10 Smartphone Tips that Could Help You to Make an Award-winning Film

10 Smartphone Tips that Could Help You to Make an Award-winning Film

11 February 2023 marks Global Movie Day, established to celebrate our favourite films and sits alongside the Oscars. With smartphones driving the digital world, the film industry is noticing how phones can capture award-winning videos. For this guide, we look at some hints and tips that could help make an award-winning film.

As early as 2011, movies like “Olive“, created on a Nokia N8 smartphone, were Oscar contenders, while BAFTA recognised a short film, Missed Call, shot on iPhone X. More recently, Oscar-winning filmmaker Charlie Kaufman shot a short film called Jackals and Fireflies, using Samsung’s Galaxy S22 Ultra smartphone.

Every year on the second Saturday of February, people share their excitement over movies with the hashtag #GlobalMovieDay. You can join in, too, with inspiration from gimbal and lighting manufacturer Zhiyun. The firm recently launched its Make It Real short film collection and outlines ten must-try tips for making better smartphone films.

Bring subject and scene to life with natural lighting
Lighting the subject and the scene is everything. Getting it right does several things, like drawing the viewer’s attention, establishing the mood, and ensuring the audience can see what you want them to see.

You can use natural light or create a basic lighting setup that illuminates your subject sufficiently. Take a test shot after your frame is set to determine how it looks on camera.

A woman with her arms outstretched lit by sunlight

The easiest lighting option is to use the power of the sun, and of course, it’s free! Letting the sun illuminate your subjects provides a beautiful, even light that helps hide blemishes and brings out the colours in their eyes. However, the sun isn’t always available, whether hidden behind a cloud or shooting in the dark, so filmmakers should use whatever light is accessible to capture the most flattering shots.

Shooting on cloudy days, in the shade, or using a sheer white curtain can help soften sunlight if it’s too harsh.

A photographer lighting the interior of a subway train with the ZHIYUN light stick

Use LED lighting in indoor and low-light setups
There are key lighting don’ts to avoid if you want the best possible shot of the subject and backdrop. While the sun is an awesome tool to illuminate your subject, it can cause unwanted shadows. Ensure your back is to the sun to avoid your subject ending up as a silhouette. On the topic of lighting your subject, avoid heavily backlit settings.

Smartphone cameras without advanced HDR capabilities usually can’t see the same detail that the naked eye can and, in playback, will output footage with a bright light haloing a dark figure with often no discernable features. To avoid this situation, try configuring a basic light setup.

If you don’t have access to natural light, it may be tempting to use a bright LED flash from a phone. However, this can result in overexposed images and washed-out colours and should be avoided. As an alternative, use some fill lights designed to render colours faithfully.

Finally, avoid mixing all your light sources. When setting up video lighting, fight the urge to use everything you have. Using competing colour temperatures (think: warm light from a lamp combined with cool sunlight) isn’t ideal, as your camera will try to adjust to the new white balances. As a solution, daylight colour bulbs (5,000-6,000K) are available but stick with natural lighting when in doubt.

Focus on the detail
Think about your storytelling. What do you want to portray, and how could that be done through imagery that adds interest and depth to your narrative?

A young couple next to a fast flowing river

For instance, our eyes are drawn to reflections as well as light. Look for opportunities to play with them in videos such as puddles, larger bodies of water, mirrors, sunglasses, drinking glasses, and metallic surfaces, are just a few. Close-up images capturing small, intricate, and delicate details can add interest to scenes elsewhere. Explore textures and patterns like peeling paint, rough tree bark, a serrated rooftop or a dirt road.

Change up how you frame each shot
Subject placement in a film is important. Fill the frame with your subject or, for added interest, position them slightly off-centre when filming to create a more visually interesting scene. Play around and see what looks best. Let’s look at one of film composition’s most basic principles: the rule of thirds.

Picture a 3-by-3 grid laid over what you’re filming. Instead of placing your subject right in the middle of the shot, you should place your subject along one of the grid lines. The points where the lines cross is particularly strong areas of visual focus, so if you can, place important elements of the video there.

Unleash creativity with smart editing
You can edit footage directly on your phone if it already has editing software built-in or by downloading an editing app. For those of you using a gimbal, plenty of apps with a bunch of clever effects come with them.

Using the follow function on a young woman via the app

The ZY Cami app, for example, can provide an intuitive solution for creating and editing video content. Why not let your imagination run wild with a 4K video recording at 60 frames per second? Alternatively, explore panorama mode to capture the beauty of landscapes. Timelapse, hyperlapse, and motion lapse modes add dimensions and perspectives to your movie.

Accessorise with add-on lenses
So many great accessories are available now in smartphone video kits that can enhance your footage with new effects.

Add-on lenses are a great place to start. A filtered lens will give a tint to the scene and incite your audience’s emotional response. Certain add-on lenses can bring the cinematic depth of field to your shooting; others can create a fishbowl effect, often used in action sports filming like skateboard videos.

Stabilise your shots
A gimbal is essential for smartphone filmmaking and avoiding shaky footage that looks amateurish and disorienting and will take hours to correct in post-production.

The gimbal head is an accessory you can purchase to add to your tripod, allowing you to move the camera around the scene while maintaining that necessary stability. The grip rig is slightly different as it is a handheld accessory with a similar purpose—stabilising the image. This type of device may be better suited for videos that require a lot of movement or action.

The Smooth 5S smartphone gimbal

For example, the SMOOTH 5S gimbal has helped filmmakers simplify their shooting and unleash their creativity, especially for small teams with a limited budget. You can also find more film inspiration to help you create here.

Create cinematic sound
Sound is crucial if you want to keep your audience engaged. There are many options allowing you to capture quality audio externally for your smartphone footage. Adding an audio recorder, boom mic, and even wireless microphones can make a huge difference to sound quality.

Audio recording devices can pick up every little sound, even an air conditioning unit or a train in the distance. With this in mind, as well as audio-enhancing tools, pay attention to the locations where you are shooting.

Locations with high background noise, such as train stations, will mean you have to deal with train and announcements noise. When indoors, check for echo and reverberation from hard surfaces or other distracting sounds.

Bring extra charging power
Be aware that your smartphone battery is not going to last for a full-feature film– especially if you’re spending hours shooting footage. The last thing that you want is your phone dying in the middle of a crucial scene.

Before filming, ensure that your phone is fully charged. Pack a backup charger, preferably a wireless one, to allow you to continue filming even if your battery starts to get low.

Back it up
Always back up your footage onto an external device just in case you lose the movie saved to your smartphone. Simply use an external memory card or upload your film to your computer and create a copy of everything for extra assurance. An external memory card will also give you extra storage space if your phone is short on it.

At Second Sight, one of the short film entrants

Short video contest
If you fancy having a go at making your own movie? Zhiyun launched a global competition for short videos, the ZHIYUN Annual Short Video Contest for video content creators last year, with a prize fund worth over $100k.

The contest was hosted by Zhiyun, with Nikon as the title sponsor and partners, including RØDE, Aputure, YC onion, Desview, SmallRig, iFootage, and Lexar, among others. The 2022 version attracted 1,429 entries, and 25 groups of entries awarded prizes, and now we are excited to see what 2023 will bring.

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