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As I continue to look for ways to make my iPad useful beyond being a lightweight web browser / game console, I came across a handy app for creating timelapse videos: the aptly named Timelapse Camera HD. This elegant and simple app lets you set an interval between photos, the frame rate, choose front or rear camera, and several other settings. You put your iPad in place – this is actually the trickiest part, as you can’t zoom and may find that even a light breeze will jiggle the iPad – and simply tap the “record” button. While it’s recording, you can occupy yourself calculating how much footage you’ll be getting (by knowing how many frames per second you’re recording, and calculating how many seconds you’ll end up with based on your interval). When you’re done, you tap “stop” and in just a few seconds, the app will render a finished video which you can immediately review, and then save.
Since you’re likely to want a video that’s landscape-oriented, it’s important to turn your iPad on its side. The stills will show up sideways during the recording process, but in the end everything turns out fine.
The down side of the app is that you can’t export it to Windows Movie Maker for further editing. I also tried Adobe Premiere Elements, and while the file seems to import successfully, it ends up corrupted within the editor. I assume it works seamlessly on iMovie or other mac-based editing programs. So to string together a series of short clips (and edit out the parts where I might have inadvertently moved the iPad) I used the separate iMovie app for the iPad. iMovie has its own limitations, but for $4.99, it’s hard to complain.
Also, it makes a difference whether you’re using the front or rear camera – one records in wide format, while the other records in standard. I assumed they’d be the same, and used front or rear depending on whether it would be easier to lean the iPad toward, or away from the scene being recorded.
I recorded a few scenes in and around Washington, D.C. and here is the result:
Memorial Day weekend, Washington, D. C., an overcast sky that doesn’t quite suggest the scorchingly hot day ahead. Standing on the DC side of the Memorial Bridge at noon with an expectant crowd along the barriers and covering the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and a faint rumble can be heard from the direction of Arlington National Cemetery, on the other side of the Potomac.
Soon a phalanx of police motorcycles comes rumbling over the bridge and around the corner. Followed by another. Then nothing for about 5 minutes. A formation of US Air Force fighters flies by overhead, in tight formation, with roars of approval from the crowd. Silence. Then a formation of geese flies by overhead, almost in parody of the Air Force – and again the crowd roars with applause and laughter.
At about 6 minutes past noon, the next motorcycles roar around the corner in what will eventually become a 3-hour-long continuous “parade” of bikes of all types, some festooned with American flags, Marine Corps flags, and POW/MIA flags. This is the twenty-fourth running of “Rolling Thunder” – an event that began with 2,500 Vietnam veteran riders to bring attention to the plight of prisoners of war and those missing in action. Now it has swelled to 250,000 motorcycles, coming from as far away as California and beyond, a gesture of unity and support, not just for POW/MIA, but also for veterans in general.
Many of the riders are clearly veterans, but everyone is clearly welcome. From the most tricked-out Harleys and luxury motorcycles – many of which are more of a car than my own auto – to an occasional city scooter, this is an impressive show of support for a small slice of the American population that often falls between the cracks. The dull roar and waves to the crowd continue nonstop as the riders make their way around the far end of the National Mall, finally ending up in an endless motorcycle parking lot near the Korean War Memorial. From there, many of the riders will take the opportunity to visit the Vietnam Memorial – to remember, to reflect, and to pay their respects to their fellow countrymen who gave everything for a war that took place years ago, but remains firmly burned into the national consciousness.
America continues to heal the wounds of the Vietnam War, even as we continue to fight two – or three – others. The inevitable comparison is made, of course. But politics aside, events like these are an opportunity to think about the sacrifices that are made by such a small proportion of our population. Take a moment to thank a veteran. And never forget.
I had the opportunity to witness the Washington, DC celebrations of Osama bin Laden’s demise at the hands of US military forces. Watching the news on television, I felt it important to experience first-hand what was going on outside the White House. Here is a video I put together from the scenes there:
Strangely, despite the enthusiasm of others, I personally felt no sense of elation. This in spite of the emotionality of the events of September 11, 2001 and the change they brought to our country, and having served in numerous locations directly related to these events . These include ten trips to Afghanistan ranging from a couple of weeks to six months, between 2006 and 2011, and numerous other projects related to the so-called “War on Terror”. We had lived through painful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, had struggled with the questions surrounding Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and constant changes in “threat warnings” – and yet for nearly a decade we had been looking for the mastermind of the attacks, questioning over the years whether we would ever catch him. And after an eloquent speech by our President, we may have found some sense of closure.
Yet there was something faintly disturbing about the celebrations. Most in the crowd were college students – who had been maybe 10 or 11 years old at the time of the attacks. The majority of their sentient lives had been lived amid the “Global War on Terror” – and they likely had little understanding of how America had changed in mood that September morning. In the wake of thousands of deaths caused by those 19 terrorists and their sponsors, here we found ourselves, in effect, celebrating the death of another, almost like you’d see people celebrating a World Cup victory. I wondered whether this is the America we were before September 11th.
I don’t begrudge others’ need to express themselves how they see fit, or judge them, whether they choose to wave flags and chant “USA, USA” – or simply to reflect on all the lives that have been lost or irrevocably damaged over the last decade. But I think it bears considering how we as a people have changed throughout all of this.
And I don’t look forward to how we will continue to grapple with the events of the last few days. Already the conspiracy theorists, and the cynics, and the critics have begun probing and questioning. No doubt we will be hearing about whether the killing of bin Laden was morally correct; whether he was actually killed as there is no body; whether his burial at sea was consistent with Islamic law, the timing of the operation in relation to the re-election campaign, and Pakistan’s role in all of this. Maybe the best thing we can do is to accept bin Laden’s death as the end of a chapter – blowing off some steam if that helps – and try as best we can to try and move forward. After all, there is much work left to be done in Afghanistan and elsewhere. While there will certainly be scars, maybe we need to try and resist continually picking at the scabs, and let the wounds caused by September 11 heal.
A couple of weeks ago, the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC were in full bloom. The National Cherry Blossom Festival in the capital is in its 99th iteration and marks the coming of spring in a visual celebration of pink and white blossoms surrounding some of our nations most stunning and recognizable landmarks. It presents some unique photo opportunities, but requires patience due to the thousands of other people who’ve had the same idea. The festival will continue for another few days; though the springtime rain has brought down a lot of the blossoms, there are still a few events planned before it’s time to start planning for the 100th anniversary of the festival.
If you missed it this year, here are a few of the photos I managed to snap in spite of all the other tourists. Hover above the blue Photoshop bar to bring up navigation buttons; the one at the far right will full-screen the slideshow.
Just returned from a grueling,longer-than-expected trip in Washington, D.C. It wasn’t all for naught – though I had to wait until Friday for a series of grueling job interviews that had been scheduled for Monday, it resulted in a job offer. And while I waited, I snagged some video footage of the DC blizzard – which really was a blizzard, as far as I could tell – using a newly-acquired Flip Ultra HD. Of course the sound was a mess because of the wind blowing on the mic, but I think I managed to find some sound that accurately captured the empty, almost desolate mood on the streets of our normally crowded capital:
And then, the next day, life had almost returned to normal, along with some trick skiers in front of the Lincoln Memorial:
As I weathered the worst storm to hit Washington, D.C. in years (they’re calling it “snowpocalypse”!) I thought about a video I made the last time I was in our nation’s capital. There was much less snow on the ground that time; it was just a few days after President Obama’s inauguration, and the city seemed eerily silent – a stark contrast with the crowds and activity I had seen on television just days before. Row upon row of porta-johns were lined up on the national mall, and only a few solitary runners and the hardiest tourists were out there with me. I passed the workmen scrubbing the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial, and was startled to see a huge red-tailed hawk perched on one of the pedestals along the stairway. I wish I had taken more photos – another guy was there with one of those lenses that look about a foot long, snapping away. Anyway, I wandered around and took advantage of the quiet to get some impressions of the city, and later that evening took a drive around town as a light snow began to fall again.
I put the images I gathered into a short video / slideshow, which you can see below, but that’s not what this post is about. Instead, I’d like to share how I did the last few images at the end, which combine several images on top of each other, overlaid with a burning – or rather “unburning” credit, and using chroma key (aka “green screen”) technology. The video below contains the first version of that effect, which you can watch if you have about a minute to spare.
About a year later, I modified the video to enter it in the Lonely Planet’s “My Journey” video contest. No, I didn’t win. This guy did–> (with a pretty cool video!). I added some text, and my friend Dan Cooper and I put together a combination of some public domain patriotic music, and I redid the final credit. Take a look at that version below (fast forward to the last 20 seconds or so if you want) and I’ll explain how it was done.
OK, it starts with the image of the hot dog stand at about 1:35 where I give the music credit. Then, on a separate track, I added another still with a lot of blue sky, and used the chroma key function of Premiere Elements 7 (but many editing programs have it). Some programs will guess which color you want to make transparent, but in this case it’s best to indicate you want to choose the color (else your program may pick water instead of sky), and then choose the most representative part of the sky. If the sky is all exactly the same color, but any smog or haze (like in this one) and you have to play around with it. If you look closely along the left bottom of the sky you’ll see I wasn’t able to get rid of all of it. The chroma key effect removed all the blue sky (made them transparent) and left behind the haze. Or smog. Whatever.
Next the fancy part.
- I used Power Point to create my credits exactly how I wanted them to appear – using a color that would work with the rest of the images. I actually printed it lighter “mustard” but the other chroma key effect later on changed it.
- Next, I printed it. Try to use most of the paper, leaving an inch or two all around.
- Then I got a large non-glossy poster board about the same color as the paper I printed on (I never new there were so many different “colors” of white!).
- I cut inch-wide strips of a 3X5 index card, and folded them and glued them so that they would function as spacers between the poster board and the printed credits. What I was looking for was a way to hold the credits about half an inch out from a piece of poster board the same color as the paper – and without the sheet with the credits bending. You may have to get creative here.
- Next I went outside and used duct tape (which really is good for just about anything) to tape the poster board to a wall outside so it was vertical; and set up the camera with tripod, so that it was about 4 feet from the paper, zoomed in so that the credits filled nearly the entire screen.
- Now for the safety briefing: Make sure there is nothing nearby that will burn easily. If you have a fire extinguisher or a bucket of water, now might be a good time to have it nearby.
- Now you need a pretty decent lighter – or you can light a larger piece of paper – but you want a good-size flame. Hit “record” on your camera and light the bottom of the sheet with your credits on fire – as evenly as possible. You want the whole thing to burn relatively evenly. If the right side just burns and it falls off the poster board, it won’t work. Light it all across the bottom.
So after the credits are burned, it’s a matter of importing from your camera to your editing program. Trim appropriately, and at this point I reversed the clip – so that the credits actually appear from the fire rather than get consumed by it. This clip goes right over the top of the others, and then you apply another chroma key effect – this time selecting white (your paper) as the color you want to make transparent.
And that’s pretty much it. You can go out and spend hundreds of dollars (or more) on another program that will do this effect without the risk of having to notify the fire department – but it’s also possible to do it with a very basic editing program. Good luck!