The many uses of chroma keying

What is chroma key? It is a technique for mixing two images or frames together in which a color (or a small color range) from one image is removed (or made transparent), revealing another image behind it. Still, a visual technique is better explained in visual terms, so watch this video, which explains it much better than I ever could. The technique is also called color keying, colour separation overlay, greenscreen and bluescreen.

[via Holger on FB]


Join MP4 files with Front End Digital Media Workshop

Want an easy way to join MP4 clips together? Front End Media Workshop, a nifty piece of Mac software published by the now defunct K-werkx, can definitely help you out. While the folks that put it together aren’t online any longer, the app is still available for download from CNET.

FE_DMW makes it really easy to join video clips

FE_DMW makes it really easy to join video clips

The app (it shows up as FE_DigitalMediaWorkshop in the Apps folder by the way) is meant to do a bunch of other things, but I found it most useful to join together several MP4 clips from my video collection.

For example, I’d purchased a DVD of “The Curious Adventures of Mr. Wonderbird“, a re-titled version of the 1952 original, La Bergère et Le Ramoneur. The film is little known, and features the dramatic escape of a pair of lovers from the claws of a despotic ruler. A curious bird helps them escape and orchestrates the toppling of the ruler’s oppressive regime, which mirrored, at the time, what was going on behind the iron curtain of Eastern Europe. Peter Ustinov voices the bird and also narrates the story.

At any rate, I’d copied the DVD to my computer only to later realize that I’d done it by chapters instead of copying the entire movie as a single file. Front End Digital Media Workshop allowed me to drag the five or six clips for each chapter onto its main window, drag and drop to arrange them in order, then, within minutes, join them together as a single file. The output was saved to the desktop in a folder (one for each join operation), where I could review, rename and archive it.

Sure, if you have Quicktime Pro, you can join video files there, or you can also import them into iMovie, but a small, single purpose app that does it faster and without a lot of fuss scores higher in my book. I may even use it later to snip clips from the beginning and end of some of my other video files, since I see that it has that feature built in as well.


Three classic movie duds

If you follow along with my classic movie reviews, you may think I have only good things to say about them. Truth is, I don’t usually choose to write up movies I don’t like. But I’ve recently seen three classic movies that were so bad I needed to point them out. I’ll look at each in the order I’ve seen them.

Chicken Every Sunday (1949)

Made after a book which can still be found in print (at least the book was good), this movie is a convoluted, drawn-out, syrupy mush that does not entertain. It only frustrates.
One good thing is that it has Alan Young, one of my favorite actors, but he’s stuck in this horrible, lily-livered role that has him meowing and crying his way through the movie, and it’s just sad.

Individually speaking, the actors are good. They’re talented, they can play good parts when they get them — but this movie’s script doesn’t have a single good part in it. It just plain sucks. Stay away from it. Did I mention it’s long and you’ll be sorry if you’ll watch it?

Platinum Blonde (1931)

This is one of Frank Capra’s earlier movies. Any movie by Frank Capra ought to be good, right? WRONG. This movie is a real stinker. The direction is off. The dialogue is slow. The editing sucks. The script is pathetic. There are long, dead pauses, and the chemistry between the actors is non-existent.

As if that’s not bad enough, the movie’s principal roles were miscast. We have Jean Harlow playing the part of an aristocrat. Excuse me? JH?! A platinum blonde best suited for the more tawdry, tough roles, playing an innocent, educated, mannered, high class lady?! That’s a riot… Every move Harlow makes is a verdict against the part she’s playing. Every sway of her hip convicts her, calls her a liar. She simply wasn’t made for that role. It’s the antithesis of her.

Then we’ve got some dude I’ve never seen before in the principal role. Who he is, I don’t know, and I don’t really want to know. He’s not likable, and he’s not meant for principal roles, end of story.

The movie’s saving grace is Loretta Young, who’s stuck as Gallagher, the office girl men see as one of them, until the dude in the principal part gets things right in the last scene. You’ve got to be kidding me… Loretta Young is NOT a man and you can’t look at her that way. Frank Capra was cuckoo to cast her in that part, sorry — although she made the best of it and was the one shining actor in the whole movie.

How can I put it? This movie stinks. Don’t watch it.

Second Chorus (1941)

Here we’ve got another example of a movie that should have been good, but it’s most definitely NOT. You’d have to get a really crappy writer and director to mess up a movie with Fred Astaire and Paulette Goddard. Guess what? They found both “geniuses” for this movie.

The plot is just pathetic. Two guys fight for the affections of one girl. Should be good, under the right circumstances, but it’s horribly complicated, and the plot devices are terrible and amateurish, the sort of stuff that made me cringe. The writing, the lines: yuck.

You know who else is in this movie? Rocky’s trainer — Burgess Meredith. He looks pretty much the same in 1941 as he did in 1976 for Rocky, and for the sequels. He was like George Burns. Looked old from his youth. And he’s unlikable in this movie.

There’s one scene that’s good in this movie, and it’s when Fred and Paulette dance together. Why couldn’t they do more of that throughout the movie? Why did they stick Fred Astaire, a dancing man, in a trumpet player role? Why do they have him trying to conduct an orchestra while dancing and playing the trumpet?

The movie is full of hair-pulling questions like these. It made me want to get a bunch of rotten tomatoes and start throwing them at the director and the other people responsible for making this idiotic waste of time.


The next stage for Lightroom

Adobe LightroomI am a happy user of Adobe Lightroom. It has helped me get a handle on my growing photo library. While it largely replicates the functionality of Adobe Bridge, it does so with a much better interface, and includes extra functionality that makes its price worthwhile. I do most of my photo processing in Lightroom these days, and don’t go into Photoshop unless I absolutely need it.

There are a few things that need to change in order for Lightroom to become a truly valuable addition to a digital photographer’s tool set. Sure, there are some small features that could be introduced here and there, and there are some bug fixes that need to occur as well. By and large though, what I see as the biggest needed improvement can’t be explained in a few words. It requires a more detailed explanation.

Say someone starts getting into photography in a serious sort of way. They begin editing their photos on their computer, and soon find, as they get into the several hundreds and thousands, that they need something to help them organize and manage their photos. Right? Well, say they get Lightroom. They’re happy campers now. They take more photos, and then even more. They can edit the meta-data, batch process photos, export for web and print, put together photo galleries, etc. It’s great!

Here’s where things start to get tricky though. As that photo library gets bigger, it needs to be moved off the primary computer, be it a laptop or a desktop machine. Its sheer size demands a large external device, and hopefully one that stores the data in redundant fashion, to guard against hardware failures. Well, no problem, they get a huge drive and move their photos onto it. That drive is connected via USB or Firewire, and they continue to work with Lightroom. Things are just peachy.

Guess what: at some point, that photographer will need to shoot on location. They’ll take a trip either out of town, or out of the country. If they don’t have a laptop already, they’ll need to get one, because every digital photographer knows they’ll very likely need to process some photos on location, away from home.

But guess where their photo library is? It’s at home, of course. So what do you think happens when you open Lightroom while you’re away from your photo library? Why, you can’t! It tells you drive X is not available. (I should specify this occurs when the Lightroom library is stored on an external device. You can, of course, store the library locally and the photos externally, but as the library gets bigger, you’ll run into space problems. I did.)

So what can you do? You can create a new photo library, import the photos into it, and work with them that way. But wait a minute? Where’s all that beautiful meta-data that you worked so hard at? Where’s your keyword database, with its hierarchical structure, so you can tag easier without having to remember all the keywords you’d want to use? Where are all your locations? Where are your collections? Nowhere. You have to start fresh, and then when you get home, you have to re-import those photos into your main library, then reconcile keywords, locations, etc. It’s just not pretty, and it’s not practical. And on top of that, you may run into certain import bugs

What Lightroom needs is the ability to have a two-part library: a portable, main library, that travels with the machine where Lightroom is installed, and an archive library that can sit on an external device, or multiple external devices. This is NOT the same as the Vault concept one finds in Aperture. No, it goes far beyond that. The Vault concept is meant for backing up the photo library, but doesn’t address the problem of running out of space in the main library. It simply allows you to back up your work on multiple devices.

Hear me out, because I realize the concept I’m introducing is a bit complicated. The Lightroom user needs to have the ability to have access to all of their meta-data from all of their photos while traveling or while away from their main photo library. It doesn’t matter whether that person uses a laptop or a desktop. If they separate their computer from the external device that hosts their photos, they should still be able to have access to their photo library — everything but the actual photos which are to be found elsewhere.

Huh? Stay with me on this one. This isn’t the same thing as having your photo library on the laptop itself instead of the external drive. In that case, should you have your laptop with you, only the photos stored on the laptop will show up in the library, while the ones to be found on an external drive will not show up when you open Lightroom. But this points out two problems.

One, you’ll run out of space on your laptop very soon if you have a large library, even if you store the bulk of your photos elsewhere, because Lightroom builds either full-size previews, or fairly large ones (you decide this in the Preferences). Those previews are stored with the photo library, and if it resides on the laptop, the drive will fill up pretty soon.

Two, simply making those photos stored externally unavailable when Lightroom is separated from the external device doesn’t help you much. You need to be able to see at least the thumbnails, and have the meta-data available for searching, not crossed out or grayed out.

Let me outline the main points of my proposed functioning for the Lightroom library. Perhaps this will make it easier to understand:

  • A two-part library. A local/portable one, that holds all of the meta-data and thumbnails, plus a portable collection of photos that the photographer would like to have ready for processing and use no matter where they are. And the main/archive library, that holds a backup copy of the library’s meta-data and thumbnails, plus all of the photos that have been moved off the local/portable library.
  • Obviously, the ability to move photos freely from the local/portable library to the main/archive library, as needed. This would allow the photographer to decide which photos to keep local and portable, and move others to the archive in order to save space on the laptop or desktop that they’re taking with them on location.
  • The two-part library syncs the meta-data and thumbnails automatically and perhaps offers choices for conflicting data when the external device that holds the main/archive library is reconnected to the laptop/desktop.
  • Just to make things clear, the local/portable library would hold meta-data, thumbnails for all of the photos in the library, plus whatever group of photos the photographer decides to keep local. This would keep its size small and portable while allowing the user to view thumbnails for all of the photos in the library even when away from the archive library. They would even be able to do searches on the meta-data and update it as needed. The changes would sync when the archive would be re-connected. The photos stored in the archive would be marked by a special border or icon to let the user know they’re not available in their full size while the archive would be disconnected.

This is the sort of functionality I will expect from Lightroom. It would make it a truly powerful and portable piece of software. I know some people say that Bridge does the same things, but I’ve used both, and I like the Lightroom interface a LOT more.


Photography, take two, part five (finis)

I have completed the work of replacing photos hosted with third-party services. All of the photos that are published on my site are now hosted locally. If you’re not familiar with this effort, which took me a few months to complete, you might want to have a look at parts four, three, two and one. The main reason was to gain independence for my photographic content. Depending on third party services that might go down or go out of business for photos used in published articles is not the kind of strategy that can hold up in the long-term.

There were LOTS of posts I re-edited this time. Not only did replace the original images, but I also introduced new ones as well. This means that if you take the time to go through some of my old posts, you will see new photographs.

I’m not going to list all of the posts I modified. The list would be huge and it would dilute my message. Instead, I’m only going to point out the more significant ones. This post is the culmination of countless of hours of work. As a matter of fact, I’m going to have a little celebration. Enjoy!

If you’d like to see all of the posts that I modified in this last round of updates, just have a look through the Photography archives, and go all the way back to April 1st of 2007, starting from August 31st of 2007. Don’t worry, this is no April Fool’s joke…