MyMoments Blog

January 15, 2009

The Best Photo Sites You Haven't Seen

Most digital photographers have probably checked out the excellent DPReview and Steve's Digicams sites when deciding what new camera to buy. Both offer exhaustive reviews and up-to-the-minute recommendations.

But there are plenty more great photo sites with tips, tricks and sage advice to help you get the most out of your digital camera. Here are some of my favorites:

100 Photography Tips in 100 Days: Everything you ever wanted to know about digital photography, and more. Camera retailer Adorama has done an amazing job of collecting tips and tricks on virtually every aspect of photography in this series, now in its third round (300 days total). The articles are authoritative and easy to follow.

LookGoodinPics.jpg

Look Good In Pictures: If you've got camera-shy friends or family members, this site from Nikon will show you how to draw them out and shoot them in the best possible light. Carson Kressley dispenses advice on everything from party and wedding pics to "Bravery in Bathing Suits." Your subjects will thank you.

The Big Picture: Ever wished you could blow up the tiny pictures that accompany most Web articles? If you want to see current news photos in all their full-size glory, this site from The Boston Globe will mesmerize you. It has everything from NASA shots to the latest from Iraq, in stunning high-definition detail. The Wall Street Journal has a similar blog here. Put them in your RSS feeds, and learn from the best photojournalists in the business.

DxOMark: If you're a digital SLR junkie or shoot in RAW format, this site is for you. You'll find in-depth image-quality rankings and sample photos from all the top cameras.

What are your favorite photo sites? Tell us in the comments.

December 22, 2008

Playing with Time: Making Time-Lapse Videos

While I fervently hope I am never trapped in an elevator or eaten by ants, the millions of people who've watched these YouTube movies are clear evidence of the impact and reach of time-lapse videos.

Watching things get built, grow, morph or change with the seasons can be mesmerizing. Ordinary happenings become entertaining just by speeding them up. Take a look at this Christmas tree decorating video. It's absolutely fascinating to watch and the kids are adorable, although in real time it would have been a complete yawner.

So how can you make your own time-lapse movies? Pretty much any video shot from one position for a period of time is fair game. You could shoot the kitchen scene at Thanksgiving, the view from your car window as you drive cross-country, or your kids building a sandcastle or snowman. (Tip: Use a tripod or other fixed mount to keep the camera steady, and make sure you have enough power to keep things going for as long as you need. Plugging into the wall is best.)

Once you have your footage, it's time to speed it up. Turning it into the next YouTube sensation is easy with Creator 2009 and VideoWave. First, open VideoWave and select "Add Photo/Video" to add your clips to the timeline. Then right-click on the first video clip and choose "Trim..." to bring up the Video Trimmer window.


timelapse1.jpg


Now change the speed to whatever multiple you like. For example, if your overall video is 4 hours long, and you want the end result to be 4 minutes long, put 60 in the speed box to speed it up 60 times. (Note that if you have a long movie, it may be imported in multiple clips. Change the speed for all of them to the same number.)


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After changing the speed for each video clip, you can preview the overall movie in the main video window at top right. Adjust the speed up or down if desired, or cut out portions that don't help tell the story. You may even want to speed up some parts more than others, although it's best to just stick with one number. When you're happy with the results, choose "Export As" from the Output menu, and save your movie to disk. You can choose from many formats, such as MPEG2 for recording to DVD, 3GPP for cell phones, and MPEG4 or AVC for iPod and portable player viewing.


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Finally, upload your new time-lapse production to the web to share with family and friends. If you want to be the next online video star, send it to YouTube. If you'd rather it stay private, try uploading it to Roxio Online instead, where you can securely share videos with people you invite using PhotoShow. Either way, the results will be time-altering!

December 19, 2008

A Picture Saved is Worth a Thousand Thanks

Recovering Lost Photos with Toast 9 Titanium

Last month I decided it was time to revamp my iPhoto library, which contains all the new photos I've taken for the last few years, but not many earlier pics, which largely languished unseen on shelves and in boxes.

It was time to put everything in one place and organize it for easy access, which meant importing thousands of photos archived on various CDs and DVDs, as well as scanning all my analog prints and slides. Naturally, I decided to do the easy part first, copying over the CDs and DVDs I'd carefully archived for posterity.

All went smoothly till I came to a CD burned in 2001 that contained only 20 or so pictures, but very important ones, of an exhibition of my sister's artwork. Most of the paintings have since been sold, making rephotographing them impossible. The CD simply would not mount, in any of the two Macs and one PC I tried. I spritzed it with disc cleaner and wiped with a microfiber cloth, to no avail.

I was about to give up (and vowed to make two backups of every photo going forward) when a light bulb went off. I remembered that Toast 9 Titanium has a Disc Recovery feature that is able to grab whatever readable data remains on a damaged CD or DVD. So I fired it up, popped in the offending CD, and voila! ALL the photos were recovered!!

Here's how it works: Start a Disc Copy project in Toast, put in your disc (ignoring any error message about unreadability that may pop up), then check the "Use Disc Recovery" box at lower left. Finally, click the "Save as Disc Image" button at lower right to save the copy to your hard disk. Toast will start reading the data, and copy everything it can. This may take a LONG time (hours) if your disc is severely damaged, and if it has a lot of data, such as a dual-layer DVD, so be patient and just let it work in the background, or overnight.


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In my case, since I only had 20 pictures on the CD, the process was quick. A disc image file called Becky Pics.toast was saved to my hard disk, which I could then mount in the Finder by choosing "Mount Disc Image" from the Toast Utilities menu. From the Finder, I then dragged the recovered photos into iPhoto. The salvaged files:


Recovery2.jpg


Resurrecting photos from the damaged CD is turning out to be the easy part of the job, however. Scanning and organizing thousands of analog photos is a significantly bigger task! But that's a story for another blog entry.

November 14, 2008

Make a Holiday Party Invite with PhotoShow

Our family gives a holiday open house most years (except when we travel to Grandma's house!). In the past that has meant painstakingly addressing and mailing 50-75 printed invitations--an expensive and time-eating task!

Since we now have email addresses for pretty much everyone on our list, we thought we'd go the email route this year, which also makes RSVPs quick and easy. But we still wanted the invitation to be special and convey the spirit of the party--not just a plain message.

So we decided to make a fun PhotoShow using pictures from past parties, complete with captions and music. Roxio Online PhotoShows are free and easy to make, and you can email them directly to your recipients. We made and mailed this year's holiday party invite in less than 40 minutes! (And started getting RSVPs and compliments immediately!)

Here's how to do it:

First, choose a few pictures from past parties or other seasonal photos, then go to PhotoShow.com and log in (if you don't already have an account, creating one is easy). Next, click the "Make a PhotoShow" at the top of the screen. You'll be asked to upload your photos. When you're done, the fun begins!

The next screen is where you arrange your photos in the order you want them to appear, and choose a style, music, captions, titles, and more. We chose the Christmas style for our show, and Jingle Bells for the background music. Then we added captions to each photo. That was it! PhotoShow did the rest automatically. We could have customized it a lot further, but we were happy with the results.

XmasPhotoShow1.jpg

When you're finished tweaking your invitation, save the PhotoShow and click the Done button. You'll now be presented with various sharing options, such as posting to your blog or Web site, and burning a DVD. Here, you'll be choosing the email option.

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Now you simply enter the email addresses of your recipients, add a message if desired (we included driving directions and RSVP information in our message so that they could be printed out easily), and click the Send button!

Here's our finished PhotoShow. What will yours look like? Please invite us!

October 23, 2008

How Qflix Saved My Sister...

Okay, Qflix didn't actually save her life, but it definitely did save her sanity. What's worse than traveling halfway around the world with 4-year-old twins on back-to-back 10+ hour plane flights? Traveling with 4-year-old twin boys AND a baby...

She emailed me in a panic last week: What can I do to keep the boys entertained while I take care of the baby? Being the geek that I am, I immediately started thinking of all sorts of ways to copy their favorite DVDs to her laptop. But that involves illicit ripping software, and other techie skills she doesn't have the time or inclination to learn.

I could have told her to download them from iTunes, but why pay for a movie only to be locked into viewing it on a computer or portable player? Most of the time, the boys watch on TV, and they love being able to pick their favorites from the pile, put them the DVD player, and press the button. When it comes to kids' movies, plastic discs rule.

That's when I hit upon Qflix, the download-to-burn movie techology that has just shipped from Roxio and partners like Dell and CinemaNow. With Qflix drives and media, all she would have to do is connect the Qflix drive I sent her, open the accompanying Roxio Venue software to select a movie, then click the button to both download it and burn it to a Qflix DVD. She's an online-shopping addict (it's pretty much impossible to drag three little kids around the mall), so this would be right up her alley and technical comfort level.

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In one shot, she'd have a copy of the movie on her hard drive for the boys to watch on the plane or in the car, and a physical DVD for them to play on the TV at home. She downloaded Surf's Up (they love penguins so this was a safe choice) and The Spiderwick Chronicles, made sure the extra laptop battery was charged, and was all ready to go.

I won't pretend the trip was without incident (notably the drink spill on the saintly lady sitting next to them on one leg), but they got through it. Even better, Liz now has a source of movies that she can tap any time without going to the video store or waiting days for them to come in the mail. She can pick a movie before dinner, start the download and burn process, and it will be done in time to watch with her husband after the kids are in bed.

Learn more about Qflix and how it works here.

September 16, 2008

Joining the High-Def Club

While I was an early member of the high-def club -- I got my HD Sony tube TV almost five years ago -- I was a relative latecomer to HD camcorders, finally ponying up this summer for a Canon Vixia HF11 AVCHD recorder when the rewind button on my old tape-based MiniDV camera stopped working.

CanonHF11.jpg

While I'm extremely happy with my choice, the selection process was not easy. First, you have to decide between two competing HD video formats: AVCHD and HDV. Then, you need to determine the camera with the best image quality and other features for your budget.

Up till recently, HDV camcorders, which record using the MPEG-2 video compression scheme (also used by DVDs and some commercial Blu-ray discs), were considered the quality leaders. AVCHD camcorders, even though they use the more efficient MPEG-4 compression scheme, typically recorded at bit rates of 13-15Mbps, well below the maximum 24Mbps.

Even though AVCHD has the supreme advantage of recording to flash cards or hard drives, rather than MiniDV tape like HDV, videophiles stuck with HDV for the superior quality. Hence my dilemma. Should I go with the older and less-convenient (and less space-efficient) HDV standard to ensure the best image quality? Or should I go with AVCHD for its flash memory and correspondingly easy file transfers?

Serendipitously, almost the same week I needed to make my choice, Canon introduced three new camcorders that record at a full 1920x1080 and 24Mbps: the flash-based HF11, and the hard disk-based HG20 and HG21. No more compromise between image quality and convenience! My choice was suddenly made simple.

Equally important, just a couple weeks later, Creator 2009 shipped with full support for importing, editing and burning AVCHD video. (Toast 9 for Mac already had this capability, when partnered with the HD/BD Plug-In.)

Now, after five long years, my HD circle is finally complete: I can record HD on my new camcorder, edit and burn it with Creator or Toast, and then view it on my HDTV through my Sony PlayStation 3 with Blu-ray drive. I don't even need a Blu-ray recorder, thanks to the ability of both Creator 2009 and Toast 9 to burn HD video onto standard DVDs.

For more on the tradeoffs between HDV and AVCHD camcorders, check out my article on Future-Proof Video for PC World.

August 29, 2008

Creating Winning Panoramas

In last month's Roxio email newsletter,* Creator user Rod Sellers answered our call for stories about how you are using Roxio products in your digital life, and won an iPod Nano for his efforts! Here’s what he had to say:

“I’ve used Creator to make slideshows of trips to China, Russia and Europe, complete with local music. But what I enjoy most is being able to create panoramic shots of interesting sites with PhotoSuite’s stitching feature. In June, we took a family trip to Germany for my father-in-law’s 80th birthday. My wife and I took over 1,700 pictures, and our two sons took a couple hundred more!”

Many of these were panoramas. Rod says he and his wife staged several scenes so that the family appears multiple times: once in each picture that forms part of the panorama, as in the below scene from Trier.

TrierGardena.jpg

You can see his group at the left, middle and right of the picture. Imagine the fun your kids could have with this idea, putting themselves in various locations in a panorama of Disneyland's Main Street, for example, or hanging out every window of your house at the same time.

Below are a couple more of Rod's panoramas from the trip, all stitched together using PhotoSuite:

MarketSquarePanoa.jpg

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Want to make your own travel or landscape photos more exciting? Or simply provide more compelling pictures of your house for sale? Here's how to create perfect panoramas:

• Use a tripod to keep the horizontal planes level, and to make it easy to turn the camera on one spot. Or find a handy rock or table to rest it on. For pro results, a special panorama head can eliminate parallax.
• Start taking pictures at one side of the scene, and gradually turn the camera so that each picture overlaps about 30 to 50 percent with the previous one. The more overlap, the better.
• Make sure you are not positioned too close to any large object that would fill the frame as you turn toward it. Also keep the main subject off-center, so it doesn’t focus your eye on the middle.
• You can stop whenever you want, anywhere up to 360 degrees, although circular panoramas work best with special viewing software.
Panoguide.com has more great tips, and examples of great panoramas.

Want to win your own iPod? Tell us how your family uses Roxio software. Just email your story to userstory@roxio.com by midnight, Sept. 15, 2008. Include a picture or video clip from your production as an attachment or Web link. Click here for official rules and entry guidelines. No purchase necessary to win.

* In case you're not yet receiving the newsletter, which contains all sorts of handy tips and articles on getting more out of your Roxio software, just sign in to your account, then click the link at the bottom of the page to edit your email subscription preferences.

August 26, 2008

Turbocharge Your iPhone Video Conversions

I thought I was being smart by waiting for nearly a month after the iPhone 3G came out to buy one. Surely by then I could just waltz in at any time of day, and leave 10 minutes later with my shiny new toy?

Alas, that was not to be, so I joined about 25 other ihopefuls in a line outside the Emeryville, CA Apple Store at 7am on a sunny Saturday in early August. At 10:15, the deed was done, and I had my prize.

Of course, the first thing I did was rush home to copy over some music, photos and videos, so I could be prepared to show off pictures and movies of my five darling nephews to everyone I meet.

I also wanted to set up Roxio Streamer to send shows copied from my TiVo to my iPhone in real time. (Streamer runs on your broadband-connected Mac at home, and can automatically convert your latest TiVo recordings for streaming to your laptop or iPhone while you are on the road. It also works with any video you convert to the H.264 format, including home movies. Read all about it here.)

And then I hit the proverbial brick wall. While I have a fast Intel Core 2 Duo machine, converting all this video stopped my Mac in its tracks--it was good for pretty much nothing else while it was encoding. And since I work on the computer all day, that means that any encoding had to be set up at night and left to run while I was sleeping.

So I went back to the Apple Store and picked up a gadget I had heard about before, the Elgato Turbo.264, and decided to give it a whirl. No waiting in line this time! The Turbo.264 is a USB device the size of a thumb drive that essentially offloads the video conversion to its on-board processor, and relieves your Mac of the task. It works right within Toast. As long as the Turbo is plugged in, Toast will take advantage of it when converting video to send to Streamer or to iTunes.

After a quick software install, I plugged in the Turbo, opened Toast 9 and started converting a 15-minute video of my sister and twin nephews at the hospital when they were born. Presto! Aside from the progress bar telling me the conversion was happening, there was no slowdown, no CPU-hogging of my computer, and I could work as normal while the video processed in the background. Even better, the temperature in my MacBook Pro stayed down in the comfy 125F range, rather than the motherboard-melting and finger-burning 175F it usually reaches when encoding video.

Toast even tells you when the Turbo.264 is being used, right in the progress bar:

Turbo.264.jpg

The Turbo.264 worked exactly as advertised, relieving my MacBook of the processing chore and letting me continue to do other things while it worked. The one thing it did not do, since I have a fast 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo machine, is speed up the job. Encoding actually took a few extra minutes with the Turbo. Those with older or slower Macs (especially PowerPCs) will see serious speed increases, however.

After it's finished encoding, Toast sends your videos to iTunes for syncing to your iPhone or iPod. Here, my baby movies were placed in the TV shows folder:

Turbo.2642.jpg

Since I bought the Turbo, encoding has been painless and I don't have to worry about scheduling it during downtimes. That convenience also results in a lot more video getting converted that it would otherwise, which makes for one happy Auntie.

So next time you see me in the street, be sure to ask to see my iPhone, and all its contents!

August 9, 2008

Changing the world one video at a time...

If you've been keeping up with my articles, admittedly sporadically posted as of late, you know that despite falling well outside of the established "target audience" I am in fact a digital media enthusiast. Since my last post, I've uncovered a few more neat tips, tricks and apps.

Inspired yet again by a YouTube contest, this time sponsored by Timberland (outdoor gear not the producer/rapper spelled slightly differently in case you were confused), I was urged to create an entry in support of making the world a more sustainable, "green" place to live. It just so happens this is something I've been paying closer and closer attention to lately...in addition to volunteering for a very cool, very forward-thinking "green production" company in the Bay Area, I've also been inspired by our very own CEO here at Sonic who has thrown his hat into the green arena by building electric cars in his spare time! Go Dave!

Blah, blah, blah too much background information and I'm probably losing your attention fast, right? Well, here's where things get interesting. I wanted to create a video using what's known as "green screen" technology (or blue screen but since we're trying to be green here I'll go with that). This is a technique by which one can extract oneself from a setting by using a green backdrop during video capture and then swapping in a background of choice during post-production (mountains, the beach, a busy street, you get the idea). My thought was to illustrate the different ways in which our world is being steadily depleted of its natural resources by inserting myself into those scenarios.

My first attempt to create a green screen failed. I picked up some yellow-green wrapping paper at a local Paper Source and lined my bedroom wall with it. When I took the footage against this paper and reviewed it afterward I realized the color was totally off (too much yellow would make it difficult to extract the background and not the pigmentation from my skin) plus the paper was too shiny. Sigh.

Example of baaaad green screen:

badgreenscreen.bmp

Then, on a whim, I took this ratty old green blanket that I bought at the Buena Vista several years ago (after one too many Irish coffees) and draped it over my sofa. I planted myself in front of it, took the video footage again and to my amazement was able to use what is known as "keying" to extract myself from the background, ultimately rendering a silhouette that could be placed anywhere!

Example of good (albeit cheap) green screen:

bettergreenscreen.bmp

Here's what it looks like when I swap out the green blanket for a cool background:

EKsnapshotrev.bmp

Having never done something like this before I had to quickly teach myself to use Adobe After Affects, a pro product that is not cheap and not easy to use. I was determined however, and I dedicated an entire weekend to learning it well enough to get the video I needed. I had written a "green song" and composed a music bed for it (using an application similar to GarageBand but for the PC). Here's the catch: After Affects does not support audio and the audio app I used does not support video. Hmm. Can you see where I'm going with this? Enter Easy Media Creator stage right.

After much ado getting my keying and backgrounds all lined up in After Affects I was able to output a video file that I could then easily import into Videowave (built into Creator). From there I added my original song to the project, created start and end screens and tightened up the transitions a bit so the track and the video were better aligned.

Let me just interrupt my own technical blather for a moment to say that I generally don't have the patience to do my own laundry, however, faced with this triumverate of digital media challenges I didn't even notice day turning into night then turning into day again. I was a mad scientist in my very own video lab. Waaahaaaahaaaa! (Evil laugh. Did I need to tell you that?)

I was one of only a few who entered this EarthKeeper contest (definitely the only music video). I think most might have been scared off by the prospect of trying to save the world. But on my whiteboard at work there is a two-columned matrix entitled "Carrie v The World." My colleague put that up there as a joke because I am always out to fight the good fight. Interestingly, with this latest venture, I think I'll have to add a column that reads "Carrie Saves The World!"

Check out my efforts below and let me know what you think. I can give you even more information about every painstaking point in the production process but ONLY if you ask.

Helpful hints:
1. Use that nifty tool "Paint" that hides under "Start menu, All Programs, Accessories" to modify, enhance or edit images for your production. It's easy to use and super helpful.
2. Don't forget about Lynda.com - an excellent resource for learning the latest tools and techniques in digital media, design, and development - all at your own pace.
3. Check out a super cool app called CamStudio. It's free and it will capture a video file of anything - other video files, an interesting web page, a cool banner ad you want to show someone else, etc. I used it for another project but I'll save that for my next article!
4. Most importantly, don't forget to have fun!

August 8, 2008

Making Digital Connections

When I first joined Sonic it was easy to stay connected to my peers. We were a small, centrally located team, with a very narrow business focus. Key discussions were made face to face, in meeting rooms, hallways, and even the break room.

Over a decade later, the company has changed a great deal -- moving beyond our focus in pro-level audio tools, to create products ranging from professional authoring systems to consumer software and services.

We also now have a far larger team with staff working on multiple continents. This makes it infinitely more difficult to stay connected. As with many organizations, Sonic uses technology to shorten the distance and encourage collaboration. Systems like instant messaging, video conferencing, intranets, and wikis have now replaced a good number of the face-to-face discussions that used to happen.

Of course, as Sonic is well aware, using technology to stay connected is not confined to the office. Technology is now playing a far greater role within our own personal network of friends and family. Often crunched for time and separated by miles, it has become increasingly difficult to stay up-to-date on the major events and happenings in the lives of the people we care about most. Emailing a short message and a few digital pictures may help reinforce the bonds and shorten the miles of separation, but it’s not all that compelling and certainly can’t convey a complete story.

While we may not have totally solved the issue, we believe that the launch of Roxio Online with its PhotoShow capabilities is a solid step in the right direction. Easy and quick to create, PhotoShows are able to convey far more than a few static photos and lines of text. Within minutes PhotoShow lets you turn your personal digital photos and videos into a highly entertaining digital “story” that is sure to delight your community of friends and family.

As we neared completion of the Roxio Online service, I created a PhotoShow for myself and then challenged my executive staff senior team to do the same (a great way to test the whole creative ease theory!). I asked the team to make a show that would reveal something about them that other staff might be surprised to discover (like a hobby or dream profession).

The results, which were really quite impressive, not only proved the theory that we’ve made digital storytelling easy for anyone to master, but also that PhotoShows can really help reinforce a sense of community – even within a group as large as Sonic.

Here are a couple of staff favorites from the challenge, as well as my own; I hope you enjoy them.


Created by Chris Loeper, VP of Worldwide Sales, Roxio:


Created by Pete Bouton, VP of Engineering, Sonic:


Created by Dave Habiger, President & CEO, Sonic:

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