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Documenting with Smartphones
Making captivating and informative documentaries with your phone. Also, the iPhone 15 Pro Max comes with log capture and more candy for filmmakers.
The camera that’s always with you is ideal to capture events around you, but what if you want to tell a story with that power?
There are countless ways to tell a story. Film is probably the best because it has the biggest palette to work with and can have the largest reach. Let’s face the fact that a large part of the population won’t read books. But they’ll spend hours ingesting short videos.
The types of videos you can make with a smartphone camera will surprise you. From a short experimental film to a feature length narrative film, you can pretty much take your pick and invent your own. So why do a lot of storytellers still approach the smartphone film and video arena saying a phone is not a “real” camera?
All films have an element of art and science. Simply because we speak of smartphones as revolutionary, does not mean it’s all tech. When we decide we need to learn about tech to do something that’s been done many times over before, a lot of people feel intimidated. They prefer to just do it “the old way.”
What if the “old way” for you is to save, and save for the day you can buy a camera and then hire an operator? Because, the tech is still not your thing, right?
Telling stories is an art form.
Documentary filmmaking is one of the most versatile formats in the film industry. There are almost no limits to the media you can include in a documentary.
When I was in college, I was tasked with a couple classmates to make a film. Because I was concurrently working for a company in video production, my colleagues looked up to me to lead the project. I chose a documentary about urban legends in San Diego.
You can read my story that walks you through my experience. It’s also a fun read as we approach Halloween!
One of the things we did making our documentary, was go to the library and film passages and photos from books with our video camera. It was rough, due to the size of the camera and lighting. We had to set up a table, put the camera on a good tripod for smooth pans, etc.
Today, I think about how much easier it would have been to just use a smartphone camera with stabilization.
I’ll share one tip I learned years ago about smartphone b roll capturing, below.
Later, in another post, I’ll share more from my video production experience and studies that you can use to make better documentaries with your smartphone camera, for paid subscribers. Don’t worry, I’ll still share my usual posts for free subscribers.
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There is a reason why you see so many slow motion video montages on YouTube shot with smartphones. When iPhone shared a slow motion feature in an IOS update around 2013, I remember sitting at a starbucks panning the camera. When I played it back it was so smooth! I remember telling my friend it was the same effect as my experience panning with professional tripods.
The trick is to avoid living subjects in the footage.
Animals and birds in your shot will move in slow motion. However, if you are getting shots of locations where there are no people or animals, you can capture some beautiful “cinematic” footage.
Go out to parks whene there are less people there, in the cities go into alleys without moving cars or people.
You are not limited to left and right pans. You can also tilt your phone to move up from mid level to the top of a building or tree. You can fade a zoom in shot by holding the phone close to your chest and extending your arms straight out in front of you to get closer to your subject. It’s a bit like what the film industry calls a dolly shot.
If you happen to have a wheel chair, back in 2000 and 2001, I worked on a commercial for Jaguar in San Diego where we borrowed a wheelchir from the blood bank, where we also produced videos for them, and uded it as a dolly. The camera person sat in the chair and I pushed him around down the halls and around the cars in the show room. Wheelchairs are extremely smooth.
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The New iPhone 15 makes cinematic filmmaking a reality for non-filmmakers.
The new iPhone 15 has revolutionized its camera again. According to the articles I’ve read since the release of the new iPhone this last Tuesday, iPhone 15 Pro Max will have ACES color support and log capture.
“The Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) is the industry standard for managing color throughout the life cycle of a motion picture or television production. From image capture through editing, VFX, mastering, public presentation, archiving and future remastering,”via Oscars.org
I hope you’ll find the slow motion to capture stable cinematic footage for your documentary, resourceful.
Stay tuned for a new post sharing more tips and insights for paid subscribers. I am excited to share them with you to help you capture better audio and incredible creative ways to make captivating documentaries using smartphone cameras.
The International Mobile Film Festival in San Diego is offering a free submission to a short film shot using the features on the new iPhone 15 Pro Max. The new iPhone will be available September 22nd. You’ll need to submit your short film before the regular deadline, November 19.
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