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Digital deluge

What to do with all those digital videos and photos

January 17, 2007

Digital cameras and camcorders usually get the hardest workouts on vacations and during holidays. And as those photos and videos pile up, the space on memory cards seems to evaporate. But then what?

What do you do with all the digital shots and video footage taken during your holiday binge as a would-be member of the paparazzi? Store them on a CD or USB flash drive that gets tossed in a drawer? Print them out into a floor-to-ceiling stack? Hold your own film festival highlighting short family video clips played back from the camcorder?

Here's a better idea: Roll up your sleeves, let loose your creative side and use some of the latest desktop editing tools to showcase all that material properly.

Software

Photo and video editing software packages are nothing new, but they're increasingly easy to use.

They're also starting to appear on retail shelves as a matched set, offered up to consumers as a single money-saving bundle that handles both still and moving images.

For some, such a package deal will do the trick. Others who want to really flex their creative muscles may want to opt for specialized packages that handle only still photos, or only video, but offer more depth when it comes to the capabilities of the editing tools and effects.

Here are some of the options commonly available at retail right now:

Pinnacle Studio Plus 10.5 Titanium Edition focuses only on video editing. Its big strength is that it will help even the greenest amateur massage raw video footage into something watchable. It also allows you to format it for playback on just about any device you can think of, be it an iPod, Sony PSP or DVD player.

When you first open it up, you may see all the options that are available and think you've entered some kind of semi-professional lab. But don't be frightened: the package is simple to use. Heck, the software will even hold your hand by providing you with specific templates for creating videos of weddings, sporting events or holidays.

All the editing is done through a "timeline" where you drag and drop anything you want to use — clips, photos, music or graphics — to create a video. Think of it like a storyboard or virtual pop-up book. Drag, drop and edit clips with a few mouse clicks, then add a soundtrack.

This sort of interface certainly isn't unique to Pinnacle. Both Sony's Vegas Movie Studio + DVD Version 4 and Adobe's Premiere Elements 3.0 use the same type of setup.

The interesting part of Vegas Movie Studio is that free movie clips are available to you in case you feel like interlacing them into your video to spice things up. It's a novel concept — one that means you don't necessarily have to go hunting for supplementary footage from sources such as publicly available movie trailers, as you would have to do with other editing packages. Sony's software also has the advantage of an assembly line of tutorials to help you along, including a button that literally says "show me how."

Two-in-one

Each of these packages has tools to help amateurs create polished videos, but they don't handle pictures. Adobe's Premiere Elements, on the other hand, caters to both shutterbugs and would-be directors - handy, since many digital cameras now shoot video as well.

The package bundles Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0 for photo editing and Premiere Elements 3.0 for video editing (both also available as standalone products). Premiere 3.0 doesn't do anything that spectacularly outshines the capabilities of its competitors, but its seamless integration with its Photoshop cousin is a real treat. Consider that you might want to take yourself out of an image and then place yourself into another photo, or into a video. By simply selecting the image of a person or object and the different shades of colour within that image using what I like to call the "Eliminator" tool, you can pluck it out of the original photo and place it wherever you want in material you're editing with either Photoshop or Premiere.

The best part about this is that you can place that photo within a clip, similar to the way news or sports broadcasters are able to put a graphic on top of a moving background image. You can easily do this with the other video-editing packages as well, but Adobe has the advantage of doing the photo and video editing portions of the task all in one program.

Photoshop Elements has a slew of features that focus on black-and-white and archival photography. They're not the absolute top tools on the market by any means, but they're worth experimenting with when you want to play around and see what it would be like to put together a more vintage-looking video. Premiere Elements has its own options for the vintage stuff, but again, when coupled with the capabilities of Photoshop, the creative possibilities are almost endless.

Photos only

If you're the type of person who prefers to take only still photographs, Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0 on its own is a good bet, but there's also an alternative in Microsoft's dark horse, Digital Image Suite Plus 2006. (It comes on its own, but it can also be had as part of a photo-video bundle that includes the aforementioned Pinnacle Studio.)

The suite has more than 200 different style filters that allow you to change your photo into just about anything from a foil cutout to some kind of expressionist painting. The Arts and Crafts feature allows you to use distinct shapes and patterns ideal for sticking images to all kinds of household items. Image Suite also includes a program Microsoft had previously called Photo Story 3, a basic photo slideshow with the option of adding music, so you can showcase your work without printing it.

Bottom line

Some of this may seem overwhelming, but desktop digital editing packages really have come a long way in a short time, and amateurs can create nicely polished material from rag-tag collections of photos and video.

The packages all have quick-start features for those who want to start quickly and do the basics, and they also offer more sophisticated options for those with the time to tinker and get more creative. The thing to remember is that no matter how good the tools, editing photos and video takes time, even with the latest interfaces that make it easy on you. These suites are mainly for people who are willing to invest some effort in getting the most from their digital images.

Having said that, you can also see results in as little as five minutes after getting going with any of these packages, so don't be shocked when you manage to pull off a slick little two-minute clip with titles and a few effects on your first try.

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