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The Accidental Videographer Shoots Interviews With an iPhoneX

At NAB 2018, I shot 13 video interviews using my new iPhone X. In this article, I'll detail the ancillary gear that I used, and discuss the production and artistic lessons that I learned.

Tripod and Smartphone Mount

The key features for the mount were that the stand was adjustable (Figure 3, below) to fit my iPhone X and that it had a cold-shoe mount for the video light. The tripod was a 60" photographer stand without a fluid head which worked just fine since I never moved the camera.

Figure 3. The adjustable mount accepts devices of all sizes.

I wouldn’t go with the cheapest/lightest model here, since you want a bit of heft for stability. On the other hand, since you’ll be walking several miles over the course of the day, you probably don’t want the sturdiest model available either.

Other Gear

The iPhone X has a much longer battery life than my iPhone 6, but I carried a battery and cable with me and charged between shots. This is probably good practice for trade shows even when you’re not shooting video with your phone, but I never came close to running out of power, which is always comforting.

I carried all the gear in a standard business backpack, with the tripod sticking out of the top. I tied a small bungee cord to the two main zippers to prevent the weight of the tripod from opening the pack and spilling the gear.

Setting Up

Like most smartphones, the iPhone X can shoot video with the camera held in any direction and it always displays right side up during shooting and playback. However, when you transfer the video to a computer for editing (or to upload to a service), the video can be upside down, which is easy enough to fix in a video editor, but may prevent you from uploading the video directly to Facebook, YouTube, or a similar service. Figure out which way is right side up before you start, and shoot that way. On the iPhone X, right side up was when the volume controls were facing upwards.

If you’re both the shooter and the interviewer, using the front-facing camera is obviously essential since it’s the only way to gauge lighting and framing, not to mention when you were actually recording. Fortunately, the iPhone X has a very capable front-facing “selfie” camera, so there was no quality penalty for shooting with that camera, particularly since I recorded in 1080p.

Otherwise, the setup rules are similar to what you would follow with a standard camera; choose a background with limited detail or distraction. I could set up and breakdown in about 2-3 minutes, which included one test shot to make sure the microphone was working. This production velocity was fabulous in terms of getting in, getting the shot, and getting out.

For the record, other than selecting 1080p/30 fps rather than 4K, I used the iPhone in Auto mode and never messed with exposure, focus, or other settings.

Artistic Considerations

Position yourself and the interviewee facing the camera rather than facing directly towards each other, as shown in Figure 4 (below). Be mindful of rule-of-third positioning when setting up the camera, which means your eyes should be about one third of the way down from the top, and try to avoid cutting off the top of your head.

Figure 4. Decent rule of thirds positioning in a medium shot; facing the camera during the introduction.

Aim for a “medium shot,” which means armpits-up for you and your interviewees. You’ll have to position the smartphone to accomplish this since few have variable zoom capabilities. If you’re shooting in a variety of settings like I did, perfect positioning won’t always be possible. Don’t obsess; get close to your target positioning and start the shoot.

The biggest artistic consideration for me was whether to look at the camera or the interviewee when speaking. I went both ways during the interviews, but after watching them all concluded that it’s best to look at the interviewee during the interview, and only look at the camera during the intro and conclusion. During the actual interview, the interviewees tended to look at me, and I at them, which seemed most natural.

Before each interview, I reminded the interviewee to keep answers between 30-45 seconds, which is essential to retain viewer attention. This wasn’t the first rodeo for most of my interviewees, so this was typically not a problem.

Production Considerations

I did not try to edit and render videos on the iPhone X itself, figuring that production time would be excessive. I would have liked to edit and upload during the show, but I brought my travel notebook, an underpowered cheapie model, rather than my Xeon-powered HP Zbook. This was the only serious mistake of the entire production: Had I thought through the editing and encoding phase, I would have brought the HP. Not only is it more powerful, it has the Adobe Creative Suite installed while the travel notebook doesn’t because it’s simply too slow.

Transferring videos from the iPhone to either notebook proved frustrating and error-prone. What finally worked was transferring the videos one at a time rather than en masse, which took a very frustrating two hours. This was the only time when I wondered if a small camcorder with an SD card would have been a better option. In retrospect, probably not, given the much larger preview screen and convenience of the smartphone, as well as the availability of high-quality options like the iRig mic.

Since several of my initial videos were upside down, I needed Adobe Premiere Pro to correct that and trim heads and tails, as well as add titles and such. If you’re in a real hurry, and don't need any corrections or titles, you can just trim heads and tails in SolveigMM Video Splitter, which can trim the frames without re-encoding. Adobe Media Encoder is pretty fast, but it has to re-encode upon output, which can be time consuming.

Fixing Audio Sync

One major caveat is that longer iPhone videos will lose synch in Adobe Premiere Pro because the iPhone records using a variable frame rate. The fix is to convert from variable to fixed frame rate in a free program called Handbrake as discussed in this tutorial on How to Restore A/V Sync to Variable Frame Rate Video for Editing in Premiere Pro. It’s another transcode, but the resultant file will input into Premiere Pro with perfect sync.

If you’re creating multiple titles for your videos, you’ll find Premiere Pro’s new titling tool ideal for this type of repetitive work. You can learn all about this in this tutorial on Working With the New Titling Tools in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2018.

At Streaming Media, we use Brightcove as our OVP, so I uploaded all videos to that site for transcoding and distribution. If you’re uploading a single video to multiple social media platforms, Premiere Pro also makes this easy. Check out our tutorial, How to Publish to Multiple Social Platforms Simultaneously Using Adobe Media Encoder.

The bottom line is that with a modern mobile phone and about $200 worth of gear, you can produce videos that rival those produced with much more expensive cameras, lights, and mics, without the hassle of lugging all that gear around. You’ll end up with more content to publish and direct quotes you can access in your longer articles. Just don’t forget to bring your most powerful notebook for editing and other processing before uploading.