MoxiWorksTips and Tricks July 30, 2013

Smartphone Pictures or Videos in My Real Estate Business? YES!

Technology is expanding our ability to communicate with our social and professional communities. As real estate professionals, we want to keep our sphere of influence connected to us and interested in what we have to tell them. SLR, point-and-shoot and smartphone pictures and video are growing to be a larger part of our overall communication plan, whether it’s a professional video of a listing, an informal video of a community attraction that you want to add to post online, or pictures for your blog.


Although new technology presents opportunities to capture and include different and compelling visuals to your various online communications, the quality of the media that you include is still a critical consideration in your overall content output. Even if it’s not the formal glossy marketing assets that a brokerage may provide, you still want to be sure you are including visual media content that helps your cause, not content that may hurt it.

This post is focused on the informal media that you use to communicate ideas, community events or attractions, or a spur of the moment notable, all of which you can capture with your smartphone, and all of which can be quality visuals, if you are an informed smartphone camera user.

Device – Inspect What You Expect

It is said that opportunity comes to those who are prepared, and to be able to capture an unplanned event, there are some minimum hardware requirements that you will want to address in advance.

When thinking about the purchase of a smartphone as it relates to the capture and storing of pictures and video, you will need to take camera specs and memory into account. Most smartphones come with front and rear facing cameras, but the front facing specs are your primary concern. Posting videos and still images to a blog or other website for online consumption does not require the highest pixel level available, but you don’t want to short change yourself in this area either. Most phones are now coming with 8+ megapixel capabilities, and that should be fine for most use cases.

Smartphone Pictures or Videos

The other two camera attributes you will want to be concerned with are a flash and the optics. Most devices come with LED flashes, but not all are equal. In the same vein, not all optics (the lens and electronics controlling focus, and zoom if available) are equal either. Unfortunately, flash and optics capabilities aren’t qualified as easily as the megapixel count. You should do a bit of online research to see what the reviewer community has to say about comparative device performance in this area. CNET reviews are usually helpful for this. You should also go to a cell phone store to test the devices you are considering. Do a test of both image capture and video on the devices, then post the files from the devices to an online file storage service such as Dropbox so you can review them from your home or office. Be sure to take the same shots and clips on all devices, and try the flash in auto-mode and manual mode.

Memory should also be a crucial component in your evaluation and tests. You can have the best camera specs in the world, but if you run out of device memory while filming an event that is unplanned or spontaneous, you don’t get a do over when you run out of storage space. Make sure the device either has ample storage space in the device’s onboard memory, or ensure the device has an external memory slot for a card (SD is a common external memory format).


You need to take audio input into consideration as well for video recording. The microphone in the device is fine for phone calls or voice notes, but is usually not capable enough to provide high quality recording for videos and will include unwanted ambient noise due to proximity to the recorded subject. If audio recording is going to be an important component of your video capture, then you will want to invest in an external microphone. Be sure to find out what microphone or connector type will work with your smartphone. The iPhone will not natively work with a generic external microphone so you will need to purchase either a mic that is designed for the iPhone, or a cable adaptor that will provide a working connection to a generic mic with a 3.5mm jack. There are many wired options out there and a growing array of wireless devices available to choose from.

Finally, you need to be able to disable all device-created distractions such as notifications, phone calls and texts so the audio alerts don’t make their way into a video, or distract you when taking a still shot. Usually, the best way to do this is to turn the master control for notifications off and put the phone into flight mode. Most smartphones have this capability, but make sure the function is easy to access. You don’t want to have to disable 10 controls when trying to capture that unplanned event.

Short Is Better… Really

I’ve noticed recently that when I go to watch a video online that is not a movie or TV/cable show, I first look at the length. Most viewers don’t have the attention span to focus on videos longer than a few minutes, so make sure your videos are short in length. If you need to make them longer than a few minutes, then either try to break them up into multiple videos, or at least provide a warning in the beginning that the video will be longer than “usual”, but that it’ll be worth it (I’ll leave making it worth it up to you).

Getting the Lighting Right: Make Your Content Shine, Not Glare

Because the flash strength and reach differs from device to device, you’ll need to experiment with your phone to be sure you know when to use the flash and when to avoid it. Whenever possible, you’ll want to go sans flash as it tends to cast a rather unnatural light on your subject (not to mention the insidious highlighting of any skin imperfections!), but sometimes it’s simply necessary.

You’ll want to consider where the natural light is coming from and best use it for your shoot. You want to avoid it being directly behind the subject of your video as it will tend to cause a shadowing of the subject. Also avoid having a bright light directly behind you when filming a person as it can cause the subject to squint or avoid eye contact with the camera.

If you are in motion while capturing a video, be aware of how lighting can vary from either room to room or from a shaded area to a non-shaded area and how that may affect your video quality. Devices deal differently with shifts in white balance and color temperature while recording, so a lighting variance test in advance of any real shoot is a good idea.

Steady as She Goes

Expectations around the movement stability vary based on the type of video that you are producing. If you are providing a very short recording of yourself telling your blog readers what’s going on at your local chamber of commerce or HOA meeting, then having someone record the video of you while holding the device is probably fine. However, if you are producing something that is a bit more formal, then you will want to take proactive action to ensure better stability. That can be as simple as placing the device on something solid like a low wall, desktop, or table. Or, it can be a bit more advanced like using a tripod to stabilize the device. A very flexible and commonly used accessory for this need is called the GripTight GorillaPod by a company named Joby.

Joby pods

Because of the flexible leg design, this accessory allows you to stabilize and mount your smartphone in just about any location.

Headroom. What?

The subject of a still image or video is the primary object of the media. However, a common mistake in recording a video is either to have too much headroom, or not enough. Headroom is the space between your subject and the edge of the image or video frame. The image below shows wasted space. The subject in this image are the two women, not the surroundings.

Too much headroom

The exception to this principle would be if the surroundings had a connection to the subject, such as this image showing the young boy in the surf.

Boy in surf

The optimal headroom will give the focus to the subject, while providing some ambient surroundings for context and blending (see image on the left). Be careful though. Don’t get too carried away with the zoom (see image on the right…)!

Don't get carried away with camera zoom

Video – Record Often and from Multiple Angles

When putting together a video that is more than an informal and very short capture, it is ideal to provide your viewer a blend of video segments of the subject from multiple angles. You can accomplish this with a moving “cameraman” around the subject, but that will often sacrifice movement stability and cause a bumpy viewer experience. Another way to accomplish this is to combine video segments shot from different angles while stationary. If the audio track of the video that you want your viewer to experience was captured when shooting the media, then using this principle would require the use of two devices filming simultaneously (and some good editing skills to match the audio). If the audio track is ambient and not important, then you don’t need to worry about its affect. If the audio is from you while you are recording, then simply ensure you take a natural pause in your talk track between angles.

In summary, by being purposeful in a few important areas, you can substantially improve your stills and videos from a capable smartphone, and produce impressive results worthy of sharing through your online or print media. In my next post on this topic, I’ll cover how you can use these impressive results in your blog, on your agent website, and in TouchCMA. Happy shooting!


Image credit: “Sony Xperia V” ©2012 Vernon Chan, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.