Welcome to Day 1 of the Create Great Videos with your Smartphone Challenge!

By the end of this challenge, if you do everything I ask you to do each day, you will by ready to start creating videos with your smartphone. This 5 day challenge will help you understand, and put in place these key elements for smartphone video production:

  • Video on Your Smartphone – know how to control essential camera app features
  • Audio + controlling your environment – know smartphone audio limitations, learn about inexpensive beginner audio options, and understand how to control acoustics in your environment
  • Natural light + alternatives – how to use natural light + when you would need studio lights. Learn about inexpensive lighting kits
  • Visuals – what to use, and not to use for your video background, the best way to position yourself on camera
  • Content – how to easily set a content framework and video script template

Boy, will that feel good!

So first up,let’s focus on getting to know your smartphone video app.

Nowadays, most people have access to a smart phone, whether it’s an iPhone, an Android, or you can use a tablet such as an iPad.

Let’s take a moment to get to know your smartphone camera and what it can do.


When it comes to shooting with a smartphone or tablet, you don’t need fancy lenses. There are a lot of lenses online but I really think that the lense on your smartphone is good enough. Plus what we are trying to achieve here is a minimal cost, minimal friction video experience.

Now, you have two cameras or lenses on your smartphone, front and back. The back camera is better quality, but of course, then you can’t see yourself to find focus and make sure the exposure is correct when setting it up. But if you use the front camera, be careful not to fall into the trap of watching yourself on the screen while you film the video. You will end up with footage of you constantly looking to a spot beside the camera, rather than looking directly into the camera. Not great for connecting with your audience.

Oh, here’s a lens tip… before you start filming, always give your lens a clean with a cleaning cloth. There’s nothing worse than finishing shooting half an hour of footage and realizing there’s a big dirty speck or a smudge on your lense!


I’m going to tell you how to control a couple of features on an iPhone. Most smartphones are quite similar in function, but refer to your manual or search online if it’s not quite the same on your smartphone.

You can control the focus point on your iPhone by tapping on the screen. If you want the foreground in focus, tap on something close to the camera. For the background, tap on a background subject. If most of the objects and people in your shot are at a similar distance from the camera, then you can usually rely on the phone’s autofocus. But if you have something closer to the camera than you are, and sometimes something even further back than you are, then it can affect how accurate the auto focus is at keeping you in focus.

On the phone I am using, an iPhone, the yellow box tells you which area of the scene the camera is focusing on.

To take control of the focus point in your camera app, simply tap on the screen where you want the focus to be.


Sometimes, auto focus can kick in once you are filming. Basically, if anything changes in the scene the camera may automatically adjust focus. For example, if you’ve set your point of focus as you, then something moves through your scene, such as a person, or your pet, then camera may re-adjust the focus onto that moving thing rather than you. That’s why it’s a good idea to lock, or disable the auto focus feature.

To lock focus, just tap and hold on the subject you want in focus for a couple of seconds. You’ll see AE/AF LOCK in a yellow box at the top of the screen, which indicates that your focus and exposure are locked. AE is Auto Exposure and AF is Auto Focus. To unlock, just long press on the screen again.

Next up, we’ll look at exposure.


In addition to finding focus, you need to make sure your video is correctly exposed. Exposure refers to how bright or dark your video is. On your smartphone, the exposure of your video is linked to the focus point. Let me explain what I mean by that.

When you tap to focus, your smartphone will automatically set the exposure based on the point of focus. So if you tap to focus on a bright area of the scene, then the camera will expose the scene based on the light on that particular point of focus. So if you tap to focus on a dark area of the scene, then exposure is set based on that.

This is often just what you need, but sometimes you will need to adjust your exposure. Now, on this phone, once you’ve tapped on the screen to set your focus point, just slide your finger up or down the screen to adjust the exposure. You’ll see the yellow sun icon moving up or down the exposure slider next to the focus box.


Similarly to focus changing while you are filming, auto exposure can kick in too, when something in your scene changes.

Now I will long press on the screen to lock it, as I don’t want it to auto expose when I am filming and ruin my footage.

Exposure is automatically locked when focus in locked. So, just tap and hold on the subject you want in focus for a couple of seconds and your exposure and focus will lock at the same time.

Once your exposure and focus are locked with the tap and hold feature, you can adjust the exposure without changing the focus point by swiping up or down on the screen. Your focus, it will remain locked when you do this.


As I have mentioned, the iPhone sets both exposure and focus with the same tap. So if your face is not well lit, but you want to focus on your face, then your exposure for the video will not be good. It will take exposure from your dark face, as this is what you are focusing on. , you can end up over-exposing the photo. To solve that problem, install a better camera app – I like to use Filmic Pro. With this app, you can tap separately to focus and specify where to set the exposure. This app is great for a lot of other things too, and it’s really user friendly, and at the time of shooting this video is around $15, so if you want to step up from the camera app, it really is worth the investment.


Usually you won’t want a shaky video, unless it’s for artistic reasons, like you want to add some bits of hand held footage to give the viewer a sense of reality and authenticity when you are vlogging. Even if you do this for effect, you will probably want to just use bits of footage here and there, not the whole lot as the shakiness and movement can be distracting.

If you are going hand held, then use both hands and pull them outward, away from each other while you hold the camera to give your shot a bit more stability.  Another option is to use a selfie-stick. You can pick up one of these cheap on Amazon or eBay for as little as $5.

But for better stability, you’ll want to use a tripod, or something fixed to a stable object. You can get tall floor standing tripods for as little as $30.  And much less for trips that sit on a table. You can even get one of these that will coil up and clip on to a table or shelf for around $5. You can also buy these iPhone and iPad mounts for just a couple of dollars, which will go on to most tripod and even onto light stands. If all else fails, and you don’t have the funds for these, then you can stack up a pile of books on a table and prop your phone up on that. Anything goes. You don’t need to be fancy.


When shooting with your phone or tablet, make sure you always shoot in landscape mode. If you shoot in portrait mode you will looks a lot of picture opportunity at the side as you will have a tall skinny portrait video fitting into a shorter wide space on YouTube. Unless of course you are creating your video for Instagram, then you can do either square or landscape, or even portrait for Instagram stories. But for other platforms, always shoot landscape or you will have big black bars at the side of your videos and it doesn’t make for a good viewing experience. You will lose viewers.


  • Decide how you will hold or stabilize your phone
  • Practice shooting with your iPhone, using the focus and exposure
  • Make sure you are using the correct camera orientation

That’s it for day 1.

See you tomorrow!



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