6 insider tips for making a pro video on your phone

Video is fast becoming the biggest game in town; by 2021 it will account for more than 80% of all internet use, according to Cisco. That means our students are naturally becoming more and more immersed in the medium.

The good news for teachers is that video can be used to increase student motivation. According to a survey by Kaltura, 91% of teachers believe that it has a positive impact on student satisfaction; and 82% say that it boosts student achievement.   

At the same time, teachers are becoming more focused on personalisation – that is creating or adapting materials so that they meet our students’ needs and align with their interests. But can we really do that with video? And even if we could, would it look professional enough to do in class?

Steph Sargent, Sarah Wood, and Sheena Clowater are Producers at ITN Productions Education – an organisation famous for its high quality television and education content. Together, they presented a session on this topic at InnovateELT 2019.

Read on for their 6 pro tips to help you create incredible videos of your own.

How to make professional-looking videos using your smartphone

We’ve watched a lot of self-made videos on YouTube and have noticed some recurring problems which are very common – but also very easy to avoid.

It’s not hard to elevate a video from amateur-looking to polished so we’ve got some super basic tips which can help to improve the quality of videos shot on a mobile phone.

While having fancy equipment is nice, it’s not always feasible so for these tips you’ll need no extra equipment apart from the camera on your phone!

Tip 1: Lighting

Lighting equipment can get pretty expensive. The good news is that there’s an abundant, organic lighting resource that’s completely free. That’s right, you can use the sun to your advantage.

Strategically plan your shoot to make the most of daylight. We recommend avoiding night shoots; even if you think there’s enough light from the lamp in your room, you’ll get much better quality light if you film during the day.

Unless you’re after a specific aesthetic to set a mood, it’s best to avoid backlighting. Backlighting happens when your subject stands between the camera and the main source of light (for example, a window). This creates a haloing or silhouette effect, making the subject dark.

By facing your camera away from the main source of light, and by having your subject face the source of light, you’ll see an immediate improvement in the picture quality.

Video tip 1
Camera is facing the main source of light (left) / Camera is facing away from the main source of light (right)

Tip 2: Don’t zoom

When you zoom in using your smartphone’s zoom feature, you lose image quality. You may not notice it as much when you’re looking at a small screen, but as soon as you get your video on a computer or TV, the picture just won’t look nice and crisp.

It’s best to simply move closer to your subject in order to get more definition and detail, creating a much higher calibre of video.

Video tip 2
A close up using phone’s zoom feature
A close up with camera closer to subject

Tip 3: Go Landscape!

When using your phone as a camera, you must remember to stop treating it like a phone. You don’t want to record a film that looks like you are on a Facetime call with your mum!

Remember to turn the phone onto its side and film in landscape mode. This will ensure that when you play back you video on computers, TVs and tablets, you able to fill the entire screen with as much detail as you can. It avoids large empty black squares that wastes valuable screen space.

Video tip 3
This shows the playback image you’d see if you shot in portrait.
This shows the playback image you’d see if you shot in landscape.

Tip 4: Sssshhh…keep it quiet!

The phones in our pockets are very powerful and can now shoot fantastic looking images. However, the sound recording quality is still quite poor.

In the absence of a separate microphone the easiest solution is to simply control the environment you are filming in. Try to find a nice quiet spot, you want the environment to be the least distracting as possible, so that your audience can focus solely on the person speaking.

Video tip 4
In this recording Sarah is in a nice quiet room where all you can hear is her voice.

Tip 5: Interview Skills

When recording an interview it is important to keep your interviewee comfortable. This is both important for the audience watching and the interviewee’s performance. To create a comfortable interview set up, you need to place your interviewee to one side of the screen with the person asking the questions behind the camera and on the opposite side.

The interviewer needs to be at the same level as the interviewee so the eyeline is flat and not too high or low. The shot will now show the interviewee’s eyeline looking across the long side of the screen.

Video tip 5
This image shows an uncomfortable eyeline. You cannot see all of Steph’s face and her eyeline is too high.
This image shows a comfortable eyeline. Steph is looking across the long side of the screen, you can see her entire face and her eyeline is level with the camera.
bonus video tip

Tip 6: Tell a story

Good storytelling is a craft that can take years to perfect, but there are some basic steps you can follow to help you along the way:

Follow the rule of threes.  No matter what content you’re producing, good stories have a beginning, a middle, and end. A simple template to follow is:

  • Beginning: Start with a brief introduction that establishes your topic and what your film is about. 
  • Middle: This section will make up the bulk of your film and is where you go into detail about your topic.
  • End: Briefly summarise what you have covered in your film in your conclusion and end on the ‘lesson’.

Less is more. It’s better to cover fewer things in more detail, than lots of things in no detail. So don’t try to do too much in a short space of time. Edit yourself, and keep it succinct.

Read it out loud. Sometimes things work better on paper than they do when spoken. As you’re writing, read your script out loud, and if it doesn’t sound good, or something is difficult to say – change it.

Time it. When you’re reading your script out loud, time how long each section takes you to read – that way you’ll know how long your film will come out.

For more information about using videos with your students, read our post: 5 tips for choosing & using video in ELT by ITN Productions.

We hope you enjoyed these top tips from the ITN Productions’ team. Next time you make a video for your class or YouTube channel be sure to follow their advice! And don’t forget to share your teaching videos with us in the comments.

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