ATD Blog

How to Shoot High-Quality Videos With a SmartPhone

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

For learning professionals, filming poor-quality shots is one of the biggest wastes of time. Your foot­­age might be underexposed, have too much headroom, or just not work well with the other shots. While you can fix a lot of mistakes with your editing software, correcting video is time-consuming. Instead, you’re better off getting your video right in the first place. 

If you are using a smartphone, tablet, or small flip-style camera, you will most likely be limited to working with auto functions. That means no direct control over white balance, exposure, focus, or audio levels. However, there are some techniques that can help you minimize these limitations.

Hold the Phone Correctly

Before we discuss ways of getting around auto functions, a quick comment on aspect ratio. Make sure you hold your phone so your video is captured at an aspect ratio of 16:9. Aspect ratio refers to the dimensions of the vertical and horizontal sides of the frame. In practice, it is most commonly used to tell you whether your video is widescreen or not. 16:9 is widescreen and 4:3 is traditional video.

Figure 1. A Landscape Shot

Check your phone to be sure you are holding it correctly. When you look at the aspect ratio, you want the longer side to be horizontal. In photography terms, you are aiming for the picture to be shot in landscape (see Figure 1). If the horizontal line is not longer, such as with portrait shots (see Figure 2), you will have sidebars on the final video, which is distracting. 

Figure 2. A Portrait Shot


The only exception to this is when you are shooting video for social media sites that require the video to be in portrait. However, most learning management systems and video sites like YouTube and Vimeo will require a 16:9 aspect ratio.


Stabilize the Device

Just as you need to stabilize a standard camera, you also need to stabilize a phone or tablet when you shoot video. If you don’t have a stand for your phone, hold the device with both hands to reduce the wobble.

Don’t Use the Zoom Function


Most smartphone cameras do not have optical zoom lenses; they use digital zoom. Digital zoom leads to a more pixelated image with less detail. To get clear close-ups, ditch the digital zoom and then physically move your camera close to the person or object.

Use an External Microphone

Phone microphones have improved in quality but an external microphone will still make your video sound more professional. If you are unable to access an external microphone, physically move your device closer to the person so she is nearer the microphone. Without an external microphone, you should really only have close-ups when people are speaking; any further away and the quality will degrade dramatically. 

For more tips on creating video content read Jonathan’s latest book, Rapid Media Development for Trainers. Next up in this three-blog series is essential tools of audio production. Also, be sure to join me for the Rapid Video Development for Learning Certificate at ATD 2017 Conference & Exposition. 


About the Author

Jonathan Halls is an author, trainer, and coach. He wrote Confessions of a Corporate Trainer (ATD Press, 2019), Rapid Video Development for Trainers (ATD Press, 2012) and was a contributing author to Speak More (River Grove Books, 2012) and the ATD Handbook: The Definitive Reference for Training & Development 2nd Edition (ATD Press, 2014). He is author of the ATD Infoline, “Memory & Cognition in Learning” (ATD Press, 2014) and has written numerous articles for T&D magazine. Jonathan is an ATD BEST Awards reviewer and has sat on the advisory committees for the ASTD International Conference & Exposition and TechKnowledge.

The former BBC learning executive now runs workshops in media, communication, leadership, and creativity. He is on faculty at George Washington University and facilitates ATD’s Master Trainer Program ™, Training Certificate and Rapid Video for Learning Professionals Certificate program. Jonathan has been training, speaking, and coaching for 25 years in more than 20 countries. He describes his work as “at the intersection of media, communication, learning, leadership, and innovation.”

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