iVideo: Tips for Emerging iPhone Cinematographers

With the iPhone 3Gs Apple finally initiated a feature that was already expected standard for mobile phones.  The iPhone's video feature is a fundamental aspect of its new design and we can expect that not only will this feature will not only retain a higher image quality in later iPhone models, but there will also be a slew of iPhone applications for video enhancement and editing to be released.  In earlier cellular phones models the video camera function was so inferior that it was not relevant to use it for anything more than funny pictures of your friends at parties.  Now that the iPhone video function is adequate, and looking to become even sufficient in certain situations, it is important to try and elevate your video product beyond a casual documentation of events for social networking sites.  To do this you can try to apply professional techniques used by cinematographers, modified for your pint sized camera.

This image described by iPhone 3GS, iPhone video, iphone video camera, iphone video tips, iphone video techniques, iphone video applications, digital video, iphone video focus, iphone video light, IMG_0255

The first thing you are going to have to remember with the iPhone 3Gs is that its video function does not do well with excessive motion.  This was seen in general with its still camera feature that forces you to remain completely still to get a shot in general.  The video camera will do fine in general with the movement of subjects in front of it, but to get a usable video image you have to remain as still as possible with it.  Since you are not going to put your iPhone on a tripod you will need to try and keep it as still as you can.  This is difficult since you will also have to see the video image on the touch screen to get the framing correct.  The best way to do this is to position yourself against a solid object, such as a wall.  Bring the iPhone closer to your body and try to rest your elbow against the wall or your abdomen to balance it out.

If you do want to do some sort of video camera motion on the iPhone it will have to be somewhat slow and planned if you want it to come out clear.  Do not expect for quick camera changes to come out smooth.  A pan, which refers to the horizontal motion of the video camera on an axis, is going to work fairly well if it is kept slow.  Likewise, a tilt, which is the vertical motion of the video camera on an axis, is also going to be common.  You will again want to stabilize yourself and bend your knees, as to take any extra motion and minimize its effect on the stability of the iPhone.

Everything in the iPhone's video system is on automatic settings.  This includes the iris and focus, which means that any interfering light source or object will disrupt the settings.  If you have set up a situation that you want to film you are going to have to try to block off any interferences that you see.  If you are filming a group of people, for example, the video function will focus in on them after a few moments.  If a person passes by in front of them the video camera will attempt to focus on them momentarily, disrupting the focus that has already been achieved.  This is true of light sources as well, so if there is a dramatic change in light there will have to be a moment where the iPhone's camera readjusts to this.

All the more standard rules of digital video cinematography apply to the iPhone's video camera, except that it has its own specific sensitivities.  Light is not its strong point in most situations, which means that it does not do well with minimal available light.  This does not mean that you are going to have to go out and use professional Tungsten balanced light kits, but it does mean that you are going to have to focus on situations that do have adequate light.  If you want to see the image clearly then you will have to make sure that shadows are minimized on the primary objects in the frame and that there is a direct light source on these objects.  The light adjustment does allow for you to look into light sources themselves, but often times the adjustment makes the image so dark that the light source becomes an under lit object in and of itself.  This is often why the iPhone's video camera is difficult for recording images on computer or television monitors.

Image framing has followed a specific tradition since the earliest days of video.  Many of these principles, such as the rule of thirds and the Z-axis, have been derived from the use of a horizontally prominent aspect ratio.  This means that the images were wider than they were tall.  This is definitely true of widescreen theatrical films, but also true of simpler television images.  The iPhone, as the inverse of this, has a video image that is much taller than it is wide.  This means that all of the standard principles that you must use have to be modified to include this.  For example, the rule of third states that images are broken up into nine blocks.  These blocks, which are in threes in three sections of the image from top to bottom and left to right, have points where they intersect.  These points are of inherent interest to the viewer and videographers should compose images with primary subjects of focus on those points.  This idea can still be used in this situation, but it must be flipped on its side.

There are still a host of video applications at the iTunes' App Store.  Many of them are from older incarnations of the iPhone, but there are still those that promise to improve images and make them better than the standard iPhone.  Most users should be wary of these in general as the hardware of the iPhone's video camera remains the same and there is little evidence that most of these will actually make you a better iPhone cameraperson. 

About shaneburley