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smartphone video tips
Marketing and public relations professionals value video and images. Numerous research studies show that visual content attracts more attention, is shared more on social media, and sticks in viewers’ minds longer than text-only content.

When both video and text are available on the same page, 72% of people would rather view the video to learn about a product or service, according to research from Wyzowl. [I happen to be in the minority, preferring scannable text to time-consuming video. I recommend that producers include a text transcript for the readers/scanners among us.] Numerous research reports indicate that video is the best performing content on social media.

Most PR and marketing teams produce and distribute more images and video or plan to do so soon. PR and marketing professionals produce videos for their websites and social media and for distribution through influencers. They record industry events, tours of company facilities, behind-the-scene views of company activities and anything else they can think of that may engage their audiences.

Fortunately, you can take phots and video with a smartphone. Unfortunately, quality videos and photos require more than simply pressing the record button. Following these tips can help create more polished digital videos and photos for online distribution.

See the light. Shoot videos in brightly lit areas if possible to avoid unnecessary shadows and grainy areas in your video. However, pointing the camera directly at bright lights will cause overexposure. Brighter light behind the subject (such as a daylight in a window) will create a dark subject. Lighting should be stable and steady, since most smartphones react slowly to sudden changes in lighting, warns L. Scott Harrell, executive editor of Vtrep.com. In other words, put the lights on stands. Hand-held lights shake and cause moving shadows that distract.

Consider your device & apps. Generally speaking, newer higher-quality smartphones produce higher-quality video. However, a topline device is not required to create adequate video. The app that came with your device may suffice for some, but third-party apps can bring additional worthwhile features.

Learn about settings. You have more control of your phone’s camera than you may think, especially with a camera app, writes Michael Kelly for The Hartford. The depth of field indicates the size of the area in focus. White balancing adjusts the temperature of an image’s color so it appears more natural. Exposure describes the amount of light that the camera shutter lets in when it takes a photo. Most mobile phones and apps allow those adjustments.

Be steady. The human hand tends to shake, producing annoying vibrations. Shaking can be eliminated by holding the camera with both hands, with your elbows tucked into your chest, or by resting the phone on a table or desk. For static shots, such as interviews, a tripod is certainly worth the investment, says Paul Sawers at The Next Web. All professional videographers use a tripod for interviews; so should amateurs.

Shoot multiple takes at different focal lengths. For interviews, especially, shoot a close-up version, a mid-range version and a long version – preferably using multiple smartphones. Using the same model phone is best. Using only one camera, though, has a major advantage; it requires the speaker to answer the questions two or three times. Inevitably, the answers get better. For a more professional look, do reversals – front-facing video of the person asking the questions – and cutaways of the speaker listening to the interviewer and the interviewer listening to the speaker. B-roll or video that illustrates what the speaker is saying also helps elevate the quality of the video. Then edit all versions together using the best takes.

Orient the phone properly. Experts recommend holding the phone sideways. The horizontal orientation is close to the common 4:3 aspect ratio of movies and translates well on all digital platforms. However, vertical is becoming more popular due to formatting of messaging apps. Consider where you will distribute the video to decide the orientation. Hint: Shoot it both ways if possible.

All quiet on the set. The microphone will record background noise, including the wind, which can ruin the video. Insist on silence from all spectators and record the video indoors in a quiet room. Be aware of noise in the distance and try to control it. Staying close to the subject can help sound quality. An external mic is a sound investment (pun intended). Although videographers may shoot professional videos with a smartphone outdoors, they are most surely using an external microphone.

Preparation. Make sure to have the gear, scripts and actors ready before pressing the record button. Check the phone battery and available memory. High definition (HD) video files quickly drain batteries and hog storage space.

Consider the location. A relevant and interesting location can improve the video quality. General backgrounds add nothing but boredom. Beware of background objects like poles or plants that may appear to be growing out of the video subject’s head.

Beware of zooming. Unlike the telescopic zooms of professional cameras, the digital zoom of smartphones produces poor, grainy photos and video. Instead of zooming, try gradually walking forward, holding the phone as steady as possible. In order to create a smooth tracking shot that follows the action, more than one clever videographer has sat in a shopping cart which an assistant wheeled.  Securing the tripod to a wheeled dolly can also work well to create zooms. Be careful that there are no bumps in the flooring which will cause a jerky motion in the video.

Clean your lens. Before taking a photo or video, wipe the lens with a microfiber cloth or damp Q-tip to remove any grime. “Something as simple as this can dramatically increase the clarity of your picture, Kelly notes. In addition, a water and dust resistant phone case will protect the phone from contaminants. You can still use the touchscreen, speak into the microphone and hear clearly through the speakers. You can shoot photos with the case on but should remove the case for the clearest quality.

Finally, remember to tell an engaging story.

Bottom Line: Anyone with a smartphone and a little experimentation can produce a photo or video that meets reasonable standards of quality for online distribution. These guidelines can help you produce more interesting and higher quality videos that better capture and hold the audience’s attention.

This article was first published on April 13, 2016, and updated on Aug. 12, 2019.