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Tips for Perfect iPhone Cinematography

In recent years, the iPhone has become very popular in the film industry. Many types of videos are shot with it and there are many different uses for these phones. There’s a lot to know about using the iPhone and I’ll try to teach you everything I know in this article.

iPhone Cinematography Is Now a Thing

With the iPhone, you can shoot amazing videos and even movies (I’ll explain the difference in a minute). iPhone filmmaking is one of the best reasons to invest in a new iPhone.

There are many apps for mobile filmmaking and you can edit your videos on a computer with free software like iMovie.

The iPhone isn’t a professional camera, but it’s become a staple in the film industry, a smartphone camera used by professionals and amateurs alike, helping filmmakers achieve cinematic footage.

What We Mean by Cinematography (As Opposed to Videography)

In the film world, cinematography is the art of shooting and editing motion pictures.

A cinematographer deals with all aspects of recording motion pictures, including lighting, camera positioning and movement, editing, and other aspects. They work closely with directors and the film crew to realize their artistic vision.

The reason for the distinction between cinematography and videography when it comes to using iPhones is that iPhones have a very simple camera system and lenses.

Related: Videography Tips

Almost every major film studio uses professional cameras, but they’re very expensive. Conversely, even the latest generation iPhones aren’t professionally made film cameras and they can be quite limited in the effects or shots they can take. Apple is trying to take the system to the extreme with its Cinematic Mode, which we’ll discuss later in this article.

iPhones have fixed lenses, which means they can’t be swapped out. However, clip-on lenses can be added.

There are uses for iPhones in cinematography, however, and entire films have been made that have been shown in theaters and on television and were shot in whole or in part with iPhones. For example, Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane, Sean Baker’s Tangerine, and part of the Oscar-winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man.

iPhones are great for making the kind of short films you see on Vimeo. Especially montage films that rely on excellent editing, grading, and music. For example

Cinematography with iPhone Considerations

Using an iPhone for filming can be divided into two main areas:

  • Techniques
  • Equipment

The trick is knowing when to use the iPhone, how to take full advantage of its capabilities, and under what circumstances you’re better off using a different solution – a DSLR or film camera, for example.

The Pros and Cons of Using an iPhone for Film Production

Ever since Apple launched the iPhone 6s with its 4k video recording, the idea of shooting a feature film with an iPhone has become more and more attractive.

The main advantages of an iPhone over a film camera are that it’s quite cheap and allows filmmakers a more nimble and flexible approach to shooting. It allows for intimacy in filming that’s difficult to achieve with other types of cameras and associated equipment.

For films that require speed and flexibility in shooting – like documentaries – the iPhone can be a real boon because “the best camera is the one you’ve with you.”

Sometimes you can get the shots you need in places where you’d otherwise be hampered by a lot of regulations, and with good color correction, the footage can be indistinguishable to the viewer from that shot with a professional camera.

The iPhone’s weaknesses are a double-edged sword: the iPhone’s weaknesses when it comes to filming are that the camera’s image quality isn’t the best in low-light conditions, which is usually the most important factor when filming.

Also, the iPhone’s battery drains pretty quickly, which means you’ll need to charge your iPhone quite often between shots if you want to film for long periods or have extra battery packs. Storage space can also be an issue: 1080p uses about 60 MB per minute. 4K uses about 675 MB per minute. Even with carefully planned recordings, this can quickly use up your internal memory.

Techniques When Using an iPhone for Filming

There are several techniques you can use to shoot professional-looking videos using the iPhone’s video technology.

Know Your iPhone’s Lenses

Depending on the generation of your iPhone, you may have two or three lenses. When it comes to image quality, a lot depends on using lenses with their optimal focal length (zooms can cause pixelation, for example) and, most importantly, paying attention to how you use light.

For best results, equip your iPhone with anamorphic lenses. These lenses allow for ultra-wide shots and cinematic aspect ratios (e.g., 2.39:1) as well as pronounced bokeh and flare patterns, but they need post-processing to work.

Whether you choose to go this route depends on the effects and feel you want in your shots.

Stabilization Is Critical

When it comes to filming, stabilization is extremely important. A lot depends on it – if you don’t have a stable camera, your tracking shots will be shaky or, even worse, blurry. This can make the difference between a really professional-looking video and one that’s little more than shaky video on a smartphone.

The style you want to achieve will also determine the type and degree of stabilization.

Fortunately, there are now a number of stabilization options for iPhone cinematographers at a relatively low cost. Almost every serious filmmaker has a good tripod with a fluid head. If you use rigs, three-axis gimbals, sliders, etc., you should look for ways to quickly attach and detach them from the tripod.

However, using a tripod can sometimes be difficult and uncomfortable, especially if you want to move around while filming. For example, you might be filming at an event or in a busy area where you don’t want your equipment to be seen by others. In that case, your only option might be to hold your iPhone in your hand while filming, perhaps stabilizing it with a gimbal.

Good Audio Recording With the iPhone

All too often, filmmakers use their iPhones to record video without paying attention to audio quality. That’s unfortunate because a streamlined production process makes it much easier to get great results on a shoestring budget – and that goes for audio, too.

Typically, you’ll need at least two types of microphones. The first is a small gun mic, which usually attaches to a small mount that your iPhone inserts into. The Rode VideoMic Pro+ is widely used. As a directional microphone, it helps you block out distracting noise and focus your attention on the subject.

Next, you should have a wired lavalier mic in your bag. Personally, I’ve used a Rode SmartLav+ with an extension cable and had a very good experience with it. With the Smartlav+, you can record professional sound without having to lug around a large recording device or mixer. If you use the Smartlav+ with your iPhone and an app like FiLMiC Pro, you can make incredible recordings for your film.

With wireless microphones, you’ll usually need to record with a separate digital audio recorder, such as a Zooms or Tascam. Be sure to clap your hands so they serve as sync points – you’ll thank me later when you’re editing!

Remember that microphone placement is key when it comes to recording good sound on location, and always take a pair of reliable headphones (e.g. Sennheiser HD25) to monitor and check the sound on location.

Related: Different Types of Microphones

Use FilmicPro to Control Your iPhone Cinematography

The best filmmaking app for your iPhone movie production is definitely FilmicPro.

You can get it through the App Store.

It’s a well-known and highly regarded app that provides an alternative to Apple’s standard camera app and offers a variety of options for those who want to get creative with their iPhone footage.

It offers a high level of control over frame rate, white balance, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, focus, color correction, audio levels, and even aspect ratio (even portrait mode). It’s also easy to preview the footage you’ve captured to check that you’ve got the shot or scene you want.

Once you’ve downloaded the software, you should read the manual and watch the tutorial video before you start recording. There are a lot of settings and options you can play around with.

What You Need to Know About Cinematic Mode

If you’re a filmmaker and want to shoot movies with your iPhone, you should definitely know about the Cinematic Mode feature.

Cinematic Mode on the latest iPhones (iPhone 13 Pro Max, iPhone 13 Pro, iPhone 13, or iPhone 13 minis) is an advanced shooting mode with Dolby Vision HDR and Rack Focus that you should definitely take advantage of.

It enables rack focus shooting by touching focus points on the screen while shooting, which can be used for both conventional and tracking shots. It can automate rack-focus shots by refocusing on a second subject and then returning to the original subject when the second subject moves or even looks away.

Also, in post-production, even on an iPad Pro, you can use the depth map generated by Cinematic mode to add depth-of-field and rack-focus effects after the fact.

These features are still new and you’ll need to try them out before using them on a critical or professional shot. Above all, make sure the image is soft, as the mode can cause the iPhone to try to optimize the scene. Also, note that Cinematic mode on the iPhone is limited to 1080p at 30 fps.

Make the Most of the iPhone’s Size

The beauty of filming with a camera as small as the iPhone is that you can put it anywhere. Whether it’s in your pocket, in your shoe, or in your hand, it always shoots the best possible quality, even in places and situations where larger cameras can’t.

As an iPhone filmmaker, take advantage of that by taking your shots from unusual angles and getting creative with your camera movements.

Be Aware of the iPhone’s Sensor and Its Limitations

The biggest problem with the iPhone is the size of the sensor. The sensor is smaller than that of most professional cameras, which means that any lens you put on your phone will have a smaller field of view (about 2.5x). For this reason, many filmmakers use wide-angle lenses with their iPhones to compensate for the smaller sensor size.

Another problem with cameras with small sensors is that the footage gets grainy in low light. That doesn’t mean you should avoid low-light conditions if your shots require it, but you should always be aware of how your camera reacts in those situations.

Small sensors make it difficult to capture shots with shallow depth of field – this is where the film mode described above comes in. Remember that you don’t have to use shallow depth of field as a default setting – it’s a technique used for certain effects in cinematography.

Factor in the time it takes you to enhance the images in post-production with grading – for example, in Final Cut Pro X.

Battery Life Is Your Biggest Annoyance

The problem with using an iPhone for an intensive task like video capture is that the battery runs out quickly. You need to plan ahead and bring an extra battery – or several if you’re planning a long shoot.

Allow Time for Post-Production

Even if you’re shooting a short film (or maybe especially if you’re shooting a short film!), you need to schedule time for grading and audio enhancement in post-production.

The best way to do this is to edit first, and then edit and mix the final cut. That way, you’re not doing unnecessary work.

Editing software like Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premier Pro will take you a long way in editing and post-production. Apps like DaVinci resolve to let you do professional-level color correction and grading. Depending on the artistic result you’re after, you can also add filters and motion effects.

Make Sure Your Camera Footage Matches

If you’re using iPhones in combination with other cameras on set, make sure the shots can be matched in post-production – unless you’re making a virtue of the different looks. It’s worth testing with those who’ll be editing and grading the footage in post-production.

How to Practice iPhone Cinematography

Here’s a suggestion: why not consider using your iPhone cinematography skills to start recording a family legacy video that you and your family can treasure in years to come? You’ll encounter loads of dynamic and static setups, and will be able to try different things without too much time pressure.

Related: How to Make a Family Legacy Video