Ask LH: How Can I Shoot Better Video On My Phone?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m by no means an aspiring film director, but I’ve never been happy with the results when I shoot video on my phone, and sharing that video always seems more of a pain than it’s worth. Help?

Title image remixed from Samer (Shutterstock).


Home Movie Hero

Dear HMH,

We totally understand the struggle of getting a good video out of your smartphone. Thankfully, shooting quality video with your smartphone is pretty easy, even if sharing those videos is a little more complicated.

Upgrade Your Video App And Make Sure You Have Enough Free Space

The default video apps are fine for taking a quick video in a well lit area, but you’re better off with one of the inexpensive alternatives.

For iPhone, we like Video Camera+ because it supports multiple video quality settings, has composition guides, and video stabilisation, but is still easy to use. It also comes with native Dropbox support for easy sharing with friends.

On Android, we’re actually fans of the default camera app, but if your phone supports it, Camera ICS has image stabilisation, quality settings, and tap-to-focus.

Regardless of which camera app you settle on, make sure you have enough free space left on your phone to actually shoot that video (iPhone: Settings > General > About. Android: Settings > SD Card and Phone Storage). HD video takes up a lot of space — around 76MB per minute with the iPhone 4 camera — so make sure you clean up your Android or iPhone’s storage before you shoot.


Steady Your Shot

The biggest reason smartphone video looks like junk is that your hand is probably unsteady. It’s hard to keep your hands from shaking a little when you’re filming, but both of the above apps have stabilisation features that help correct for small shakes, so you can start there. Also, make sure you’re holding the phone in landscape mode. Not only does your video look better, it’s also easier to hold the phone steady.

Auto-stabilisation can’t correct everything though. To keep your hands steadier when you shoot, MacLife recommends you hold your phone with both hands and tuck your elbows close to your body.

If your footage is still too shaky, it might be time to build (or buy) a mount. You can make a tripod from binder clips, use string to steady your hand, or build a cheap steadicam to help stabalize your video. The point is to get your hands off the phone itself so you can keep it steady. Anything you can think of to do this should work.


Use Microphones For Better Audio

The other big reason smartphone footage stinks is that the audio often sounds like you’re filming in a tunnel. You can’t do much to improve the audio on a software level, but if you really want to improve your sound quality you can do it with some hardware.

You can make your own mic for a mere $US9 that will help with louder recordings, or you can buy something like pocket-sized the i-Microphone or larger Belkin Directional Microphone. If you already have a nice microphone laying around you want to use, you can usually plug in a camcorder adaptor to use any mic you have with your smartphone.


Learn The Basics Of Lighting To Get A Better Overall Image

Getting good light on a smartphone video is tough. If you can, you always want to try and film in well-lit areas, and you can follow the same basic rules of shooting photos on your smartphone for quality images.

On the iPhone, you can control exposure to a point. If you tap and hold a focus area on the screen before you record you’ll lock in focus and exposure (you’ll see AE/AF pop up on the bottom of the screen). This means when you’re shooting video the camera will maintain the focus and exposure you set and will look a lot better. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a reliable way to do this across Android devices. If you have Ice Cream Sandwich you can lock exposure and focus on most Android phones with the same technique as the iPhone.


The Easiest Ways To Share Your Video

Once you shoot that perfect video it’s time to share it with friends. You have a lot of different options for doing so. The easiest way to do it with any video app you use is to simply upload the video to YouTube (you can do this privately if you like). If Facebook is more your thing, most Facebook apps have a built-in option to upload directly to your page.

If you don’t want to deal with Facebook or YouTube, your simplest solution is Socialcam. While Socialcam is a little creepy with its frictionless sharing on Facebook, it has lots of privacy options. For instance, when you upload a video, you can set it to private, and then share it with a text message or email link. You can, of course, also share it to a variety of social networks or directly to your Socialcam followers, but the fact an entirely private sharing system exists is handy.

For total privacy, you can also share video with cloud storage. For instance, you can upload video into Google Drive or Dropbox, and share that link privately with friends and family.

Unfortunately, you won’t find one single “best way” to share your video with friends. It depends on what you want to do with the video and who you want to see it. Hopefully now that you can shoot better video with your smartphone you’ll be more likely to share it.



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