Filming talking head video with a smartphone
March 15, 2023
Here are six simple tips for filming great videos on a smartphone.
Although many smartphones offer HD-quality output, the phone must be kept as steady as possible to avoid degrading the video quality. Using a tripod (standard or mini) will make a big difference. You can buy inexpensive adaptors for your tripod that will hold your phone (similar to the ones you use in cars). These adaptors can be turned, so the camera can be held in any orientation. For most use cases, landscape is preferred.
If you can’t access a tripod, you can just find somewhere to prop the camera, using Blue Tac to avoid it sliding.
Good lighting will make a big difference to a video clip. Good natural light is the best and cheapest option, as this will prevent your videos from looking grainy and improve the overall quality. This doesn’t mean you have to stand outside in the cold! Instead, placing the camera in front of a window, so you are standing facing it, is a good option as the light will be on your face and open the pupils of your eyes. If the light is behind you rather than facing you, you will end up a dark silhouette with the background being too bright.
It’s also vital that the sound is clear and easy to hear. This is particularly important for videos watched using headphones, as these will pick up and amplify distortion. To get a good shot, you will need to have the camera at a slight distance from you (see tip four), so you may need an external microphone. However, given the quality of smartphone microphones, it’s worth testing the range on your device and the quality of the audio in the location you plan on filming to see if you need this additional microphone.
If you find you do, there are two basic options:
- A small tie-clip microphone on a cord connected to the smartphone jack (via an adaptor if you are using an iPhone). This will cost around £10-£15.
- A Bluetooth clip microphone that either has a connector for your phone or connects directly to your Bluetooth. These will cost from £25-£40.
Make sure you test the mic to ensure it works correctly and find the best location for the clip on your body. If you are very nervous about being recorded, keeping the mic on the right side is best to avoid picking up the sound of your pounding heart.
If you find your sound is too echoey, you can scatter things like pillows and throws around the room to absorb some of the reflective sounds and help stop some of the reverb.
Bonus Audio Tip
With the recent surge in AI technology, you probably won’t be surprised to know that there are AI tools that can help clean up audio. If you have some video editing skills, (or know someone who does) you can separate the audio track from your video as an MP3 or a WAV and run it through a process like Adobe Podcasts, Enhance. This Speech enhancement tool cleans up voice recordings and aims to make them sound like they were recorded in a professional studio. The tool is free to use but does pose a few limitations, but you can check that out on the Adobe podcast website.
When the smartphone is stable, flip the camera to see how you are framed in the shot. It’s important to place yourself centrally in the frame (between the top and bottom).
Having your shoulders in the shot will mean the camera is probably at a reasonable distance.
5. Using prompts or a teleprompter
You may find it helpful to write down some notes and stick them on your tripod as a reminder of what you would like to say. The downside of this is that it can be noticeable to the watcher if your eyes are continually moving down to the notes and up to the camera.
To avoid this, consider using a teleprompter app on your phone. There are several free options for IOS and Android. These take a bit of getting used to, but they are a great way to get started (i.e. avoid just staring at the camera trying to find a good way to start) or provide reminders of topics you want to cover.
You will need to practice using a teleprompter and sounding natural when reading from one. So make sure you allocate time for this to review the results and retry.
The length of the clip you take will depend on what it’s for and how it’s going to be used. But you should avoid going over 3 minutes, and for a short introduction, try and keep the video to 30-60 seconds.