My Top 5 Secrets to crate Cinematic Videos with Your Smartphone

5 secrets filming with cell phone filming with phone learn smartphohne filmmaking mobile filmmaking phone video course video for social media Jan 22, 2022

1. Use the right gear

So yeah, the first thing that we are going to talk about is gear. And when it comes to gear you absolutely do not have to have the absolut best and newest smartphone out there. Especially if you are just starting out I would absolutely recommend that you start with what you have at the moment. Because it's way more important to know WHAT you are doing than having the newest and best equipment. Arthur Ashe once said “start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can” And I have to say I really like this quote. But let's assume you have a budget and you wanna upgrade your equipment, I'm now going to give you some advices. 

When it comes to cameras on phones I have to say that in my opinion iPhones have the best video quality. And I know there will be a lot of people out there that will have a different opinion on that, and that is absolutely ok. So if money doesn't play a huge role for you I would recommend getting the iPhone 13. I personally I have the iPhone 13 Pro, but to be honest the few hundred bucks more are not worth it in my opinion. The display is better, that’s true. But the two cameras are exactly identical and the third lens that only the iPhone 13 Pro has is the telephoto lens and that is the one that I barely ever use, because the quality is noticeable worse. 


When it comes to android flagships I would consider the ones from Samsung like the galaxy note 20 ultra, or the galaxy s20. With those phones you will get pretty similar results to the iPhone, in my opinion Samsung just over-saturates the colors a little too much, but that’s of course just a personal preference. And just recently Oppo announced their Reno 4 which is a very budget friendly phone with amazing video features like 960 frames per second, which is pretty crazy. A budget friendly iPhone would be the iPhone SE2, that only has one lens, but that one is very good and pretty comparable to the main camera of the iPhone 11 Pro.


The next topic I wanna talk about is gimbals: A gimbal is a digital and motorized camera stabilizer that smoothes out your shots. I personally have and use the DJI Osmo mobile 3, which is about 100 euros. And I would absolutely recommend to getting a gimbal, because you can use it in so many different scenarios and the results you can get are absolutely stunning. The setting up process  is very simple and the possibilities are basically endless. An alternative to the DJI Osmo mobile 3, or the OM5 would be the Ziyhune Smooth 5. This gimbal is also about 130 euros und has basically the same features. I am currently working on a comparison of those two gimbals, that will come very soon. But generally speaking, you can't go wrong either way.

And in my opinion a phone and a gimbal are the essential parts. That’s what I would absolutely recommend that you should get. All the other things are just nice to haves, but not essential. The next things that I would invest into is a proper video shooting app for your phone. The one I use most often is Filmic Pro. That is a great app that works on iOS and Android. With that app you can change all your settings that effect your exposure and lock them, so that they are not changing whilst recording.

 And just a little fact: the aperture on phones are locked and you cannot change that, it is always all the way open. So with the app FilmicPro you can also dial in your white balance manually, so this app is very much recommend, and definitely a huge upgrade to the stock camera app and its also only a few bucks. And the second App that I like to use is the moment pro camera app. With this app you can also control all your settings manually and you can also use a LOG profile, which is a paid upgrade on filmic pro, so that’s a huge advantage of the moment pro app. And in my opinion the biggest advantage of this app is that you can create some fantastic looking hyperlapses, because with this app you have the ability to use motion blur, which is fantastic. 

But that’s it for the gear part, I don't wanna spend more time on this topic because, as I've said before, it's not just about the gear, you should not focus too much on it. 

2. Choose the right camera settings

But now let's go to the second tip and that’s to use the right camera settings. And that’s probably even more important than the gear you are using. Here are some of the settings that I recommend to achieving the cinematic look: 

First and foremost is shoot at 24 frames per second.  This is what they shoot Hollywood films at and this is what your eyes are used to seeing when it comes to high quality films.  The reason is, it gives a certain motion blur that is easy on the eyes and makes it feel more like a movie. A lot of people start out at 30 frames because it looks smoother, but when you shoot at 30 frames per second it's going to make it look more like a news broadcast, because they shoot everything at 30 frames per second to make it feel more like real life and less like a movie. Well, at least that’s what it is like in the US.


There are times however that I do shoot higher frame rates, and those times are when I plan on slowing it down to 24 or 25 frames in post.  For example, if I shot 50 frames I would convert that to 24 or 25 frames in the editing room and that's what creates slow motion.  So I use 50 or 60 frames per second or even higher only  when I know I’m going to be slowing it down in post, and 24 or 25 frames per second when I know I’m not going to be slowing down in post. 

When it comes to picture profiles I prefer to use a standard picture profile and no LOG Profile. When using LOG you generally speaking have a higher dynamic range, but the problem is your phone only shoots in 8bit, and when you try to grade this LOG footage, which is very flat, you'll more than likely get some banding and artefacts, because there are just too little color information. But as always, that’s just what I use and I what recommend, you can try out the different options and decide for yourself. Maybe the LOG workflow works fantastic for you.

And generally speaking when it comes to exposing your image I would recommend that you learn how you can manually dial in the exact setting that you want.

All our smartphones of course also offer the possibility to use auto exposure, auto focus, auto everything. And, for most scenarios this might work out just fine, but if you leave everything at auto you basically give away all your controls and the camera can do whatever it thinks that you want. And most often that’s definitely not what you really want. A sign for amateur shooting is unintentional change in exposure and white balance.


If you leave everything at auto your phone will constantly be adjusting all your settings, and a setting that gets changed constantly by our phones is the white balance. Generally speaking with the white balance you can control your color temperature, each lighting has a different color temperature. For example a candlelight has a white-balance of about 2000 Kelvin, which is the most “orange” light that I know, and if you are shooting outdoors on a bright sunny day without any clouds, you'll have a white balance of about 7000 Kelvin. And you definitely need to change those settings because if you shoot on a bright day with 1500 Kelvin, than your Image looks like this. 

So what I wanted to say with all that, if you leave everything at auto, the white-balance will change during a shot, and this looks horrible in a final video, because the changes in white balance are really noticeable. So to lock all those settings, and to control them all manually you need to have a proper video shooting app like we've talked about before.

3. Cinematic secret number 3 is movement 

So the third cinematic secret is movement. And movement is a big topic, and a topic that is very important to me. My personal shooting style includes a lot of movement, and I think that’s also what seperates me as a professional filmmaker from others. But when it comes to movement it is important that you move your camera intentionally and not just in any weird way and all the time, just because you can. I will now share with you my TOP 5 basic GIMBAL MOVEMENTS that I like to create:

a. The first gimbal movement I like to use is the push in.
This is a very classic shot which I really like to use for opening a scene or introducing a location. And how does it work? Well you basically just walk straight forward with the camera. That’s it. When filming the push in shot make sure you use a wide angle lens, and when possible, that you have something in the foreground where you can walk past. This will help your shot to stand out, because if you are just pushing in in an open field, you won't really be able to notice the push in. Another tip I have for when you are filming a push in shot is to shoot longer than you think you will need it. Because if you have more footage, you have more options in the post production, you could for example make a speed-ramp transition.

b. The second movement is the push out.
This is basically the same shot as the push in, but instead of walking towards something you are walking away from your subject, location or whatever. If you have no person in the shot and you are just filming a landscape, often you can just reverse the push in in the post production to get a push out. But if you have people or animals in the shot it's important that you actually film the push out. And like I said a minute ago, here it's also important to have a foreground that you can “glide” up against. Look at this shot without any foreground, and than at this shot with foreground. I think the difference is easily noticeably.  I generally like to use this type of shot as a closing shot with a fade to black and then maybe place the logo of the company that you are working for or some contact dates or so on.  


c. The third movement is the Parallex shot.
To be honest this is my favorite shot. I use this really often. Basically you try to keep your subject in the same spot; whilst you are walking to the left or to the right. And you get results like this by walking in one direction and panning in the opposite direction. So for example with this shot I was walking to the right, and panning to the left. This creates this really cool effect, where the background is changing, but the foreground, the subject is basically always in the same spot. When framing a shot like this I would recommend that you use the rule of thirds, which basically means that you should frame the “important” part of your image on the left or the right upper intersections of the lines. In my opinion this is what will give you the best results, but framing the person in the center of the frame and kinda like “circling” around him or her will also look pretty good.


d. The fourth movement is the tilt up or the tilt down combined with a push in.
I also really like to use this shot because, well, it just looks good and it is relatively simple to achieve. Whether you should use the tilt up or tilt down depends very much on the environment, you are in. Look around what you have and then just try out what looks best. To make it look good you have to make sure that the tilt down or the tilt up is at a constant speed. And this will take practice, so especially if you are just starting out you'll probably have to practice this a few times before you get perfect results. 

e. And the fifth and last gimbal movement is not really a specific movement it’s the low mode.
You can enable the low mode by just turning the gimbal upside down. With the low mode you have the option to put your phone really close to the ground, which can create a very interesting image. One downside of shooting in low mode is the visibility of the screen: you basically cannot see what you are shooting, so definitely check your shot before you move on, because I've had several occasions where I just did not get the framing as I wanted it or I even shot completely in a wrong direction.  So I like to use the low mode for filming people walking or even running. The low angle makes things look faster than they actually are. And This is also what they use when filming car commercials, because as I've said a minute ago, with low mode everything looks super fast.

So there you go, those are my top 5 basic gimbal movements that I like to use. As I've said before, you definitely need to practice them, but these days with motorized gimbals it's actually not that hard as it was with a mechanical steady-cam.


4. Secret number 4 is getting smooth shots

The best movements are still going to look crappy if they are unstable and choppy. That’s why it's very important that you get smooth shots. And the first key to getting smooth shots is using the right tool which in my opinion is a gimbal combined with a wide angle lens. Once you've selected the gimbal of your choice, the most important thing is to get the right balance. I will not cover the balancing part in this webinar, but I have a separate video about this topic in the course. And the last key to getting smooth shots is your walking. You definitely need to practice your walking. Normally we don't take care about our walking, because we are just walking and it doesn't matter. And that is fine for normal walking, but if you wanna get smooth shots with your gimbal you need to bend your knees und try to get rid of this up and down movement. In my opinion this makes a huge difference, and really separates amateur looking footage from pro looking footage.


5. Lighting

The last tip I have for you is lighting or the time of day that you are shooting. In my opinion the absolute best time to shoot your outdoor videos is during golden hour. You have this twice a day, just after sunrise and just before sunset. And during this time you get those super orange and vibrant looking colors. In my opinion this is the most flattering lighting. 

Of course you cannot always only shoot during golden hour, that's just not possible. But what I would try to avoid is shooting on a bright sunny day during noon time. This is the time where the sun is at the absolut highest position and more or less directly over your talent. This will cause raccoon-eyes, and that’s definitely not what you want on a human face. If you are shooting indoors there are of course completely different rules, but this would just be too much to cover in this webinar, but I have more about that topic in the course.


But there you have it, those are my top tips to getting cinematic shots with the smartphone. If you apply them all, this will surely step up your production quality a lot. Another little bonus tip I have for you is the editing and especially the color correction of your footage. Having a good edit and appealing looking colors can make a huge difference, but again this would be too much to cover now. 

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