabilizing the camera. It is basically impossible to hold your camera completely still without the assistance of some kind of equipment, and you need that stabilization to make your finished product appear clean and professional. Videos or films with a lot of shaky camera movements will appear very amateurish and can disorient the viewers. If you’re trying to determine the best way to stabilize your camera, you can choose from a variety of tripods and tripod gimbal heads or video rig.

phone with grip rig

Understand The Differences Between Tripods and Grip Rigs

The two main types of stabilizers are tripods and grip rigs. Tripods are made to stand on the ground or a flat surface and secure the camera or smartphone to produce a stable shot. A simple tripod is great for still photography, but if you have a lot of movement in the scene, you’ll want a way to move the camera around while still maintaining that stability, which is where a gimbal head comes in. A gimbal head is an attachment for a tripod that allows the camera to move around by someone either manually controlling it or with a remote. A grip rig, on the other hand, is a handheld stabilizing device. This means that you will attach your camera or smartphone to the device and then hold the stabilizer itself to move the camera around the scene while eliminating that standard shakiness.

Consider the Environment

With any filmmaking project, you need to think carefully about your selected location. Consider what kind of background noise might be present, how many other people will be around in the background and what the lighting will be like. You want to select a location with minimum background noise, and you’ll probably want to get an external smartphone microphone to boost the audio.

Invest in an External Microphone

While the cameras on our smartphones have vastly improved over the years, the microphone hasn’t advanced quite as far. In order to have a microphone that is efficient enough to pick up professional grade audio, you need a bigger device than the one housed in our phones. Because we like having slim, small mobile phones, the manufacturers are unable to add a microphone with better sound quality without increasing the phone size. Anyone filming on their smartphone needs an external smartphone microphone to help provide crisp, clear audio for your viewers.

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Always Shoot in Landscape

One of the most important rules of smartphone filming is that you want the camera to be in landscape mode at all times because this will create a more professional looking video. Shooting in the standard fashion will make the image slim and obvious that it was taken on a phone. Landscape will provide a more professional and easy-to-view look.

Adjust the Manual Controls

Our smartphone cameras were designed to shoot with automatic settings on the focus, exposure, white balance and other settings. Even beginner photographers and filmographers understand the importance for adjusting these settings manually based on what you’re shooting and the look that you’re going for. Unfortunately, on smartphones, there isn’t an option to access these settings manually, but you can download a variety of apps that will allow manual control.

Think About Lighting

With any film project, lighting is always going to play an important role in setting your scene. If you’re planning to shoot outside, it’s important to consider which times of day are best. The middle of the day is always a bad time to shoot outside because the stark, bright light from the sun will cause your scene to look washed out with too much white. Instead, you should film at one of two times known as golden hour and blue hour.Golden hour happens when the sun is over the horizon—right after sunrise and just before sunset. The way that the sun is situated at these times gives your photo or video a kind of golden hue, hence the name “golden hour.” Blue hour is another common time to shoot outside. This happens right before sunrise or just after sunset when the sun has very recently disappeared from the horizon. During this time of the day, there’s enough light to see the film, but it tends to give off a darker, bluish tint.

film crew using iphone

Edit Your Film

After you’ve captured enough film to put together a video or movie, you’ll have to spend a lot of time editing the footage together. This is probably the most important step in the entire process because you’ll need to make your shoots appear seamless and focus on transitioning from one scene to the next. During the filming process, you should try to get some B roll film as this works best for transition shots. B roll is a term used to describe footage that supplements the action and important shots in the film or video. When editing, you’ll also have to focus on timing the film and the audio just right, which can take time and practice. With smartphone filmmaking, you have the luxury of downloading editing apps and creating your masterpiece right there on your phone, but you can also upload your footage and use a computer program for the same effect.

Other Tips and Tricks

Using an Add-On Lens

If you’ve been playing around with your smartphone filmmaking skills already, you might be itching to take on a new challenge or learn new skills. There are dozens of great accessories you can find in smartphone video kits or purchase separately, including a number of add-on lenses. These lenses can add a new effect to your footage. For example, a filtered lens will give a tint to the scene, which can provoke certain emotional responses from your viewers. Other add-on lenses can create effects like the fishbowl lens, which is often used in action sport filming like skateboard videos. The wide angle lens is another useful accessory to help capture nature and landscape shots by expanding the lens's traditional range.

Improving Audio Quality

We can’t emphasize enough how important audio quality can be with filmmaking. You need to ensure that your audience can clearly hear what is going on in a scene, and you want to be able to eliminate as much distracting background noise as possible. If you want a smartphone video that is going to look truly professional, or if you’re thinking about entering your smartphone film into a competition or festival, you will absolutely want to play around with an external mic. You can find mics that attach directly into the phone as well as wireless options that allow your actors and speakers more mobility while still capturing crisp audio.

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Always Bring an Extra Charger

Something that even the most professional filmmakers forget, your smartphone battery is not going to last forever–especially if you’re spending hours shooting footage on the device. Before you head anywhere for a shoot, you should make sure that your phone is fully charged. Then, bring along a backup charger, preferably a wireless charger to allow yourself to continue shooting even if your battery starts to get low. The last thing that you want is to be in the middle of a great shot and have your phone die.

Use External Storage Device

When filming on a smartphone, your footage will automatically save to your phone–but, as we all know, technology can be finicky, which is why we always recommend backing up your footage on an external device. You can use an external memory card or upload the footage to your computer and create a backup copy of everything. This allows you extra assurance that your footage is safe and saved. Having an external memory card can also provide you with extra storage space if your phone is beginning to get bogged down by saving footage right on the device itself.

Mobile Filmmaking Essential Accessories

External Smartphone Microphone

As we’ve discussed, the external smartphone microphone is vital if you’re trying to create truly great smartphone content. Movo offers a number of different style external microphones to suit all of your videomaking needs. If you’re creating a video that includes interviews, our external microphone that plugs directly into the phone’s auxiliary port is a great way to direct the mic towards the speaker and capture crisp sound. You can also use one of either a wired or wireless lavalier microphone that can be clipped directly to the speaker, making their audio clearer in every scene and eliminating some background noise. The wireless lavalier mic is a great option for any scenes with a lot of movement or action, as it provides the speaker with a wider range of motion.

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Tripod or Grip Rig

Another essential accessory, a tripod with a gimbal head or a grip rig is an absolute necessity for smartphone filmmaking. Without these devices, you’ll end up with a lot of shaky footage that looks amateurish and disorienting. The gimbal head is an accessory you can purchase to add to your tripod, giving you the ability to move the camera around the scene while maintaining that necessary stability. The grip rig is slightly different as it is a handheld accessory with a similar purpose—stabilize the image. This type of device may be better suited for videos that require a lot of movement or action.

Grab Your Phone, Get Out There and Start Creating

Your smartphone is an excellent device to test out your filmmaking skills. Many professional filmmakers have even used their own phones to create festival-winning feature films. But, if you’re going to try creating films and videos from your smartphone, there are some tips and tricks that you need to practice. Using an external microphone will help enhance the quality of your audio and a stabilizer or tripod will hold the camera steady as you film, both of which add to the professional appearance of your project. Be sure to invest in a smartphone video kit before you get started to ensure that you have all the accessories you need to make something you’re proud of.