PapaJohn Productions

Newsletter #151 - May 26, 2007
Photo Story Tips and Tricks


This week's topic was requested by a newer subscriber... who commented I had lots of stuff about Movie Maker, but less about Photo Story.
That's true. It's the 80/20 Prado Principle in action... 80 percent of the people have digital cameras and are interested in slide-show type videos... they get 20% of the newsletters. The 20 percent with the camcorders get 80% of the articles. Maybe they need the help more!
Actually, it's partly because my website has 'how-to' info about Photo Story, along with tips and tricks. As I add them to the website as I come across them, maybe there's less need to cover them in newsletters. We'll see... I usually don't have a problem filling up space with words after I start.
Here's a cut at some things we can cover here
Beyond those, tricks and tips include
I'll cover some of these items in the rest of the newsletter. First...
... a few notes...

My Laptop is my main computer... and it uses XP, not Vista. Unless noted, assume anything in the newsletters was done with XP using MM2.1. This would be important for something like the custom PIP transitions of last week's issue, as the xml code for XP and Vista systems differs. 
Vista Corner
This 'sticky note' ends with this issue... Making Movies with Vista! a six page article in the Spring 2007 Special Edition of MaximumPC, is on bookstands until May 29, 2007. Starting on page 78... the article covers the movie making process from camcorder tape to viewing on a standard video DVD.
Silverlight Packages
I couldn't get Silverlight packages to play on my website... while they played fine locally on my laptop. With lots of help from Microsoft, the issue ended today on a positive note. Here's the story:
Sample Silverlight Package
It's time now to go to the next step... making cool vector graphics stuff with Expression Design to include in Silverlight packages.
I had another ongoing issue with my 1&1 service, which also got resolved this week. I have an allotted 300 GB of hard drive server space, but for some reason I had been two-blocked at my current usage of just over 2 GB, constantly running into messages about the server being full. With that resolved, I now have 298 GB of space open for my Silverlight packages, or whatever I want to use it for.
.... back to the main topic...

Selected Tips and Tricks
Rather than repeat the info already on the website, I'll focus on a few items and do some learning as I go. I know story files have stereo audio, and imported stereo background tunes will stay stereo. But, what about narration?
The little mic that came with my laptop is mono, as would be the audio created by it. What if I had better audio recording equipment and made a high quality stereo audio track? Could I pass it over to the story project? Would the rendered story keep it at stereo and high quality? Let's explore it as best I can without the stereo mic.
Wave PatternsNarration Files...
Let's first look at where narration files are stored before they get saved in a project wp3 file... and then swap one with a high quality music file. Here are the steps...
Then I looked at one part of the story's audio track that came from a narration, done with my little microphone.
Not only did this exercise show that Photo Story handles the audio well, it's setting the stage for audio editing you can't do as easily with Movie Maker...
... Movie Maker's narration files are WMA, not WAV files. That makes it a two step process to get a narration to Audacity for 'enhancing'.
The story narrations can easily go back and forth between Photo Story 3 and Audacity for whatever adjustments you want.
Whenever the project is open, copies of the current narration files are in the temp folder, where they are easy to copy, enhance in Audacity or mix in more audio, and put them back. When you re-save the project, the latest enhanced narration files will be included.

Background music...
The background music files also show up in the temp folder when you open a project, provided you added them from existing files. Those computer generated files done by Photo Story are not saved as audio files.
If you look inside a project WP3 file, the added background music file will be named something like 'Soundtrack0.wma'. But when you open the project in PS3 and look at the set of temp files, the file shows with its original file name, like 'Track 1 from a CD.wma'. The project's XML file does the linking between the two names. It doesn't do that with picture files, as it drops the file names during importing and doesn't include them in the xml file.
As noted, the background music auto-generated by Photo Story are not included. As computer generated midi music, they get rendered into the final story without having to be saved as music files first.
Photo Story didn't like a WAV files substituted for a WMA background music file. Stay with the WMA file type and you can easily swap them out as done with the narration files. Use whatever file names Photo Story is using and you'll be in good shape.
LosslessTo enhance an audio track that includes auto-generated midi music, rip the audio track from a saved story to a WAV file using an app such as TMPGEnc, tweak it in Audacity, then run it through Movie Maker to a new WMA file.
For the highest quality audio to rip... use a custom profile that renders the story with 'lossless' wma audio.
Audio files that are too long are nicely faded out by Photo Story... much better than those that stop too soon and leave you silently watching the rest of the story.

What About Visual?
There's been a number of newsletters recently that focused on the visual of a story.
For making high definition sized ones, see issues #130, 131 and 146. For stories with quasi-animations see #135 and 141. Three of these haven't made it to the online open distribution point yet, but they're in the pipeline.
About cropping black borders...
If you opt to remove the black borders, you can't undo the feature to get the full image back. When you save a project file with the borders removed, are the full images in it, or just the cropped parts?
To test it, I started with this picture. Of course it offered to do the border removal to get it to a 4:3 aspect ratio.
Wide Image
When I gave it the OK I was surprised to see this note, one I hadn't run across before.
Cropping Not Good
I tried again with a closer to normal sized picture. This time it did the border removals. After saving the project file and copying a picture from it, I compared it to the original and found them identical.
The cropping isn't done to the picture itself... it's in the XML code of the project. If you need a copy of the original picture back, you can easily reach into the project file to get it. Here's how.
Inside the Photo Story Project File...
Inside Project FileThe screen shot at the right shows the contents of a wp3 project file, a compressed package similar to a zipped file.
Here's how I go into them...
  1. rename the .wp3 extension to .wp_
  2. double-click the renamed file using a file manager such as the shareware Total Commander (my favorite - the website doesn't mention Vista, but it works fine on it too)
If the extension is .wp3, double-clicking automatically opens it in Photo Story. When it's .wp_ Total Commander treats it as a compressed folder, shows the contents, and lets you copy any of the files from it.
The pictures are sequentially numbered from 0 to whatever. The narration files are named aptly. Imported background music files are named with sequential numbers starting with SoundTrack0. Similar to the pictures being the complete uncropped ones, the music files are also complete. If you used 15 seconds of a 4 minute tune, the complete 4 minute file is in the project.

Start with High Quality Pictures
Probably the most important tip for the visual of a story is to use high quality pictures... not only in pixel dimensions but in content.
Pixel count is easy... one of the digital cameras I'm currently testing is a 10 megapixel Nikon D40x SLR, a great camera for story pictures.
Content is something else, as it's a very personal thing... I like making stories from a single picture. To make a new sample for this newsletter, I used one of the shots from the Nikon, a bronze sculpture in a little park in Saugatuck, Michigan. We started our regular seasonal visits to the beach a few days ago. Get ready for more seagulls, sand and water...
Sample Story - Bronze Sculpture
I used 11 copies of the same picture... with transitions removed, and motion settings that start each picture where the last one ended, a great feature of Photo Story. 

Conclusion and Closing... and What's Next?
Photo Story works well on XP and Vista.
I have a client who has lots of high quality still pictures and wants to get her first camcorder to start making videos. As she hadn't heard of Photo Story before, I asked her to email a couple of her high quality pictures for me to make a demo. She had reservations, saying that she had Power Point, all she needed for slide-shows... so why bother. With nothing to lose, she emailed two pix. Her next response was 'WOW!!!' 
We'll be getting her camcorder, but I wanted her to include Photo Story in her software toolbox. 
Have a great week and enjoy your video work...