10 Ways to Make Decent Videos with Your Phone

During this time of lockdown, the nation, indeed the whole world, have become on-camera presenters; some reluctant others keen, but either way presenting on camera is a skill, as is of course camera work, sound and lighting.

Yes, you could buy the latest DSLR or LED soft box, but if you can afford those then this article is not for you. Being an unusual mix of TV presenter, money-savvy Yorkshire-woman and fastidious scientist, over the years I’ve figured out what is actually important when making videos and how to tick those boxes with minimal equipment, here I share my 10 top tips:

A confused women surrounded by filming equipment
Confused where to start? Don’t be. In these times, we are all trying our best with what we have access to.

1 | Secure your phone

Put your phone at eye level, where it won’t fall over

Throughout this article I’ll be assuming that your recording device is a mobile phone, which for most purposes is more than fine. So, firstly you need to secure your phone at eye height. This could involve simply building a phone holder out of Lego, hooking your pop-socket over a mug on a stack of books, or to be honest, the one thing I would recommend you buy is a phone tripod with in-built light. You can pick these up for less than £20 and it’ll be the best £20 you’ve ever spent. Whilst we’re at it, remember that your phone’s back camera is higher quality than the front one. If you need higher quality use the back camera, but this will obviously mean you can’t see what you are actually filming. Only you can decide if that compromise is worth it.

2 | Think about Lighting

You need lots of light, but behind the camera

Lighting is so important, especially when filming from a phone. Film in a place with lots of natural light, ensuring the windows are behind the camera. If you can, film in the daytime when the light will be consistent. You can diffuse natural light from windows with tracing paper if you need. If it’s too dark, simply place a desk lamp just behind your phone. By placing this level with and as close to your phone’s camera as possible, it will help light up your face without creating awkward shadows.

3 | Think about Sound

We want to hear you, not your washing machine or annoying echos

Audiences are actually pretty forgiving to badly shot videos, but if your video has bad sound you can forget it. To ensure your sound quality is good, film in a quiet room away from whirling washing machines, revving cars and screaming children. Also soften an echoey room by filling it with soft furnishing just out of shot. Avoid using surfaces with ‘loud’ tops (like glass or metal) or wearing jewellery that could bang on your surrounding surfaces and make distracting noises. On the most modern phones the in-built microphone is not actually that bad, but if you’ve got an older phone or want to shoot at a distance then try using the microphone from a set of Bluetooth headphones, this can vastly (and cheaply) improve sound quality.

4 | Show your Face

Brush your teeth, style your hair and get your face on camera

Humans connect through faces, if the audience can’t see your face then they’ll lose interest more easily. If you are showing props or slides make sure we can see your face at the same time. This may mean kneeling in an awkward position to get both your props and face in the shot, but it’s fine and no-one will notice except you.

5 | Keep it Simple

Don’t waste your time trying to be fancy

If you want to show a picture then simply print out or draw that image and show it to the camera. People aren’t looking for polish at the moment, they are looking for genuine. You holding up an image rather than cutting to it isn’t going to put viewers off and it’ll make your life a hell of a lot easier.

6 | Perfect your Background

You should be the focus, not your book collection

During lockdown @ratemyskyperoom has quickly become one of my favourite twitter accounts. We all do it, we get distracted by what’s behind the presenter rather than listen to what they are saying. You obviously want to avoid this in your videos. Make your background as least distracting as possible, not bland but nothing abnormal. So, no open doors, no mirrors and no blank walls. Move around your home, try different locations, record a sample video and then review the background objectively.

7 | Get to the Point

Spend time condensing your message, so you don’t waste that of your audience

Communicating via video compared to face-to-face (including stage) is vastly different. A digital audience is much less forgiving and much more easily distracted. Get to your point and fast. Say something interesting within the first 20seconds or you’ll have lost them. No-one needs or wants to hear a long introduction. And keep the video short. Yes it’s hard work to condense a point, but the results will be worth it. Videos (especially for families) should be no longer than 20mins, unless they are interactive.

8 | Be Engaging

We’ve all got 1000 other things to do, make your audience want to keep watching

Cameras drain charisma. Keep your presenting bouncy, but not annoying. If you can show your audience something rather than tell them, then do so (don’t do both). Imagine the viewers are your camera, if you move the camera, you are moving the audience so give them warning. And make sure you have eye-contact with your audience, which means looking straight at your camera, not the screen (attach a post-it style arrow onto your phone to highlight the camera position if you need). Chat to the camera like you are chatting to a mate, use stories, jokes and relatable examples where you can.

9 | Adjust your Settings

Phones are multipurpose, adjust the settings so they are the best for filming

Personally, if making a video for social media I think shooting at 1080p and 30fps is totally adequate. If you’re after action shots, then sure go for 60fps. And yes 4K is an option, but it will quickly clog up your phone’s storage and take longer to process and upload. Also get familiar with how to focus your phone and alter the exposure. On iPhones this is as simply as a tap and hold in the area where you want to focus and then sliding up or down to change the exposure.

10 | Most importantly, be You

Be yourself… everyone else is taken

An audience doesn’t want to hear a robot, they want to hear a human. And as humans we sometimes use the wrong word, make slip-ups, drop things, laugh when something isn’t funny. All that is absolutely fine, and it will give personality to your video. Yes, practice what you are going to say and have short prompts just out of shot, but don’t try and remember a script word-for-word. You’ll just get yourself into downward spiral. Remember the ideas you’re trying to convey, not exact words. And enjoy it. If you look like you’re having fun and are engaged with what you are saying, then your audience will be too.

Good luck!

3 Times Bafta-Nominated Presenter, Maker & Pyrotechnician. Science demo team lead for the Ri Christmas Lectures. Loves Engineering and intriguing machines.