Person filming sunset with iPhone (Dreamstime)
Advice Words : Team Wanderlust | 05 December 2017

How to make and edit a travel film on your iPhone

Making and editing a travel film on your iPhone can be fast, fun and easy – if you know how. Wanderlust editor Phoebe Smith reveals her top tips

Recording a travel film often means spending hours working with chunky (and pricey) gear. But what if we said you didn't need all that equipment? In fact, the only tool you need, you may already have: a smartphone. 

Want to know how it can produce films like the pros? Read on...

Why a phone?

Filming the city with a phone (Dreamstime)

Filming the city with a phone (Dreamstime)

It's convenient. You'll already have it with you, so you can cut down on equipment. Plus, app stores boast a range of tools that you can use to add effects or captions to fine-tune your edit.

Then, there are the opportunities it affords. "Phones are discreet, so they're useful if you're travelling to a country where people are put off by big cameras or equipment," explains iPhone film guru Stephen Quinn.

Access is another factor. When it's ready, you can upload your video onto social media instantly, without the need for a computer. It's easy.

Android vs iOS

Android Samsung phone (Dreamstime)

Android Samsung phone (Dreamstime)

First off, this is not a question of hardware. As far back as 2012 (we're talking iPhone 4S territory here), mobile phones have been able to shoot in Full HD (1080p). When it comes to rating camera lenses, that's for other magazines to debate. What we're interested in is what we can do without splashing out.

Both Android and iOS have apps for video editing, covering everything from filming to production. But with Android, the advanced features all require in-app purchases, whereas Apple's iMovie has no such restrictions and comes free with iPhones running iOS 7 and above (if activated after Sep 2013; downloads for older models cost £4).

Not only does the app guarantee features such as editing two video streams at the same time, allowing you to use cutaway shots (see 'The Final Cut'), but you can also save your video in high definition without having to pay to remove a watermark.

"The fact you can edit every single detail of your film using iMovie makes iPhones very convenient to use," adds Stephen.

Of course, Android devices have their benefits, too. Unlike Apple products, they often come with SD card slots, allowing you to boost memory  a big issue when filming in HD. Various free Android editing apps can also match iMovie's basic features. KineMaster is one of the most accessible but, like the rest, its advanced features are paid-for only.

So, while the following advice is aimed at iPhone users, because of the accessibility of iMovie, it can also double for other devices.

Be prepared

Smart phone and charger (Dreamstime)

Smart phone and charger (Dreamstime)

Before you head out, make sure your phone is juiced up. "Filming really drains your battery," advises Stephen. "It's also worth buying a portable charger, to stop the phone running flat. It won't usually last a day."

Just as crucial is ensuring you have plenty of room on your phone to cope with storing large video files. Typically, one second of high definition video will gobble up around 2MB of storage.

Be sure to also plan your shots, either in advance or in the field, as filming ad-hoc rarely pays off. To aid production quality, it's worth investing in a couple of pieces of equipment: a clip-on microphone (preferably with a wind sock to block out unwanted background noise) will allow you to record audio more clearly, while a small, compact tripod helps with steadying your shots and when doing pieces to camera.

Shooting your film

Filming St Basil's Cathedral, Russia (Dreamstime)

Filming St Basil's Cathedral, Russia (Dreamstime)

There are several nifty ways to boost your film's professional feel. Avoid using your phone's digital zoom, as this can greatly reduce picture quality. Also look for a mix of long, medium and close-up shots in each location, allowing you to add variation during editing.

Always shoot horizontally, holding your iPhone sideways, rather than vertically.

Make sure each shot is short and snappy. They shouldn't last more than 20-to-30 seconds. This way, they're already in manageable chunks for editing.

"Resist the urge to pan and tilt your phone while filming," says Stephen. "If it's a wildlife event that's happening, for example, wait for the action to come to you or restart your recording at the exact scene of the event."

After you're finished at each location, assess the footage you've captured and delete anything you're not happy with. This saves valuable space, ready for the next shoot.

Using a phone also has some upsides when interviewing. "Because of the limited length of any microphone wire, this can lead to more intimate interviews, as you're having to stand quite close," explains Stephen. "But it's essential you strike up a rapport first, so you don't make the person unduly nervous."

The final cut

Video editing on iMovie (Dreamstime)

Video editing on iMovie (Dreamstime)

Using iMovie allows you to add your own voiceovers or music to clips, which can greatly improve presentation. Also choose how each segment flows into the next to give your film polish. For example, adding 'cutaway' shots, to overlap any interview pieces you do with locals, allows you to visually explain what, or where, they're talking about.

"The best thing about editing on your phone," adds Stephen, "is that you can do it on the go, whether on the plane or in your hotel. You can modify your movie anywhere."

When ready to upload, ensure your Wi-Fi signal is strong. This will allow you to upload Full HD video files, which are often too large to transfer via a 3G or 4G signal and could rack up some pretty hefty data roaming fees.

In the end, your smartphone is a camera, microphone and editing suite rolled into one. Give it a try on your next trip. Before you know it, you'll be turning your footage of the Masai Mara or Grand Canyon into polished adventure travels films. Bear Grylls should watch out.

Case study

Phoebe Smith trekking outdoors (Wanderlust)

Phoebe Smith trekking outdoors (Wanderlust)


Wanderlust magazine's editor Phoebe Smith shares how she went from novice to iPhone filmmaker...

Had you made a travel film before?

I'd tried. When I'd travel, I'd use the video function on a DSLR or bring a video camera to get footage, but I never got round to actually editing it. I would record too much, then it would take an age to download onto my computer. After all that, it was tricky to work out how to do simple things like add music. So I never saw it through.

How was it different on your phone?

It was so much easier and quicker. Because my phone has limited memory, I couldn't overshoot, so I actually thought about what I wanted to record first. The iMovie app is also very intuitive to use; shortening clips by touch seems like second nature now, and having copyright-free tunes ready to use means adding music is a breeze. Everything else you can just learn by trial and error.

How do people react to you filming them on your phone?

Much better than with a big camera. People are used to seeing a smartphone, so they don't normally change their behaviour when you get your phone out and start interviewing them. And because of the microphone having limited range, it means you have to get to know someone a bit first, and it feels and looks more intimate, too.

What's the film you're most proud of?

My Appalachian Trail film A Walk in the Woods. I shot and edited it all on my iPhone in 2015. It went on to be selected to be screened at a film festival in Georgia, USA, and it was even shortlisted for an award up against the BBC. Not to shabby for an iPhone movie.

What are your top tips for iPhone filmmaking?

Just have a go, really! It can sound pretty complicated when someone first explains it, but as soon as you get stuck in and try it for yourself, you quickly realise that it's actually much more straightforward and fun.

Top tip: Carry a lens wipe with you. Your smartphone's camera can become surprisingly dirty in your pocket. 

Check out Phoebe's iPhone films at

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