Sunday 28 March 2021

Tips for taking photos and videos with your phone

by Devin Carter  ( )

(Partially funded by National Arts Council, South Africa)

Professional Cinematographer, Devin Carter, led an online session with the participants from the South to North and SAUKINDIA projects from ARROWSA and South Roots International in South Africa and SHEF in India and UK Indra in Manchester. The objective of the session was for the participants to learn skills that would help them film their own or one of the other participants interviews on what their highlight was of the Scarecrow project, what art form was used and what personal or social change it inspired. The interviews are then representations of the participants own research of the impact of the project and are to be edited into a video.

Devin's session was interactive and as such was informative and fun! Below are Devin's notes from the session that include his tips.



- All settings apply for both photography and video

- File Size:
- 16/9 is video standard
- go into camera settings to find how to change resolution/video size etc.
- frame size options (resolution) may be mentioned for example:
- 1280x720
- 1980x1080
- 3840x2680
- big numbers equal better quality!
- best quality for upload/presentation
- sharper images when shown on televisions/computer screens etc.!
- will take more storage space on your phone
- Smaller resolutions are fine for sending on WhatsApp, Instagram etc.

- consider Your final format!

- Filming horizontally or vertically with your phone?
- YouTube/television/computer screen/cell phone sideways (horizontal)
- Instagram/social phone normal (vertical)
- For most applications, you must film horizontally
- you can film horizontally but keep all action towards the middles of the
screen, this allows you to crop in to a vertical image later.


- Clean your lens!
- Don’t breathe or spit on the lens
- use a microfibre cloth if you can, like the ones that come with a pair of glasses
- If you can’t get a microfibre cloth you can use clothing
- Make sure the material is 100% pure cotton and the clothes are clean
- cotton ear buds or swabs are also acceptable

- Tap the screen
- tapping the screen automatically adjusts the brightness and focus of the camera
- this is often called AE/AF (auto-exposure/auto-focus)
- whatever part of the image you tap on the phone will adjust to that
- Tap on a persons face if you are filming a person

- settings lock
- tapping and holding the screen should bring up the title ‘AE/AF LOCK’
- This will stop your phone from trying to adjust settings while you are filming a shot
- If tapping and holding doesn’t work, search your phone to see if there’s another
way to lock the settings

- Tripods/movement
- whenever possible, try and create a ‘Locked off” shot when filming
- try and find a tripod for your phone to do this
- if you cant get a tripod, use a table with books on (or anything that works!)
- prop up your phone so it is completely still while you are filming your shot

- Digital zoom
- zooming in on a phone is called ‘digital zoom’ because it is not actaully zooing on
the lens
- digital zoom causes the quality of the image to become worse
- try avoid it if possible, rather move your phone closer to the subject

- flash
- like digital zoom, it should be used only when absolutely necassary
- great for selfies, but the light is not appealing for your face
- only use flash when you cannot see your subject

- selfie camera or front facing camera
- If your phone has a camera on each side, you should rather use the one that faces
- this camera is always higher quality

- So if filming yourself...
- do a test shot and fix issues before filming your shot
- or use one of your friends or family members as a stand in so you can see the


- the subject is the most important thing in the frame!

- Keep the camera eye level with subject
- or slightly higher looking down is more flattering to most faces

- subject looks into the camera lens
- for interviews this does not have to be the case
- for presentations it is common
- make sure you look into the camera lens!
- The headroom (space above your head) should be very slight but make sure the
frame does not cut off through your head
- you may keep your framing head and shoulders or keep more of the upper body in
shot, going wider to reveal the whole body is not great.

- backgrounds?
- busy or flat? a flat wall is nice but visual texture is also an option and contributes a
lot to the message you’re trying to convey
- make sure there is nothing too distracting in your background:
- movement
- bright or contrasting colours


- Turn camera on and walk around in selfie mode
- This will allow you to see where the natural light of the room is best

- harsh backlighting
- look out for very bright lights or windows behind you facing into the camera
- this will cause your face to be dark

- top down light
- lights directly above the head are unflattering to subject

- off camera lights
- place a light just off to the side of your camera
- ideally it should be a bit higher than your head as well
- this could be a lamp or a window or a laptop/tv screen

- softening the light
- Put a pillow case or any material white and thin over the lamp to diffuse the light
- if you are far away from the light don’t do this as it will make the light too weak on
your face
- be very careful not to let the material touch the actual bulb otherwise it may burn
- if using a window, you can use the voil or thin curtain to soften the window light

- Shooting outdoors
- Can be nice but make getting a good shot much more difficult!
- be wary of sound, outdoor filming can be very noisy
- the sun is very harsh and ‘Top down’ during the middle of the day
- film later in the afternoon for better light
- if you film with the sun facing into the camera, it may make the face much darker
- try have the sun to the side of or behind the camera facing the subject


- the further away from the camera you are the worse the audio is!
- consider having the subject sit closer to the camera
- if the subject is soft spoken ask them to speak louder


Angie from South Roots International

The standard of the participants' individual interview videos showed significant improvement and in a follow up session when the participants' reflected on their videos a number of them mentioned how they had applied tips learnt in Devin's session. Above and below are some examples of interviews. See the next post for some more interviews.

Ritisha of SHEF India

1 comment:

  1. Hi ARROWSA I would like to invite you to PARKHILL SECONDARY. a school very similar to Bechet. We have talent. I transport 4 of my learners every week to Bechet But we would love you to visit our school