Every time one of my favorite college professors saw me leaving the campus cable station with camera gear, he’d remind me, “The tripod is your friend.” To this day, shaky video drives me crazy, but I’ve grown to accept that smartphones have basically thrown the stability rule out the window. Still, there are ways to make your DIY videos – the chef showing the new dish, the real estate broker showing a hot property, etc. – look more professional.
For this exercise, let’s just assume you’re using a smartphone for brief social media updates. I’ll break this down into segments of spending no money, some money, and more money.
No money. I get it. You don’t have enough extra money (or interest) to spend on a tripod for a smartphone. You still can stabilize it a little bit better. Instead of doing what most people do when they shoot a smartphone video and hold their hands straight ahead (which makes it as unsteady as possible), try holding the phone on or against something – a table, a wall, a computer monitor, etc. An extra point of contact will help. In most cases, just make sure your smartphone is at the same level as the face of the person you’re shooting, or you might have an unflattering angle.
Some money. For about $20, you can get a smartphone tripod. Granted, these are probably going to be incredibly low quality, and I wouldn’t count on doing any kind of tilting and panning moves that look great. That said, if you’re just doing a 30-second talking-head video or shooting the inside of a house for a real estate video, these could work.
Believe or not, I’ve actually used a selfie stick for smartphone videos of our kids – not in traditional selfie mode, but with the stick telescoped all the way down and the camera pointed away from me. It’s almost like I’m holding a picket sign, and I follow whoever or whatever I’m shooting. Whatever it is with the muscles that hold the phone that way vs. with my hands out in front, it makes for a steadier shot, in my opinion.
More money. If you like shooting with your smartphone, and I have to say that in some conditions that video looks pretty good for everyday-social-media type of use, you could rock a gimbal, which keeps the camera balanced while you move it around. If you have kids, think of the crazy cereal bowls that don’t spill when you tip them over. If you have a few hundred bucks, these are awesome, and yes, you can absolutely tell the difference. I use a larger gimbal for my Canon C100 mark ii, and those shots are often the one or two shots that carry a video. You could also spring for a better quality tripod, which would give you better motion for tilting and panning.
I have found with almost all video gear that you get what you pay for most of the time. It all depends on what you’re looking to do and how much you want to invest in the technology.