How To Use Your iPhone for TV Newsgathering

Article updated on 8th September 2017 to reflect that most broadcasters are now using HD, and to revise delivery methods to WeTransfer.

 

As the pressure to break the news increases, many broadcasters are turning to viewer-sourced videos to get to a story on the air immediately. Many are also investing in the latest smartphones for their journalists for occasions where they might find themselves at a breaking news story without the benefits of a professional broadcast camera.  For example the BBC have built their own app called PNG (Portable Newsgathering) which allows their journalists to quickly capture and submit audio, video or stills straight into the news servers for access by any station or outlet.

For anyone else looking for a cost effective and easy way to get their video from an iphone to a broadcaster or indeed for their own use, a selection of apps are available which maintain the quality of the captured video at the same time as offering ease of sharing.  This blog post details those apps and the workflow.  Of course it’d be nice if someone could incorporate all of these functions into one app like the BBC’s and make it available to everyone – perhaps this blog will inspire someone who’s better at app coding than me?

Capture

Why can’t we just use the camera app already provided as part of iOS? The simple answer is every camera setting is on Auto.  This means the exposure, white balance and focus are all set to change automatically so a non-experienced user can create the best pictures possible.  This is fine, until subtle changes in the picture cause one of the settings to adjust, often in a noticable way.  The focus will hunt in and out resulting in long periods of the shot being out of focus, or the white balance will wander meaning colour shifts that look unnatural.

By using an app that has the capability of automatically setting the focus, white balance and exposure and then locking them means we can achieve more acceptable results.  MoviePro is one such app and costs £1.99 at the time of writing.

Once you’ve downloaded this app, you need to use these settings to generate HD video suitable for broadcast.

Movie Pro Settings

 

You might want to set the “Save Videos” option to Camera Roll as this will speed things up when submitting your footage.  There’s also an option to upload direct to Youtube and for that you’ll need a Youtube account which you can add into the app.

On the next picture you can see what the interface looks like.  The key controls are labelled but the three important ones you’ll also need are the three buttons on the bottom left-hand side of the screen.

 

Point the camera at what you want to capture and wait a second or two for the auto settings to adjust for the best picture. Once the picture has settled press all three of these buttons and they will turn red to indicate that the settings have been locked.  You can now shoot.  You’ll need to repeat this process for each shot you take.

Tell a story with your pictures

It’s most likely your footage will form a “News In Brief” feature, which will be a live presenter voiceover over the top of your pictures.  These average from around 10-30 seconds.  In that time you should aim to provide a wide “establishing” shot of where you are in order to set context, and two or three alternative shots relevant to the story.  If you’re submitting a press release with your footage, make sure what you mention in the press release is also referenced in your pictures.

Quick Shooting Tips

  • Don’t hold the phone vertically – horizontal is best. Imagine your phone screen is your tv, you wouldn’t have your telly installed vertically!
  • Don’t scan around the scene you’re trying to capture as that can be confusing for the viewer.  As a guide, hold the shot steady and record for around 10 seconds, as this creates footage that’s easier to edit.
  • Because iPhones are small and light it’s easy to knock or wobble it making the footage unusable. By resting the phone on a static object whilst you hold it you can minimise the amount of shake. If you can’t do that, hold your phone with both hands and rest your elbows against your sides to maintain steadiness.
  • Use the pause button to stop the recording temporarily in between scenes. By doing this you can create one file containing all of your footage rather than lots of short files of individual scenes. This has the downside of taking longer to send but the advantage is your shots will all be self contained and less likely to be lost in the internet ether!
  • Lighting is key – use the available daylight or stand where your subject is well lit and there are no shadows cast on the face.  Make sure the sun is behind you when recording. For more professional results google or search on youtube for “three point lighting” which will give you an idea of how professional camera operators light their subjects.

Uploading

Once your footage is recorded it will be copied to your camera roll, or you can upload to Youtube.  To email the footage you can use the WeTransfer app which uploads to the cloud and then emails the link.  If you attach the video direct to an email, your iPhone will compress (reduce the quality) of the video and the results will be poorer than if you used theWeTransfer app.

When you open the WeTransfer App it immediately gives you previews of your phone’s camera roll. The videos have a small camera icon overlayed so you can tell them apart from photos.  Select the video you want to send and in the top right hand part of the screen a “Next” button will appear.  This opens up a standard email template. Fill out the details and click “transfer” in the top right hand side. The app will now upload your footage with a percentage progress display and then send a link to your destination email address.

Connection

I’m on a fast 4g mobile phone network with unlimited bandwidth so as long as I can find a good signal area the upload is painless.  If you don’t have such luxuries you can either wait till you’re back home and connected to your wifi or find a nearby webcafe.

 

Finally

As a Broadcast Engineer I, and many of my peers, strive for the best quality pictures and sound – this blog post is not suggesting that an iPhone should replace the more traditional cameras, microphones and other ENG devices which will always offer superior capture.  There are many reasons why a mobile phone camera is not a broadcast camera, and most of the points are covered in this article.

In news this is not always possible to have professional cameras on site and often we’ll find ourselves at the scene of a breaking news event without the necessary kit.  This workflow gives everyone the chance of capturing high quality video and submitting it to broadcasters or clients direct from the phone it was captured on.

 

 

Simon Hardwick
August 2013 Revised September 2017

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