A couple months ago, we posted an article about marketing mobile solutions with video. A growing number of our video clients want to show off their mobile chops—to illustrate their new app, to give tutorials on software use on the go, or to display their work on mobile devices. As we mentioned in the article, one of our clients recently tasked us with recording a demo from an iPad, which presented a number of challenges, including harsh shadows, rough resolution, and flickers on the screen. Fortunately, we devised a system that worked.
We thought that we would answer the question, “How do you record an iPad screen?” We’ll even take this a stop further and explain how to create a final video with a composited, animated background using a green screen.
60 is the Magic Number
Most videographers know that shooting television and computer screens has historically been an issue, as the refresh rate of the screens never seem to match the standard video camera frame rates. This issue has been negated by LCD screens, which do not create the annoying CRT-like flicker. Mobile devices, however, have brought back the challenges of screen refresh rates.
The iPad 2, for instance, refreshes at 60Hz, or 60 times per second. If your camera’s frame rate is not matching this, you will experience shuttering and flickering throughout your video as you record the screen. In addition, filming screens in interlaced (vs. progressive) mode can lead to blurry motion and jagged images. We overcame these challenges by recording at 720p/60p. For our needs, 720p created an image large enough for our final output. With a native frame rate of 60 progressive frames per second and a shutter speed of 1/60.00, we knew we could match the refresh in the iPad. To dial into the refresh, we used the Syncro Scan feature on the camera set at 1/60.00 to ensure the camera and the screen were hitting at the right times. Shuttering and flickering were gone instantly!
Positioning and Lighting
Another challenge with recording an iPad is the need to have it steady and flat on a table for easy access by the hand that is navigating the screen. If you shoot straight down, you will get the camera’s reflection on the screen. Plus, with improper lighting, you will have harsh shadows on the iPad screen, as well as on your tabletop, which is challenging if you plan to key out the background.
That the angle of the iPad screen and that of the camera lens must be parallel. If they are at different angles, with this close of a focal length you will definitely notice a distortion on shape of the iPad in post, with one side longer than the other. We slipped a notebook under our cloth to prop up the iPad, and matched that angle to the angle of the camera lens to ensure we were hitting it straight on. Your iPad also has an option to turn off the automatic orientation feature, so the slight angle you keep the device at will not flip the image on the iPad screen.
QUICK TIP: Shoot the iPad upside down so the hand enters the camera viewfinder from the top. This way, your tripod will not get in the way of the actions of the hand. Just rotate the image 180 degrees in your editing software.
Also, you want to create a consistent soft light across the entire area with as big of a spread as possible. You can achieve this by using two softlights off to each side of and above the iPad, and/or reflecting bright lights off a large white surface, such as a wall or bounce card, to achieve the same effect. It took some tweaking between light placement to make sure we were not getting light reflection on the iPad screen, and that we had effectively removed any unwanted shadows. Make sure to move the hand around above the iPad, and bend the fingers to check for dark shadows on the skin.
QUICK TIP: In setting the iris on the camera, you need to find a balance between the brightness of the iPad screen and the hand working the device. You can adjust both the camera’s iris and the brightness of the iPad screen to find a bright, consistent image for the camera’s sensor.
Once the camera’s settings are in place, and the lighting is where you want it, you are ready to record!
During the recording, make sure your hand model removes their hand from the screen area anytime it is not being used to manipulate the screen. This way the viewer can have a full view of the screen, and edits between screens remain seamless.
QUICK TIP: Keep the shot clean by wiping the iPad screen with cleaner between takes. In this lighting, smudges can obstruct what you are trying to show on the screen.
Adjustments in Post
In the case of our project, we wanted to create an animated backdrop for the iPad. We placed the iPad on piece of green screen cloth, and made sure our lighting did not create the harsh shadows that would make keying difficult. With a shadow-free surface, adding the key channel to iPad video is relatively painless. But remember that you will likely lose quality on the actual screen itself due to the key. To get around this loss, simply create a duplicate layer in your edit, with a matte around the screen for complete image clarity.
As more and more businesses move their offerings and platforms to mobile devices, creating videos to illustrate mobile capabilities will certainly become more prevalent. With the process outlined above, you can ensure clear and clean demonstrations of your mobile solution in action.