March 26, 2019

7 Tips for Making Your Smartphone Cinematography More Cinematic

These tips will help you take your smartphone filmmaking to the next level.

The best camera is the one you have, right? Right! If the only camera you have is the one in your smartphone, then you might be stressing over the hurdles that you have to jump over to make your cinematography look as good as possible.

However, filmmaker Zach Ramelan shares 7 tips in his latest video that will help you tackle the challenges of shooting a film on a smartphone. Check it out below.

Can we just put this whole "smartphone filmmaking is dumb and amateur" thing to bed? Because...you guys, it's tired.

Tech is advancing, my friends, and smartphones are shooting 4K, capturing 240 fps (Sony's Xperia XZ2 shoots a whopping 960 fps at 1080p ), and have a ton of apps and accessories that give you the power to beef up your camera rig.

As you probably know by now, Steven Soderbergh shot his latest film High Flying Bird with smartphone technology:

  • An iPhone 8
  • The FiLMic Pro app to customize his camera settings
  • A DJI Osmo gimbal to stabilize his footage
  • Moment smartphone lenses (2X Tele)
  • A Moondog Labs anamorphic adapter

Vary Your Frame Rates

If your phone has the capability, use different frame rates. Shoot at 24 fps for those "cinematic-looking" shots. Shoot at 60 fps for action/sports shots. Shoot at even higher frame rates for some beautiful slow-motion shots. Try to incorporate a variety of frame rates into your videos

Good Lighting is Key

It's a misconception that cameras are what make images look cinematic. They don't...not necessarily. It's the combination of a lot of different filmic elements, like camera movement, blocking, costuming, and set design. But perhaps one of the greatest tools you have at your disposal is lighting. That's why Ramelan suggests shooting during Golden Hour, the time right before sunrise and right after sunset, because that's when light is soft and warm and friggin' gorgeous.

And that's just one, very simple and free option. If you have lights and modifiers, work on a lighting setup that makes your images look more cinematic and professional.

Use a Stabilizer

Smartphones are not as heavy as DSLRs or cinema cameras, and they're not designed to shoot video, so you're going to get a lot of camera shake when you use them. This is why you might want to think about investing in a mobile camera stabilizer, like a gimbal or handheld rig. Your shots will not only look buttery smooth but you'll be able to perform those tracking, slider, and orbit shots that increase your production value.

Shoot High-Res

Why shoot 4K for a smartphone video? Because it gives you a ton of latitude and freedom when you head into post. You'll be able to crop in if you want, create a tracking shot by adding some position keyframes, or downsample if you want to.

Use Custom Settings

If your camera allows you to set custom settings, do it! Adjust your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to get the image that you want. You might even be able to adjust your depth of field to get that beautiful bokeh that is often lacking in smartphone cinematography.

If your camera doesn't allow you to set custom settings, there are a number of apps that will allow you to do it. I like FiLMic Pro...and so does Sean Baker and Steven Soderbergh. And it's only $15.

Don't Treat Your Phone Like a Phone

I know smartphone filmmaking is still kind of dogged on and seen as unprofessional. But listen, so many beautiful, cinematic, pro-level work has been shot with smartphones. Don't treat your phone like a phone! Sean Baker shot Tangerine on an iPhone 5 and Steven Soderbergh shot High Flying Bird on an iPhone 8 (and Unsane on an iPhone 7)...so clearly they didn't treat their phones like phones; they treated them like cinematic tools. You should do the same.

BONUS: Get Some Lenses

Grab some good quality smartphone lenses. I've been using Moment lenses for years. I also use a Moondog Labs anamorphic lens. Both of these companies are bomb as hell and they're not even paying me to say that.

Do you shoot films on a smartphone? Which one? What are some things you think new filmmakers should know about shooting projects on smartphones? Let us know down in the comments.     

Your Comment

3 Comments

I’ll pass and High Flying Bird looks like it was shot on an iPhone.

March 26, 2019 at 4:58PM

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Freddy Long
Writer-Director
368

Another dude in a fuckin' beanie trying to sell smart phone lenses. While I agree this stuff helps, the sensor size of phone cameras are still too small. The footage is always gonna look like smart phone footage and im not sure it's wise to invest a ton of money into it, unless you've got the capital for some toys.

March 28, 2019 at 11:15AM, Edited March 28, 11:14AM

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Nate Brown
Director, Art Director
120

Interesting, but...
Yes, they do look like they were shot on a Phone, but...
If you see the film in a theatre as entertainment, assuming that it has a strong storyline, it makes little difference what it was shot on, but...
Soderbergh can get away with shooting a film this way, he has a history, his films make money so he can play, experiment and try new stuff.
A Phone is so small that I'm sure he had to rethink how to work, just grab a Phone, stick it on a stabilizer, work out your shots, and you're off. I can easily see how he'd love the freedom a Phone/Stabilizer gave him.
Now, are Phones going to become the next big thing in Hollywood... unlikely.
They'll always be seen as a gimmick camera, remember, you can't make a film without spending millions right?
No, an interesting experiment to be sure, but...

March 29, 2019 at 10:30PM, Edited March 29, 10:31PM

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