Multi-Use Video Slideshows

Goal

As first-time parents, we have been taking tons of pictures of our new little girl, Amelia. In fact, her impending birth was a great excuse to buy a new digital camera—we’ve been very happy with our Canon PowerShot A540! Anyway, shortly after Amelia was born and came home, we decided to make a short video of some of our favorite pictures of her, set to some of the baby music we played to welcome her home from the hospital.

After a bit of trial and error as described below, we got this video online for our family and friends to get their first look at Amelia. We also ended up burning this video, and another one we made for her Baptism party, to a custom DVD that we used as a Christmas gift for family members in 2006.

Tools

How We Did It

The primary tool used for this video was iPhoto, but a few other tools were involved as well. The first step was photo selection—we had about 250 pictures when we started putting the video together, and ended up narrowing it down to about 80 that would make the video. We looked for ones that captured Amelia in a wide variety of poses at key moments in her young life, and ensured that we had a picture of every family member and friend that she had met by the time we made the video. All of these photos were gathered together into an iPhoto “album” on our Mac—kind of like a music playlist, but for pictures.

Once the pictures were selected, we changed the order slightly to tell a little bit of a story—Amelia’s birth, hospital stay, homecoming, meetings with family and friends, etc. Then I created some custom title slides to help tell this story in the video, kind of how it was done back in the silent movie days. These title slides were designed in Adobe Illustrator and rasterized to high-quality JPEGs in Adobe Photoshop, then imported into iPhoto and added to the photo album in the right places.

Next, it was time to turn this photo album into a video slideshow, complete with the slow pans and zooms on each photo that are now known as the “Ken Burns” effect thanks to the director’s use of this technique in his PBS documentaries, like The Civil War. Inside iPhoto, I created a new slideshow using the “Welcoming Amelia” photo album as the source. Then I changed the slideshow options to not use the automatic “Ken Burns” effect for each picture, since the title slides should stay perfectly still on screen. For all the other pictures, I set custom start and stop points for the “Ken Burns” effect. Doing this is really easy, but it wasn’t immediately obvious to me—there’s a little switch to toggle between start and stop, and you can select the cropping of the photo at each point. iPhoto handles calculating the pan and zoom for you based on these points.

Next up, I used the slideshow options to add the soundtrack. iPhoto integrates with iTunes, so it was a simple matter of creating a short “Welcoming Amelia” playlist with three songs within iTunes, and then picking that playlist as the music source for the slideshow in iPhoto. iPhoto also has a great option to make the slideshow last exactly as long as your music soundtrack, setting each picture to appear on-screen for just the right amount of time to make this happen. No need to mess with that.

Now we had a completed slideshow within iPhoto, but I needed to get it uploaded to a web site so our family and friends could see it. After my wife and I agreed that the video—custom pans and zooms and everything else—was “final,” we used the “Export to Movie” command in iPhoto to save the slideshow as a QuickTime movie file. The files iPhoto exports this way is 640 by 480 pixels, 30 frames per second—too large to expect to play nicely on the web for our family and friends, who have all kinds of different computers and Internet access speeds. So I had to translate the movie into a couple different formats.

Delving into the world of QuickTime Pro for the first time, I had a lot of trial and error to do in order to get the movie to play with reasonable frame rates and sizes without messing up. In the end, I ended up posting two files—both sized to 320 by 240 pixels, 15 frames per second, but one using the H.264 codec and the other using the MPEG4 codec.

After this was done and tested, I designed a small web site using iWeb to host the videos and uploaded it to our account with Dreamhost, our web hosting provider. A quick email message out to family and friends let everyone know where the page was, and this project was complete!

Result

If you’d like to watch the movie we created, click here. Note that you’ll need QuickTime 7 installed on your computer, since this version uses the H.264 codec.

Re-Using the Video

I’ll update this page shortly to describe how I re-purposed this video, which was originally intended only to go online, as part of a DVD project.

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