PapaJohn Productions

Newsletter #162 - August 11, 2007
the Basics of Photo Story 3

I often go into the nooks and crannies of Photo Story and Movie Maker... and leave it up to you to study and learn the basics.    

On Monday I had a two hour support session with someone who wanted to know how to make her stories look better when being viewed on DVD discs playing on a big-screen TV set. She said she already knew the basics of Photo Story. When we got into the session I found she was using the Sonic DVD Plug-in to PS3, didn't really know what other options for disc making were on her computer, and had been advised that using other DVD software would require going through Movie Maker to convert the story to a DV-AVI file.

Starting PictureHalf of the support session ended up being about things I consider 'basics', in large part due to 'mis-information' she had gotten from others. Her already installed Roxio Easy DVD Creator software had no problems making discs from the story files.
That led to me thinking about doing an issue about 'the basics' of Photo Story 3, from starting pictures and audio to a DVD and YouTube.
I'm not good about limiting things to basics, so I might stray once or twice through it. 

It takes at least one picture to do a story... but that's all you might need. Instead of browsing through my library, I went to Roy Feldman's Detroit Stock Photography site and got permission to use one of his recent pictures of Wynton Marsalis.
For a background music track, I went to the Wynton Marsalis website and captured a narration file from an iTunes podcast.... Wynton Marsalis, but from a different performance.
One picture and 3 minutes of associated (using the word loosely) audio was enough to start the newsletter project.
Click on the picture or this link to play the higher quality 3 minute story made from the picture. The link to another copy on YouTube is at the end of the details section. 
Before getting into those details, here's...
... a note...


It's been years in coming... the first utility I've tested that successfully converted a Real Media file.... to a Divx encoded AVI, but I'm not fussy. The app is the still developing Source Forge AllToAVI project.
Others had promised but none had passed my simple test. This one was added to my website's Import Movie Source Files > Video > Real page.
.... back to the main topic...

Photo Story 3 Basics...
Let's go through the basics in these steps...
  • Where Are You Heading?? DVD on a widescreen or standard TV? YouTube? Both? It makes a difference. Let's pick standard DVD sized (640x480 for an online one), along with YouTube (320x240).
  • Gather pictures... bigger ones are usually better... think in pixel dimensions, not dpi
  • Gather audio and/or background music...
  • Make a draft of the story... skip narration for now
  • Critique and fine-tune... add narration
  • Render the final story...
  • Take the story to a DVD project or upload it to YouTube... can't be easier... both will use your PhotoStory WMV file without you having to do any conversions. If your DVD software can't handle a story by now, it's time for an upgrade or new one.

Where Are You Heading??
If you've done these things before, you can skip this step. If you haven't actually done one or more of them, do a very small pilot project as easily and quickly as possible. Take a couple pictures of the same file type you'll be using... like JPGs from a camera... and slap together a story.
Add background music or audio of the same file type you'll be using for the story project.
Save the story to your computer using any of the quality profile choices... it doesn't matter which one.  
Open your DVD making software, start a new project, add the story, burn a disc, and watch it on a stand-alone DVD player/TV. Don't critique it, just make sure it plays. If it plays OK, put your efforts into the big story project with confidence the process will work. If it doesn't, fix it before digging into the project.
Upload the same story to YouTube. When it's there, watch it once and delete it before others start viewing and rating it. Save the announcements for the big project.

Gathering pictures... 
Info about this picture, on the Detroit Stock Photography site...
Wynton Marsalis performed with the
Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra
 and traditional African percussionists
Yacub Addy and Odadaa...
The original is 10 megapixel (2592x3872 pixels).
Think about the story's title and credits section. It's often easier and better to make some custom annotated pictures and use them in the story than it is to use the titling feature of Photo Story.
Crop 2With a large picture, it's easy to crop segments to use for title and credit clips... the above is a crop from the upper left corner (1236x995 pixels)... enough pixels to pan and zoom within the story.
For a DVD, the text size can be moderate for easy reading. On YouTube, with the smaller size and higher compression, it's best to have larger sized text. It looks small in the above picture, but notice when watching it that I've zoomed into it considerably.
I added the text in IrfanView, using...
Verdana bold italic 22 point... white
I made two pictures for the opening title and one for the closing credits. If you want to skip the adding of text on pictures before starting, use the text feature of Photo Story, but if you then wish you had more and easier control of the positioning, try it this way the next time.
crop 3
I made two more crops... a head shot of Wynton of 1070x1590 pixels...
... and one of his hands on the piano of 1193x1969 pixels.
In total I had 6 pictures from the original.
- two with text for the opening title scene
- another copy of the same crop, but without text 
- the head crop
- the keyboard crop
- another with text for the closing credits

Gathering audio/background music...
When you sign up for Wynton's podcasts on iTunes, they are free downloads. I used the first one on the list that came up, a few minutes from his earlier 'Around the World' performance.
As it played in iTunes, I captured it to Movie Maker 2.1 as a WMA narration file, using the stereo mix option as the audio device.

Action Stripmaking the story...
Photo Story 3 is a 'linear' app... in that you go through it by clicking 'Next' or 'Back' buttons... through the 8 or 9 screens it takes from the start of a new story until you're finished.
The flow of windows or screens is shown at the right. The main steps go from #1 to #9, all hugging the left side of the image.
When you're on some of the screens, there are optional settings to use, or other windows to open... they are shown to the right of the main steps. 
Perhaps most confusing in Photo Story is the lack of a menu option or button that says 'Save the Story'... that's the main purpose of the app, yet there's no menu choice to do it. You'll learn by using it that the story gets saved when you set the file name and location, select the quality profile, and press the 'Next' button on screen #6.
You can step all the way through Photo Story from screen #1 to #8 or 9, and then go as far back to #1 as you want... back and forth until you decide to exit.
A great feature is PS3 not letting you close the app unless you give it the OK to not save your project or changes to it. There's no excuse for not having saved the latest project version.
I'll refer to the screen numbers in the image at the right as I go through the steps of making the sample story.

Screen #1 is easy... I'll opt to 'begin a new story'. It'll take up to 300 pictures, but I'll only use a few. 
In screen #2, I added the pictures. Rather than using the built-in file browser (#2A), my style is to drag them from my file manager (Total Commander) onto the #2 window.
They end up on the story film-strip (that's what the PS3 help file calls what Movie Maker refers to as the storyboard) in the sequence opened or dropped.
The pictures I used were:
I had used 19 copies of the cropped pictures, 13 of them associated with the opening titles and closing credits.
At #2B, I always opt not to remove the black borders... the motion settings can work around them.
Using the dropdown effects list of #3A, I added the sepia effect to the first two and last two pictures. They are dark and used as background for the text. I figured no-one would notice the change to sepia tone unless I told them. That's what I want, things viewers take for granted, but in subtle ways effect the viewing experience.
I didn't add any narration in Window #4... but in #4B I spent a lot of time with transitions and motion settings. The default cross-fade is my favorite transition, when I use one... many of them I remove so the motion is smooth from one image to the next. For such smooth transitions, you not only need to remove the transition, but start the second image where the first leaves off. That feature alone makes Photo Story 3 invaluable. 
In Window #5A, I added the narration file I had made in Movie Maker from the podcast.
Screen #6 is where you give the story a file name, pick a folder to save it to, and select a quality profile. With a story of only a few minutes, saving it often to a finished WMV file lets you see what it'll really look like. It's a good way to check the placement and zoom level for the text, along with the audio/visual synching. Sometimes things are a little different when you view the saved story on a larger screen than they appear in the small preview viewer.
If you haven't already saved the project file by this point, do it (#8B).
That's all it takes to have the first 'rough-draft'. It's all 'fine-tuning' from here... spend a few minutes or weeks doing it. I probably spent an hour in bits and parts doing the tuning for this sample... always eager to get it out for viewing, but balancing it with the desire to have it worth looking at.

Watch the preview over and over and over... when you see something that needs tweaking, stop and do it. It's usually easier to make a change than it is to make a note and remember to do it later.
I've said it before, but it's important enough to say again... when using multiple copies of the same picture, and changing the pan/zoom from one to the other, I'll use the motion settings to align the starting position of one picture with the ending of the previous one. When doing it, I'll remove the default use of a transition. Doing both of those should result in a smooth change in movement from one image to the next.
I left the default cross fade transitions in for some of the title and credits images, when changing from a copy without text to one with it, or vice versa. I didn't like the text abruptly appearing or ending, so the transition smoothes it out.
I'll often change the duration of the pictures. When PS3 decides a pan should happen in 10 seconds, I'll cut it to 6 or 7, or increase it to 15, depending on the picture and the story being made. 
I deleted the opening transition for the first image. If you use the default of fading in from black, the first frame is blackness, which sometimes isn't a good thing to use as the thumbnail for the story on a DVD. Even with the opening frame black, YouTube will pick one that works, even if it's one you don't want.
I took the WMA music file into the GoldWave utility and applied the orchestra hall reverb effect. The new WAV file from GoldWave was used as the final story audio track.  

Rendering the final story...
One direction was to an 800x600 profile for my website. I didn't have a need for a disc with the sample story on it, and you couldn't see it there if I did. I substituted the online copy for the disc.
Another save was with my custom profile when heading to YouTube. It's a 24 frame per second 320x240 sized story.

To DVD and YouTube...
Here's another link to the 800x600 pixel story downloading from my website.
And here's the link to the smaller sized one at YouTube

Conclusion and Closing... and What's Next?
For myself and many, Photo Story 3 has been a fantastic tool over the years. I'm glad the XP version also works on Vista, so it'll be staying in my toolbox for years to come.
Have a great week and enjoy your summer fun and video work...