Shoot better summer vacation movies on your phone: CNET’s top tips

Whether you’re hitting the beach, hiking in the mountains, or enjoying a luxurious city break, your vacation can provide you with great opportunities to shoot creative movies about all the fun you’re having with your family and your friends. And with the iPhone 13 Pro, Pixel 6 Pro and Galaxy S22 Ultra produce amazing videos with minimal effort, you don’t even have to drag crates full of expensive production equipment through an airport. Overwhelming!

But still, it takes more than a good camera to shoot videos you’ll want to watch over and over again. You also need to know how to use the camera correctly, how to capture the right moments, and what makes a great photo. A creative eye and some long-term planning will also help, taking you from a simple home video to something more inspiring that you’ll want to share with your family and revisit for years to come.

So here are my top tips to keep in mind when making your own home movies, whether you’re traveling to exotic lands, having a barbecue at home with friends, or just heading to your favorite street market. .

1. Consider what you want your video to be

Before you start, you should think a bit about what you want your video to include. It could just be a full movie of everything that happens on your child’s next birthday, but consider making it a bit more specific. Maybe a video about the games you play together, or about them opening their gifts.

Having a specific story to tell – even a basic story – will help you determine which shots you’ll need, and it will help you shoot and edit only what you need, rather than having endless hours. of footage to sift through. A vacation movie may be simpler because you’ll probably want to document the entire trip from start to finish. Still, try to think about how you can be selective and tell an interesting story rather than just filming every dinner you have together.

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For my video, I made a list of shots I needed, and also made a rough storyboard to help me develop my ideas for angles.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

For my own holiday-themed video (embedded above), I decided to show how I make my own mulled cider. By sticking to a specific topic, I was able to figure out exactly which shots I needed and in what order, and even sketch out a storyboard of shots ahead of time. You don’t need to go that far, but having a rough idea in mind will help a lot.

2. Set up your phone correctly

Almost any recent smartphone can take great video, but it’s worth checking the settings to make sure you’re good to go. Your resolution settings are up to you, but Full HD (1080p) is probably a good place to start, as it will look good but won’t fill your phone’s memory too quickly. You can crank it up to 4K if your phone supports it, or even drop it to 720p if you’re on an older device that doesn’t also support editing.

If you have the new iPhone 13 Pro and plan to do a lot of post-production on your footage in software like Adobe Premiere or DaVinci Resolve, you might consider shooting in Apple’s ProRes format. This allows for more control in post, but the file sizes are huge, so if you want to keep things simple, it’s best to shoot in standard video mode. It’s worth keeping an eye on your storage, especially if you’re away from home for a while; you don’t want to fill your space the first two days of your trip only to have no room to capture the rest of the vacation.

3. Keep your video clips short and sweet

While it’s easy to get up and shoot a five minute clip of someone peeling potatoes for dinner, the reality is when you watch this you’ll realize it’s way too much long to stay interesting. Instead, consider keeping each clip to around 15-20 seconds. You might be surprised at the actual 15 second length of video when you watch it backwards, and having lots of shorter clips cut together will give the video a more engaging and professional feel.

If you’re hiking a beautiful mountain trail, consider shooting 20 seconds of footage five or ten minutes apart – or just at particularly scenic viewpoints – rather than just filming the whole way. But make sure you’re ready to capture interesting or funny moments as they happen, because those are the personal moments you’ll enjoy looking back on.

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Don’t go overboard – I only needed about five seconds of that aerial shot in the final video, so shooting a minute or more of footage would have been pointless and time-consuming.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

4. Stabilize your phone

There’s nothing that can ruin a video as easily as shaky handheld footage. If your phone has a stabilized video mode, make sure it is enabled. Otherwise, consider using a small tripod to hold your phone steady. Of course, it also lets you, as the filmmaker, get involved in the action as well, which is great if you’re the one cooking or handing out presents.

You might even consider carrying a small mobile gimbal like the DJI OM5. It lets you get steady footage even when you’re walking, while the built-in selfie stick makes it easier to film yourself or capture more interesting angles for your footage than if you were just holding your phone in your hand.

5. Get creative with angles

A great way to improve the cinematic qualities of your film is to experiment with different angles. Suppose you capture the moment when your child takes a gift from under the Christmas tree. Don’t just film it from your standing position nearby, but instead think about how you can capture this moment in a more exciting way. Maybe even put the phone inside the tree, among the gifts, to see your child reaching for the camera to collect their gift.

There’s no end to the ways you can play with your angles, so think about how you can shake things up. You can always try to reshoot some things from multiple angles (or set up a spare phone or camera for another angle) and then cut them together in your video editor afterwards. In my video, for example, I wanted to show the cinnamon and ginger being thrown into the jar, so I used two angles: one in the first person looking into the jar, and another where I had placed my phone behind the pot to show me throwing the ingredients. It’s little things like this that can make a big difference overall.

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I used a tripod to get this overhead view and a small LED light to illuminate the cider in the pan. It’s not an elegant setup – the light is just balanced on a roll of paper towel!

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

6. Improve the sound

If your video includes people talking to the camera (maybe your friends are telling the camera where you are in the world or how badly they’ll need a beer after the long hike), you’ll want to ensure your phone can capture this audio clearly. For best results, consider buying a small external microphone like the Rode VideoMicro, which plugs into your phone’s headphone jack (or power port, via an adapter) and will dramatically improve sound quality.

If you don’t want to invest in additional hardware, there’s still plenty you can do to help out. Turning off or at least turning down the background music or closing the doors to drown out the kitchen appliances will make a huge difference in the clarity of capturing those voices. Outdoors, your biggest enemy to good sound will be the wind. There’s not always much you can do about it, but at least trying to turn your back to the wind and provide a buffer between it and your phone will help minimize the problem.

7. Experiment with slow motion and time lapses

Most newer phones have slow motion and time lapse video modes and both can be great tools for your video. Of course, their use should make sense – slow motion to slow down fast action and time lapse to speed up a long sequence.

In my mulled cider video, I used slow motion when lighting the stove to give a cinematic quality to the flames popping, and I also slowed down the footage of me throwing ginger into the pot to get a great slow motion effect of splashing cider from above. Since this is a short sequence, it didn’t make much sense to make a time lapse, but if you want to capture the whole process of preparing dinner, for example, a time lapse of upstairs in your kitchen, filming you moving around for maybe a few hours would be a nice addition to a holiday movie.

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I set up a scene for the final shot: festive orange pinecone decorations in front of my Christmas tree. A little extra effort like this at the filming stage makes a huge difference in the final video.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

8. Edit your video

Once you have your video clips, it’s time to put them together. This can be the hardest part, especially for those of you who are totally new to video production. Fortunately, there are simple ways to do things.

Some phones, like iPhones, as well as recent Samsung Galaxy phones, have built-in automatic video makers that allow you to select certain clips and automatically cut them into a movie, complete with background music and transitions between clips. They’re not always the sleekest productions, but they’re worth keeping in mind if you’re a total beginner.

Otherwise, look to apps like Quik by GoPro. It’s free and also lets you drop multiple video clips into a project to have the app automatically turn into a finished movie. iPhone users will also be able to use Apple’s iMovie for free, which is an extremely easy-to-use video editor with a variety of presets and styles available. Adobe Premiere Rush has a wide variety of editing tools and is designed to be compatible with mobile devices. It’s a great app, but it costs $10 (£9, AU$15) a month, so it’s only worth considering if you think you’ll want to do more video production.

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