Freeze Frame

Digital cameras are everywhere today. Not just video cameras, but still cameras too. Even our cell phones and PDAs have cameras in them. Digital still camera owners quickly discover that they snap loads more pictures than they ever would with a film camera. Now wait: Isn’t this a video magazine? And isn’t video a motion medium? Yes and yes, but keep reading. You may be surprised how useful still images can be in your next video.

Where to Get Your Stills

Digital still images are available from a wide variety of sources you already know. The simplest way to get them into your computer is through a digital still camera. With prices starting at $50, many people can afford one of these cameras. Of course, the more you spend, the better the image, but even a simple one megapixel image looks pretty good on a sub-megapixel television. As with making video, still imaging relies on proper exposure, composition and lighting. Another similarity is the range of settings the camera handles automatically. Digital still cameras store their images on memory cards, most of which are removable. Although there are a lot of types of memory cards (CF, MMC, Memory Stick, SD, Smart Media and XD), they’re all just some form of flash memory. That means you can fill them with pictures, dump the pictures into your computer, reformat and then reuse the card. Most cameras include a cable to connect to your computer or you can use an external card reader (either a separate box or the type built into printers and other peripherals).

Camcorder manufacturers have also seen the light, so to speak, and are including still camera functions on many models. The advantage here is twofold: first, you only have to buy, learn and carry one piece of equipment. Second, you get the advantage of a long optical zoom lens, usually at least 10x. Digital still cameras are optically different from video cameras and typically only have a 3x zoom.

Still Motion

If your camcorder doesn’t have a still picture feature, don’t worry. You can take advantage of the images on your videos with a technique called frame grabbing. Sometimes you can even grab frames during the video capture process (Premiere calls this Stop Motion Capture). Just play your video and click the Capture button when you see something you’d like to keep. Alternatively, you can also export and save individual frames from captured video clips. With the clip in the preview monitor, simply move the jog slider to the specific frame you want to grab. Then, in Premiere, click File: Export Clip > Frame. That’s all there is to it. You can do the same thing with edited video on the timeline. Now any frame from any video is a potential still image.

From Film

Of course, most people have boxes and albums full of real-life printed photos. The best way to get these onto your computer is to use a scanner. Scanners are one of the least expensive computer peripherals around and you should be able to easily find one in the $50-$150 range. We’d recommend scanning 3×5 prints at higher resolutions, such as 300dpi, which will give you more freedom to crop the images without sacrificing quality.

This will also give you room to perform Ken Burns-style pans across the image in your video. If you have a one-time scanning need, many office supply stores, print shops and even film developers offer scanning services.

Slideshows

Now that you’ve got the pictures into your computer, what can you do with them? How about creating a digital slide show? These are very popular for weddings. Usually, this type of video includes pictures of the bride and groom growing up, either in specific sections or interwoven. Toward the end, there are pictures of the couple together, up to the current day. Properly done and with some appropriate music, this is an excellent wedding gift or a way to earn some additional income. Similarly, vacations, reunions and trips all benefit from slideshows.

To build a digital slide show, simply import all the images into your editing software and then place them in order on the timeline. Adjust the image duration, apply transitions, music, add an opening title and you’ve created a very powerful video. Many consumer software packages have an explicit slideshow feature that will automatically create and attractive show with transitions. The finished project can be output to tape or exported for inclusion on a DVD or VideoCD.

Graphic Backgrounds

If you produce commercials or promotional videos, still images are often all you have to tell your story. Nationally distributed projects use still images of everything from perfume to parkas all the time. These seemingly lifeless images are enhanced by motion backgrounds, text and logos. In fact, you may have to look twice to recognize they are using still images.

Still images are also very useful as backgrounds for titles in your videos. Whether supporting the video’s message or simply as eye candy, a still image beats a solid color background any day.

Of course, some images are better than others. Using the frame grabbing technique described earlier, you can grab a still of a frame in your video, and then place that still on the timeline at the exact location where you grabbed it, creating a freeze-frame. You can apply a title over this image, or take it up another notch. Create a copy of the frozen image and then drop it into your favorite photo software for a soft blur and a little darkening of the image. Import back into your video and overlap the two stills with a dissolve between them. Now, your video freezes, and then fades into a soft hint of the original video. This is a perfect place for a title.

Still images, whether digital or film, can be a powerful and useful part of your next video production.

Spend some time experimenting with the capabilities of your video and photo editing software, but consider it an investment in higher quality, and more interesting, projects.

[Sidebar: Photoshop to the Rescue]

Programs like Photoshop have some valuable tools for the video editor. In the filter section, under the Video heading, you’ll find Deinterlace and NTSC Color. Deinterlace removes the jagged lines caused by interlaced video fields in frame-grabbed images. NTSC Color ensures your still images conform to the legal pallet of video colors – especially handy after a tweaking session. A horizontal or diagonal Motion Blur of several hundred pixels turns any image into a commanding, but indistinct picture – perfect for a title background. Did you know you could import layered Photoshop images into Premiere one layer at a time? This is great for building motion backgrounds. And you thought Photoshop was just for stills.

[Sidebar: The Ken Burns Effect]

Sometimes, all you have is a still image, but motion is required to keep the image interesting. Most of the major video editing applications includes an effect called Image Pan – often referred to as The Ken Burns Effect due to the extensive use of moving stills in his documentaries. To leverage this powerful effect, apply the filter to your still image. Then go into the setup menu and define what you want the image to look like at the start, then what it should look like at the end of the effect. Perfectly controlled zooms, pulls, pans and combinations are all possible with very little effort.

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