8 tips on recording professional video with a smartphone

Lewis Wake
Wednesday 23 March 2016

It has never been easier for anyone with a smartphone or a digital camera to record their own video footage and broadcast it to anyone. Simply pull the smartphone from your pocket, click record, and you have footage you can edit and distribute instantly.

But, it takes more than that for your footage to look professional.

Here are some quick tips for creating up-to-scratch videos with a smartphone or digital camera.

1. Don’t shoot vertical video

For some reason, tech-giants made it an option to record vertical or portrait footage with a smartphone. While this may make sense with a device which has a screen in portrait orientation, this does not translate well on any other device. Vertical video syndrome is real. Computer monitors, televisions, even websites, all have landscape-oriented displays. You wouldn’t expect to go to the cinema and see the screen turned on its side. We live in a widescreen world.

Although there are apps that can counter this, do the world and yourself a favour by turning your phone on its side and recording horizontal footage.


2. Use a tripod

I have pretty steady hands while I’m recording video, but if I intended to edit multiple takes with my footage later, these slight movements will ruin the professionalism of my video. Using a tripod to stablise your footage is paramount in creating a professional video.

Most digital cameras can be used with a lot of basic tripods, and there are adapter clips for smartphones that can work with these tripods too. You’ll never have unstable footage again.

3. Don’t use digital zoom

Sometimes it can be tempting to use the zoom feature on your smartphone to get a closer shot of your subject, but since the lens isn’t zooming optically, you’re just enlarging the picture digitally. This results in one thing: pixels.

If you want to zoom in with a smartphone without it looking like pixelated garbage, then simply walk closer to your subject. Simple.

4. Lighting

Using the flash on a smartphone or digital camera to lighten a subject gives it that old VHS camcorder spotlight appearance. Something like Blair Witch Project. It can’t compare to off-camera lighting. There are plenty of lighting kits out there, some you can even build yourself out of supplies from B&Q.

My favourite lighting source to use is free and accessible for almost everyone: the sun. Natural lighting looks great in almost every instance. Face your subject toward a window for great natural light. Never have the window behind the subject though or else you’ll be left with a silhouette.

5. Exposure and focus

Smartphones and digital cameras will automatically detect and adjust exposure and focus accordingly. It’s great for taking quick snaps, but ideally while recording you’ll want to have more manual control and lock these down so they don’t adjust and leave your footage over-exposed and out of focus.

Simply tap on your subject using your smartphone’s default app to manually lock exposure and focus in your footage. This can be adjusted whilst filming. Most modern digital cameras also offer this tap feature. If not, a ‘half-press’ of the capture button will do this.

6. Audio recording

Most of the time, recording audio directly from the camera’s built-in microphone will suffice, but in professional videos, namely interviews, you will want to have a microphone as close to your subject as possible.

You can use an external professional microphone hooked up to computer to record your audio, or a memo recorder, but I prefer to use a second smartphone placed directly above the subject using a voice memo app. I would then sync this captured audio to the video footage in the editing phase later on.

7. Clip-on lenses

You might encounter an instance where you would like to widen your shot, or focus on a subject that is super close. Luckily, clip-on optical lenses for smartphones are super affordable for wide or macro shots.

I’d advise that the best use of these lenses is for B-roll footage rather than for using them in an interview circumstance.

8. Slow motion: Do not over-use it

Most smartphones come with slow motion and timelapse features installed in their default camera applications. These are great at capturing some awesome footage, but there is a right time to use them.

Slow motion videos can be used to capture interesting movements that we skip with our eyes. Action shots are great in slow motion, but someone writing a message with a pencil might not be so interesting.

Timelapse videos are great at capturing movement over a period of time. The clouds moving, the sun setting, or a people walking through a busy street.


If you are conducting video interviews of any type that will later be published, then it is imperative that you require permission from the interviewee before filming. They should be made fully aware of the context in which the footage will be used and where it will be published.

For staff of the University of St Andrews who require an adaptable form for permission, please contact digitalteam@st-andrews.ac.uk.

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16 thoughts on "8 tips on recording professional video with a smartphone"

  • cythia81
    Tuesday 5 February 2019, 8.43pm

    "Don’t use digital zoom Sometimes it can be tempting to use the zoom feature on your smartphone to get a closer shot of your subject, but since the lens isn’t zooming optically, you’re just enlarging the picture digitally" I don't agree, look at https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/14/us/nikolas-cruz-florida-shooting-suspect/index.html Best regards, Cythia

    • Lewis Wake
      Lewis Wake
      Wednesday 6 February 2019, 9.13am

      Hello, Cythia. Do you have an alternative link? It seems as though the link sent is incorrect. Thanks.

      • laurel andrews
        laurel andrews
        Wednesday 13 January 2021, 11.24am

        If audio is bad people remembers it for a longer period than bad video, just a something i observed for the last 25 years in the business

        • Lewis Wake
          Lewis Wake
          Wednesday 13 January 2021, 2.17pm

          This is entirely true. Clear audio is essential.

  • sarmad
    Sunday 19 January 2020, 1.17pm

    Great analysis, but the problem have also been of Sound. New filmmakers have no money to buy lighting and sound. All i can say is content is king if a writer is pitching good idea no matter how bad video camera is it will engage audience. But beware of Sound, if ever your sound becomes numb or un-audible people will loss interest so make sure when you are shooting always check your shots for sound. Great description and helpful for new filmmakers.

  • Soc
    Tuesday 25 February 2020, 5.46am

    I fully agree with the suggestion that digital zoom should not be used. It is likely that at times it is necessary to use digital zoom, but that is an exception. Audio is most likely a spoiler if an additional mike/ phone is not used. I don't know if remote controlled smartphones are available that at least pan the camera to fixed positions.

  • Thomas
    Saturday 30 May 2020, 3.07pm

    If you're in public, you don't need anyone's permission since there is no expectation of privacy in public.

  • Yvngboi Nedd
    Yvngboi Nedd
    Wednesday 29 July 2020, 8.22am

    Thank you very much for this great piece. Really educative.

  • Taimur khan
    Wednesday 9 December 2020, 12.32pm

    What is the best phone to start making videos for youtube?

    • Lewis Wake
      Lewis Wake
      Monday 14 December 2020, 4.51pm

      Hi Taimur. Really, any smart phone is great for a good start. You'll find the best camera quality on the latest flagship models from Apple, Samsung, Google, and others.

  • Jonathan Roy
    Jonathan Roy
    Wednesday 24 February 2021, 7.48pm

    Hi, which way should I put the phone on the tripod if I want to film myself? Do I want to see my phone screen or the back of the phone?

    • Lewis Wake
      Lewis Wake
      Wednesday 31 March 2021, 4.01pm

      Hi Jonathan, I would recommend using the back camera of your smartphone as they tend to be of higher quality.

  • Nikhil Bidwaikar
    Sunday 13 June 2021, 2.59pm

    Your suggestion on not using digital zoom and people using slow-motion more than they need was useful, even I noticed the same and you explained it in a logical way.

  • Rohit Philemon
    Monday 5 July 2021, 8.27am

    Image result for tips on recording professional video with a smartphone The most popular framing tool is 'rule of thirds', so if you enable a 3x3 grid on you camera app, you can line up the subject with one of the vertical 'third' lines or use the horizontal lines to get the horizon line in the desired position.

  • avneet kaur
    avneet kaur
    Tuesday 3 August 2021, 1.00pm

    nice and helpful blog enjoyed reading it.

  • Tshililo Rambau
    Tshililo Rambau
    Sunday 31 October 2021, 5.37pm

    I found this article very informative.


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