Using your smartphone to record a news story

Why, and in which situations, do you think it is better to film with a smartphone instead of a traditional camera?

There is an old saying, the best camera is the one you always have with you. Journalists carry their smartphone all the time, which allows them to do three things: record audio or shoot a video interview; edit using one of the many apps; and deliver a story using file transfer protocol (FTP) or via one of the many social media apps.

You no longer need to be in an office, or working from a desktop computer to deliver online content. A handheld video camera is often too complicated for many journalists, but with a little training, some useful apps and minimal additional equipment, they can become good mobile journalists using a smartphone.

Which are the main pros and cons of filming with an iPhone in terms of quality? And which are the limits of the device?

It is all about recording a great story, so the finished online story must look professional as viewers will judge the picture and sound with a critical eye. However, you need to remember that the content will be consumed on an smartphone, and not a television.

To get the best quality video clip you need to consider the following: good framing, good lighting and good sound. Good framing you can learn about by becoming familiar with some basic cinematography techniques. For good lighting, there’s a need to become aware of natural light, and how best to exploit it. Otherwise, there are many portable and affordable LED lighting solutions. Audio is where the smartphone needs most help because the built-in omni-directional microphone is not adequate to record clean, usable sound. There’s a whole range of microphones that are compatible with smartphones from manufacturers such as Rode.

In which occasions do you think it is still better to use a traditional camera than a smartphone?

I use professional cameras when I am working with others to shoot a live event or documentary, when the film demands much higher production values. Having said that, when recently shooting a music documentary, we encouraged the musicians to shoot some behind the scenes clips with their smartphones which we later mixed into the final edit.

What are your favourite apps for filming, editing, grading and for the audio? Why?

FiLMiC Pro is great for shooting video because you can monitor the audio while recording, which you cannot do with the built-in camera. This app also allows you to manually set a focus point and a separate aperture point. KineMaster is my preferred editing app – it allows you to easily edit cut-aways and add text captions. Ferrite Recording Studio is a another great iOS audio app that was created with journalists in mind, that allows you to monitor and edit the sound. PicPlayPost is a great app for creating picture and video stories for Twitter.

When you film with a smartphone you must be really close to the subject, unless you use specific tele lenses. How can you solve the issue of intrusiveness?

Smartphone filming is all about intimacy, and the best zoom is your feet – we use smartphones to film our friends and family all the time. However in a professional context, it is important that the interviewee understands you are filming to publish online. So with that in mind, before the interview starts, it is important the interviewee gives oral consent to camera, which you can then keep on file, but trim off the edit. But of course this applies only to people not in the media’s eye, so for public figures such as politicians you would not need to get oral consent to camera.

If we want to interview someone with our smartphone, are there any specific rules to follow while we are shooting?

There are many rules to bear in mind while shooting an interview, such as the principles of good framing (film horizontally, frame subject’s eyes one third from the top etc), always think of the edit while recording, don’t interject while the interviewee is still speaking because it’s really difficult to remove your voice from the edit afterwards, remember to use your headphones to monitor sound and if you pick up unwanted sound such as a siren or a motorbike driving past, simply ask the question again.

And instead, how do we have to behave if we want to film a public and dynamic event, for example, a big demonstration?

A smartphone is the ideal solution for journalists filming a demonstration because the device is unobtrusive. However you need to remember to maintain an awareness of what is going on around you, especially if you are at a protest where there may be police horses or objects being thrown. It may also be unsafe to edit on location, and prudent to move away from the location to edit, or simply stop filming.

In terms of norms, filming with an iPhone is subject to the same rules that regulate the shootings done with a traditional camera? In particular, regarding to the freedom of the press and the right to inform.

The same guidelines apply to mobile journalists as to broadcast journalists, and these vary from country to country. Mobile journalists work quickly and are encouraged to upload video content directly online. This can be risky though, because it is when working to tight deadlines that mistakes can happen. I would suggest less haste and more caution when working on your own, and editors need to be aware of the challenges facing the reporter in the field.

When you film with an smartphone, it could be less evident that you are a journalist. Do the people react in the same way as if you were filming them with a traditional camera?

A solo journalist should be able to get a more intimate interview using just their smartphone because interviewees tend to feel more relaxed talking to a single journalist.

It is much easier to film situations with a smartphone where a bigger camera may draw unwanted attention, for example during a demonstration. Foreign correspondents may find it much easier crossing borders with a smartphone in their pocket, rather than a kit bag containing a video camera, laptop and other equipment.

Last but not least, if we want to get started with mobile journalism, what is the first thing to do?

I strongly recommend to start off by getting some training on basic principles and techniques, and then after that spend time practising and experimenting, armed with that knowledge. My one-day practical mobile journalism course teaches you all you need to know to get up and running, from cinematography techniques, audio, lighting, editing, through to publishing online.

Can you suggest us three methods to become good mobile journalists?
As I said, it’s all about good framing, good lighting and good sound. Grasp the fundamentals of these three aspects, and combine them with your journalistic storytelling, and you’re a winner!

 

Bill Shepherd, is a production editor at The Guardian and The Observer newspapers. He is a member of the Guild of Television Camera Professionals. He teaches one day courses on practical mobile journalism. Contact: billshepherdmedia@gmail.com