Sheila Haycock came to talk to us, all the way from Exmouth, on the first snowy day of 2019, about AV – Audio Visual if you are unfamiliar with the term – and showed us that it is a fairly straightforward technique to grasp but, like everything else in photography, something that needs a fair bit of practice to pull off.
In essence Audio Visual in a photographic sense is sequencing stills and setting them within a time frame to commentary, music and/or sound effects. As such, as Sheila amply illustrated, we can recycle our existing images or script a shoot specifically for the purpose. Or mix the two.
What this can do is spark the creative process anew, as well as be a rainy-day-nah-lets-stay-in activity that still involves photography. What it won’t do is rescue a ropey set of pictures. Sheila’s are high quality images that she weaves into stories – and wins awards for.
As for software, well there are the Adobe / Final Cut paid for (very flexible and not cheap) routes all the way down to free. Sheila uses PicturesToExe which is a mid priced alternative. You might even have a copy of Microsoft Movie Maker on your computer, depending on its age, though that is no longer supported but you might have Video Editor loaded, which includes 3D effects but is otherwise pretty basic.
The basics of telling a story, regardless of medium, are the same, including a photograph. First we need something to hook our audience, the subject in a photograph is the subject in our story. The difference with an AV is that we are going to transition between stills in order to progress the story, using words/sound and the strongest element, the picture itself.
The transition, basically the next image or set of images, purposes, in a well told story, to build the tension (and release it a little) so that we get to the crux, the point, of the story. Then the conclusion, the punchline.
This is the basic structure of a good story. Of course we can have a good structure but if the materials aren’t good enough then all we are left with is a good story poorly told. It has to be logical throughout, but it also has to be engaging.
The role of the sound track is not something to be underestimated. It effects the emotions and dictates our reactions to what we are viewing. It is a powerful point of connection with the story. With this in mind it has to be picked carefully, music especially.
There are copyright issues with the use of music, rights need to be respected, and the requisite licenses should be purchased, and though there is copyright free music to be sourced, the licensed music option opens up a much wider catalogue.
Sound effects can also add to the impression of a three dimensional place within the presentation, but again, it needs to be appropriate to what is being shown and to the direction of the story, it is both clue and environmental enrichment.
The third element is the script and that can be the hardest one to get right, not least because most people reading aloud will do so in something approaching a monotone. This can be a real buzz-kill because, if the artist is sounding like they are uninterested, how can we demand the audience stay awake, let alone engaged? It needs rehearsal and it needs a certain amount of delivery skill.
There is, then, a considerable amount of flair in putting a successful AV together, but the proficiencies themselves are there to be mastered and the tools, even beyond the basic level, are easily enough resourced. It demands a blend of talents but it can be an effective and entertaining way of telling a story, using new or existing images.
Club member Ian Coombs talked to us on the matter of audio visual presentations, following on from Hanham Photographic Club’s visit last November when they presented us with some examples. This, however, was more how to.
An AV A/V or Audio Visual presentation does what it says on the tin. It uses sound and vision to get a point across. Or several points. Or, if done badly, no points at all. It can be a way of presenting photographs of course and the audio part of the equation is optional in this case. In many ways using audio and getting it right can be the most difficult part of the presentation, especially for Newts (New To Its’, the same creatures as that famous drinking benchmark – nothing if not educational this blog). Too loud, too quiet, inappropriate tempo for the transitions, too monotone (for voice over’s) or too hyper can render speech unfitting, music tastes vary widely. Then there is the death by PowerPoint TM syndrome, where the audience offers its own not always silent prayer for deliverance from, well, you.
Things don’t have to be complicated, in fact complication is best avoided, as ever the rule to rule the rules is Keep It Short and Simple. That also applies to the software. It is easy to end up with high end expensive programmes that go largely unused and certainly unstretched, especially by a YouTube or Vimeo video of the family day at the beach comprising of transitions (Tip: pick one, stick to it) between photos of the day. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, you just don’t need to sell your internal organs on the black market to fund it. There is plenty of freeware to be had that is up to the job (and a fair bit more) as we have previously discussed (link above). Some of it is pretty powerful too.
There is, of course, more to AV than ice cream and deck chairs to the tune of “I do Like to be beside the seaside” and whereas we are essentially talking about any sequence of images (still and/or video) with an accompanying sound track there is a huge amount of variation. It can be constructed to present a set of themed images where the sound track enhances the experience through setting the mood. It can be an interpretation of music or a written piece where the images fit the theme rather than the other way round. The whole point is that it is a lot more than just pictures to music.
The music does many things, if it’s got right it can having amazing effects. It amplifies, soothes, lifts, calms, sometimes in the length of a single piece. But it has to be appropriate to the rest of the presentation. Voiceovers, similarly, are difficult to get right. Put a microphone in someone’s face and you can bet that naturalistic, free flowing conversationalist will, more often than not, be reduced to a series of ums and errs in a flat tone. It happens because we switch a lot of processing power to reproducing the right sounds and, unless you’ve practised it a lot, it is very difficult to sound natural. That doesn’t rule out a text only solution.
The key, as ever, is to have a good idea of what the finished article looked like. Yes you can change your mind but you need to be consistent. Consistent in theme, in transitions, in volume, in control of background noise, or the overall look and feel will be at odds. It’s really about meeting the audiences expectations, and they will expect a beginning, a middle and an end. That doesn’t limit your imagination, but the audience is expecting a story. Whether that story ends with a call to action or the delivery of a conclusion the whole piece needs to be rounded and complete.
That said there is no reason that you cannot use the same ideas in building a dynamic photo album. You can put it on your cloud storage or on a DVD, keep it on your laptop. This is probably the first thing that people do when venturing into A/V’s (leaving the work related atrocities aside). Certainly it has become a staple in the wedding trade, at least as an option. Whatever your motive it is a good way to think about your photography in a different way. Give it a go.
We now have a new way of entering club competitions that doesn’t involve the Dropbox method, though Dropbox does remain active. Members are guided to http://www.photoentry.uk. You will need a link which you can get from Steve Hallam. Contact him through the club social media or at a meeting. Using Photoentry does simplify the job and it comes with useful messages about the suitability of your entry reference size (which I believe it adjusts for) and colour space (though it does error message sRGB IEC61966-2-1 for not being sRGB IEC61966-2.1, though that is of no real moment). You also get to zoom into your entry to check it’s the right one (yes I did, no it wasn’t and it would have stuck out a mile when projected so I am liking it already!). Deadline for the next round of the ROC is 14th April.
N E X T M E E T I N G
7th April. The WCPF Travelling Critique.
Last meeting we welcomed the return visit of our WCPF confederates from Hanham Photographic Society and we thank them for their input into the evening. It is always good to see the work of other enthusiasts to compare and contrast to our own so that we may generate some new ideas, sometimes new angles on our own photography of the same subjects. We have also had a reasonable response to the survey that Gerry put together for us on Survey Monkey which has yielded some clarity around the likes and dislikes of our more active members, I am told and that will be discussed and integrated into future planning by the Committee. Thank you all those who took the time to participate.
The stories that we can project onto an image is a powerful hook for a photograph, often before other ascetic attractions. We were entertained with image spreading across decades and something we don’t see in the club very often, AV shows. In fact these were the first AV’s, certainly in the last couple of years that I have been at the club. So this week we are going to take a potter around the topic of Audio Visual Presentations.
Primarily they do what it says on the tin, using sound and pictures, usually stills when made by photographers I guess, but often with movie elements mixed in to make a self contained presentation around a topic or theme. They can be made cheaply using software that is either not very expensive or even free, though, as with all things audio and visual you can spend up to an enormous fortune on “Essentials” and gewgaws. None of course are arbiters of quality, the biggest input, as with any IT system, is located between the keyboard and the chair. If you are serious about such things, of course, by which I mean semi/professional then custom and bespoke hardware can be bought in or built and professional market software have a pay off. For the curious existing hardware and free software are available. This piece is aimed at the curiosity end of the market.
Movie Maker (aka LIVE Movie Maker) comes packaged with Windows. At least it did before Windows 10, it is now part of the Windows Essentials Package (basically legacy programmes from previous versions of windows) and if you haven’t downloaded it into your Windows 10 then you can get it direct from Microsoft. It’s free. It is also an old version as, for some reason it didn’t make Windows 10 in updated form. So far so Microsoft. Apple’s Final Cut does the same in Apples’ own way though it is not the only option. We can also use PowerPoint, for those of us with the Microsoft Office suite, in a variety of creative ways, or Google’s free photo editing suite Picassa (https://picasa.google.co.uk/), and, of course, Photoshop (though this video is done over a PowerPoint presentation).
For recording your commentary, if you don’t already have a programme or app on your computer, and there is one in Windows, you could do a lot worse than Audacity (free) or Free Record Edit. You could also usefully employ an external microphone (quality does make a difference here, but go with what you have before splashing out). If you are going to use music, assuming it’s not your own for which there is plenty of freeware out there for you to choose from, use royalty free music offerings (those with creative commons licensing).
As with most things planning makes for a better result. The process can be as complicated as you want to make it but, as ever, KISS – Keep It Short and Simple – rules the rules. There should be a clear beginning middle and end and one item should follow on logically from the previous. Whether you match the visuals to the audio or the audio to the visuals is a judgement you have to make, but if you don’t know where you are going you are likely to find yourself somewhere else. That is to say if you don’t know the point you want to make then you are likely to end up with a bit of mess. Or a lot of one.
So, when planning for audiovisual you have to remember that there are different priorities than planning just the image alone. The soundtrack is probably the most difficult element to get right, not so much the choice of jingle jangling music in the background which can be very distracting, but the deadpan voice of the narrator is an absolute joy. Not. This can kill any interest very quickly. A little adaptation goes a long way. The ability to put some emotion into the sentences is worth its weight in gold. Difference in tone, timbre, and occasionally speed gives the presentation of some interest. It is a fine line between nearly and good enough, but the effect on the viewer is far greater than might otherwise be thought. Going over the top does no favours either. The breathlessly enthusiastic can equally kill a presentation just as fast. Basically you need to get the sound right as well as the visuals.
Professional AV’s like those used in marketing and sales, can and do use proprietary hardware and software, and that is a sky’s the limit playground for your wallet. The rules, though, stay the same. Of primary importance is to decide who your audience is and the second is to use the medium to talk to them, not at them. The materials you present have to be appropriate, they have to be made available at the right time and often, they have to be able to be played across multiple platforms. This can be where the Web comes in useful with sites like YouTube, Vimeo and so on, where the question of Windows/Mac/Linux viewed on Lap top, PC, Mac, I-Phone Android etc don’t come into play because someone else has already taken care of that. This is good for wide distribution, though controlling access can be problematic. Neither is the cost/bother of burning CD/DVD’s, printing covers and loading into boxes a factor. On the other hand there is a lot you can do with a little, so why not give it a go?
Our thanks again to Hanham Photographic Society for an entertaining evening. Next meeting, Life Begins at 40 ……