Making videos using a smartphone is a relatively simple and economical way to create valuable content. In fact, depending on the goal of the video, smartphone videos can often be more appropriate than slick professional videos. Smartphone videos can feel more personal and authentic, as you are talking directly to your readers. While viewers are generally forgiving when it comes to quality expectations, there are several things you can do to ensure yours hits a comfortable quality threshold.
1) Think About Orientation: Make a conscious decision about which way to hold the phone when recording—horizontally or vertically. If you’re planning to post the video on YouTube, horizontal will almost always be the way to go. If you’re posting to Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat, vertical might work just as well, or even be more appropriate. The key is not to end up with a vertical video displayed in an environment where horizontal looks better, or vice versa.
For example, these YouTube links feature one horizontal video and one vertical video. See how the vertical video leaves a lot of empty space on the sides.
2) Plan Your Content: This is especially important if you will be making the video without any assistance and without someone to prompt you. You should create specific questions or prompts to answer, have scripts to read (if applicable), and remember to look directly into the camera when speaking (this is true even if you answer questions being asked by a friend). It’s also helpful to plan a time limit for your video. These guidelines will not only make you feel more comfortable, but also cut down on the risk that you’ll make a ten-minute video when you were really looking for a thirty-second clip.
While it’s very difficult to give general guidelines for video length (almost every case is different), unless you are doing a Q&A or have something extremely compelling to talk about, we suggest that you aim for one to two minutes. If a video tells your fans about your new book, that should be just about enough time to give a quick synopsis and get people interested. A Q&A where you answer five to ten fan questions can be a bit longer. Try to stick to one to two minutes per question, and then your total video ends up being perhaps ten to fifteen minutes long.
3) Pay Attention to Audio: This is crucial! If viewers cannot hear or understand what you’re saying, this is a huge barrier to them actually watching for more than a few seconds. Record the video in a decently quiet space, in which the audio will come through clearly and loudly enough to sound good in the finished version. Remember, not much can be done after the fact to fix background noise or garbled speech. Selfie videos tend to have better sound than when the smartphone is held by a friend, simply because the phone is closer to the person speaking. But if someone is holding the smartphone for you, then have them stand no farther than five feet away.
4) Pay Attention to Lighting: Smartphones tend to automatically adjust the video image for lighting conditions, but they will not be able to overcome darkness or overpowering light from the sun or any other source. In a practical sense, when recording, also be sure that your face can be seen clearly—try to not have a strong light source behind you that will create a shadow.
5) Review Your Video: Watch (and listen!) to your video footage immediately after shooting it to make sure you are seen and heard clearly. If your face cannot be seen, move to a different location or adjust the lighting; if the audio does not come through loud and clear, find a quieter spot or move the smartphone closer to you.
Once you are happy with your video, you can post it to your social media accounts, website, and/or blog directly from your phone.
**Bonus Tip**: You may want to share your video with someone before posting it publicly. Unfortunately, smartphone videos are often too large to send via email. Here are a couple of alternative options:
a) Texting. For some reason, phones can text larger video files than they can email. Videos sent via text can be saved on the recipient’s phone as well. (On iPhones, tap and hold on the texted video, then tap save, and the video will show up in your camera roll/photos.)
b) Box. Create a Box folder and share it with whomever should access your video file (be sure to select “People with the link”). Connect your smartphone to a computer and download the video, then upload the file from your computer to the Box folder.
c) YouTube. Create a dummy YouTube channel and upload your video directly to it using your smartphone (usually an option on the video’s share/send menu). Choose the “Private” or “Unlisted” option (as opposed to “Public”) when uploading your video, so it does not accidentally get sent around the Internet. After the video is uploaded, you can share the login information to allow others to access that channel and download an MP4 of the video on their end. You should delete the video from YouTube after the recipient has downloaded it.
John Clinton is Senior Director, Digital Video at Penguin Random House.