Learn how to shoot professional cinematic iPhone video with your iPhone and my FiLMiC Pro Tutorial. Tips for exposure, color, and manual control.
FiLMiC Pro is the best video filming app to shoot professional cinematic video on your iPhone or Android smartphone. The FiLMiC engineers push the limits of the smartphone camera across a wide range of devices. It’s not just a user interface, or manual control, but a custom image processing pipeline that gets better with every update.
FiLMiC Pro opens up a world of possibilities to the smartphone filmmaker. If you’re new to the world of professional video, it can be a bit overwhelming. Hopefully this guide can help you navigate the features and how to use them so that you can shoot beautiful, professional videos with your iPhone.
What is Cinematic iPhone Video?
Cinematic is a word that gets thrown around a lot. It can mean everything and nothing. It’s a word that can be interpreted in a variety of ways.
For our purposes it means something quite specific. A video is described as cinematic when a combination of technical and creative factors have converged in a way that give it the visual qualities of a motion picture. I believe these qualities have little to do with the camera and medium as long as some minimum requirements are met.
Cinematic visual qualities and the factors that influence them can be defined and I’ve listed them in order of importance for each.
This article is number one of my Ultimate Guide to Creating Cinematic iPhone Video series.
This article covers the technical aspects of using the iPhone camera and the FiLMiC Pro app to shoot professional video.
Once you understand and practice the technical, using the camera will become second nature. Then you will discover that the creative aspects are far more important when it comes to making a video look cinematic. The creative aspects are covered in separate articles, you can find the links below.
Shooting for Post Production
The one principle that is the foundation for all my work with smartphone imaging, is to shoot for post. What does this mean?
Shooting for post production means capturing an image that is primarily suitable for further post processing. Post processing includes color correction, sometimes image reconstruction and compositing, and creative color grading.
This means all of the camera settings, and techniques used when shooting video are aimed at capturing an image that can be further manipulated. This is not necessarily an image that looks perfect right away on your device.
One thing I need to make clear right away is that the images I’m showing you here, and all over this website are the result of professional color correction and post production. Any video frame grabs or videos that you see are not produced straight out of the camera.
I don’t use luts, or sell lut packs, and I don’t employ quick and easy shortcuts. There are no magical camera settings that will make your video look truly “cinematic”, despite what other YouTube videos may try to tell you.
I want to help you achieve the same kind of image quality, but it’s important to understand you’ll have to learn how to shoot for post, and actually put in the post production work.
Don’t worry though, the whole point of this website, and my YouTube channel is to show you how.
What is FiLMiC Pro?
FiLMiC Pro is a professional video camera app that turns your smartphone into a feature packed professional video camera. It has an excellent user interface, responsive auto and manual control, and a custom image processing pipeline that gets better with every update.
Here’s a quick rundown of what you can expect.
These features are refined with every new app update and new features are added. FiLMiC Pro is well worth the purchase price, along with the in-app purchase of the cinematographer kit.
How to Use FiLMiC Pro
In this FiLMiC Pro video tutorial I’ll take you step by step through the most important tools and features of FiLMiC Pro v6. Keep reading further in this article for more in-depth information.
Here’s what I cover in this introductory tutorial video.
If you haven’t taken a look at my YouTube channel yet, I encourage you to take a look at the other videos I’ve shot using FiLMiC Pro and to subscribe to my channel.
A FiLMiC Pro Checklist
Keep this checklist in your mind and run through it before hitting the record button. Read on for a more in depth explanation of all of this.
FiLMiC LogV2 is one of the gamma encoding profiles available in the FiLMiC Pro Cinematographers Kit. Far more than most limited smartphone log gamma implementations, FiLMiC LogV2 calculates luminance and chrominance information computationally from the camera source in real-time using a process called gamma vectorization.
Take your skills further with FiLMiC LogV2 and learn how to employ a color managed workflow from shoot through post production using the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport Video chart. This technique will ensure you can accurately color correct your shots, making sure they match in post, allowing you to be more creative with color.
If you really want to learn how to shoot professional video with an iPhone, and to do it consistently, just learning settings and buttons isn’t enough. More than learning how, it is important to learn why.
Each of the sections below will give you more background into a crucial technical aspect of shooting professional video with an iPhone, or any smartphone.
The goal is not only to learn how you set up FiLMiC Pro before each shot, but also why, in order to record the best quality image possible in a wide variety of conditions.
While it is true that your shots need to be color corrected in post production, and then creatively color graded, the work in post production is only possible if the shots have been recorded correctly in the first place.
The best way to master shooting professional cinematic video with an iPhone is to practice. The more you shoot, the more these things will become second nature to you.
Exposure is the most important factor of all, all the others are dependent on it. If a shot is over or under exposed, nothing will save it.
Auto exposure will generally try to achieve an even average exposure of the scene. In FiLMiC Pro, it will also try to keep the ISO as low as possible, this is important to minimize video noise.
In many lighting conditions this is a good place to start, and might be perfect as is. However, in very bright conditions, especially backlit, an average exposure won’t cut it. You may find that bright parts of the scene are completely over exposed, or dark parts of the scene may be too dark.
In these situations you have some decisions to make. Auto exposure doesn’t know what’s important in your scene, only you know that.
How you approach challenging lighting conditions is what will determine if a shot is useable or not. I’ve abandoned, or thrown out countless shots before that just wouldn’t work. As a general rule, over exposure is always to be avoided.
A bright backlit scene, such as a people watching a sunset or a brightly lit fountain show, is a good example. Auto exposure will most likely result in an over exposed sky and under exposed foreground. In the case of the latest Apple iPhones which employ dynamic tone mapping, the foreground levels will be automatically lifted, and full of video noise.
Choosing to manually adjust exposure for the people in the foreground will result in a completely over exposed sky. This would be an unusable shot.
Instead, the best approach is to manually expose for the sky, and let the foreground be under exposed. In high contrast back lit scenes, I always let subjects in the foreground become dark silhouettes.
This could then become a fantastic looking shot. Auto exposure alone won’t do this for you, it has to be a deliberate creative decision and a manual exposure adjustment.
No matter how you expose always pay attention to highlights, especially sunlit clouds and bright reflective objects, it’s easy to let them clip (levels exceed 100%) and once that happens, no detail will be recorded in those areas. As soon as I notice this happening I reduce the exposure slightly manually.
You don’t want exposure changing all over the place during your shot. It looks unnatural, and is one of the first signs of amateur video.
Once you’re happy with your exposure, whether it’s auto exposed or manual, make sure you lock it so it doesn’t shift while you’re recording. In FiLMiC Pro, just tap on the exposure reticle on screen to lock it. It will turn red.
If you want to set and lock exposure manually, open the manual exposure controls, drag the curved slider and watch the ISO and shutter speed change. Once your ISO and shutter speed combination is where you want it, tap on either the ISO or shutter speed value to lock it. You will usually lock whichever value is the highest priority. For me this is usually ISO since I want to keep it as low as possible to record minimum image noise. The locked value will turn red but once locked, neither value will change unless you change them on purpose.
It is crucial to correctly set and lock your camera white balance (color temperature). This will ensure that white is recorded as white, black is recorded as black and the overall color in your scene is correctly balanced.
Color temperature is a basic concept that is important to understand. I’m sure you’re familiar with the idea of different colors of white household light bulbs. You can often choose between buying a warm white or a cool white. Usually you will stick to one or the other. When the two are used together in the same room, the space doesn’t look or feel quite right. This is because these different light bulbs have different color temperatures.
Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin. The higher the number, the bluer the white. A lower number is a warmer, or more yellow white light.
The color of white light is relative. In the real world it often changes dynamically without you even noticing. Your eyes adjust and balance all of the other colors based on what your brain perceives as white. When the sun is out in a clear sky, white may have a color temperature of around 5500 degrees Kelvin. As soon as a cloud covers the sun, the color temperature can immediately change to 7000 Kelvin. This is much more blue in comparison.
Auto White Balance
Auto white balance is usually pretty accurate, but it does shift so it must be locked for each shot just like you lock your exposure before recording.
You will always need to color correct and match shots in post production, but color shifts between shots can make this more time consuming.
Mixed lighting can also cause inconsistencies you will notice in post production. Shots that are auto balanced correctly in sunlight won’t match with the shots that are auto balanced correctly for shade when you cut them together. The colors will look different and it may be difficult to color correct them to match.
It is far better to set your white balance manually.
Manual White Balance
Setting your white balance correctly manually removes an unnecessary variable from your shots and makes color correction and shot matching easier.
The two most common color temperatures you will use are daylight and tungsten. Daylight color temperature is about 5600K and tungsten is about 3200K.
FiLMiC Pro has excellent daylight and tungsten presets, and using them is as simple as tapping the sun icon or light bulb icon.
I find the presets are the best way to ensure color is recorded as consistently as possible.
Lock White Balance
If you use the color temperature presets, or adjust the color temperature and tint manually these values are automatically locked.
You can also use auto white balance to find the auto balance values for a shot and just tap the AWB icon to lock the values before you record.
Video frame rate is the number of individual images that are recorded per second of video. If the frame rate is too low, motion won’t be recorded smoothly. High frame rates are usually recorded for slow motion playback.
For our purposes any frame rates higher than 30fps is for slow motion playback.
The myth that 24fps is a magic frame rate for the cinematic look is not really true. All other factors being equal, the difference between 24fps, 25fps and 30fps won’t have much of an impact. Still, I shoot mostly at 24fps because I get slightly more data per frame of video for any target encoding bit rate.
If your delivery is the internet, you can choose any of these three frame rates. However, if you know your video will be broadcast on television, you can choose 25fps or 30fps depending on delivery requirements.
Shutter speed is the amount of time (as a fraction of a second) that a single frame of video is recorded.
Without using a ND filter for exposure control, shutter speed is your primary control of exposure. This said, it’s important to understand.
For this reason, I highly recommend using ND filters. Preferably a good variable ND for exposure control so you can maintain a slow shutter speed in all lighting conditions.
Shutter Speed and Exposure
For a phone camera the primary method of controlling exposure is by changing shutter speed. This is exactly what your exposure control in FiLMiC Pro is doing. If there is too much light, you can only achieve a correct exposure by increasing the shutter speed. If there is very little light, the camera has to decrease shutter speed.
Shutter speed and exposure are directly connected.
High shutter speed = darker exposure.
Low shutter speed = brighter exposure.
Shutter speed also affects how motion is rendered in your video. A low shutter speed will result in motion blur, where objects moving are blurred in the direction of the movement.
A high shutter speed will result in less motion blur. Moving objects will remain sharp, and motion can appear quite stuttered or jittery.
A low shutter speed results in more pleasing motion blur. However remember that a low shutter speed = brighter exposure.
The relationship between shutter speed and exposure can only be manipulated optically by reducing the amount of light entering the lens. With a larger camera lens this can be achieved by closing and opening the iris (aperture). A smartphone camera has no iris, the aperture is fixed so the only way to reduce the amount of light entering the lens is to use a ND filter.
Using a ND filter to reduce the light entering the lens allows you to achieve a correct exposure while having a low shutter speed for more pleasing motion blur. ND filters are the first accessory you should consider buying. There are many kinds of ND filters, many sizes and good ones tend to be expensive. I’ve written up a dedicated guide to ND filters for smartphones.
Control and Authorship
It’s all about control. A cinematographer or director of photography makes purposeful decisions about the image they are capturing.
Own your image, it’s a result of your deliberate choices. Your choices will get better and more tuned the more you practise. It’s a learning process, making mistakes, analysing what to do next time, and constantly improving. You don’t leave that up to the camera.
If you’re interested in smartphone camera cinematography, tools, techniques, gear, and color grading, consider joining my email list.