07 May 2018

Mobile Journalism: Videos

Executive Summary

In early 2012, a reporter from Al Jazeera sent footage he had filmed secretly in Syria back to the studio, and this material was some of the first ever to be used as part of a televised documentary. Later in 2012, a BBC reporter took things a step further by broadcasting an interview from a flooded British bowling club live, using an iPhone and the software application Dejero Live+. The satellite trucks usually used by the TV channel for live coverage couldn’t get to the site due to heavy rain – but the reporter with an iPhone could.

Thanks to the technical improvement that smartphones have signified in video recording, users are able to produce high resolutions without expensive equipment - even in underwater locations.

The following section gives an overview of the usage of video to visualize sanitation- and water-related issues. In addition to the technical aspects and necessary preparations, the correct usage of videos in difficult situations will be summarized.


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In comparison to professional cameras (like digital single-lens reflex cameras/DSLR cameras or system cameras) which can provide high quality videos, the cameras of mobile devices (e.g. smartphone, tablet computers) have many advantages. While professional cameras are more expensive and difficult to elaborate, smartphone and tablet computer cameras can be easily utilized and have a high level of flexibility.

It is not only the ever increasing quality of the cameras built into modern smartphones that makes their videos more suitable for publication.The fact that there are various software applications editing expedites the process of publishing the video material on the phone over the internet.

Filming and editing with a mobile phone is best used in cases where the report must be filed quickly and even published immediately. All in all, journalists from everywhere are able to react quickly, record, edit and upload the videos directly from their devices.

Cameras of mobile devices give journalists the opportunity to get close to the action without distracting or annoying the protagonists. This can be useful in situations where the journalist does not want to draw unwelcome attention. Big costly cameras are not suitable for every situation (e.g. it could have an intimidating impact on people). A smartphone can be seen as an everyday object and is much more discreet.

Check whether you can download onto your smartphone one of several software applications that will allow you to either edit video or live stream it. These include applications like iMovie, ReelDirector, and Splice for the former and applications like Bambuser, Ustream and Dejero Live+ for the latter. Check whether you can use an external microphone or whether there might be external lenses you can get to improve the quality of your video.

How to make quality videos with a smartphone or tablet

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Any visual material produced on a smartphone requires the following steps:

1. Recording:

Content: The content of the video should be selected carefully. It should contain symbols of the topic the clip wants to visualize (people, surroundings, details) and have a narrative structure. These symbols can be shown via intermediate cuts.

Light: Make sure that there is no light in the back of the object you want to shoot. Especially when you record interviews it is important to light up faces and eyes with small reflectors, white paper or the use of natural light. Backlighting is rather suitable for creative purposes.

Position/stability: Use a tripod or something similar (like a box or other objects, you can even use your knee) to prevent shaky recordings; as an alternative hold your smartphone with both hands.

Composition: Follow the “golden ratio”/”rule of thirds” as a guideline: divide the image into 9 squares/equal sections, use the intersecting lines to place your object, when filming persons also take care of headroom, background and details clothing labels.

Perspective: Try different kinds of shots and camera angles. Here’s an overview of possible shots and angles:

  • Extreme long shot
  • Long shot (distance to the object, entire setting is shown)
  • Medium long shot
  • American (originates from Western movies)
  • Medium close up (head and shoulders)
  • Extreme close up (camera shows an object in detail, e.g. eyes)
  • Camera angles:
    • Worm’s perspective (below perspective)
    • Low angle eye level (straight on angle)
    • High angle
    • Bird’s perspective
  • Reverse-Angle Shot: The scene is filmed from the opposite side.
  • Point of View Shot: The scene is shot from a character‘s point of view, comparable to the third-person narrator in literature. The camera is having a subjective position.
  • Over the shoulder shot: Partners in a dialogue are filmed from behind one of them so that both can be seen during the scene.
  • Five shot-rule: To tell your story with pictures you need to combine different shots and angles. You only need five of them to visualize your plot in an interesting way.

Sound: The phone can be used for recording interviews; use an external microphone to improve sound quality. Firstly it is important to do a soundcheck with headphones. Pay attention to background noises or wind (use a windscreen). Take care of the distance between the speaker and the microphone (regulate the microphone sensibility, the signal should not be overmodulated). Additional software applications, such as Filmic Pro for the iPhone, can be used to measure volume levels.

Record: While recording, be sure that all phones are put in flight mode, because somebody could call or send a text, which could interrupt the recording. Make sure that you are really recording by checking the time code. Record a few seconds of silence at either end of the recording.

2. Editing:

Depending on your phone’s capabilities and the kind of software you have available (for instance, iMovie, ReelDirector, Splice), it is possible to edit or crop footage on your phone and make it part of a longer broadcast item. Use creative commons websites to add some background music, if it's suitable for your video.

3. Sending or broadcasting:

Send the recording via cable or wireless Internet to another device (such as your computer) or broadcast it directly online, using web services such as YouTube or Vimeo. Save your data, e.g. in a workspace-storage cloud.

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    Potential video formats

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    A short lead-in or introduction: hold the camera steady and, using a “front camera” function, look directly into the lens. Tell viewers what is happening on-site. Before you record the footage, plan what you will say to introduce the piece and what you will say to conclude the piece. A short camera pan: move the camera slowly and steadily from left to right (or vice versa) and film the scene around you. Be sure to start with a strong image or focal point and move to a strong focal point to finish. Be sure to hold the camera steady and move it on a slow, continuous arc. A short passage: start with a strong and interesting focal point and then move a few meters holding the camera and filming all the while. Keep moving until you reach a final focal point, the one you chose before you began to film. This passage can be used for a short introduction, for example.

    Get inspired by common YouTube video formats and use a special way of storytelling to raise awareness:

    • V-LOG (video blog)
    • How To (tutorials)
    • FMA (Follow Me Around)
    • Interviews
    • Documentaries
    • Videos with Voice over

    Live streaming

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    Certain applications and services allow users to stream video live onto the Internet using their mobile phones. These include Bambuser, Ustream, and Dejero Live+. To use them, you usually need to install the corresponding software application on your phone and register with the service. This is usually free. If you are planning to live stream video, consider taking an extra battery or an external charger. The quality of your live stream will also be significantly better if you’re streaming using wireless Internet on-site. You can also create video clips via Instagram Stories or Snapchat. In this case no editing is necessary and you can directly interact with your followers.

    Points to consider

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    Try, if possible, to avoid using the digital zoom on a camera phone as it greatly decreases video quality. If you want to get closer to a subject, move toward it with your phone.

    Also try to avoid using the phone camera’s flash function, as this often results in an unnatural or badly lit (over-exposed) video.

    Think about the content of the video. The picture can evoke emotions but the filmmaker has to find a balance between documenting the situation (e.g. misery, water shortage, pollution) and not dramatising it. Personal images can aim to the viewers compassion for the people who are involved in the situation but they should still respect privacy and dignity of the portrayed people. They should never be presented as victims or be shot in humiliating situations.

    Think about the story behind the moving images. Because the selection of content of the pictures is determined by the journalist it should be understandable to others. In most cases an interplay of image and text is necessary to understand the context.


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    • Are battery levels good and is there enough room on the phone’s memory card? Battery is particularly important as video requires a lot of battery power.
    • Is the camera set to take pictures at its highest definition / best quality?
    • Use the highest available resolution (data size) in the settings (e.g. Full HD).
    • While filming, put your phone into flight mode – otherwise a phone call could interrupt your filming.
    • Keep the camera lense clean.
    • Protect your mobile device from dirt or splashing water with special waterproof cases. In underwater situations you can use action cameras (e.g. GoPro).
    • Do I have the permission to take film? These things are important if the video is to be published later:
      • Buildings/places: Be careful with filming private property and certain areas (e.g. buildings in Muslim countries, military installations)
      • Persons: Respect every person’s right to their own image (personality rights). You should also respect cultural and religious aspects (e.g. Muslim women).
      • The publication of photographs of minors requires a written declaration of consent of the parents.
      • Tip: Talk about the rights of use concerning the materail.
    • Choose a good angle to film from and, when editing, a meaningful excerpt from the footage.
    • Does the video clip tell a story? Does it arouse curiosity?
    • How can I draw attention to the topic and create communication?
    • Does the video clip contain all needed symbols to visualize the water/sanitation-related topic?
    • Are there any further information needed to understand the clip? (e.g. voice over, text elements)
    Library References

    Shortcuts to Journalism: The Basics of Print, Online and Broadcast Reporting

    When basic questions about journalism come up, this handbook, written and produced by Media in Cooperation and Transition (MICT), provides clear, brief and precise answers. Shortcuts to Journalism isn’t just for journalists – it’s also helpful for non-journalists. Download the English version here or the Arabic version here.

    Schmidt, E., Tirok, M. and Bösch, M. (2016): Shortcuts to Journalism: The Basics of Print, Online and Broadcast Reporting. Berlin, Germany: Media in Cooperation and Transition gGmbH PDF

    Alternative Versions to