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Output Like a Pro with iPhoto 5

by Derrick Story
02/01/2005

In my previous iPhoto 5 article, I discussed how easy it is to upload and manage RAW files. This eliminates a huge barrier. RAW photography used to mean "more pain than fun." Instead of playing with my pictures right after a shoot in iPhoto, I found myself "working" in Camera Raw. iPhoto 5 has changed that. Now anyone can input like a pro... and love it.

To test this concept, I went shooting this weekend at Pt. Reyes in Northern California. I set my Canon 10D in RAW mode and left it there. When I got home that evening, I couldn't wait to get on my Mac and play with the images. As it turned out, the experience was even better than I had anticipated. The end result was a 1:40 slideshow complete with transitions, pans, zooms, and music. All of this was completed quickly (and happily) in iPhoto 5. So now, I can output like a pro too.

And that's what this article is about. I'm going to show you some of my tricks for creating standout slideshows in iPhoto 5 -- regardless if you shoot JPEG or RAW. I'll then show you how to export your slideshows to QuickTime. You can share these presentations with anyone who has a Mac or PC.

As you can tell, we have lots to cover. So let's get to work.

Sorting Your Images

Over the course of the day I shot 102 photos, which just about filled up my SanDisk 1GB Ultra II CF card. When I got home, I connected the Belkin USB 2.0 15-in-1 Media Reader and uploaded the images to iPhoto 5. Usually this is when I treat my trail-parched throat to an ice cold Coke. But now that iPhoto 5 shows me postcard sized photos as it imports my RAW files, I'm not going anywhere. Uploading is actually fun.

After iPhoto has grabbed everything, I transfer all the pictures again. This time I drag the DCIM folder from the SanDisk card on to an external FireWire drive and rename it "Pt. Reyes Masters, Jan 05." This serves as my immediate backup and long term archive of the untouched RAW files. During this second (non-entertaining) upload, I finally have a moment to get that Coke.

I can start playing in iPhoto as soon as the archiving is complete. First I rate each picture using the "star" system that was introduced in iPhoto 4. The slideshow function works great for this because I can view the pictures at a whopping 1440 by 900 pixels on my 17" PowerBook. This makes it easy to determine image quality and sharpness.

To enable this function in iPhoto 5, you might be tempted to click on the "Slideshow" icon beneath your thumbnails to get things started. Don't do it. That button builds a slideshow object that has more features than we want right now. You just want to rate and sort. So instead, click once on the "Last Roll" icon to highlight it, then click on the "sideways triangle" icon in the lower left corner of the iPhoto interface (beneath the Source window). That will present you with the following dialog box that you set up as shown here:

Figure 1. Keep the settings simple for rating images. We'll add the motion stuff later. Figure 1. Keep the settings simple for rating images. We'll add the motion stuff later.

You want to work quickly through this phase. As each image presents itself on the screen, click on the appropriate star rating in the slideshow controls until all the images have been starred. Once this is completed, I usually create a custom album, drag all the pictures into it, then click on View > Sort Photos > By Rating. My highest rated images are at the top of the window working downward to the lowest rated pictures.

Now I create a second custom album and drag all my absolute favorite images from the first album into it. Because the pictures are star rated, this task is easy. Here I can arrange them in the order that will ultimately become my slideshow. I named this second album, "Pt. Reyes Picks." I'm almost ready to create my slideshow.

A Little Editing First

If I've had a good shooting day, I shouldn't have to do much editing of the pictures in "Pt. Reyes Picks" -- maybe a little cropping and exposure adjustment. The image-editing dashboard in iPhoto 5 (click on the "Adjust" button in editing mode) makes these refinements a snap.

Figure 2. No need to use an external editor for speedy image adjustments. iPhoto 5 has a capable set of tools for fine-tuning slideshow pictures. Figure 2. No need to use an external editor for speedy image adjustments. iPhoto 5 has a capable set of tools for fine-tuning slideshow pictures.

If you started with RAW files, keep in mind that iPhoto 5 automatically generates JPEGs from that RAW data, and it's those JPEGs that you're editing with the slider bars in the dashboard. This is a fantastic convenience for building slideshows quickly. (Your original RAW data remains safe and unchanged deep within the folder labyrinth inside your iPhoto Library folder.)

Later on, if you want to return to that original RAW data for another project, such as making fine art prints, simply go to Share > Export... > File Export, and choose "Original" for the format. iPhoto will send the original RAW file to the destination of your choice, where you can fine tune to your heart's content in Camera Raw.

But for now we're building slideshows, so there's no need for any of that. Once all the images in the "pick set" look good to the eye, it's time to put things in motion.

Build Your Slideshow

Arrange the images in your "picks" album to create a sequence, called a storyline, for your presentation. Just grab them and drag into position. I recommend that you begin the show with a few powerful images, and end things the same way. Hide the average stuff in the middle.

Keep in mind that you're telling a story. You'll be surprised how effectively you can communicate a storyline by how you arrange the pictures. Once everything is in place, click on the album name once to highlight it, then click on the "Slideshow" icon beneath the thumbnails. iPhoto 5 will take you to a new interface you've never seen before. It's playtime!

Figure 3. In the new slideshow work area, you have new tools to create your masterpiece. Figure 3. In the new slideshow work area you have new tools to create your masterpiece.

You'll also notice that you have a new "object" in the Source window -- a slideshow named after the album that provided the images. I like this function because now I have a separate sandbox to play in without messing with my "Pt. Reyes Picks" album.

I usually start by clicking on the "Settings" icon at the bottom of the interface to set up the basic parameters of the presentation. I choose my default transition -- I like Dissolve -- and click on the "Fit slideshow to music," then click OK. I leave the other checkboxes blank because they do things I don't want. (Take a look at this Apple help page if you want a handy overview of all the settings in this dialog box.)

For example, if you check the box labeled, "Automatic Ken Burns Effect," then iPhoto applies panning and zooming to every image in your show. This is handy if you're in a hurry, but I don't like this look for every slide. Plus, there is some image degradation associated with it (during presentation only). I'll manually apply Ken Burns a little later, and only to specific pictures.

Figure 4. In the Settings dialog box you can configure the basic parameters for your presentation. But don't go crazy here. Save the customizing for individual slides later. Figure 4. In the Settings dialog box you can configure the basic parameters for your presentation. But don't go crazy here. Save the customizing for individual slides later.

Next, I select my soundtrack. Click on the "Music" icon, check the box "Play music during slideshow," and select the appropriate track out of your iTunes library.

Here's a good tip: pick a short song for slideshows consisting of 25 images or less, and medium length tunes for longer presentations. For my Pt. Reyes presentation, I picked a music track that was 1:40 in length for 20 images.

Why do I care? Because I've told iPhoto to match the length of the slideshow to the length of the music I put with it, if I choose "Stairway to Heaven" for 20 slides, each image will be on the screen for an eternity -- not exactly good movie making. I like my presentations to hum along at a good clip. So I choose short musical pieces for shows with a couple dozen images or less.

Figure 5. Short soundtracks work best for presentations with 24 slides or less. Figure 5. Short soundtracks work best for presentations with 24 slides or less.

At this point, if you did nothing else other than click on the first thumbnail for your slideshow and hit the "Play" button that's beneath the preview window, you would have a more engaging presentation than most of your friends. But iPhoto 5 still has a few tricks up its sleeve, so let's see what else we can do.

Artistic Intervention

One of my complaints about iPhoto slideshows of the past can be summed with the phrase, "Lumbering Hippo." Slide after slide with the same transition, at the same pace ... it was more conducive to lulling your audience into a hypnotic trance rather than stirring their enthusiasm. First of all, I think many shows I've watched are too long. Five minutes is forever for these types of presentations. I prefer 1:30 to 3 minutes. That alone will help prevent viewers from nodding off, or at least from snoring out loud.

But you have some new tools in iPhoto 5 that can also stimulate the senses. Click once on any thumbnail in your slideshow to highlight it, then explore the options displayed beneath your picture. You can apply each effect individually to the picture you've selected. Any image that you don't change individually will use the default settings that you established earlier.

You can shift-click a sequence of images and apply effects and transitions to them as a group. This works fairly well, but the Preview button doesn't like the group selection, and just shows me the first two slides in the sequence.

The grouping is really handy if you're applying a special transition, such as the Cube, to a short sequence. For even finer tuning while the slides are selected, click on the Adjust button, and you get a handful of contextual controls for the specific transition you've applied. For example, if you're using the Cube transition, you can tell iPhoto which direction you want it to rotate by using the Adjust menu.

Figure 6. The Adjust dashboard is contextual. When you're creating slideshows, it enables you to refine the effect. Figure 6. The Adjust dashboard is contextual. When you're creating slideshows, it enables you to refine the effect.

The crown jewel in this treasure chest is the Ken Burns Effect. You can apply pan and zoom effects to individual slides by clicking on their thumbnail, then checking Ken Burns Effect box. It's very easy to use, and Apple has published a short set of directions for applying this effect.

I only use the Ken Burns Effect on a handful of slides per show. That way it stays fresh. Also, be careful how much you zoom in. If you don't have tons of resolution in the picture, you might discover that it begins to pixelate as you zoom in. especially when the show plays full screen on a 17" PowerBook. But used with restraint, I think this is a terrific addition to iPhoto 5.

You can preview the effect by clicking on the Preview button. Once you have all of your slides set, click on the first thumbnail in the series, and then hit the Play button. Sit back and marvel at how good your creation looks.

Exporting to QuickTime

In theory, you can easily export your completed slideshows to QuickTime and iDVD 5. In practice, I'm having better luck right now with QuickTime than iDVD. So I'll focus on exporting to QuickTime here, and I'll come back to iDVD when it's working a little better for me.

The QuickTime export is handy for showing your presentation on computers other than where your iPhoto library lives, such as Uncle Bob's Dell PC. The procedure is simple. Click once on the slideshow object in the Source window to highlight it, then go to Sharing > Export, and iPhoto 5 figures out that you want to save the presentation as a QT movie. You have three options for frame size: 720x480, 320x240, and 240x180. But you're not afforded any compression options, so pick your frame size and location, then hit the Export button.

Figure 7. iPhoto 5 provides three size options for exporting your slideshow to QuickTime, but no compression options. Figure 7. iPhoto 5 provides three size options for exporting your slideshow to QuickTime, but no compression options.

Once the file has been exported, having the Pro version of QuickTime comes in handy. Instead of viewing the movie in the (zzzzz) Player window, go to Movie > Present Movie, then choose "Normal" from the dropdown menu. Now hit the Play button. QuickTime will play your presentation in what I call movie theater mode, and it looks a lot better than watching it in the boring Player window. Try it!

Sharper Movies in Half the Size

When I exported my slideshow using the method I outlined above, the file size was 5.6MB for a 1:40 movie at 240x180. Not huge, but substantial in size. I started wondering if there was another way to export a more compact version. There is.

I went back to the custom album, "Pt. Reyes Picks," that I had created earlier (see the section titled, "Sorting Your Images"), clicked on its title once to highlight it, and clicked on the sideways triangle at the bottom of the Source window to get a dialog box (see Figure 1). This time I choose "Dissolve" for my transitions and indicated that I wanted each slide to play for 4 seconds. I clicked on the "Music" tab and selected the same song as I had been using. Then I clicked the "Save Settings" button.

Now when I go to Share > Export, I get the "old" dialog box that we saw in iPhoto 4 where I can set my frame size and duration for each image, as shown below:

Figure 8 Here's a different way to export your QuickTime movie in iPhoto 5, and with more control. Figure 8 Here's a different way to export your QuickTime movie in iPhoto 5, and with more control.

Once I click the Export button, iPhoto 5 creates a QuickTime movie and saves it in the designated place. How is this presentation different than the movie I exported earlier? Well, the file size is now 2.9MB for a 1:42 length movie with the same frame dimensions. That's almost half the size of my previous export! But it gets even better.

Method #1 (5.6MBs) used MPEG-4 compression, creating a video, tween, and audio tracks. Method #2 (2.9MBs) used Photo-JPEG compression to create its video tracks and just kept the original MP3 format of the song from my iTunes library. The upshot is, that the images in Method #2 are not only smaller in file size than with Method #1, they're sharper too. Look at the side by side comparison below:

Figure 9. Frame shot on the left was created with Photo-JPEG compression in Method #2, and on the right with MPEG-4 compression via Method #1. Figure 9. Frame shot on the left was created with Photo-JPEG compression in Method #2, and on the right with MPEG-4 compression via Method #1.

This isn't a knock on the MPEG-4 codec; rather, its implementation in iPhoto 5 when exported to QuickTime. You can view the movie exported via Method #2 on my .Mac site. Some of the bird shots suffer from the small frame size, but you'll get the idea. This slideshow was exported right out of iPhoto 5 without any additional adjustments. Feel free to download it and examine its construction.

Final Thoughts

iPhoto 5 gives you some great options for creating dynamic slideshows from your images, even if you originally captured them in RAW. The new slideshow editor is terrific for customizing your presentation, then playing it full screen on your Mac.

If you want to export to QuickTime however, I recommend you create your movie directly out of your custom photo album using Photo-JPEG compression. You'll get sharper images and a smaller file size. You won't be able to intermix a variety of effects as in Method #1, but the tradeoff of a more compact download and crisper pictures might be worth sacrificing a few special effects.

This is just one example of how iPhoto 5 lets you output like a pro. Fire it up and see what you discover.

Digital Photography Hacks

Related Reading

Digital Photography Hacks
100 Industrial-Strength Tips & Tools
By Derrick Story

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.


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