A Little Gem of Software

By Vince Barnes

The other day my wife asked me to help her to organize her photos, and to use them in various mediums.  I did some research and came up with a package that I felt would meet her needs.  The package I selected is Microsoft's Digital Image Suite 2006, which cost me, after rebate, about $60 from Amazon.com.  I'll be writing about the main components of the suite elsewhere, but for now I want to talk about a program that came along with the package and deserves some special attention all of its own!

Microsoft has called the program "Photo Story" and the version in my package is 3.1.  The program takes a series of photos and builds a video out of them so that you can simply play the video to enjoy all the pictures.  Simple enough, but it's how it goes about it that impressed me so much.

When the program starts it begins a process somewhat like a typical Microsoft style wizard.  To create a new story, you first select the pictures you want to use.  The program then presents the pictures to you in a "filmstrip", allowing you to add, remove or change the sequence of pictures.  There are also options to correct color levels, remove red-eye, rotate or edit each picture.  The edit feature allows you to crop, rotate, fix or add special effects to your pictures.

Also presented at this point is a button for the first of this programs particularly clever little features.  It is called "Remove Black Borders".  If any of your photos don't match the aspect ratio of the story, black borders will appear beside or above and below the picture.  Removing the black border is simply a process of selecting an area of the photo that matches the aspect ration, and cropping off the remaining portion.  The program displays surprising intelligence in how it goes about it's selection of an area to keep.  In my trials with about fifty pictures it selected, in all cases but one, an area that included the main content of the photo.  Sometimes this was to the left, sometimes to the right, but the program appeared to be analyzing each photo to make its selection.  When it encountered a picture that was portrait oriented (stories are landscape) it selected a landscape area of the picture with a remarkable ability to choose the good stuff.  In the one case where I disagreed with the programs choice overriding the choice was very easy and intuitive.

The next option you have is to provide a title on the first photo.  Then you are provided with the ability to add narratives, custom transition and zoom motions to each of your pictures.  For my first couple of trials I left my voice out and left all the transitions, zooms and timings up to the program.  You can then add background music to all or part of your story.  I chose music from my library and added it to the whole story.

Finally you can save your story as a wmv file to play back on your PC or in special formats for playback on pocket PCs or mobile media players, you can send it as an attachment to an email or you can create a Video CD of your story.

The resulting video story is  a very high quality and very entertaining video.  When it comes to making clips of family and friends to add to the library pages of a family website, I personally find it easier to make a video out of some stills in this fashion than to make a truly entertaining video with a digital video recorder and video editing software.  It is certainly a lot quicker, and I believe that means it is more likely to actually happen!

If you have such a site, I would encourage you to take a look at this package!

 



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