Filming video on a smartphone

Anyone can point and shoot video on a smartphone camera... can't they?

If you’re reading this then I’m guessing you’re one of a growing number of people who are either using, or thinking of using, video for online exposure.


And why wouldn’t you be? A social media post with a video is more than twice as likely to get noticed and platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn are doing everything they can to encourage you.

But, while it’s absolutely true that anyone can point and shoot with a smartphone, it’s worth bearing in mind that what you don’t know - you simply don’t know!

Whoever said that the best way to learn was by making mistakes was very wise. In the world of video, it’s the only real way to learn. But what if you don’t know what those ‘mistakes’ are? And who says they’re mistakes anyway? Let’s face it, video is a creative art and, when it comes to creativity, is there any such thing as right or wrong?

Well, yes and no. If your video is for personal use - for example a family mash up of all your favourite clips - then no, there’s absolutely no right or wrong way to put it together. Experiment - throw in silly sounds, fancy graphics, animated texts. Add a cute cat video and watch it go viral!

But if your video is going to be showcasing something - or someone - that matters, then it might be time to think about a more professional approach.

Guesswork will get you so far but after that, when it comes to video, nine out of ten people make every mistake in the beginner’s handbook. I should know, I’ve made them all and I’ve watched those I train make them time and time again.

So, let’s assume that you can confidently pick up a phone and successfully distinguish the video record button from the camera shutter button (you’d be surprised!)…

Then, let’s take a bigger leap and assume you’re tech savvy enough to download some editing software and work out how to use it. It’s perfectly doable and there are plenty of free and paid-for apps out there to choose from.

By the time you’ve recorded some clips, put them together to make a video and uploaded it onto social media, you’re going to be feeling pretty good about yourself. Heck, you’ve produced a shareable video from nothing, there’s no doubt you’ve done something amazing – something that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

If you’re capable of doing all that, what’s the point in shelling out hard-earned cash for a few more pointers? Isn’t it just a case of practice makes perfect? Not really - because you don’t know what you don’t know.

I was delivering smartphone video training to a group of experienced journalists recently and it reminded me that finely tuned-writing skills don’t naturally translate to finely-tuned filming or video editing skills.

Journalists are storytellers so why should telling a story on paper be so very different to telling a story on film? But look at it this way - just because you can ride a bike doesn’t mean you can drive a car! Both will get you from A to B, but in completely different ways.

Here’s an example. A crucial skill of any print journalist – or anyone who works with people, come to that – is the ability to connect with people, to have a conversation, ask questions and empathise. When you do that, a two-way conversation takes place. You might listen but chances are that you’ll interject with a sympathetic hum or a suitably-placed laugh or comment. Most of the time you don’t even know you’re doing it, but I guarantee it will ruin your film!

When you’re writing an article and you realise you’ve forgotten to ask an important question there’s a simple solution. Research the answer online or simply phone the interviewee and ask. When you’re filming however, you only get one chance to ask questions, so you need to get it right first time - there and then.

Assuming you get that right, there are still a myriad of things that can – and do – go wrong. From not pressing the record button (oh yes!) to dodgy microphones not working and people who just cannot communicate in front of a camera no matter how lovely you are to them. I’ve known interviewees go from confident, articulate professionals to jabbering, wobbly wrecks the moment the camera is pointed their way.

That’s before we’ve even taken into consideration the three crucial things you need to get right when producing a half-decent video:

Where to position the camera (most people start by filming too far away from their subject).
How to light your shot (a beautiful sunny day is not so beautiful when it bleaches your film!)
How to capture good-quality sound. (This is the single biggest cause of error among beginners).

It may sound a little daunting but capturing good video has very little to do with talent sometimes and everything to do with following a set of rules. Rules you can learn and hone with practice - and throw out of the window when you happen to capture a cute cat doing cute stuff with a cute baby!

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