Animoto an easy way to create stunning slideshows

Guy Stephens

In my opinion there are two compelling reasons to take photos 1) you enjoy taking photos and 2) to share them with others (yes I’m sure we could come up with 100 reasons or more if we thought about it for a moment, but I’m trying to keep things simple and 2 is a nice simple number).  Today I want to talk a little bit about number 2 (not that number 2) - sharing your work with others.  There are many ways that you can share your work - you can make a print to hang on your wall, post your pictures on Facebook, add them to your Flickr stream, make a book, join a photography club - the possibilities are endless. 

One interesting option for sharing photos is to make a slideshow.  Of course a slideshow may mean just that - a projector, slides, and a dark room.  I don’t know about you but I don’t even own a slide projector though I do remember watching many slideshows throughout the years.  More commonly today when folks (I know) talk about slideshows they are often talking about something they created on a computer.  There are many great options out there for creating amazing slideshows with your computer, things like PowerPoint, Keynote, FotoMagico, Aperture, iPhoto, PhotoPresenter and many more. 

Recently I had been hearing a lot about an online service called Animoto.  Animoto is a company that claims they can help you “turn your photos, video clips, and music into masterpieces to share with everyone. Fast, free, and shockingly easy”.  They describe the process as a simple 3 step process:

Step 1: Choose your images
Animoto syncs with Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket, and SmugMug to get your images in a snap. Add text and emphasize specific images with the touch of a button.

Step 2: Choose music
Music is at the heart of an Animoto video - upload your own mp3 or choose from our collection of tunes in several different genres.

Step 3: Finalize & share
Customize your video with a few simple settings and you’re done! Share your Animoto video on Facebook, YouTube, your blog, or a DVD.

I can tell you in my opinion it was very easy and the user interface was well done.  I was able to create a simple slideshow in just a few minutes.  While I am not sure that I liked all of the animated effects, I did like the process and the selection of royalty-free music was a nice benefit.  I can see where software like this would be very appealing to someone that frequently made slideshows like perhaps a wedding photographer. 

There is a free version of the service as well as Plus and Pro accounts which range from $30/year to $249/year.  The Lite version is free but is limited to 30 second slideshow, but enough to get the flavor of it (go ahead give it a try).  Here is a quick sample slideshow that I put together with a few of my Southern Maryland photos.

Curious while we are on the subject - what’s your favorite slideshow solution?

Asking about ISO at February?s meeting

Megan Snider

In February, the Calvert Photography Club met for our monthly meeting to broaden our knowledge of ISO, that pesky number that controls how so many of our shots turn out, and to chat about the results of our experimentation with HDR.

Cupcakes by LisaPresident Guy Stephens kicked off the meeting by sharing the results of our member survey and discussing possible changes to the format of meetings, most notably that each gathering will now highlight one major topic and one minor topic. Our new calendar has been set and will soon be available on our website, and a new monthly newsletter will hit your inbox in March?complete with highlights from everything the CPC has going on. Guy shared a new opportunity, too: forging relationships with book publishers, many of whom will be donating books to our club ?library? for our review and perusal. More information on borrowing the books will be available soon.

Jeff gave a wonderful talk on ISO, the final presentation in our group ?Understanding Exposure? series. ISO controls the sensitivity of your camera?s sensor to light, making it an important component when taking a photo. ISO also controls the amount of grain visible in a picture?available by adjusting it higher for more grain or lower for less.

High ISO numbers (800 or above) can be used when capturing indoor sports, concerts, museums or other ?no flash? areas?like birthday parties and night shots?to still highlight our subjects without the harsh glare of a flash. Grain can create atmosphere, Jeff explained, and may be desirable in some photos. But in others? Adjust it down for a less gritty texture.

Guy gave a brief presentation on critiquing photos next, mentioning our move to providing more constructive feedback to our fellow group members. To become a better photographer, we can follow a few rules: practice; experiment; learn; observe; and share. Since repeatable results are our goal, we can take wonderful photos by truly learning how to use our cameras and understanding the various controls that let us capture a moment.

A critique, Guy explained, is a ?thoughtful evaluation of a photo based on observation and analysis.? As each of us has our own unique tastes and interests, no one will view a photo the exact same way?but we can highlight what it is we think ?works? in a picture versus what could be improved for a better impact. When perusing group photos on Flickr or at meetings, I think about eliminating the phrase ?I like it? from your vocabulary. Instead, take in a photograph and then say ?I like it because . . .?

While sharing delicious chocolate and peanut butter cupcakes from Imagine It Iced Cakes by Lisa, group members shared their HDR photographs of Calvert County and beyond. Guy also shared goodie bags from B&H Photo & Video with their current catalog and a few sweet treats.

After reading the recent member survey results, a proposition has been made to host a new informal meet-up on a weeknight in between meetings. All are welcome to come and discuss photos, equipment, prints or more. Jeff Smallwood will host the first meet-up on at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 9 at Jasper?s in Prince Frederick.

Our next club field trip will be held Saturday, March 5 in Washington, D.C., to capture the monuments in a new way. Jeff will provide details soon and is planning on making it a sunrise trip, if interested. Other group members will arrive on the National Mall closer to 9 a.m. or later. Please check our Yahoo! group for more information.

Our March photo assignment is ?Glass? - interpreted to your liking. Please join us at the Fairview Library in Owings at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 19, and come prepared to share your photos!

Capturing an Outer Banks Sunset

Lisa Snider

Nearly every year for the last 18 years, my immediate and extended family has made a summer pilgrimage down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We make this trip in early June, renting the same large house in Kill Devil Hills, affectionately known as The Sound Crab. The Sound Crab is a multi-level house on stilts, with two wrap-around decks and a crow?s nest, offering a spectacular view. It also features a private pier which leads down to the Albemarle Sound, which stretches out far and wide behind the house.

From early evening until dusk, the pier is a peaceful place to sit and stare out at the Sound, letting your cares drift away. The water is shallow and still and while sitting here, you face the West. I have watched as a lone Crane fishes for his dinner, and enjoyed watching the fish jump at sunset, making tiny circular splash rings that grow larger as they land. 

The ?golden hour? is my favorite time of the day, and while I enjoy daydreaming on the pier, my favorite activity is to photograph all that I see and experience during this sweet time of day. With my camera in tow, I love to walk down to the pier, or find a spot on one of the decks of the house, or perhaps climb up to the crow?s nest, and patiently watch as the sun begins to dip behind the trees which line the far side of the Sound.

As the sun sets, the magic begins. I have photographed the most beautiful sunsets from these vantage points, more beautiful than any sunsets I have experienced at any other location, including on our cruise to the Caribbean, or my trip to the famed Key West, Florida.

Back in 2006, I was rewarded with my greatest sunset photographic experience, to date. It was our last night at the Sound Crab, and my last chance to capture the sunset over the Sound. It had been a cool and cloudy week and the sunsets, thus far, had been unremarkable. As we drew closer to sunset, I readied my camera equipment and waited hopefully, perched high up in the Crow?s nest. 

I watched the sky and grew excited. As the sun began to slip downward, the sky turned beautiful hues of blue, pink, purple and yellow, and I witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I had ever seen. I pressed my shutter button in rapid fire succession, trying to capture all of the beauty unfolding in front of me.

Far below my perch in the Crow?s nest, my mother and daughter sat on the pier, taking in the same beautiful scene, but from a different vantage point. They marveled at the sunset but also at a fisherman, who floated by the pier in his small boat. His image was reflected by the setting sun on the surface of the water, and added such a wonderful point of interest to the scene, something I had never photographed before.

I worked quickly to try and capture every angle of light, every square inch of the scene. Realizing that my aerial view would make a wonderful panorama, I was careful to shoot the pictures so that they ?overlapped? one another horizontally, so I could piece the pictures together in my software, later. I stayed outside to shoot until the light had completely faded away, and the mosquitoes began to fancy me as their dessert!

Once back at home, I could not wait to open all of my images in Photoshop Elements 5. I enjoy ?playing? with an image in my software after capture as much as I do taking it. I love to add and subtract elements from my photographs, and enhance or subtract color. When I am finished, I have created something far greater than what I started with ? sometimes, a work of art!
After opening all of the images, I created a new, blank landscape document, and copied and pasted the images from 4 different photos onto the new, blank document. By hand, I lined the photos up so that they overlapped, thereby creating a new, large, panoramic image. I ?zoomed in? on my new panoramic image, and spent a great deal of time trying to get the placement right, moving the individual layers, as necessary. After I was satisfied, I flattened the layers.

I loved the image of my daughter and mother sitting on the bench together; however, I had a picture of my Dad sitting in that exact spot on the bench, from a previous trip. What a wonderful Christmas gift this panorama would make, I thought, if I copied and pasted my Dad into the image, sitting next to Mom on the bench. While I would be taking some creative license with this adjustment, I knew that they both loved experiencing the golden hour in OBX, and I was sure they would love a photograph capturing that memory.

I located the older digital photo of Dad, and used the magnetic lasso tool to carefully draw an outline around my Dad. Then, I zoomed in on the panorama target image, and used the copy and paste tools to copy his image, and paste it into the new panorama. Using the move tool, I moved the image and placed it on top of my daughter?s image, and then resized the image to match that of my Mom, sitting on the bench.

After I was satisfied that the size and placement of my Dad in the image was correct, I flattened the image. Finally, with the image still ?zoomed in,? I did some tweaking of the shot with the clone tool, to make sure the elements from the various pictures blended together seamlessly. Lastly, I used the Sharpen tool, to sharpen the image, and then saved it has a high resolution (300 pixels) JPEG, as I planned to print it. 

In order to present this panorama as a gift, I would need to have it professionally printed and mounted. I decided on a gallery-wrapped canvas, and used Penn Camera in D.C. to create it. They did an excellent job with it. My parents were thrilled when they opened my canvas - a ?work of art? depicting their cherished memories. The results can be seen below.

Outer Banks Sunset

If you haven?t tried creating a panorama image from a series of your landscape shots, give it a try. The newer digital cameras feature a Panorama setting (?Panorama Assist? on my Lumix camera) which provides a grid on the view screen, enabling you to easily line up your landscape photos to overlap, at capture. The newer software, such as Photoshop Elements 8, offers a Photomerge tool which will align the photos automatically, or you can do the alignment by hand, as I did. Finally, have your image professionally printed on high quality paper or canvas and Ta da! - You have created your own work of art, suitable for hanging.

Astrophotography - Taking Stellar Pictures

Jeff Smallwood

Orion Nebula DIYIf you’ve ever taken a long exposure at night you probably noticed the arcs of light that the stars create as they rotate across the sky. This can create a beautiful and stunning background for night photos. You may not be able to see them with the naked eye, but there are celestial objects like galaxies and nebulae floating around up there among the stars. The problem is that when you want to take photos of celestial objects like galaxies and nebulae, that movement of the sky (or rather the rotation of the Earth) will ruin your attempts. There are ways to counter that rotation of the Earth and take photos of items in the sky you never dreamed of. Club member Jeff Smallwood explains how in this article.

Club partners with Peachpit Press

Guy Stephens

The Calvert Photography Club is now a member of the Peachpit Press users group program.  Who is Peachpit Press you ask?  Peachpit represents an elite collection of the world’s leading computer book specializing in graphics and design, Photoshop and digital photography including our their, Peachpit Press, as well as New Riders, Adobe Press, Apple Certified, among others.  Peachpit Press has a great collection of digital photography books including books from some of my favorites from photographers such as Joe McNally and Scott Kelby.

Peachpit PressSo what benefits do we get from being part of the Peachpit Press users group program?  By registering our group, we’ll receive information on new and exciting releases, discounts on titles, information on special events and more.  As a registered users group we’ll get the following benefits:

  • Build a resource library with their free monthly book program (this will give us the ability to begin building a club library)
  • Discounted shopping at
  • Donations of promotional items for our meetings and special events
  • Peachpit products for review
  • Product updates and previews

What does Peachpit ask in return?  All they ask is that from time to time that we share our thoughts on what they are publishing, what technologies we’re using, or maybe how our group membership is changing and growing. 

We’re are also eligible to receive books for review and this is were I would like to see some members get involved.  If you are interested in reading some new photography books and willing to provide a short review for our blog let me know.  You would get to read a great book (free) and could tell our members what you think of it - a win for all of us.

Stay tuned for more information…

Page 1 of 2