PapaJohn Productions

Newsletter #146 - April 21, 2007
Pictures for Stories

As usual, many readers are a bit overwhelmed with much of what I cover in newsletters. Some have asked for more about Photo Story. Let's do a simpler one about pictures for stories.
Sample on YouTubeI'll keep this newsletter on some basics and not try to do any complex WOW type things. Of course I'll still try to do a good sample, and maybe get carried away at times.

The sample for this week was made from a couple downloaded images. I saved it twice and put it out on the internet in two places.
YouTube got one of them... saved using my custom profile for YouTube stories, followed by YouTube converting it to a Flash file.
Click the picture or this link to see the copy on YouTube...
Sample Story On YouTube (1:37)
The other one was a much higher quality copy playing on a test website page on my website server... you have to love today's internet broadband capabilities... and how well stories can play.

There's really no story behind this sample... just a couple randomly selected high quality pictures arranged in Photo Story so there are 3 segments:
No matter how small or trivial a story, I always consider it needing each of those 3 parts, even if the title and credits are nothing more than visual suggestions or a 'hello' and 'goodbye'.
I'll make general statements about pictures for stories, about things like image sizes, preps before importing, and adding text...  'preps before importing' can be as little as nothing except the selection and sequencing... to hours or weeks of work in any number of image software apps. 
I've noticed on my submittals to Trip Advisor, stories are consistently rated higher than movies. Part of the reason is the higher visual quality and the much smoother panning and zooming.
Before getting into more details, here are...
... a few notes...


Microsoft Expression... some pretty thorough previews rolled out at the NAB show this week, as a preview of the announcements to be made at the Mix07 show in Los Vegas at the end of this month.
I used the previews as a trigger to roll out a new Expression branch of the website. It has a couple starter pages, with links to lots of great reading material and online videos... here are direct links to the 2 new pages.
Expression - Intro/Overview
Expression Media Encoder
I'm swimming around in software previews, beta releases, online videos and tutorials, press releases and marketing material, and newsgroup posts... just trying to accomplish something small to get started. I just installed Expression Web on my Vista system.
Vista Corner
I had looked in Vista for something that listed the installed video and audio codecs, as the Device Manager does in XP, but hadn't found it. This week I read a post about the listings being included in Windows Media Player 11 > Help > About > Technical Support Information.
Sticky Note... Making Movies with Vista! a six page article in the Spring 2007 Special Edition of MaximumPC, is on bookstands now to May 29, 2007. Starting on page 78... the article covers the movie making process from camcorder tape to viewing on a standard video DVD.
.... back to the main topic...

Selecting Pictures...
Rules of thumb:
  • Use what you have already
  • Get more from wherever you can.
  • Image Sizes... bigger is better... Photo Story can handle them
I used Google's image search feature to find some large sized pictures for this newsletter... note royalty and copyright items as you select and download them.
  • my search term was 'Microsoft Expression Media Encoder', something I've been searching for info about lately
  • I filtered the results to include only 'Large images'...
2 SelectedI downloaded 7 of the larger more interesting ones, and from those picked 2 for the little sample.
The aerial shot of the helicopter at the Statue of Liberty is 3,328 by 2,490 pixels in dimensions... 8+ megapixels. Thinking ahead for the audio, I had some camcorder footage of a chopper at an airshow in Chicago.
The image was part of a news release about the new helicopter when it was placed in service... The first of its kind, SKYFOX is an American Eurocopter ASTAR B2 and makes FOX5 the leader in airborne technology.
The picture of the $100 bill was even larger... 3,664 by 3,088 pixels.... 11+ megapixels. It's obviously from a good quality scanner. Funny that its source was a thumbnail in a blog about Benjamin Franklin, by someone at the University of Michigan. An 11 megapixel image to use as a postage stamp sized accent piece. Who knows where the blogger got it from... I'll treat it as a note in circulation and keep it moving.

Prepping the Pictures... 
Photo Story routinely offers to remove black borders, and I routinely don't accept.
This picture of a $100 bill is why I routinely say no. There's no way to crop the blackness out without losing part of the picture. And it's an option you can't go back later to undo. If you change your mind, you'll need to delete the pictures from the story and reimport them.
Motion settings can be easily used to avoid the border areas as needed.
Remove Black Borders

Divide Large Pictures into Parts...
If you know you're going to focus on different parts of a picture at different points in a story, divide it into smaller pictures before importing. They'll be easier on Photo Story.
2 facesI divided the bill into two images, the obverse and reverse, using IrfanView. I saved them as .bmp images.
I usually work in bitmapped image formats like BMPs rather than compressed ones like JPGs. I don't have issues with JPG files... I prefer maintaining whatever picture quality I start with as I move pictures through various prepping steps.

Add Opening Title and Closing Credits...
I mean on the pictures themselves, not later inside your story project. Photo Story 3 is pretty limited in text features... you can do more by adding text to pictures before importing them. 
I'll use IrfanView again, this time to add just a bit of opening title text on the obverse, and closing credits text on the reverse... you can apply it anywhere you want.
I used the Berylium font... size 36... a large font size for a seemingly small but deceptively large picture... the higher the pixel size of the image, the larger the font needed. That's a positive for the text effects you can achieve.
Keep the font style aligned through the story.... mostly in the choice of font.
My pictures with text added were ready to go into the story project, so I saved them as JPG files at 80% quality, making JPG files that are less than 10% the size of the BMPs. Photo Story needs less memory to render the story when it has smaller compressed files to work with. If you're one of those who have problems using .JPG files, continue with the .BMPs.

Make Compound Overlays with Transparency...
Photo Story doesn't have features to overlay a logo, or blend a couple images using different transparency levels. Do those kinds of things as part of your image prep work, before importing. handles semi-transparent layers well.

Background music (audio)...
I can't distribute a story without audio...  it's just as important as the visual.
I did my usual... render a draft of the story, import it into MM2, mix the audio there, strip the story out of the project, save the movie as a high quality audio wma file, and use the wma file as the background music.
It's so easy to do it that way, and the results are superior... trimming and mixing audio clips by overlapping them is as much as you usually need to significantly enhance the audio track.
When trying to use the chopper audio file in the story project, I got an error message...
Error importing audio
Error importing WAV fileI had ripped the audio from a DV-AVI file, using the TMPGEnc utility. 
Checking the file properties shows the audio sample rate is 48 kHz... and the error message says Photo Story 3 can't handle music files with a higher sampling frequency than 44.1 kHz. That's why the error.
Movie Maker had no problem with the higher sample rate. Another nudge to doing the audio in Movie Maker.

Conclusion and Closing... and What's Next?
If you're out to make a killer story, do lots of thinking, planning and prepping of the pictures before opening PS3. If you don't prep them before importing, you'll end up so involved in the story editing that you'll not want to redo any of the images.
The problem that PS3 had with the audio WAV file surprised me... I'm so used to using WAV files without problems that I had to take a look at what happened this time. It turned out to be a well written error message, striking me out on one of the 3 counts. It's great when the message is so clear.
For the saving and distribution, I had planned to just do it via YouTube. But a post on Mark Coffman's Photo Story forum today got me to checking the html code used by someone who was showing her story. I liked her simple page and modeled a test page after it. I used the standard PS3 option of saving to play on my computer at a size of 800x600. I think I'll make another custom one for that size, specific to online viewing. One of things I do in the online profiles is use a frame rate of 24 to align with movies... to shift some of the bandwidth to use for the audio track. 
Have a great week and enjoy your video work...