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The autumn is upon us, and for us smartphone camera users, that means the challenges of low light when recording.

As the light disappears earlier in the evening and is less strong when the sun does come out, it’s important to try to maximise the conditions we have when recording with smartphones outside and inside.

TIP ONE: CHECK YOUR CAMERA SETTINGS

The smartphone cameras are getting better all the time. They record in High Definition (HD) by default, and they now also record in higher quality as well. The iPhone 7 plus I use (that’s still several iterations away from the latest model), enables 4k or 1080p HD at 60 fps – in other words, 60 frames per second at 1080 pixels is high quality.

If you have the option of 1080p x 90fps, use that instead.

The higher the quality you can record in the better, but REMEMBER that the 4k eats storage – ensure you have lots of this on your phone before you start.

I rarely record in 4k because I prefer to have the peace of mind of knowing I am not going to run out of storage on the phone, even when I have backed up to Google Photos, or deleted what I don’t need.

Higher quality does help when the light conditions are not the best i.e. a grey kind of day.

 

TIP TWO: SEEK OUT THE BEST LIGHT WHEN OUTSIDE

So it’s a dull autumn/early winter day in Ireland. It’s dry – which means you can probably get out to record even if there is no actual sunshine.

And you need to get a recording done, like today. 

Find a place that’s fairly brightly lit. For example, use a white or brightly painted wall to bounce some strong light in the direction of your subject’s face. So if you are recording someone in an interview situation, or they are talking directly to camera, ensure you have your back to the bright wall and they are facing it.

Alternatively, find a place with a big sky – e.g. by the seaside where the reflections of the water can give you more light options.

TIP THREE: USE NATURAL DAYLIGHT WHEN INSIDE

I was training at a workshop in a semi-basement room last week in Dublin city centre, in one of those very old Georgian buildings. The two smallish windows in the room partially faced onto a grey wall outside with some but not a lot of natural daylight coming in.

The room had yellow-tinged overhead lighting – probably the most unflattering lighting you can get in an interior or office environment, and a very common set up.

With the lights on, the subject’s foreheads were overlit, with shadows on their eyes. For the men with short or no hair on their foreheads, there was a light reflecting on their foreheads – not flattering at all.

So we turned the overhead lights off, and moved the recording closer to the windows. The room was very poorly lit now for work purposes, but the recordings looked a huge amount better.

As we come into the winter, keep in mind that natural daylight is still the best option – even if seems like a very low light. Give it a try!

Of course, we can get additional white lights, such as LED  ring lights. That’s going to add to your budget and set up time, but that’s for another blog.

 

Aileen O’Meara is a former RTE news correspondent and producer. She runs scheduled one day practical workshops in Mobile Video Skills in Blackrock, Co Dublin, and with her associates, provides bespoke training workshops to groups, communications teams, and organisations. 

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