That old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” couldn’t be more true than with photography and video production.  There are a few basic rules to remember anytime you pull out a camera. And this applies to any camera (smart phone, camcorder, film, pinhole camera).

If you don”t know any of these words or just want some clarification, here is a great glossary on vimeo.  And this is a wonderful 2 minute piece on shooting better video with your smartphone.


Lighting is everything.  Adequate lighting is so important that I”m going to bold this sentence.  It is really important.  What does that mean?  

Have enough lighting so you never need to ask yourself if your camera has a low-light mode.  If you need to shoot at night or in the dark, know about ISO, white-balance, and aperture.  You can also just bring a couple of lights to point at important items in your scene.  Shooting in the day time?  Know where the sun is and make sure the sun is behind you and shining on your subject.  Neat Tip: Get a white piece of foam board about 2” x 2” and use it to reflect sunlight onto your subject.

Stability & Focus

Shaky video is not fun to watch.  There is so much video out there where the user zoomed in all the way and moves the camera around like a maniac.  I was taught “zoom with your feet”.  If it is too far away, just move closer.  If you do decide to use zoom, set your phone/camera down.  A tripod is ideal, but I’ve leaned an iPhone up against a rock sitting on the hood of a car for a more stable shot.  If you have to hold the camera, lean up a against a tree or wall.  If you need a moving shot (do you really need that?), hold your elbows against your torso and put effort into getting a stable shot.

Focus your camera.  Period.


Use the rule of thirds.  A well composed photo or video is important.  Think about where the eyes of the subject are in the frame.  Familiarize yourself with the term ”headroom”.  And don”t be afraid to do something different.  Watch this Nat Geo clip on still photography composition for some creative pointers.  There are tons of resources to read on ”composition”, but most importantly, think about it.  Think about what this picture says to your audience.


This doesn’t apply to stills, but in video, it can be just as important as focus and stability.  Get your audio as clean and clear as possible.  The best mic is one placed on the speaker.  If your camera has a mic input, spend a few bucks and get an external microphone.  It is worth it.  Here’s a super cheap mic at amazon.