The cameras in phones and tablets are improving all the time, and these days it’s easy to get high-quality videos and photos from smart devices.

Scientists and science communicators can take advantage of this to shoot images and videos for instant use.

You can be in the lab, at an experimental site, attending a conference or at a public event and quickly get pictures, short interviews or vox pops, and add colour and movement to your social media posts and websites.

We recently developed a new workshop – Visualising your science with smart devices – which we’ve run with a group of journalists and editors in the Pacific, and a large group of Queensland women involved in STEM.

This month’s newsletter gives you a taste of some of our workshop tips – Using smart devices to communicate.

As usual, we welcome your feedback via Facebook, Twitter or email.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam

Jenni MetcalfeSarah Cole (newsletter editor), Jane Ilsley, Melina Gillespie and guest contributor Toss Gascoigne



Why use smart devices to communicate science?

By Jenni Metcalfe

  • A short film or series of photographs can be quicker to produce than a written piece of communication.
  • Videos and photographs capture real-life examples.
  • Recording yourself improves your presentation skills.
  • Videos and photographs can make your presentations more appealing.
  • You can document or demonstrate research methods and results.
  • Statistics show that audiences engage more with visual and multimedia content than with text-only content – for example, a post on social media accompanied by an image is 10 times more likely to get attention.

Image: Pixabay



5 tips for better videos with your smart phone

By Toss Gascoigne

Smart phones take high-quality video footage, which can provide lively pictures of research in action to illustrate your presentation or website. Learn to use your camera well.

Tip 1. Always video with your phone horizontal
People watch movies in landscape, not portrait. So give them what they want – a wide image without those annoying black bars down the side. And it’s easier to handle a horizontal camera. Avoid Vertical Video Syndrome.

Vertical Video Syndrome slide

Image: Techcredo









Tip 2. Shaky videos look awful, so keep your camera steady
You can use a commercial product like a GorillaPod. This stand keeps the phone steady while you record. It works on flat surfaces, or can wrap it around poles or lamps. Otherwise, try and keep your hands steady – place your elbows on a flat surface.

Tip 3. Choose natural light if you can
Natural light is best, and outdoors on a cloudy day gives great even light without sharp shadows. Phone cameras get high quality results, but not if you shoot a dark subject against a bright background. Or vice-versa. So shoot people in gentle shade against a dark background, like heavy foliage.

Try to always have the sun behind you or to the side of you when filming

Try to always have the sun behind you or to the side of you when filming











Tip 4. Don’t move the camera to capture all the action
Point the camera at the action and hold it steady, to capture people and movement in your shot. When you finish that shot, point the camera at something else. You’ll get better vision and tell a better story than if you try to chase the action by waving your phone around.

Tip 5. Edit those shots
All footage needs to be edited. At its simplest, this is ‘topping and tailing’ to get rid of irrelevant parts. Splicing footage together, inserting still shots and editing the soundtrack come next. It takes less than a day to learn, and the finished product improves dramatically. You can download (for free) MovieMaker for a PC or iMovie for Macs.



Manage social media right here, right now

By Sarah Cole

The number one difficulty scientists name when we’re training them in social media skills? Time to get involved in the constantly ‘revolving door’ that is social media. When can you fit in all the time it takes to engage with people about your research?

I liken it to arriving at a party. You don’t have to arrive at the start of a conversation to join one. Listen awhile, and ease in. Likewise, you can slip away when you need to.

people dancing at a party

Image: Pixabay


With that in mind, if you’re creating social media content on the go throughout the day, and talking to people about it, you’ll likely find a social media manager app useful.

These apps let you post to and reply from multiple social media accounts (think Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and all the rest) at once, with ease, and you can schedule posts, too. [I use Hootsuite but there are many excellent options.]

It also helps remove the inertia of ‘I’ll edit that post/video/photo on my computer then upload it when I get a chance…’, by being right there on your smart phone, ready to send out your ideas and media as soon as you have it.

Social media participation demands that you use your smart phone anyway – now you can cut out the ‘middle man’ of using your computer, and manage your accounts more easily.

This means you get your science or science communication out there on the spot – not when you may (or not!) happen to have time later.



Creating smart photos

By Jenni Metcalfe

A great photograph will grab your audience’s attention, replace the need for excessive text, or complement text by giving supporting information.

Good photographs of researchers working can really help you to communicate your research.

Here are a few tips and tricks that will help you take fantastic photographs with your mobile devices:

  • Think about the story you want the photograph to tell about your research – research in action is better than someone sitting behind a desk.
  • Use your smart phone’s grid, which breaks your screen into the ‘rule of thirds’, where your scene is split by two horizontal and two vertical gridlines. You then compose your shot to have the point of interest – your main subject – at the intersection of one of these lines.

Good and bad examples of taking photos using the "rule of thirds"
Images: Econnect Communication. The “rule of thirds”


  • Keep your horizons straight – for example, don’t have the sea tilted to one side.
  • Try different perspectives – shoot from above or below your subjects.
  • Avoid the classic ‘annual report shot’ of people in a group staring mutely down the camera lens.
  • Paint a picture by considering what is in the foreground or background of the picture – avoid distracting from your main subject.

an example of a good group photo

Image: Econnect Communication. Farmers at a Climate Champion workshop




Link of the month

Online, briefer is often better. We really like this infographic advising you about how long your tweets, Facebook posts and online videos should be.