How to instantly shoot better (travel) videos

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Back in the mists of time here on AAWP, at the dawn of Windows Phone, I did a short piece on how to shoot better videos with your smartphone. I'd been meaning to massively update it for some time, but somehow never got round to it - happily guest writer and videographer Kalle-Petter Wilkman has put together a truly excellent set of tips over at Nokia Conversations today, with extracts quoted below. Of note is that he's writing in the context of using a Lumia 925, rather than the specialist Lumia 1020, so his tips should apply to all!

From the NC piece, Kalle-Petter Wilkman writes:

1. Go manual

Do you sometimes notice the odd Jell-O-effect and focus going back and forth in your video clip? The Nokia Camera app lets you set the focus manually, which is an extremely fast and easy way to make your videos look better. Setting the focus to “infinite” is usually a good idea for anything other than macro shots, giving you a nice sharp image. Setting the white balance manually avoids unwanted colour changes, which might occur when there’s lot of shadows around and especially if there’s a mix of different light sources. And of course you can play around with it, trying out all sorts of weird colours!

Absolutely, especially for travel videos (in this context), since much of what is being filmed will be 'landscape' in nature. Setting an explicit focus will almost always help footage to seem more professional and cinematic, though you do need (of course) to be able to plan the shot, in order to set the focus distance - casual video of home and holidays will usually be too chaotic to plan in this way!

2. Stabilise

While the optical image stabilisation systems of the new Lumias works better than any IS-system before, having some extra support doesn’t do any harm when shooting video, especially if there’s a moving subject or you want to do some pans and tilts. A small tripod with a phone clip is a good idea or with the Lumia 1020 there’s the ever-so-handy camera grip with a standard screw mount to fit almost any tripod. And of course there’s always a chance to be creative and use whatever you have around to steady the phone. Trees, tables, cars and road signs all make great backup tripods!

Again, absolutely. OIS in a phone camera can only cope with very small wobbles - so take every chance you can to use a tripod or other support, whether for stills or, here, for video. In particular, even cheap tripods often have a 'loose' swivel joint, enabling you to smoothly rotate the camera grip/head and produce stunning panoramic sweeps.

duration nokia lumia 925

3. Good audio

Everyone knows how hard it’s to record decent audio, even with a proper external microphone. The audio quality of my Lumia 925 surprised me big time and it’s actually quite good as long as it’s not terribly windy. The clip was recorded during a choir rehearsal in the hallway of the Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik, Iceland. Most of the time using a fitting song in the background will get your clip to a whole new level, but remember the copyright issues if you’re planning to share your video!

Good audio is just as important than good video, arguably, and Nokia's Rich Recording system and HAAC microphones can produce stunningly clear audio tracks, often in stereo (depending on device). The 'wind' problem is hard to solve, other than seeking out sheltered filming positions and trying to shield the phone's mike hole with various parts of your anatomy! As Kalle-Petter Wilkman says, music can help - in some cases by replacing an audio track spoiled by wind noise with (perhaps) calming music.

4. Duration

Always record a little longer clip than you would really need, as you can always cut it shorter afterwards and that extra duration will give you more room for editing. Comes handy too when filming things like geysers… It’s also a good idea to shoot the same subject in different ways, as using various slightly different clips from the same spot will give the final cut some structure. And while you probably don’t want your holiday video to look like a music video, it still might be a good idea to keep the video as short as possible. The attention span of people is getting shorter and shorter, and us smartphone users are probably leading the way!

Indeed. Shorter is better. As a guide, when filming my Phones Show, which usually runs about ten minutes, I usually shoot about twenty and then edit down to miss out mistakes, pauses and interruptions. When shooting 'home movie' footage of family, I shoot about an hour's worth for every ten minutes that makes it onto the final mix/DVD for passing on around the family tree.

In addition to the four tips above, here are a few quoted from my own earlier article:


As with my plethora of features on taking photos on smartphones, the number one consideration when capturing a video is light. In fact, it's even more important - consider that at 25 frames per second, the camera unit has only got 1/25th of a second to gather light for each frame. This is ample when the sun's shining, but 1/25th of a second to gather evening or indoor light through the relatively tiny lens and onto the tiny sensor in your smartphone is always going to be a struggle. 

In general though, aim to shoot in as good a light as possible. It may be as simple as asking your subject to stand closer to a window or bright artificial light source. It may be that you can try to shoot a scene before the sun gets too low in the sky. Or maybe you can wait until that cloud blows over. You won't usually have the luxury of choice, of course, the smartphone video camera is the ultimate spur-of-the-moment capture device, but at least you'll now be able to forewarn yourself as to which situations are likely to turn out well and which will turn out noisy, grainy, streaky video.

You should also be aware of where the light is. So many amateur videos get ruined by having the light behind the subject, in which case they become a talking silhouette, like one of those spy interviews! Keep the light roughly behind YOU if at all possible. Yes, that's cliched advice, but it's cliched because it works. (There's also the added danger of bright light sources causing flare in the lens - this always looks ugly, even in video.)

Steady as she goes

Nothing says 'rubbish', nothing says 'amateur', more than jerky video. You don't have to use a steadicam or tripod - just hold your smartphone in two hands and try to keep things as smooth as humanly possible. Move slowly, move the phone even slower. When panning round, go five times slower than you think you should - every movement gets hugely magnified in the video capture process. Try a slow pan, watch the results and see. Doesn't that look ten times more professional?

The problem is that when you're 'there', in the moment, the human eye can move incredibly quickly, taking things in - don't try to mimic this with what your phone is pointing at (unless you're going for the 'Blair Witch' effect). Think 'TV fly on the wall documentary' - the viewer, with no awareness of the overall context, has to got to work everything out from your VGA or 720p video frame, so give them more time and give them a steady picture to process.

Cleanliness is next to Godliness

Almost all modern smartphones are created without any camera glass (actually plastic) protection, meaning that it quickly gets covered in fingerprints, dust and muck. Even a few small particles or a thin film of finger grease is enough to ruin the quality of your video capture, producing a tell-tale blurriness and extra flare from light sources. So, keep a tissue in your pocket and carefully wipe the 'glass' before any video capture.

Check space

With modern 720p capture eating up a whopping 100MB per minute of footage, make absolutely sure that you're saving your videos onto the right disk (e.g. mass memory or microSD card) - look in 'Settings' in the Camera interface. The last thing you need is running out of space halfway through a clip!

In fact, it's a good idea to keep a couple of GB free as a minimum on your chosen disk, just in case you bump into something that's worth filming during your travels.

Armed with the above tips in mind, you should be able to maximise the quality of video capture from your phone. It'll never rival that from a pro system, but then you're able to film at the drop of a hat and will get footage where others are simply wishing they hadn't left their camcorder "in the car".....

Source / Credit: Nokia Conversations