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The Smartphone Gimbal Setup: Tricky Transitions for Your Next Project

Jourdan Aldredge

Let’s explore some of the best transitions you can use with a smartphone and gimbal setup for your next project.

While the debate on whether smartphones should be used for filmmaking and video projects will no doubt rage on, the question is pretty much settled at this point. Love it or hate it, filmmakers and videographers have already embraced the smartphone as a perfectly capable tool for video production.

However, just like with any DSLR, mirrorless, or cinema camera, shooting with a smartphone requires more than just a camera. The best shots are achieved with a mix of rigs, lighting, and gear, along with some technical know-how and plenty of creativity.

One of the tools every smartphone videographer should consider is a smooth, functional gimbal that ensures better stabilization and a greater range of movement. Using examples from the video below, let’s explore how you can take your smartphone videography to the next level with a few simple gimbal-based transitions and tricks.

1. Match Cut Transition

Match Cut
The classic Match Cut. Image from Learn Online Video via YouTube.

In this video breakdown by Steve Wright on the YouTube channel Learn Online Video, we get some simple, yet effective video transitions that can be nailed with a smartphone and a basic gimbal setup. 

For these transitions, Wright uses an iPhone 11, which is one of the best smartphones for video production. And while there are all kinds of smartphone gimbal options worth checking out, Wright’s chosen the Zhiyun Smooth-Q3.

The first transition he showcases is the ever-popular match cut — a truly essential cut every editor should know. One of the easier options on this list, the match cut is still quite powerful when done correctly. For this technique, in particular, Wright locks his focus and exposure before putting himself and his subject in motion in order to add extra dynamics to this classic cut.

2. The Wipe

The Wipe
Use the wipe as a transition to the next shot. Image from Learn Online Video via YouTube.

The second technique Wright shows us — the wipe — is one you’ll find in many wedding videos and the like. The wipe is a transition where you use an element or object from the foreground of your composition as a way to “wipe” to the next shot. In the example above, Wright experiments with concrete pillars and trees as large and noticeable objects to cause the wipe effect.

You see these wipe transitions worked into wedding films and other creative video types, as they feel a bit more classy and naturalistic than standard digital wipes. Keep in mind, this transition only works when you have your camera in motion; in Wright’s example, he uses his gimbal in a dolly fashion. You can also use this in certain shots from a tripod if you move with a pan or tilt.

3. Whip Pan Transition

The Whip
The whip pan setup is light and easy to move around. Image from Learn Online Video via YouTube.

Another gimbal transition Wright demonstrates in the video is one of my personal favorites — the whip pan. This transition works particularly well with a smartphone and gimbal, as the setup is light and easy to move around (as opposed to bigger cinema-camera setups where a fast whip-pan motion would be more difficult to execute).

As the video advises, this effect is best done with the right speed and timing. The trick is to find a good rhythm so that your whip-in and whip-out pans are done at the same pace.

We’ve actually covered the many facets of the whip-pan transition in the past for a wide array of camera types. Check out a full video breakdown below, as well as some additional whip-pan-related reading.

4. Wall Orbit Transition

Wall Orbit
Take your online videos to the next level with the wall orbit transition. Image from Learn Online Video via YouTube.

While smartphone videography is becoming more and more popular, it’s important to note that the quality of footage you’ll be getting is still probably best used for online video content. And, if you’re shooting footage that’s going to live on YouTube or any other online video platform, it’s best to add as much motion and pizzazz as possible in order to make your videos stand out.

This wall orbit transition is a perfect example of a fast, fun, and creative shot type that’s sure to catch an audience’s attention — especially when shot on a smartphone with plenty of built-in stabilization, like the iPhone 11.

Once again, the trick to this shot is finding the right balance between pace and speed. Additionally, it’s important to maintain a consistent distance, as you’ll ultimately and ideally be matching similar-looking shots.

5. The Black Frame

The Black Frame
Use the black frame transition to fade to black for a cut. Image from Learn Online Video via YouTube.

The black frame transition is another staple for film or video professionals. I’ve seen variations of this specific black frame transition across a range of projects — corporate, commercial, weddings, and even short and feature films.

I’d recommend, like Wright does in the video above, choosing a black frame to focus in on, as it’s the most evocative of a traditional fade to black for a cut or transition. However, you can also try this same technique with a fade to white or any other strong color choice that might be on your subject or in your scene.

6. Through the Floor

Through the Floor
The “through the floor” technique is simply shooting a vertical transition—from up to down or down to up. Image from Learn Online Video via YouTube.

For this technique, Wright is taking one of the transitions from above and turning it on its head, so to speak. The “through the floor” shot is pretty much just an inverted version of the wipe technique. You’re putting your camera into motion, but instead of left to right or backward or forward, you’re going vertically from up to down or down to up.

This technique is really only unlocked when you’re using a small camera like a smartphone with an easy-to-rotate gimbal. (Imagine trying this shot with a cinema camera on a giant professional rig!) Again, as Wright points out, this transition only works if you have a solid object in the foreground that can completely cover the frame. In this case, it works great with stairs.

7. The Rotate

The Rotate
The rotational transition is tricky without the use of a gimbal. Image from Learn Online Video via YouTube.

Okay, this might be the coolest one on the list. Another example of just how light and flexible a smartphone and gimbal setup can be, this rotation transition only works if you can smoothly and completely rotate your camera around itself. If you didn’t have a gimbal, it would still be possible — but it would be pretty tricky. In fact, it’s tricky enough even with a gimbal, so maybe keep it simple.

As you can see in Wright’s behind-the-scenes looks, the Zhiyun Smooth-Q3 is fully capable of creating this movement on its own. With the simple click of a button, you can put your camera in rotational motion, leaving you free to move in other directions. Wright chooses to move in and out like a dolly to connect his two shots, but you could move in any other direction you choose.

8. The Mask

The Mask
For the mask technique to work, make sure your shots are steady and in-focus. Image from Learn Online Video via YouTube.

Finally, while the majority of these transitions can be done in camera and with your gimbal of choice, Wright takes things a step further by showing off how some simple masking techniques in the edit can really leave your viewers breathless.

All you really need is a small piece of green cloth (or blue or another color, if you’re a whiz in the edit). Wright attaches a little circular piece of green cloth to his subject’s camera lens before using a mask effect to key in a shot from a different scene entirely.

With the right gear, creativity, and video editing know-how, none of these transitions should be too hard to pull off, as long as your shots are steady, smooth, and in focus.

For more smartphone videography and filmmaking advice, check out these articles:

Cover image via Roger Brown Photography.