Entries in how to (13)


2000 Photos In 3 Minutes

A friend sends you 2000 photos from her recent vacation. Are you are going to look at every single one? Let's be honest. Who wants to see other people's vacation photos? Nobody. Except, one thousand people wanted to see mine. What did I do to make them want to do so?

Congratulations! You just looked at 2000 photos in three minutes. Phew!

I came back from business trip to France last week and had twelve thousand photos on my hard drive. I was not going to edit them all and upload them into a giant album. But I also did not want to throw them away. I decided to make them interesting enough for my friends to want to look at them.

How can you do it?

Here is my "unconference demo" from Google+ Photographer Conference and an interview for Photo Talk Plus. Written instructions are below these two videos.

Some people pointed out that this technique is not a stop motion as it does not match the definition. Some pointed out that it's more of a time lapse. I am using both teqniques in my videos and calling it time-motion or stop-lapse isn't appealing.

There are many tools and many sites explaining how to make stop motion videos. Trey Ratcliff also put together a great screencast with instructions. You can use any tools you like, as long as you follow the steps below:

1.  Take lots of very similar photos 

In order to make your stop motion "flow", take tons of photos of the same thing. Use various techniques to make every image slightly different.

  • Move camera slightly between every shot.
  • Circle around subjects, or move the camera towards or away from the subject.
  • Move your subject between every shot. If the subject is a person, let them walk towards or away from the camera. Photograph people walking, dancing, jumping, etc.

To see more techniques, check out my how to videos on stopmotionista.com.

If you travel, don't forget to photograph while you are in transport. Travel videos look better if you show the whole journey, including the airports and trains.

2. Optional: Reorder and crop

In an ideal world, you don't need to reorder the photos. Chronologic videos are great and show your journey accurately. But you will often find yourself in a situation when you need to swap some photos to make the story flow better.

Cropping might be needed if you want to create a true HD video which requires an aspect ratio of 16:9. However, if you are happy with the aspect ratio of the photos straight out of the camera (4:3 or 6:4), you can skip the cropping. YouTube will then pad your final video will black stripes on the left and right.

3. Save resized images with new file names

After you reorder the photos in your favorite photo editor (Lightroom, Picasa), you need to rename them so that they keep the new order after they are sorted by the file name. If you have photos from two or more cameras, synchronize them by time and then export (save) with new names containing sequence numbers. I used Adobe Lightroom to do this.

Lightroom allows me to automatically resize all images while saving them with new names. The above video was generated from photos that were 720 pixels wide. It's decent enough for viewing on a small laptop or an iPhone. For better resolution, pick 1280x720. I did however keep the original 6:4 aspect ratio and you should see black stripes on the left and right of the frame.

This is what a renamed file sequence would look like. As you can see, it sorts nicely by file name.

4. Convert the photo sequence into a movie file 

Convert the photo sequence into a video file. I used an advanced function "Open Image Sequence" in QuickTime Player 7 do this (the license cost $30 but it's totally worth it). QuickTime will then ask you to select a frame rate. I picked 12 frames per second. After you choose the frame rate, you'll be presented with your stopmotion video. It will be silent, but it will already look cool. :) Congratulations! Pat yourself on a back, save it into a .mov file and move onto the next step!

5. Optional: Add magic

You can stop now and enjoy your silent movie or you can continue editing your video further.

The next thing you probably want to do is to add sound. Pick an upbeat song to match the fast frame rate of the video. I found this amazing song by We Like Monsters and it matched my video perfectly! You can find free tracks at jamendo.com and freemusicarchive.org.

After you select a song, you'll realize that the length of the song does not match the length of the movie. It seems like you'd need to trim one or the other. It's easier to shorten few long movie sequences in order to make the movie match the song length. I used iMovie for this job.

iMovie also lets you insert a sequence with animated globe which enhances travel videos with facts about where you traveled from and where you traveled to. Just click on the globe icon on the bottom right of your iMovie app.

6. Upload to YouTube

Upload your movie to YouTube with the highest possible resolution. It might take longer, but you wouldn't need to be frustrated with poor quality once you watch it on YouTube.

7. Tell them

Tell all your friends about your new video. While you're at it, you can also share this blog post with them to show them how you did it. Trust me, they'll be asking.

Make sure to check out my main stopmotion site stopmotionista.com and if you feel crafty, also check out my "HOW TO" series to learn how to make other creative things.

And don't forget to send me links to your creations. I can't wait to see them!




Holiday Chillax Activity: Twirly Paper Ornaments

In this "how to" installment, I'll teach you how to make twirly paper ornaments -- the bublibicious ones that everyone will love. They look great suspended in front of your bathroom mirror, on a glass sliding door (to save people from walking through the glass). They look great alone, or (if you are in a incarcerated or stuck in a never ending blizzard) you can make many of these and shower the whole Christmas tree with them.

What you need

  • one sheet of thick paper
  • a bowl filled with water
  • scissors
  • paper glue (or a double-sided tape) 


1. Cut about 4-5mm thick stripes along the long edge of the paper (the longer the better). Cut about six of them at first. You can always cut more once you decide you need more.

2. Take a stripe and dip it in the water. Don't let it soak. Take it out as soon as you put it in. I usually run the stripe between my fingers to remove any excess water.

3. Roll the wet stripe into a spiral.

4. Put the wet spiral on a flat surface to dry.

5. Repeat steps 2 to 4 for each stripe.

6. Drink a cup of hot spiced wine while you wait for your spirals to dry. If you are under 18, get some hot cider.

7. Once the spirals are dry (in about 10 minutes), they will keep their shape. Arrange them in any way you like. If you are happy with the look, start gluing the parts that touch each other.

8. Voila! Your ornament is done! Hang it on a thin string (I use a thin thread) at an eye level for people to admire. Hang it high enough to keep it away from evil destructive little hands of small children. The ornament is quite delicate and needs to be handled gently and later stored in a sturdy box. I would love to see your creations in the comments!


How To Turn Geeks Into Models

Believe it or not, geeks make the best models. With a little direction, a promise to keep it short, and some amount of danger, the peoplez of the geek tribe can turn from engineers to models in a matter of seconds.

Trick One: Apply Pressure

As I was taking this photo, the guard was already telling us we need to leave. He was literally standing ten feet from the group, with his finger on the trigger (ok, this trigger thing is a complete dramatization, but you got my point). The guys from WibiData knew this shot was important and they really wanted to get this over with. The stress of the situation made them let go of their fear of posing and put them into "do or die" mode. It worked! They looked great, and I pressed the shutter the very second it happened.

Trick Two: Don't Forget The Third Dimension

Posing two people who are not romantically involved requires special skills. You want them stand close to one other, yet you don't want the result to look like an engagement photo.

If you stand the two subjects side by side facing the photographer, you can not get a good upper body crop. The cropped image would have two heads on the very far sides of the frame, with a big whitespace in the middle (which gets even bigger if the subjects have broad shoulders). You also can't ask your clients to "get cozier" - they need to be close, yet they need to keep a professional distance.

Perspective comes to the rescue!

When the 3D world gets projected onto the photograph, one dimension gets flattened -- the depth. By staggering your subjects, you can get their heads closer to one other in the 2D world while letting them keep a work appropriate distance in the 3D world. Don't forget to significantly narrow the aperture to keep both subjects in focus and you're ready to fire!

Trick Three: Rely Heavily On Your Software Friend

Geeks are great at synchronizing threads within a computer process, but not at synchronizing what they wear. If they don't wear matching colors, turn to your friend Photoshop. Your friend can also take care of the lack of makeup (which geeks rarely wear), dewrinkle their clothes, whiten their teeth, remove pizza stains and Star Wars logos from their shirts, and much much more.

Leave a comment if you have additional geek posing suggestions!


The Real Housewives of San Francisco

A blue wig from Hong Kong, a cherry Mac lipstick from USA, two crazy Europeans, and a San Francisco loft -- the perfect ingredients for hookering up with my friend Nat (a.k.a. Gaga) and shooting each other a la Miles Aldridge.

My husband can only wish I strutted around the house in this outfit every day. Polishing the glasses, putting stuff into the dishwasher, taking stuff out of the dishwassher, putting stuff into the oven, taking stuff out of the oven. You get the picture. But instead, I go to Google every day, nerd out with other nerds and write computer software. And that cake... I bought at Whole Foods. You didn't think I made it, did you?

I had a little melancholy moment by the fridge.

Tired of standing on a chair and shooting me, Nat put on her lace robe and decided to take a rest in my bathtub. I was like "this girl is crazy", but I kept my mouth shut and let her do her thing.

The phone rings, and she pulls out this... this big ass red phone.

Based on her expression, who do you think called her and what did they want from her?

Behind the scenes

It's always fun to see how things are made, right? Here is a peek into how we did it:

I wish I could list a long list of names of make-up artists, stylists, lighting assistants, and producers. But... we did our own make-up, used our own wardrobe, drank our own wine, and l was my own lighting assistant. The photos of me were taken by the very talented Natalie Rooke. The photos of Nat were taken by the very talented me. Can you tell us apart?

Here is a little step-by-step explanation of how I lit the fridge shot. The photos below are straight out of the camera, with no light adjustment. I only converted them to B/W to make it easier for you to see the amount and direction of light hitting the subject.

Suggestion: Open the above photo in a different browser window for easier side-by-side viewing.

Shot 1:

  • I set up two remote flashes (a.k.a. strobes). They are remote because they are not attached to my camera (duh). A pair of remote receivers listens to the signal from the transmitter attached to my camera. Two strobes are then attached to the two receivers. One strobe (with no light modifier) is in the fridge. The other strobe is on a lightstand about two feet camera left. As a light modifier, I used a silver reflective umbrella which created a wide soft light source.
  • If you had problems parsing the previous paragraph, read this "photo terminology for dummies" article before you continue reading the rest of this post.
  • What's wrong with this picture: It's a typically bad first shot for someone who did not think twice before firing. :) The black stripe at the bottom of the frame is telling me that my shutter speed is faster than flash sync speed. Also notice the extra bright lemon in Nat's hands. The fridge strobe is pointed at the damn lemon instead of Nat's face. Not what we want.
  • A solution: To fix the black stripe, I slowed down my shutter speed from 1/320 to 1/200 of a second. I then repointed the fridge strobe towards Nat's face.

Shot 2:

  • What is fixed in this picture: The strobe in the fridge is now pointing at Nat's face.
  • What's wrong with this picture: There is not enough light on the right side of Nat's face because the strobe to camera left misfired (did not fire). That's what happens when you buy a cheap ass remote triggers like those I got. They sometimes misfire and one or more strobes don't go off.
  • A solution: I did another shot and hoped that both strobes will fire. 

Shot 3:

  • What is fixed in this picture: The good news is that both strobes fired.
  • What's wrong with this picture: Even though the strobe in the fridge does light the subject's face, it also lights the white wall inside of the fridge. The wall now is too bright, taking the focus away from the subject. I don't like that. Also, I didn't like the angle I shot my subject from. Shooting at eye-level is boring.
  • A solution: I put a grid on the strobe in the fridge. A grid points all light in one direction, like a narrow beam. I made sure to point it only at my subject, not at the fridge wall. You can make your own grid by putting together a bunch of straws. Or you save yourself a hassle and buy one. I also decided to stand on a chair to shoot Natalie from above. It's one of the well known tricks that almost always flatter the subject and prevent seeing the double chin (not that Nat has one).

Shot 4:

  • What is fixed in this picture: The fridge wall is not lit. Also, the subject is now shot from a more flattering angle.
  • What's wrong with this picture: Putting the grid on the strobe and redirecting all light at my subject made the subject's face get too much light.
  • A solution: Lower the intensity of the flash in the fridge by about two stops.

Shot 5:

  • What is fixed in this picture: The strobe in the fridge is not overexposing (lighting too much) the subject.
  • What's wrong with this picture: Only the bottom part of the subject's hair is lit by the strobe in the fridge.
  • A solution: I asked Nat to lower her body and lean into the fridge.

Shot 6:

  • What is fixed in this picture: The whole left side of Nat's hair is lit from the strobe in the fridge.
  • What's wrong with this picture: Her hair is throwing shadows on her left cheek.
  • A solution: Move the face towards the strobe in the fridge.

Shot 7:

  • Since I was happy with the light setup, I hookered up and asked Nat to start shooting me.
  • What is fixed in this picture: Everything I cared about. The light is right, and I am facing the stronger light source (the strobe in the fridge). The other light (fill light) is filling up the areas that would have too dark of a shadow.
  • What's wrong with this picture: You don't see my right arm.
  • A solution: Grab the cake with both hands.

Shot 8:

  • What is fixed in this picture: Both my hands are visible.
  • What's wrong with this picture: The second strobe (fill light) misfired.
  • A solution: The good thing is that there is still a little bit of ambient (non-flash) light coming from a lamp in the living room. This photo can be salvaged. It can still make a decent black/white photo if curves are adjusted. The lack of the additional fill light makes the photo more contrasty, which is perfect for black/white photos. You can see this photo (processed and adjusted) earlier in this post.

Shot 9:

  • What is fixed in this picture: Nothing got fixed and a living room light was turned off.
  • What's wrong with this picture: The second strobe (fill light) misfired again. But this time, since the living room light was off, we don't have any ambient light to fill in the rest of the face.
  • A solution: This photo can be turned into a silhouette photo. You can see the actual processed photo earlier in this post.

Alright, this post is getting a bit too long. I will write about how I lit the bathtub shot in another post. Happy Labor Day weekend everyone!

PS: For the record, I do know how to bake. Here is my most recent one.


How To Make Animated Gifs

These are my parents. I love them.

We had so much fun during the shoot that I found it hard to pick just one good shot from the series of consecutive shots. So I decided to put these into animated GIF file. Here is how you can do this by yourself using free software:

  1. Download and install GIMP. It's free and it's badass.
  2. Get at least three photos that tell a story. Think stop motion.
  3. Upload them all as new layers into Gimp. "File" => "Open as layers"
  4. View the animation. "Filters" => "Animation" => "Playback" => click the play button
  5. Optimize the animation: "Filters" => "Animation" => "Optimize for GIF"
  6. Shrink the size by indexing the colors (this will worsen the color quality of the GIF): "Image" => "Mode" => "Indexed"
  7. Save the animation: "File" => "Save as" => pick GIF and make sure file ends in .gif => click save => dialog window pops up => select "save as animation" => click "export" => another dialog window pops up => select the time elapsed between frames (I think I am using 240ms) => click save
  8. A pretty large GIF file gets saved to the file you picked. You can now upload it to the web and all major browsers will play the animation.