How to Shoot Great Video with your Phone for Social MediaProducing video is still an effective and efficient way to boost engagement and generate impressions across many of your social media channels. At MayeCreate Design, we use video when we feel it will help amplify our client’s brand message (or it’s just a particularly funny GIF).

When people see our videos, they’re often surprised to learn we shot them ourselves, and even more surprised to learn we shot most of them on our phones, specifically on an older, out-of-date, unused office iPhone 6. Technology is wonderful.

How do we do it?

This isn’t a guide to create cinematic video that’ll win you an Oscar—there are millions of YouTube channels for that. These are just some efficient and effective “Make your social media videos look professional and then get on with your life” tips to help take your social media marketing to the next level.


Okay! Here we go.

Tip #0: Plan out your shots.

That’s right—we’re starting at zero. Why? Because this is a super important place to start for anyone filming anything with any camera… ever.

This is the most important step. If you do this every time and nothing else on this list, you’ll see dramatic improvement in every video you make, I promise.

I know, “thinking ahead” suggests a certain aspect of “time” the spontaneity of social media doesn’t always afford. But the single biggest piece of advice I can give you beyond “press Record” is to think ahead.

Before even worrying about things like lighting or framing, think about what you are trying to do. Do you want to capture a specific moment? Stake out your best vantage point ahead of time. Do you want your video to stand out? Think of the most interesting and creative way to shoot it. Or, think backwards. Ask yourself: “What would I like to see if I was watching this video?” Then figure out how to capture that footage.

“Sub” Tips for Thinking Ahead:

(This is kind of like subtips on a subtip, this is great!)

  • Pick up your filming area. Take 10 minutes to clean up the backdrop of your space before you go live or vlog to declutter your set so that your audience can focus on the message you’re trying to convey. Bonus: Your space will be somewhat cleaner. Win-win.
  • Plan for location and weather. I can’t tell you how many “sunny-pool-day” shoots I’ve had to cancel because of bad weather. (Yes I can: Only three, but still…) Bad weather happens, and run-and-gun style social media can’t afford to reschedule. Make sure you always have a plan B. Can we shoot this inside if it snows? Could it be funny if we were at the pool in the rain? A little thinking ahead will save you time (and money) when mother nature doesn’t cooperate.
  • Shoot lots of b-roll. I tell everyone this. You may not plan to edit extra footage into your story or post, but I can’t tell you how many ideas I’ve had spring up organically as I was shooting b-roll (yes I can: many…). So not only does capturing extra b-roll footage give you more options to enhance your video, it often leads to new and creative ideas.
  • Understand that many (most) people will watch your video without sound. When thinking about your video, ask yourself: “Would I understand this if I watched it on mute?” Remember: for all video you’re using images to tell a story, so make sure you’re getting the images you need to tell that story.

Tip #1: Don’t use the camera app.

Cell phone cameras are awesome, and they’re only getting better, but the app that comes built into your phone is pretty bare-bones when it comes to video recording capabilities. If you need better quality video than what you get from your Instagram app, but aren’t ready to invest in an expensive camera, pay for an app like FilmicPro that allows you to control frame rates, exposure, focus and white balance.

There are a litany of great resources all over the internet for understanding each and every aspect of cinematography. Here are the basics to get you started:

  1. When choosing a frame rate, more isn’t always more. The frame rate you choose will increase the size of your file, eating up your memory space and battery-life. Think about what you are shooting and the look you are trying get ahead of time when choosing the right frame rate for each project.30 frames per second (fps) looks great, and as the number of fps goes up, the video looks more and more clear, but try 24 frames for a more cinematic look.
  2. Set your white balance before you shoot. Bring a white piece of paper or foam board to every shoot to set the proper white balance at each location/angle.
    Bonus: If you bring foam board you can use it if you need to improve your lighting.
  3. Set your focus and exposure level — don’t use auto adjust. (Exposure refers to the amount of light coming into the lens.) Just like a messy background, autofocus and auto-exposure will constantly adjust during your video, which is super distracting. Set both before you record to get a nice consistent shot that also gives you the look you want.

Tip #2: Understand the basics of lighting.

Ever wonder why people love taking selfies in the bathroom? It’s not because it’s a glamorous place, It’s because bathrooms often have great lighting. Lighting can make all the difference when shooting video, and understanding the basics can take your footage from looking like it was shot in an outhouse to looking like it was taken in the fanciest of upscale posh water-closets.

(I had a bet I could work the term “water-closet” into this article… Whether or not it flies, I’m marking it down as a win.)

Back to lighting: For social media purposes, lighting is perhaps the biggest instance where thinking ahead and planning out your shots will help take your video up a notch — just being aware of your surroundings allows you to position your subject and your camera in more advantageous positions to get better shots.

Want a really easy tip for improving the look of your video?

Avoid mixing light sources. Every different light source has a different color. Lighting your subject with an overhead (fluorescent) office light, or a (yellow) house lamp will give you different a look. So, when you mix the two sources together the subject your a lighting becomes discolored and that just looks…bad.

Best/easiest fix? Use natural light! Sunlight is white and will give you a clean look. For even better results, shoot during the “golden hours” of the morning (or evening) when the sun is setting (or rising) for a gentle, more flattering angle.

If you can’t shoot outside, shoot near a window, and use basic 3-point lighting to your advantage. What is 3-point lighting? It’s a standard lighting set up (using 3 lights…hence the name) to properly illuminate your subject:

  1. The key light: This is your main light. Avoid lightning from directly above; instead, come in on a slight angle (again, for social media, a window is your friend).
  2. The fill light: Your key light will create shadows on the subject (usually a human face) so use a fill light to lessen those shadows and fully illuminate the subject, and more shadows tend to give a more dramatic look. If you’re not going for dramatic but don’t have a second light to use, try using screens (or even white foam board like we mentioned earlier) to bounce your key light back onto the subject until you get a look that you need.
  3. The back light: Backlighting defines the subject, makes them stand out against the background and gives them a three dimensional look. To do this, illuminate your subject from behind so that they have a slight highlight around the outline of their body. This can often be accomplished DIY-style with a lamp on the ground or a light on in another room.

Tip #3: Use the rule of thirds.

Speaking of the camera: let’s talk about framing. One common mistake a lot of people make when taking pictures or shooting video is centering their subject in the middle of the frame. Just aim and shoot… right? Well…actually…no.

A better way to frame your shot is to use what designers, photographers, cinematographers and wikipedia refer to as the rule of thirds:

“The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject.”

Almost all camera and video apps will give you a grid option. Turn it on and leave it on. When framing your shots think of the rule of thirds and use this grid as for reference. Try lining up each shot at each intersection to see which works best in each given situation. Need an example?

Here is a photograph of my dog, Finn:

How to Shoot Great Video with Your Phone for Social Media - Finn Pupp Before

Same photo using the rule of thirds:

How to Shoot Great Video with Your Phone for Social Media - Finn Pupp After

As you can see, he looks much happier. Help make Finn happy. Use the rule of thirds, it works.

Tip #4: Use a tripod.

One of the biggest problems with shooting video on your phone isn’t the quality of the recording, it’s that your phone is so light.Footage often looks shaky because even the slightest adjustment will cause your camera to move.

The cheapest way to fix this? Tape a brick to your phone… not particularly pragmatic as it will no longer fit in your pocket… but it won’t shake.

A better solution? Invest in a tripod.

A good video app also helps, as they come with automatic stabilization features that will make your camera work look (slightly) less shaky. This helps, but if you have particularly truculent footage (think Blair Witch) the software generated stabilization will start to look a little janky, and even appear as if it’s tearing on screen. When getting started it’s absolutely worth it to invest in a tripod. You can get a perfectly serviceable one for around twenty bucks, which will at least steady your stationary shots.

Now, you still need motion for your videos. It gives shots life and adds a sense of momentum and pace. So try incorporating panning shots from your tripod (great for more b-roll), or put the tripod on an office chair and BOOM! — you’ve got yourself a homemade (office made?) dolly for a good old dolly zoom.

Tip #5: Be ready to run out of power.

Know that you will have a limited time frame to get the footage you need and work with purpose so take my practical advice: Using your phone as a video recorder, especially with multiple apps running, will drain the battery on your phone in no time, so bring along a battery pack, your charger, and even an extra phone.

Tip #6: Know when to shoot vertically.

The last step isn’t as much a tip as it is a warning: your phone is designed to be used vertically and social media platforms are done resisting this simple fact. Typically, the “classic” horizontal shooting mode is cited as the proper, professional and most visually appealing way to capture your video footage. But the times, they are a-changin’.

Platforms like Instagram are now rushing to create services like the recently launched IGTV, which attempt to capitalize on all of the vertical content already being created by featuring vertical video exclusively.

And get this: case studies on Facebook ads from sites like suggest vertical video ads performed better than their landscape counterparts because:

  1. Social media is accessed more and more from mobile devices,
  2. People like to hold their mobile devices vertically, and
  3. Vertical videos take up more screen real estate, giving those ads extra precious milliseconds to make an impression.

The point being: don’t limit yourself or your content by using just one mode. Shoot landscape when it suits the subject (like a big crowd or beautiful vista) and vertically for conversational pieces (like vlogs, stories or live-streaming). Or simply experiment and see what your audience responds to best.

That’s a wrap!

You are now ready to go forth and create attention-grabbing videos of your own, but be sure to tag us with your cinematic masterpieces so that we can marvel proudly and share them with others — @mayecreate on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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