Using your mobile phone for storytelling is cheap and actually quite easy. You can shoot and publish your stories within minutes. And you will probably get some likes and some shares. And that is all what you as a journalist or PR person are looking for.
Or is it? What if you could go for a better quality story by investing just a bit more?
The first thing to consider is obvious: What kind of phone are you going to use? This might be a matter of budget. Do you have a lot of money to spend? Then go for the latest iPhone. It will get you a very good camera and a lot of choices on storytelling platforms and apps. Or if you or an Android person the latest Samsung might be your weapon of choice. Again a great camera but be aware that you might have to compromise on external gear and available professional apps.
If your budget is a bit smaller then you might want to consider an older iPhone (any beyond iPhone 5s works fine) or a lower end Android. The options in relatively cheap Androids usually still give you pretty good picture quality. As long as it has a camera with at least 8 megapixels and it should be able to shoot Full HD (1080p) video. And most apps you get on the higher end Android phones will also work on the cheaper phones. It will just take a bit longer.
There are 2 very important things that distinguishes a professional looking video from an amateur one. The first is shakiness. Usually footage that was shot on a phone is very wobbly and hard to watch on a big screen. Some phones have internal stabilisation which helps a little, but to really make it look pro you need some extra gear. The best option is a tripod. It doesn’t have to be big or expensive. Any photo tripod will do, but if you are going to do interviews make sure it is high enough to make the camera reach eye level.
The other option you can use for stabilising your shots is a gimbal. This might be more expensive but gives you the ability to make nice cinematic moving shots. But there could be some audio issues as you might not be able to connect a microphone.
Audio is the second thing that will make a video stand out from the big bulk of video that is uploaded to Youtube, Vimeo and Facebook every minute. The picture quality of those videos might be quite good, but the sound is really lacking. And bad audio can really ruin a good story.
What you need is an external microphone. There are a lot out there with huge differences in sound quality and prize. And it is not always the most expensive microphone that is also the best. In general it is safe to say that when you buy a microphone for your kit bag it should be one from the trusted microphone companies like Røde, Sennheisser and Shure. They make pretty good microphones for smartphones in all shapes and sizes.
Is that all the gear you need? Yes, though again it depends on your needs and your budget. You might want to buy an external light for shooting in dark conditions, but it is not essential. Nor is an external lens essential. Most external lensen on the market are developed to give you a wider shot (wide angle lenses), a closer shot (telephoto) or a shot of really tiny things (macro). But you don’t really need it for your everyday storytelling. Most smartphone lenses are wide enough as it is and you don’t usually do many macro shots either.
Only limitation of the smartphone is that it does not give you the ability to zoom. And that could be a problem in some situations where you cannot come any closer (maybe because there is a police line in the way). And of course you can zoom in on a smartphone but you will lose picture quality pretty soon. So zoom with your feet if you can. And if you really want an external lens, then splash some cash and get yourself an Exolens by Zeiss. They work really well and don’t give you the distortion that is so common in other (cheaper) lenses.
So you got your phone and the right gear. Now comes the next choice. What apps are you going to use? Both in the Play Store (Android) and the AppStore (iOS) there are a lot of options in camera and video editing apps. Most of then are really cheap or even for free. But again, if you want to produce a quality story you might want to invest a little. For shooting a video you might want to try FilmicPro. It gives you a lot of extra control over what you shoot. It will get your footage from ‘good enough’ to ‘good’.
Same goes for editing. Again there are cheap and free apps available and they will do for some. But if you want some more, like creating your own titles or do some colour effects, you should really up the level and invest in quality (although it will still be relatively cheap for pro tools). Try LumaFusion on iOS or Kinemaster on Android. They are the beste editing app available right now.
The most important part is however that you won’t go cheap on your storytelling. It is not enough to simply hold up your phone and press record. It might do for your personal Facebook, but it is not real storytelling. Constructing your story is as important as it ever was. It might even be more important then it used to be. Now everyone has the tools in their pockets to do what a professional does, it is the story that will show the difference between amateur and pro.
Any good story you can tell contains a main character that people can relate to and there should be some form of quest. What is the main character doing, why is he or she doing that and what would happen if they would not do that. The best stories can be captured in one sentence.
That also goes for any live streams you will be doing. If it doesn’t have an interesting plot and main character people won’t be watching your live stream for very long.
And to make a story interesting enough to watch for longer than a few seconds, really put some thought into your shots and your sequences. Every shot you make should be nicely framed as you would a photograph. If you are not sure how to do that, just go to youtube and search for “photo composition tips”.
Build a nice sequence with your shots and make sure each of the shots is logically connected to the others. Look for different angles and perspectives and it will be easy to edit your story.
A smartphone is very good in shooting closeups. It makes for interesting points of view. Also, because the phone is smaller then a regular camera, you can put it in, over or under things, to make it even more interesting. With a smartphone you can also use slow motion and time lapses. But don’t over do it. It should really help your story and be relevant. If not, then it will get cheesy really quickly.
And if you are going to do it, get some proper training from people who have been doing this for years and know all the errors and pitfalls there are. They have made all the mistakes already so why should you make them as well. There is a number of pretty good Mobile Storytelling trainers out there who you can hire for training.
Most notably Glen Mulcahy, who was one of the founding fathers of what is now called MoJo (mobile journalism). Need someone who knows German? Hire Björn Staschen, who has been experimenting with all kinds of storytelling at ARD/NDR. Or maybe John Inge Johansen from Norway. The BBC has two excellent MoJo enthusiasts in Marc Blank Settle and Nick Garnett. Or former BBC journalist Mark Egan. He travels the world to tell what a mobile phone can do. Or Guillaume Kuster who does the same for the French speaking world. And I might be of some assistance as well. Enough to choose from, to help you bring your Mobile Storytelling to the next level.
The Mobile Storytelling world is a remarkable world. It connects people from all over the world with a common goal. To create better stories. Go to the Facebook group MojoCon and you will find answers to any question you might have. And a lot of people who will be willing to help you get on track. I hope this article helps you as well. My goal here is to make you all better storytellers. Don’t go for point-and-click stuff, but really make an effort.