You Should Use Photos in Your Videos – Here’s Why

Photos can’t be overlooked in producing your videos! Here’s why:

Sometimes that is all you have to work with.

Your video can be made up entirely of images – without you ever getting your video camera out and shooting a frame!

Ken Burns’ incredibly powerful film series, “The Civil War” is one that immediately comes to my mind. It was done so well and draws you in so completely that it doesn’t seem like it was composed almost entirely of still photographs. Can you think of others?

Sometimes you can’t get video footage of what you need.

Since it was impossible for Ken Burn’s to get footage from an era before the technology was invented, he had to make a choice. While he could have shot his series with re-enactors or through interviews with historians or a combination, he chose something entirely different that I feel actually worked so much better! Also shooting with re-enactors and lining up interviews, expense was probably a consideration.

There are many times you may need a video from a location that is too expensive to get to, or impossible to shoot, like Mars for example, where you can use a photo instead.

The key to using still images compellingly is to give them some motion otherwise it’s about exciting as watching your great uncle Charley’s slide show of his mushroom harvesting trip to the Catskills last summer.

A panning technique was used in the Civil War series. Along with haunting music, sound effects, i.e, the sounds of battle and wonderful dialog, that effect worked really well.

With Photoshop (or other similar programs), you can save images in different layers and animate each of those layers in your editing software. I see this a lot on the History channel. They’ll take an old painting, select out a person, animate it so that it gets larger in the screen while a separate person in the painting gets smaller.

Sometimes these effects can be done with photographs and it totally looks like a video. I did this once with a train track photo. The photo was taken looking over the tracks as they converged in the far distance. I converted it to black and white, then over the course of 10 seconds or so, I slowly enlarged the image. When I was done, it looked just like someone had shot film from the front of a train in the 1940’s.

When we shot our documentary, Patrick Smith’s Florida: A Sense of Place, on my dad, we relied on extensive use of historical photographs throughout the production, ala Ken Burn’s style. This film went on to win a Telly and a couple of film awards. I knew that just showing him on camera, a “talking head” if you will, would not be as powerful without the photos.

Prepare your photos before you import into your editing software.

Your photos don’t have to be more than 72 DPI but they should be a fairly large dimension  if you are going to pan around inside them. I usually have one dimension at is 2,000 pixels and that gives me plenty of room to pan and scan. Save as a PSD with all the layers if you plan on animating each layer separately.

Any photo you use should be in RGB color space, preferably a JPG or PNG. PNG’s carry alpha channels so if you want to maintain transparent areas in your photos, save them as a PNG.

If you’re using Final Cut Pro or Premiere to edit, images saved in CMYK and as TIFFs DO NOT WORK. Yes, you may be able to import TIFFS, but it will mess a lot of things up. Other editing systems may work the same way so to be on the safe side, always convert your images to JPGs or PNG. Nine times out of ten, when I’ve imported a photo and my editing system went crazy, it was because the photo was in CMYK mode.

You can turn your photos to video without having editing software.

There are some really cool programs available that allow you to turn your photos to video. One we use is Animoto. You can use it for free but the length of your video is limited to 30 seconds. For only $30/year you can upgrade and make longer ones. You can also incorporate videos with your photos in Animoto. Another option is Photodex’ ProShow product.

Use your video to make still frames.

What if you want to use photos but don’t have them? Use your video footage. You can pull still frames from your videos and use them as still photos. Sometimes it’s a good way to fix a shooting error (yes, those things happen even to the most professional.) but other reasons  include using it for a graphic, title, emphasis, or doing special effects.

In what ways do you like to turn photos to video? Please share below.

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