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Making movie magic: How your smartphone can help

By | Design, Filming | No Comments

Image courtesy of Video Entrepreneur Magazine

These days it’s possible for anyone to be the next big thing in filmmaking, and guess what? It’s all because of the humble smartphone.

When I was 12 years old, I used to make short parodies of films in my backyard (I remember one of them being a John Cena movie called 12 Rounds where I obviously played John Cena). I didn’t own a proper film camera so my mobile phone had to do — It was a Samsung slide phone, with terrible camera quality. I never thought it would be possible to accomplish filming a whole movie on a phone, but I did my best. I couldn’t pause to make edits, so if we messed up a take, we’d have to film the whole video again (which happened a lot!)

It’s 2018 and it’s perfectly normal to annually upgrade our phones. Plus, there’s been some serious advancements made when it comes towards the features on these devices. You can pretty much film a whole movie on them now. However, this was made possible back in 2015, with the release of a film called Tangerine. The entire film was filmed on an iPhone 5 and subsequently, was entered into the Sundance Film Festival.

Tangerine Film Poster Image

Unsane Film Poster Image

Movie posters for Tangerine and Unsane. Images Supplied from IMDB

Whilst you may not have heard of the film, it was a game changer for filmmaking. At the time, the iPhone 5 was at the peak of tech. For example, the camera was a whopping 8-megapixels, could handle low light conditions and included a stabilisation feature to avoid shakiness.

The film was such a success that the director, Sean Baker, the following year made a short film with an iPhone again called Snowbird. Then, this year, another movie maker, Steven Soderberghreleased Unsane which was shot on an iPhone 7 Plus. In an article by Fast Company, Baker said “everybody owns an iPhone or at least a smartphone, so there’s nothing elitist about it. Nothing intimidating about it. That, for me, is why I did this.”

Why you should use smartphones

So, the point of this blog is to highlight that if you’re an avid filmmaker, then you don’t need to go to film school and spend thousands of dollars on equipment. Here are some of the benefits of using the device in your pocket to create some serious visual magic: 

1. Film on a low budget

Smartphones are especially helpful if you’re on a low budget or looking to film an independent movie. No big crews, no fancy lighting and you can even do most of the filming yourself. The movie Tangerine, which I mentioned earlier, was made on a budget of just $100,000 which is common for independent movies while Unsane, was made on a budget of 1.5 million, small considering it was a major Hollywood production. The point is, you shouldn’t have to invest in expensive equipment and cameras. You can produce high-quality content, as your camera is in your hands.

2. Squeeze into tight spaces to get the shot

Another positive about smartphones? They fit in your pocket and with their size, they are much more ‘mobile’ (pardon the pun). There is also the added benefit of being able to fit them in most spaces to get that money shot compared to the film cameras which are bigger and heavier.  

3. Shoot in high definition

It’s pretty mind-blowing to think that smartphones have the capacity to be shot on 4K, which gives you top-notch picture quality to truly make it look like a big budget film. In an article by Apple Insider, Director Steven Soderberg described the iPhone’s 4k footage as, ‘velvet’ and called it a ‘game changer’.

Unsane Movie Image

A scene from Unsane, a movie about a young woman who is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, where she is confronted by her greatest fear: what is real or a product of her delusion?
Image supplied from The MacGuffin

4. Edit on the fly

Smartphones mean you can actually edit the film on the phone itself. Plus, there’s a large range of apps that you can download to make editing easier. Alternatively, you can just use the already given iMovie editor on an iPhone. With this, you can do a rough edit of a scene literally seconds after stopping recording. Talk about time-saving!

The Downsides

With the positives, there are always negatives and yes, there are some downsides to using a smartphone to make movies compared to using professional equipment:

1. Stabilisation is tricky

Funnily enough, the size of the phone can be a negative when it comes to filming. It’s a lot harder to stabilise than a film camera. If you want to get those smooth, steady shots, I recommend using a tripod or a gimbal. However, some smartphones do have built-in stabilisers in the camera like the iPhone 6 Plus and the Samsung Galaxy.

iPhone Gimbal Image

Smartphone Gimbal: Perfect for smooth shots while on the move. Image Supplied from Fstoppers

Smart Phone Tripod Image

Smartphone Tripod: Best used for stationary shots. Image supplied from MacWorld

2. Audio limitations

Quality film, means you need quality audio. As a rule of thumb, in filmmaking, I recommend that you don’t use the built-in microphone on a film camera. It’s decent quality, but to really get your audio to pop, professional filmmakers use a boom microphone, which can be attached directly into the camera. This can’t be done on smartphones, as unfortunately there’s nowhere to attach sound equipment and monitor it. If you want to achieve high-quality sounds, you’ll have to record the audio separately which in the editing process, can be a lot more time consuming, as you have to make sure that the visuals and the sound are in sync.

3. The lens

Another limitation when it comes to using a smartphone for filming is that you can’t swap lenses on the camera. However, there are some slightly more advanced models that do have more than one lens – like the iPhone 7 Plus which has an inbuilt twin-lense. To get a little bit creative,  it’s possible to attach an adapter lens to the phone for wide, macro and telephoto shots. If you choose to do this, there is a chance that the quality of the footage can be compromised. Smartphone camera lenses are significantly smaller compared to a professional film camera. When it comes to professional film techniques like depth of field, focus and push-pull zooms, you might find this difficult to achieve on your smartphone.

 

Smartphone Camera Lens Image

An adaptor lens next to the regular phone lens. Image Supplied from HiConsmuption

Are you ready to shout ‘action’? 

So, there you have it! Even though there are a few downsides when using your smartphone to film, there’s still a fair share of positive ones too. They’re the perfect stepping stone for a filmmaker to get started and whilst it might take a while to understand all the technical stuff, it will all come in time with practice. If I could do it on my old Samsung slide phone back when I was 12, then you can too.

At LEP, being digital is at the heart of what we do, so if you have any smartphone filming questions or need some technical advice, then feel free to drop us a line.

Palm tree free stock image

12 free stock image websites to try

By | Design | One Comment

I often joke that the hardest part about writing a blog or putting a website live is finding the right images. It’s a real conundrum. The images you choose need to support your words by conveying the appropriate meaning and emotion. They can make or break your content efforts really fast. So, do you pay for a photographer, buy images from one of the well-known stock shops, or hunt around finding quality free-to-use images? And when you find the right image, how do you ensure that you’re not breaking any copyright rules?

I’m a big supporter of artists so, where I can, I try to search for talented individuals over larger commercial sites. In my time running my own business, I’ve tried and tested a few websites where you can find free stock images and videos that are available for public use. I’ve found some favourites that I think you might like. If you agree, don’t forget to make a small donation when you download your images to help keep these websites and their artists in business.

1. Free Photos CC

FreePhotos.cc is a free resource where you can find creative commons photos for your website or print projects. Search from 100 popular categories or use the search function to look up images by topic (e.g. “Dogs”, “Flowers”, etc.), browse results and download. How does it work? FreePhotos.cc uses the APIs from a few stock photo providers–including Pexels.com–and gathers images in one place for easy preview and download. We recommend that you attribute the photographer as a token of respect for the work.

2. Pixabay

Pixabay is an excellent resource for free-to-use photos, illustrations, vector graphics and videos. Yep–videos! Why not transform your static web banner to a moving story? All images and videos on Pixabay are released free of copyright under Creative Commons (CC0). You may download, modify, distribute, and use them royalty free for anything you like, even in commercial applications. And, you don’t need to attribute the source.

3. Free Refe Mobile Photos

On this Tumblr website, images taken on mobile devices are king. These images scream Pinterest and Instagram because they capture the beauty of every day in a stylised and aesthetically pleasing way. This website is great if you’re looking for objects, landscapes or food shots. We recommend using these images for your digital projects only, as they may be too small for printing.

free stock image of food

 

4. Gratisography

Gratisogrsphy offers high-resolution pictures you can use on your personal and commercial projects. While the image library is limited – you may search in categories for animals, nature, objects, people, urban and whimsical – the images are interesting and quirky and the risk of seeing your image on other people’s websites is low.  All pictures are photographed by Ryan McGuire and free of copyright restrictions. Images are free, but you’re encouraged to donate to “Ryan McGuire’s coffee fund.” Cute.

5. Jay Mantri

“Free pics. Do anything (CC0). Make magic.” Jay Mantri is a designer that encourages you to use his videos and photos to make magic. Mantri posts seven new photos to his site each week that are free to use in any way you like, without attribution. That’s very generous of him. The images have an artistic, urban feel and have a wide application thanks to their varied subject matter.

6. MyStock.Photos

MyStock.photos is a curated list of free stock photos made by professionals that can be used for personal and commercial projects. The website is as simple as it gets: one search bar and the latest images in a grid underneath. It’s the perfect go-to for images of landscapes, cities and landmarks that are anything but cliché.

7. I’m Free

I’m Free is a relatively new website devoted to more than just stock images. Use it to find downloadable templates, mockups, icons, vectors, textures and graphics. For the OCD creatives among us, you’ll be pleased to find that the stock images are nicely organised and grouped by categories. If you’re writing for food, sports & fitness, health, technology, or travel–this is the stock website for you.

8. Death to the Stock Photo

Are you sick of cheesy stock images? Death to the stock photo is exactly what it claims to be. It’s disrupting the stock industry with artfully created images and video “story packs” for commercial and private use. Companies including Fast Company, Spotify, TED, and Twitter all use this site for their creative pursuits. This website operates a little differently to the others on this list. Instead of searching for your images, you can either sign up to a free membership where the curators will send you images each month (that’s right–you don’t need to do anything). Or, sign up for a premium membership and take advantage of unlimited downloads, photo filtering and search. When you sign up to a free account, you’ll instantly receive free 10 photos in a zip file, including this one:

Death of the stock photo image

9. The Pattern Library

I’m breaking away from the topic for just a moment, but stay with me. This site does not offer stock photos. But, it does offer an amazing array of patterns. It’s kind of like funky wallpaper for your website and has designers written all over it. Go bold, or go home. Download your hi-resolution patterns in just one click.

10. Pexels

If you’ve been publishing blogs for the last few years, you’ve no doubt used Pexels. It’s my go-to for high quality stock images. What I love most about it, besides the variety, is that you can download the exact size you need. Choose from original, large, medium, small or enter your own custom size. This is great for image optimisation–when size does matter. I also love that you can browse by popular photos and searches, photographer leaderboard, keywords or even colours.

 

11. Public Domain Archive

Despite its clunky name, The Public Domain Archive is not a museum. Instead, it’s a collection of beautiful modern and vintage images. To keep things fresh, they add to their collection weekly.  If you’re so inclined, you can also submit your own images for use. Use the Public Domain Archive if you’re looking for images of nature, skylines or objects from interesting perspectives.

12. Freepik

Freepik is probably the most versatile free stock website of the list because its variety of content and file formats. Freepik offers high quality illustrations and graphics–including icons, vectors and PSD files–that have been carefully selected by its design team. Freepik uses a “freemium” business model which means that the majority of the content can be used for free as long as you credit the author of illustration using Freepik’s code. If you don’t want to include a credit, you may subscribe to the Premium plan for a small fee.

What do you think?

While these are my favourites, you may know of others that tick all the boxes. Please leave me a comment below so that we can share our resources.