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Shooting for the Small Screen: 5 Tips for Optimizing Your Videos for Mobile Devices

There are two major trends in the way we interact with the digital world that show no sign of slowing down anytime soon. The first is that, across the globe, people are increasingly experiencing digital media (in all forms) on mobile devices. According to a recent eMarketer report, the number of mobile phone users on the planet is expected to grow from 4.3 to 5.1 billion in the next three years. The second is that a growing percentage of the content people are engaging with on their mobile devices (aided, of course, by 4G speeds and larger smartphone screens) is video.

As a result, brands, creatives, marketing professionals and producers are doing everything in their power to create videos – whether commercials or otherwise – that are optimized for mobile devices. With the rate of mobile e-commerce currently growing at twice the rate of traditional e-commerce (according to ComScore, in the first half of 2013 mobile commerce in the U.S. reached $10.6 Billion, representing 10 percent of all digital retail e-commerce spending) advertisers are understandably eager to figure out how to best tap into this growing source of revenue.

Whether you’re capturing something fun on vacation to share with friends and family, producing a high-end commercial intended for a worldwide audience, or crafting your first tutorial video for a Website, we’ve come up with five useful tips that will help insure that what you create is as engaging and effective on mobile devices as possible.

1. Use the Best Camera Available

This might seem like a no-brainer, but Apple’s beautifully crafted “Misunderstood” ad – which has generated lots of discussion and buzz this holiday season for various reasons – inadvertently hammers this first point home in an interesting way. Depicting the story of a seemingly disengaged teenager who is secretly crafting a heartwarming video to share with his family, the parts of the Apple ad not shot on the iPhone (all of the video shot from the boy’s perspective was captured on the iPhone 5S) are clearly not shot on an iPhone for a reason. Smartphones are getting better and better, but if you want to be able to shoot in low-light, capturing the level of field depth and style of rack focusing depicted in this commercial (see screen shots below), you’ll need a higher-end DSLR or better. While the quality of the videos we produce with our smartphones is good (and getting better), to create truly emotionally engaging video you’ll want to use the same tools that feature filmmakers use when telling your story, regardless of the screen size.

2. Set the Tone and Get to the Point, Quickly

Attention spans are short these days, and viewers on-the-go (and watching on smaller screens) are especially subject to distraction. We discussed using the appropriate music and audio to quickly establish the tone of your video in an earlier post, but it can’t be emphasized enough that if you want to truly engage your viewers, it’s crucial to give them a reason to care as quickly as possible. Whether your “hook” consists of warmly greeting the viewer and launching straight into a useful tutorial (pro tip: people have a hard time turning away from a friendly face speaking directly to the camera), depicting a character undergoing an emotional struggle to be addressed/resolved, or presenting a brand-oriented contest you hope will lead to engagement, the longer you take to set the stage, the greater the odds that viewers will move on without watching the entire video.

3. Frame People for Emotional Impact

If your video features people and you want it to work well on smaller mobile screens, try to shoot them at a closer range – particularly when it comes to moments of emotional transition or revelation – than you would if shooting for a bigger screen. Dove’s wildly successful “Real Beauty Sketches” commercial does a great job of mixing some nicely framed wider shots with closer, emotionally rich portraits of the women involved with the project. The better your viewer can read the emotion on the face or faces in your video, the more engaged they’re likely to be with the content.

4. Use Macro Shots to Capture Detail

Woman Using a Touchscreen Tablet” by Bevan Goldswain

Smaller screens shouldn’t equate to a lack of detail, and using macro clips in your project can help to create a richer, more compelling viewing experience – especially when they help to reinforce the themes of the story. Quick, close up shots of people – and details related to universal human experiences – help to create a broader context, and give the viewer more to relate to about the person or people they’re watching.

5. Steal Video Techniques from Instagram and Vine

It’s not easy to tell a convincing story in 15 seconds, much less 6, but those are the limits on the lengths of individual videos posted to Instagram and Vine, respectively. As the number of people figuring out how to create effective videos for these platforms increases, so does our knowledge about what works (and what doesn’t!) when it comes to producing videos for mobile. There’s been some amazingly innovative flimmaking on both platforms this year – here’s one of our favorites from Mashable’s round up of the 33 Best Vine Videos of 2013.

We launched a series of 15-second videos depicting the fictional world of the Hunger Games earlier this year, and look forward to experimenting with more short-form, mobile-optimized video in the future!

Headline Image Credit: “Mobile Phone with Video Player” by Anikei

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