Making of :: New Zealand 2009 Trip video - photos in motion

I wrote a post a week or so back saying I would share with you how I made my New Zealand Trip 2009 video (below if you haven’t seen it yet).  I’m no expert on video editing, but I thought I’d share how I did it in any case.

I think this kind of “photos in motion” (sorry, just made that up) photo to video conversion works because when photos are played back quickly, your brain doesn’t see every photo (and notice they are individual photos).  Instead it interpretes it as video motion.  This works especially well when the photos are in nice sequences of motion (camera moving, or objects moving in a sequence of photos shot together) and therefore it actually feels like video motion.  I guess it’s a similar concept to why time lapses work so well.  I might be talking utter crap here.

Method in summary

The method with this technique is actually quite simple.

  1. Pick a bunch of photos (500 is probably minimum), arrange them in some kind of logical order following a rough story (in order of time is probably easiest).
  2. Export them into a video file format that plays the photos back at a high frame rate.
  3. Edit the video file by varying the speed of certain parts, adding music, adding text, intro, outro etc etc

That’s the general gist of how it was done, more details below.

Method in detail

All up, this project probably took me about 16 hours over the course of a week.  8 of those hours were devoted to sorting through and editing the photos.

Step 1 - sorting and editing the photos:

Manage and sort your photos

I currently use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 as my digital asset manager (DAM) for all my photos.  I’m pretty sure any DAM software can do this.  On this occasion, all of my New Zealand Trip 2009 photos were still in my Apple Aperture legacy library and I was able to replicate what I normally do out of Lightroom inside Aperture.

I took about 600-700 images from my library which was essentially a dump of all of my photos and friends photos/videos from the trip.  I had not really bothered to go through these photos at the time other than to select about 20 or so to share around which is the main reason why I decided to make this video - most people would be bored to tears looking at 600+ photos, so why not cut the viewing time down without losing the essence of the trip and hopefully make it fun in the process.

Crop your photos

The first thing to do is to crop all the photos to a 16:9 ratio which is what HD 720p/1080p HD video is played back at (my terminology when it comes to video is complete noob so bare with me).  This is the most important step.  If this isn’t done, most video software will warp and stretch your images to fit it inside the aspect ratio of the video file.  A lot of portrait orientation shots will have to be heavily cropped and at times it will be hard to choose what should fill the frame.  I found this mass cropping process quickest by cropping one photo in landscape orientation and auto apply this same crop to all my other photos also in landscape orientation.  Then I repeated this for portrait orientated photos and finally, painstakingly went through each photo making sure the crop was right for each photo (e.g. making sure the horizon line for a sequence was about the same level in the photo).  Any good DAM software like Lightroom or Aperture can do this mass cropping exercise quickly.

Sequence your photos and start seeing them as video frames

Next, I spent a lot of time arranging the photos into related sets with the intention to turn them into video (i.e. position the photos into sequences).  The important thing here is to arrange pictures that have the same kind of background and subject content together and into some kind of logical order.  The logic depends on the story you want to tell.  What I noticed worked well was to place the photos in some kind of moving sequence.  So if you have multiple photos of the same subject moving across the frame, or getting bigger within the frame, it worked really well when played back in motion.  If I were to shoot photos in the future for the purpose of making a video like this, I would deliberately shoot frames in sequences (e.g. walking down a street, moving around an object etc).

Post-process your photos and give them a similar look

The next step is to do some light post-processing on every photo.  This task will either be easy or hard depending on how well the photos were taken in the first place (for me it was quite difficult given the photos were from four different cameras, taken by very different people using very different metering modes).  The main objective here is to make the photos look roughly similar in terms of exposure and colour.  This process would be a lot harder if for example you used auto white balance and each photo was a different shade of yellow / blue depending on how well the camera metered for white balance.  Same goes for the exposure.  The aim is to lift and/or drop each photo to a harmonious white balance and exposure level so there is not any noticeable difference between them.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can add some more toning and colour adjustments to each sequence of photos to change the mood of each photo, however, the key is to be consistent otherwise there will be weird flickers in the video (probably notice them in my video hehe).  The adjustment sync features in your DAM software will be your friend here.

Step 2 - making the initial video file for the photos:

QuickTime 7 is your friend

The next step is probably easiest.  I used QuickTime Player 7 Pro and its “open image sequence” feature (there are like 1,000 different versions of this app, so here’s the link).  What it basically does is put all your images into a sequence at a frame rate you specify - slow (e.g. 1 frame every 30 seconds) or fast (e.g. 120 frames per second).  Each picture is a video frame, and you decide how many flick by in a second.

Export the photos into a standardises naming and file convention

To do this, you export your images (in the order you want them to appear in the video) from your DAM software and have them exported with a custom filename in a “name x of y.jpg” format.  That way, they will sit inside the export folder on your hard drive in the desired order you arranged them in.

Convert the image sequence into a video file

Then it’s just a matter of opening up the first jpeg file in QuickTime and it does the rest of the magic.  You should experiment with the frame rate to see what feels best.  I chose 12 fps which is really fast, but I figured it would be easier slowing down important parts in my video editor than to speed large parts of it up.  Another thing to note here is that depending on how many photos you end up using and the frame rate you play them back at will determine the approximate length of your video.

Export the video file into a format your video editor can work with

I exported this file from QuickTime in H.264 format at 1080p (this way I had the choice of exporting it as something smaller out of the video editor for sharing on the web).  I don’t know that much about video so it may be better to export at ProRes or whatever your video editor likes to work in.

Step 3 - video editing:

Using a video editor to give the video some visual interest and music to create mood

Now that the majority of the content is done, the other 8 hours is spent here.  I used Final Cut Pro X as my video editor as it was probably designed for photographers doing video.  It’s very simple to use (and probably why people nicknamed it iMovie Pro) but still has some really nice advanced controls.  I think in all honesty iMovie or equivalent would have sufficed.  A lot of the work here and how good the final presentation will be really depends on your video editing knowledge for which I am only a beginner in so I relied heavily on stock transitions which come with the software (e.g. the globe trotting transition from iMovie 11).  I did however tweak bits here and there to put my own personal touch on it.

The overall aim of this Step is to add music and align the video to the music with the goal of timing the entire video to the beat of the music.  Also a goal is to slow down important bits, especially showing the important/nice photos for a bit longer time e.g. 1/5-1/3 of a second (remembering the video at Step 2 was at 12 fps which is 1/12 of a second being extremely fast).  I think any photo showing for longer than 1/2 a second loses the feeling of a photo in motion video and turns into more of a  photo slideshow feel.  However, you should experiment, who knows what gold can be dug up!

My main aim was to get a good photo transition on the beats and also to vary the timing of the video leading up to a main beats.  For example, I used Final Cut’s “step up” and “step down” features a lot to have a sequence gradually slow down or speed up leading to a beat.

The majority of the time spent here will be figuring out how to get the music to align and working out a good intro and outro (the core of the video will be the photo slideshow).  You can drop in videos, text, photos etc to break things up a bit as well.  I found the easiest way to line up the video and music was to use something with a fast beat…it added a lot to the mood of the video and made everything seem to be on beat a lot more (even though a lot of it isn’t still hehe).


There was quite a lot I learned from this:  Video editing is a LOT of work, takes up a lot of hard drive space and requires some hardcore computing hardware.

Overall, I had a lot of fun making it given it was mainly very experimental and I learned quite a bit about video editing.

I am a terrible writer so a lot of this post probably doesn’t make sense, please let me know if anything needs clarification.