Smartphone filmmaking

by Wayne Sables

Regardless of what you film on the same rules of filmmaking (or photography) apply. Don’t worry we will discuss these rules (or creative tips) as we progress.

The great thing about smartphone is that they are essentially small computers / cameras / editing stations / music payers and so on. They are amazing especially when used creatively. I was somewhat unconvinced initially by using smartphones to make films  (I think I was being a purest),  in resent years the technology has developed tenfold. RED (the legendary camera brand) created a smartphone, Zeiss (the legendary high end lens makers) make the camera glass for smartphones and the film Tangerine (2015) was shot on 2 iPhone 5s’ (

A whole film and photography industry has grown around the popularity of smartphone filming and photography. You can buy:

Lenses (,

Steady rigs (,

Tripods (,

As well as a whole host of apps (I’ll link to some free and paid ones later).

And much more

You definitely do not need to spend any additional money on your smart phone to create great content. They already come equipped with brilliant technology. Additional equipment should used to enhance your film and photography. 

The best thing to improve your skills I just to do it. Try lots of ideas out, get it wrong, try again and importantly learn from your mistakes.

The tips below will help you compose the perforce shot for your scene.

Before you shoot.

Before you begin filming (shooting) you will have an idea or a script or a storyboard or a shot list (please tell me you have at least one of them?).

I use Celtx Script it’s free I think on iPhone /iPad. (

Next you’ll want to shot list the film (this makes it easier when you begin shooting). I use shotlister, it costs £9,99 I think ( You can get a free template online. Again these apps are meant to help the process if they don’t work for you save your money.

The basics


If you want a ‘locked off’ still shot they a tripod is the best solution. You may use this for when interviewing etc. Using a tripod is essential if you don’t have a second person to hold the phone for you. (You do not have to buy an expensive branded tripod a cheaper generic one may work perfectly well for your needs, or if you have a tripod get a phone adapter).

Handheld is a stylised look and may be exactly what you are after. You will need a second person if you are the subject of the film i.e a dance or theatre piece.

Gimbals are great but tend to get over used. They create a ‘floaty’ effect. Again someone has to hold the gimbal. Make sure you practise using it before you shoot they take a little mastering.

If you have shortlisted your film you’ll know exactly what you are going to shoot and you will have decided on what kit (if any you need).

The iPhone camera app.

I use this app loads as its simple to use I do also use the moment app as I have moment lenses and they are designed to work together.

For this tutorial we will use the native camera app.

Once opening the app you’ll see a menu screen at the bottom. By default the PHOTO app is selected. 

To change to either VIDEO (which is what we will many use), SLO-MO, TIME-LAPSE (swipe left), PORTRAIT, PANO (swipe right).

Once you select VIDEO you’ll see a few options.

In the top left corner you’ll see two numbers. In this case 24 and 4K, the 24fps is the frame rate (24 frames a second), the 4K is the frame size (4,000 pixels). Tap the number and you can change these fro 4K to HD (1080), 24fps to 30fps to 60fps. The higher the frame rate the the more detail stored in the file, 60fps is slow motion giving you a smooth dramatic fleeting. 24fps is the most cinematic as it’s the most natural to the human eye.

In the bottom left corner you’ll see a lightning symbol. In this instance it has a circle and an line through it. The lightning bolt acts as a light when filming in low light situations. When selected it’s yellow without the line through. Lighting is crucial in filmmaking.

At the centre top you’ll see a timer. This is the amount of time you’ve been filming.   

In the top right you’ll see a circle made up of two curved arrows. Pressing this swaps from the front camera and the back camera and vice versa. This can be used in interesting ways when making dance films to swap from one dancers to another. Make sure you practise this technique before filming. If you slide up next to the VIDEO you’ll see an extended flash/light menu.

In the centre to the right you’ll notice a 1x icon.  Depending on the phone you have this may or may not be here. I’m shooting if an iPhone 11 which has a dual lens system. If you’re seeing a 0.5 here you’re on the wide lens. Click this to switch between the lenses.

What you’re not seeing in the image is a small yellow square on the screen. If your touch anywhere in these creek the yellow square will appear. This is how you can control the aperture. To get the best results look for the mid tones and select there. If you select the sky for example you’ll under expose the rest of the shot and if you press the ground you’ll over expose the sky.

Finally you’ll see a grid formation. This is based on the rule of thirds.

Rule of thirds .

The rule of thirds is one of the main “rules” in art and photographic composition and stems from the theory that the human eye naturally gravitates to intersection points that occur when an image is split into thirds. (



Lighting is incredibly important especially when using the phone to create. If you are using the phone without any accessories (additional lenses etc) the best bet is to utilise natural light.

This blog post from Canva explains it beautifully

Go and make magic.

If you’ve reached the point where your wanting more than the native camera app here is a list of apps to take your filmmaking to the next level. Most offer advanced settings beyond the native camera app.

(Disclaimer; these app are for iOS they are the same for android)


Moment app iOS  (

Filmic pro (

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