Dealing with travel videos and photos

We always go on holidays equipped with a camera – who doesn’t these days? – and quite often bring a camcorder as well. Coming back home with several hours of raw video footage and a few hundred photographs always seems like a good idea when you tape or shoot, but then the question of what to do with all those riches becomes key.

Unedited home videos, even those of kids doing cutest things, are rarely much fun to watch or to showcase to guests. I will politely commend this or that aspect of a home video shown to me at friends’ house, but I am frequently bored by the interminable wait for something exciting to happen on screen while nine and a half minutes of preceding boring footage roll on. My own attempts at video recording are hardly any better, especially when it comes to travel footage. Here is this monument from across the street. Here is the same monument from some weird angle and considerable distance (Natasha also took a picture from the same perspective – was there any point in putting that on tape as well?). Here is what the large square looks like (camera whips around in a circle). Here is the continuous view from the upper level of a tour-bus (camera shakes violently enough to induce dizziness in a viewer).

Recognizing that the boredom of watching such videos completely undermines their reminiscence value, I adopted one of my favorite hobbies several years ago: Converting raw footage into edited movies, with effects, narration and musical background. The modest results are quite watchable DVDs that contain only the highlights and the funnest bits, broken into manageable chapters so that we can show something to our guests without obliging them to stay glued to the TV for prolonged period of times.

It is not an easy endeavor to perform all functions in the movie-making process by oneself. I got progressively more efficient as I made more and more movies. The film about our trip to Italy in 2003 condensed 3+ hours of raw footage into a manageable 11-segment 50-minutes-long DVD. It took me 144 hours to accomplish that (not counting the rendering/transcoding/burning and all that other fine stuff that a PC can perform while I eat/sleep/rest/ignore it). A similar DVD about a trip to Germany a couple of years later took me “only” 80 hours. The investment of time and effort into a project of this kind is still quite considerable, but to me, it’s the only way to make sure that our recordings retain any usefulness in the future.

If anyone is interested, I started out using uLead VideoStudio software (my last version was 9, since then it apparently became Corel and is now versioned X2), which both is simple enough for use by the most artistically-challenged and offers a number of bells and whistles for creative types. After a while, I needed to move beyond the linear-editing approach and I migrated onto Adobe Premiere Pro (which, somewhat unfortunately, left me with considerably fewer ready-to-use effects for transition and title animation). I still occasionally use uLead for simpler tasks.

That’s videos. Still photography brings a different problem.

I’m not talking about our manic digital-age obsession with Photoshop-improving every single image that we plan to keep. That occasionally becomes a time-consuming chore, but we do not find it too taxing on balance.

The problem that I have is that we almost never go back to looking at the pictures we take anymore.

Yes, it is a wonderful way for us to share our pictures with the world by posting them online (heck, there are almost 1500 images in the Picture Gallery on this website!). But do we, as a family, ever huddle together in front of a computer screen to look at them? Only once, right after we upload them to the PC. Afterwards, we individually occasionally check out this or that image when fancy strikes, but it is always a solitary endeavor – a computer screen is not too conducive to group revelry.

Even worse, when guests come over, we are not going to sit them in front of a computer screen to look at out pictures. The function of the photo album as a party conversation starter is completely lost in the absence of photo albums.

Back in the States, we always ordered prints of all of our recent shots and put them in albums. (We stopped doing that in the UK because we frankly do not have space to store photo albums in this house, but that’s beside the point.) Then, one day, I had a brilliant idea: Why not make travel photo collections into coffee-table books!?

Ok, it was not truly a brilliant idea, otherwise I’d have had it years earlier and possibly even made money on it. But as it were, it was something fun to try.

I knew only about MyPublisher back then. My brother, incidentally, at around that time produced a photo book of his family on MyPublisher. It came out quite nice.

However, when I tried them myself, I found a couple of very annoying limitations. First, MyPublisher templates had low limits of characters for caption boxes, eliminating possibility of putting together extended narrations. I tend to think that a fun fact about the place or a curious occurrence that we were part of is something worth putting down next to the picture. Makes the album into a book, you know. With a low character limit, “This is us in front of the Eiffel Tower” was about as illuminating as I could get.

Second, MyPublisher did not recognize Unicode, robbing me of an ability to narrate in Russian. There is not an overwhelming reason to insist on that, but it is something that I fancy better than doing English narration.

Faced with those limitations, I decided to look into producing a photo book entirely on my own, and then just finding a service to print and bind it. Adobe has a pretty good product called InDesign, and I tried it out. The result was neither stellar nor horrid – I did not care much for concepts of slugs and bleeds and kerning, etc, at the time, and photo resizing had to be done in Photoshop prior to importing to retain picture quality. As a proof of concept, though, I found it reasonable, even though it took time and effort on par with making a movie. (And for binding, I only went as far as printing the pdf at Kinko’s.)

We were relocating to England around that time, and I put both my movie-making and my book-making endeavors on hold.

Now, a week or so ago, we were visiting with friends in central London, and Anya showed us her latest travel photo-books by MyPublisher. Unlike me, she feels that pictures provide enough narration all by themselves, and I am willing to concede the point when the book looks gorgeous. And the ones she showed us were.

That got me intrigued again about photo-books. I checked out MyPublisher anew, and found out that they now allow for plenty of story-telling in the books. But still no Unicode recognition. Bummer!

This time, I’m also checking out similar services elsewhere. Photobookstory.com suggests a few choices, of which the top, Picaboo, looks like an interesting possibility. At a quick glance, it offers as many or more page layouts as MyPublisher, but less space for narration, although I suppose I could make it work. And Unicode does not seem to present a problem. (It remains to be seen, of course, whether the Cyrillic alphabet is going to stick upon transferring their internal digital format to print.)

Other choices involve online photo-services, such as Shutterfly or Kodak, that provide simplified options for photo-books, perceptibly not sufficient for my needs. I’m vary of getting invested in a service where a photo-book is a “fringe” product.

One other choice that I came across on the web, Shared Ink, did not look too enticing. It offers an online-based process that appears way too simplistic to satisfy my requirements.

So, for now, I’ll be trying out Picaboo, with an eye towards other possibilities. Either that or MyPublisher looks to me like the way to go for converting our digital photo libraries into albums. If anyone has any experience with any of these – or a similar kind of service – I’d be much obliged if you gave me your impressions.

And if you have any other suggestions for dealing with your digital movies or photos, feel free to sound off. Thanks!

2 comments on “Dealing with travel videos and photos”

  1. Kisintin

    When I do work on movies, I use Premier Elements, it seems less cumbersome than Pro and allows for AVI and DivX imports, which can be quite useful.

    In conjuction with Encore DVD the process seems fairly manageable with descent results.

    I have tried Avid Pro but it’s way too cumbersome and designed for more professional editing IMHO.

  2. Geo

    You can do wonders with a Mac and its iPhoto application. But then again, we Mac users are very bias.

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