Mobile phones 3: selfie videos

Mobile phone footage might be sniffed at by marketing departments but there is an immediacy, convenience  and humanising aspect to reversing your camera, addressing a topic or targetted individuals or groups of students and recording a message. There are a few things that can cut the rought edges off such an ‘edupunk’ approach and finding ways to get the footage from phone to shareable online space (WITH captions) does need thinking about and perhaps a little practice and guidance the first time. Below I set out a few bits of advice: (note: I am NOT a film-maker or in any way an expert on these things but the following is based on my own development and exposeure to folk who are expert- special thanks to former colleague Dr Jodi Nelson-Tabor on this front). 


  1. Know why you are recording a video! This sounds obvious but there are a few questions that may need answering first: is there a more efficient way of communicating this? Why is video better than, say, audio or an e mail?
  2. ‘Edupunk’ philosophy humanises and is very forgiving! Most people I speak to hate seeing themselves on video and worry about faltering, coughing or things not being perfect. A ‘rough at the edges’ approach actually respects the virtues of this and can help us to embrace the flaws. It is in some ways a ‘warts and all’ approach that strengthens bonds between academnic staff and students. One way to show compassion is to show your humanity.
  3. Know where and how to get video off the phone and somewhere useful- short vids can be WhatsApp or other social media (not Facebook) or attached to e-mails to self. Better is to use cloud storage or YouTube account. You can also upload directly to Media Central (UCL’s video hosting platform) but record first to your phone. I use YouTube because it auto-generates pretty accurate and easily editable captions and if I want to upload to UCL’s video hosting site I can generate .vtt (caption) files easily.
  4. Make sure you have storage space and full battery on your phone.
  5. Switch on ‘Airplane mode’ to avoid calls mid filming.
  6. If indoors record, if possible, when there is minimal background noise. Mobile mics are omni-directional meaning they pick up everything.
  7. If outside wind is likely to impact audio so try it first and listen back before spendfing too much time recording. There are, of course mics and methods to ameliortate this but we’re focussing on being punks here not film-makers with expensive kit!
  8. Filming yourself and without help often uses lower quality ‘reverse’ camera. Selfie cam likely uses a different mic too. Test this as it is in a position that can get very dusty and grubby (on Iphones at least it is where your ear goes when you make a call)
  9. Stabilise! Even if it means propping camera somewhere. This is one investment consideration you may want to make if you are likely to do this sort of thing often. The goal is to not have a shaky camera or one where you are looking down which means your audience is looking up your nose!
  10. The camera is not on the screen- it’s hard not to look at yourself! Have practice addressing the camera rather than yourself and see how it changes the ‘connection’.
  11. Enable ‘grid’ on camera, consider framing and especially rule of thirds.

    Mobile phone with still from video shown

    ‘rule of thirds’: intersections are focal points

  12. Consider lighting. Again, we don’t need pro lights but if the light source is behind you you will likely be in shadow. if it’s too strong to one side it will give an odd effect.

The first three videos below are of me illustrating some of these points (or trying to!) The final one is someone else’s that brillianty explains the rule of thirds in the kind of non-technical way folk like me can understand!

  1. Vid 1- what’s wrong here?
  2. Vid 2- better but…
  3. Vid 3- good enough!
  4. Rule of thirds

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