It was not too long ago that the idea of shooting entire feature length films with a phone camera seemed absurd. But respected filmmakers like Sean Baker and Steven Soderbergh have trailblazer the use of iPhones in the filmmaking industry. Baker’s Tangerine and Soderbergh’s Unsane and more recent High Flying Bird have proved fancy cameras aren’t a prerequisite to a great film.
They have also proved that anyone with an iPhone in their pocket can theoretically shoot a feature film. This has inspired filmmakers of all levels to consider the iPhone as a cinematography tool. So we’ve created a list of the best tips for cinematic iPhone cinematography.
Cinematic Shots with iPhone
Why shoot with an iPhone?
While it may seem like a novelty or a way to make headlines, shooting on an iPhone is a creative decision. iPhone cinematography has both pros and cons. The cons may be a bit more apparent when compared side by side to the new ARRI Alexa. However, the pros sometimes better serve the story of a film.
For example, iPhone’s are incredibly small and maneuverable. This allows them to be placed in areas that larger cameras cannot. They are also more familiar since they utilize a visual look almost everyone is accustomed to with their phone.
In the video below, Steven Soderbergh discusses his decision to shoot on an iPhone as a creative choice rather than a budgetary choice. Here are his reasons that influenced his decision.
Every story is different. Therefore, every film is different. Understanding both the positives and negatives of shooting on an iPhone will help you capitalize on the iPhone as a storytelling device. That being said, if you do decide to shoot on an iPhone, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of every shot.
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How to Shoot Cinematic Video with iPhone
Use filmmaking apps
The stock iPhone camera app is great for everyday use. But when you are shooting a feature or even a short film with your iPhone, you want to have control over every setting possible. iOS apps have been developed to give filmmakers control over visual elements like focus, white balance, and exposure. Here is a video by the channel wolfcrow that covers a few different iPhone cinematography apps that will help you get started.
One of the best, most recommended cinematography apps is Filmic Pro. Both Steven Soderbergh and Sean Baker famously used the app to shoot entire feature films. While it does cost about $15 for all features, it is a small price to pay to unlock the full potential of your iPhone’s camera.
To get a better understanding of what Filmic Pro can do, here is a video breakdown of the app with some visual examples.
While there are other apps on the market that aim to unlock the cinematographic potential of your iPhone, Filmic Pro has constantly been at the forefront of tech and development. They collaborate with the feedback of filmmakers to make the best iPhone cinematography app.
How to Shoot Cinematic Video with iPhone
Use a stabilizer
One of the benefits of shooting on an iPhone is it's incredibly compact size. One of the downsides of shooting on an iPhone is also it’s incredibly compact size. Because it is so small, the smallest amounts of movement and vibrations affect the camera.
The solution to this is iPhone stabilizers. There are countless iPhone stabilizers, gimbals, and tripods on the market that will help get the most out of your iPhone cinematography. When asked about tips for shooting a film on an iPhone, Sean Baker’s first tip is shoot with a stabilizer.
Gimbal and stabilizer performance can vary. Before purchasing one, make sure you look at test footage to help you make your decision. For a comprehensive breakdown of the best smartphone gimbals and stabilizers on the market, check out the video below.
If you are already saving a bit of money on your budget by shooting on an iPhone, the next best thing you can do is invest in one of the best video stabilizers for your iPhone.
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How to Shoot iPhone Cinematic Video
Consider your lenses
Lens variety and shot sizes are a common issue people have when deciding to shoot with an iPhone. New lens technology in the iPhone 11 Pro allows filmmakers to choose between normal, telephoto, and wide angle lenses.
Writer and director Rian Johnson was even given a prototype iPhone 11 to test its wide angle capabilities in the streets of Paris, France. Johnson described the lens as “a real game changer” in the world of iPhone cinematography. Here are a few of his shots with the new iPhone wide angle lens that speak for themselves.
If a new iPhone 11 is out of the budget, there are still ways to vary your lens size. External, attachable lenses have been created specifically for the iPhone to help you achieve the visual look you desire.
Companies like Moment and Sandmarc have developed everything from macro lenses, wide angle lenses, telephotos lenses, and even anamorphic lenses for the iPhone. This video below tests the Sandmarc anamorphic iPhone lens to see how it can capture a cinematic shot with an iPhone.
Now that we’ve talked about various types of gear you can use to get the most out of your iPhone cinematography, let’s talk a bit about technique.
Cinematic iPhone Video Tutorial
Don’t forget about lighting
Whether you are shooting on an ARRI Alexa, DSLR, or iPhone, great lighting is key. It can be easy to forget about cinematic lighting techniques when shooting with an iPhone. But if anything it is more important to focus on lighting specifically when shooting on an iPhone.
iPhone shots can often fall flat because of a lack of true aperture. Cinematic lighting techniques can help add depth to your iPhone shots. The 3-point lighting setup will help make your iPhone cinematography more cinematic. Here is a video tutorial on how to create a 3-point lighting setup.
The key point to this tip is to make sure that you approach all other aspects of iPhone cinematography and filmmaking the same even if you are shooting with an iPhone. This also goes for sound recording, mixing, and sound design. For example, even though Sean Baker shot Tangerine on an iPhone, all sound aspects were recorded with professional grade equipment.
A basic lighting kit will go a long way when shooting with an iPhone. While you may get away with natural light for exteriors, interior shots will require a thoughtful lighting approach for a cinematic look.
iPhone Cinematic Video Tutorial
One of the incredible feats of iPhone camera technology is the ability to shoot high-resolution video. With newer models having the ability to shoot 4K as good as the best 4k cameras, there is no reason not to shoot high-resolution other than storage capacity which can be easily addressed.
Shooting in high-resolution will make your footage look sharper and will give you the ability to slightly crop shots if you need to in post-production. For instance, this is helpful when you want to change a medium close up shot into a close up shot.
Many prominent filmmakers have become huge advocates of iPhone cinematography storytelling. Utilizing these tips will not only help you get the most out of every iPhone shot you capture, but will also help you tell a better story. With advancements in iPhone camera technology taking off, it seems like iPhone cinematography will not be slowing down anytime soon.
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Cinematography Techniques & Tips
No matter what camera you are shooting on, there are a few fundamental cinematography techniques that are essential for any cinematographer to know. In our next article, we dissect the best cinematography tips and techniques that will make you a better cinematographer and storyteller.