If you’ve been around mobile devices and cinematographers for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard the refrain that mobile devices are “okay, but not professional enough” for still and video needs. And while there might have been some truth to that maybe a decade ago, the abilities for anyone to become a producer of quality audio or video when using a mobile device has more to do with technique than tradition. At least, with the tips we’ll offer, that’s what we’ll propose.
1) Framing, Not Cropping
For those who might not have a background in video/photography, this might sound a bit weird–but track with me, it makes a big difference. Unless you are going to use a still or video in multiple modes (headshots, family video, compilations, etc.), it doesn’t make a lot of sense to do a good deal of cropping. You will want to focus a bit more on how you are framing your subject(s) and how the framing relates to what you are trying to convey in those photos/videos.
For photos, do what you can to place your primary subject a bit off-center of the center of the image. Leave a little bit of natural boundaries on the edges and you’ll find that the photo will pretty much frame itself without you needing to crop later. For videos, if you are recording a segment, have your subject start their motion a second before you hit the record button – this will allow them to be fully into the recording motion and leaves your cutting time to items inside of the timeline.
2) Dealing with Background Noise
For certain types of videos, I like the background noise. It adds some authenticity to the content when recording via mobile. However, background noise isn’t always necessary, and can many times be a distraction. If you aren’t able to get rid of background noise, record your audio in a quieter place in a separate session and overlay that audio to the video that you recorded.
Its not always possible, but if you purchase a microphone or use a noise-cancelling headset with your mobile while recording (wired is better than wireless), you can get around some of the background noise issues.
3) Natural Light Works Best
A lot of folks like using filters (Instagram, Photoshop, etc.) in order to enhance stills, or even to make to make elements of videos stand out. I’ve found however, that when you can take advantage of natural lighting, you get a good bit more out of the smaller sensors of a mobile device.
When it comes to low-light or night-time images, if you are using a mobile that has a dual-LED or Xenon flash, then you will usually not have much of a problem – especially with the latter; Xenon flash just works a whole lot better for low/no-light and action shots (excellent overview of this by Steve Litchfield at All About Windows Phone).
4) Use Several Multimedia Sharing Services
Where the previous tips offer something for those using traditional and mobile devices for audio/video activities, its within the mobile space that you find opportunities to do a bit more. Taking from Tomi Ahonen’s 9 Characteristics of Mobile (or maybe a few less), we can assume that the addition of mobile to the equation probably gives us a little bit more. One of those characteristics has to do with constant (or on-demand) connectivity. And its in this space, that our tip to use multiple audio/video sharing services finds its anchor.
You’ve got services such as Dropbox, OneDrive, and Box–when you are an individual looking at targeted sharing. Larger services such as Google Photos, Flickr, Pinterest, iStockPhoto, Instagram work well when you have themes, are looking to expand the reach of your assets, or are looking to offload some of the images to a service provider who’s better able to tag and manage those items. And finally, pushing your photos to content management systems like SharePoint, WordPress, and Tumblr offer not just an ability to put a photo someplace, but organize a community around it using the photo/video and any text elements you might wish to pursue.
As a tip, I recommend selecting only a few services to use, and then use a service like Workflow (iOS only) or IFTTT (iOS, Android, and others) to not just archive media assets, but also to push them out to various social networks or specific communities for consumption and collaboration.
5) Cutting to the Credits
A little more than ten years ago, there were folks wondering why you would put a camera in a mobile. The quality when you printed and shared wasn’t the same as prints. And generally, camera phones were expensive (if they had decent optics). Some years after that, we got over print quality and it was about sharing (over Internet services) quality. Was the picture too large to be emailed? Was it suitable for MMS (pictures in text messages)? We got over that when social networking and ubiquitous internet availability on our mobiles became normal. Present day, we look at the things we can do with pictures and video, and at times quality isn’t so much the goal – but making sure that we capture enough context so that wherever we do share or use that media, we represent our skills well.