How to use your smartphone camera? Just point and shoot! Sounds easy, right?
Shooting photo and video with your smartphone is a seemingly simple task, but in reality there are so many variables to consider before you press “record”. It may seem nuanced, but with a little practice you will start to remember these steps over time. Without further adieu, grab your smartphone and follow along!
1: Have you checked your settings? Ask yourself two questions.
First question will determine what resolution you choose: do you have space on your phone? If so, then immediately choose to shoot in 4K. If bandwidth is limited, you have a couple of options:
- out with the old, in with the new: clear up unnecessary videos from your camera roll
- choose 1080p resolution: 4K to 1080p is a slight compromise in quality, but no matter what, don’t shoot in any lower resolution than 1080p.
Second question is about light: what is the lighting situation for your shoot? This will determine which frames per second (fps) you choose:
- If shooting in a low light situation (without extra lighting, at dusk, etc): choose 30fps
- If shooting with normal light: choose 60fps
Fps vs light: If you are shooting in 60fps, this means that your camera shutter clicks 60 times in a second, capturing 60 frames. This is also why your video looks so smooth, but I’ll explain that later below. Frames per second dictates how much light is let into the camera, so if your shutter is clicking 60 times per second instead of 30, that means less light is allowed “in” to light the frame. This is why 60fps is good when you have ample light, whereas 30fps allows for more light to get in per frame, since your shutter only clicks 30 times in a second instead of 60.
Why is 60fps smoother than 30fps? Remember those fun, little flip books we used to play with before the internet? OK, now imagine you have a flipbook that shows a scene of someone dancing. Watching this scene with a 30-page flip book will look different from a 60-page flip book because there is less room for detail in 30 pages vs 60 pages. This is why 60fps is smoother, because it captures and shows more details than 30fps.
Bonus tip: Shooting in slow motion? Make sure you are at least shooting in 60fps (120fps is smoother but bigger file size, and now you know why!). Your smartphone also may already have a slo-mo shooting mode as well.
2: Have you checked your phone lens?
I know this sounds silly but it’s a crucial step to making sure you have a clear picture. Make a habit of checking your lens before you shoot to make sure it is clean. If you have a phone case that covers your lens, take it off so that your lens can have the clearest view to shoot.
3: Do you have a steady setup for your camera?
Whether you have a tripod or YOU are the tripod, it is important to make sure you have a stable setup for your camera before you shoot. Unless you are aiming for the handheld, shaky, documentary-style look, you are going to want a sure-fire option to getting the steadiest shot.
Become the tripod: if you don’t have a tripod or a good surface on which to set your iphone up for a shot, you must become the tripod. Make sure you have a steady stance…sometimes leaning your elbows into your body helps stabilize your shot.
Macgyver it: look around the room…do you see anywhere you can lean your iphone up against, and still get a good shot? Whether you are leaning your iphone up against an object or a wall, make sure that your phone won’t slip, and that the surface is steady so that your frame is consistent.
An actual stabilizer: whether you are looking for something small and handheld or a full-size tripod, this option will guarantee the smoothest shot. My two recommendations?
- Stabilizer: The Zhiyun handheld gimbal (under $100!)
- Mini-Tripod: The Manfrotto Pixi (under $40!)
Now that you have your shot set up, there are just a few last items to check…
Now that you have a steady shot and our frame set up it’s time to make sure we are focusing on the right subject. On most smartphones you can identify focus by tapping on the part of the screen that you want to focus on. Check out this example below:
When the red ornament is tapped, the focus shifts from the gingerbread man. When the gingerbread man is tapped, focus shifts from red ornament back, causing red ornament to lose focus and gingerbread man to become more clearn. The further objects are apart, the more apparent the focus shift. If you have a bunch of objects that are all on the same “focal plane” (distance from lens where object is in focus) then they will all be in focus.
Look at your shot. Are there parts to your shot that are “blown out”, or too bright? You can fix this by adjusting exposure.
Locking exposure: On some smartphones (i.e. iPhone) you can lock exposure if you are shooting a still shot where the lighting won’t change. To lock exposure on an iPhone, tap on your subject, press and hold until the yellow square pulses and sets. See below:
Check out these examples below to help gauge whether your exposure is too low or too high:
✅Settings: resolution and frames per second
✅Is your lens clean?
✅Stable setup for camera? (tripod, Macguyvering 😉)
✅Is your shot in focus?
✅How is your exposure?