Ever seen a shot in a movie so iconic that your jaw dropped? Picture Tim Robbins standing in the rain in The Shawshank Redemption, the slow-motion action scenes in The Matrix, or any shot from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Think back to the moment you first saw those images and how they made you feel. They probably evoked a sense of wonder. A deeper connection to the story. Perhaps insight into a character.
This is the power of cinematography. Most of the time, it doesn’t call attention to itself, but even then, it’s doing the heavy lifting of storytelling. This is why the visual aspects of a film are tremendously important, even when shooting video on your phone.
The art of cinematography is a complex and fascinating subject, one that can be studied for a lifetime, but the basics are simple and with just a few small adjustments, you can greatly improve every video you make.
Eliminate shaky hand
Having a steady shot is extremely important. If the camera is shaking it can be distracting and even make your audience feel nauseated. Use a tripod to instantly make your videos feel steady and professional. It’s like magic. If you don’t have a tripod, you can fashion a monopod out of a broomstick or any long object. If you don’t have that, leaning against something stable or supporting the arm holding your phone will help. And always be sure to hold your phone with both hands.
Protip: Here at MixBit, we’re fans of the ghetto rig – you can do a lot with tape, rubber bands, objects lying around, and some ingenuity.
Don’t move the camera
If you’re moving the camera around a lot it’s hard for the audience to know what to focus on, so move the camera as little as possible. If you need to shoot two things that don’t fit in the frame, use a separate shot for each. If you must move the camera, do it slowly. Do it as slowly as you possibly can, and then do it slower than that. Your audience will thank you.
Use short shots
If a shot is too long the viewer will get bored and close the video. Keeping shots as short as possible and cutting to new shots often will help keep a good pace. Every time the camera cuts, the viewer is brought back in. They think, “What happened? What’s changed?” and they’re paying attention again.
Be sure to have a focus for your shots. Frame each one so that you’re only showing what’s most important. Your meaning comes across much more clearly when the viewer only has to focus on one thing at a time. Remember the golden rule of KISS: Keep It Simple, Stupid. It’s always applicable.
Establish the scene
Establishing shots are a pillar of filmmaking. In just a few seconds, you can orient the audience and provide context for your story. Then, when the story starts, the audience is right there with you. They aren’t wondering, “Where are we, what are we doing here?” Quickly establishing the scene will set up your audience to become absorbed in your story.
Every shot should be important
Kurt Vonnegut wrote about fiction, “Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.” Replace sentence with shot, and this applies perfectly to filmmaking. You don’t want unimportant or lackluster shots. Why would you? Choose quality over quantity and your videos will have a greater impact.
Are there any guidelines that you like to follow when shooting video on your phone? Share them in the comments, and we might include them in our next post about cinematography!