Video editors and producers frequently have to deal with photos. This is especially true of many documentaries where a large portion of the story consists of still images. No motion film or video was available to preserve that given event. This requires a large collection of possible shots to be organized and prepared for the edit. The latter task often involves color correction, painting out defects (tears, dirt, scratches, etc.) and scaling/cropping to match the video format of the NLE.
There are plenty of tools to do these tasks and more often than not Adobe Photoshop is used. I’ve written before about Apple Aperture as a solution for this, but recently I’ve been turning more to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2. Both Aperture and Lightroom are great tools to use. For me, there’s no clear winner is this debate, but you can find plenty of passionate posts around the web by photographers and photo enthusiasts who extol the pros and cons of each application. Regardless, both offer powerful tools for a video editor who has to deal with stills. Apple just released Aperture 3 and Adobe currently has Lightroom 3 in public beta. Although these add new features, the general requirements that I will discuss are fine in either app’s 2.0 version.
Photoshop Lightroom and Aperture both work in the same general manner. You can view stills in a library or catalog, which is used as a form of asset management. You may choose to have the application handle all control of your stills and the locations where they are stored. Or, you may choose to do that organizing yourself at the finder level and then import these folders and files into the library. The application lets you work with high-res proxy files that link back to the unaltered original photos.
Changes made to these proxies are previewed by showing you a “live” update of the original at full resolution. Any alterations are only applied when a file is exported. This exported file is a copy with the adjustments “baked in”, so the original photo is always left unaltered. Obviously one key difference between the two applications is that Lightroom is a cross-platform solution, while Aperture is Mac-only. If you are on the Mac, then the choice of which to use is largely subjective for our purposes.
There are three things at the moment that appeal to me more in Lightroom than Aperture. First, I like that Adobe uses a terminology that’s consistent with the files and folders of the computer. I organize my images in folders on my hard drive. These can easily be imported into Lightroom as a folder and shown in a manner that maintains that order. Although Aperture allows essentially the same method, Apple prefers to hide the fact that you are looking at a folder on the hard drive, by organizing the photo folders according to “projects” and “albums”. Not a problem, but I just think that’s a way of dumbing things down, as well as, unnecessarily mixing metaphors for the user. The second and third items for me are that Lightroom feels like there is better dual monitor support for the way I like to work and it is already a 64-bit application.
The Lightroom user interface is divided into five basic sections, which can be accessed via tabs in the upper right. These are Library, Develop, Slideshow, Print and Web. Library is where you see your catalog of assets. You can view the layout in several ways – grid, single image and others. Locations are on tabs down the left side, images in the middle and metadata on the right for the selected image. If you have two displays, then the selected image will be full-screen on the left monitor.
Develop is where you’d adjust, correct or alter the image. Pick an image from the filmstrip below and it loads into the center pane of the right monitor at one of the various, selectable proxy sizes. The same image is full-screen on the left monitor in either a “fit to screen” or a “1:1 pixel” display. The left portion of the right screen (your main working display), includes a navigator panel, presets and history. The image adjustment tools are on tabs down the right-hand side. I won’t go into any detail, since you can find plenty of in-depth tutorials around the web that discuss how these tools work. Suffice it to say that you have a powerful toolset for primary and secondary color-correction, stylistic effects, cropping, scaling and adjustment layer masking.
Slideshow offers you tools to control playback of a selected set of images on your desktop, complete with a presentation title. Print controls layouts for printing. Web does the same for displaying image collections on the web. Web choices include Flash, HTML gallery and Adobe Airtight display engines.
For the video producer
The toolset is great for fixing or giving a “look” to images, but the video producer is going to be most interested in how this makes life easier. That’s centered in three areas: cropping, metadata and export. Develop includes a cropping tool which can be restricted to certain ratios. If you want an image to fit neatly into the 16×9 of HD or 4×3 of SD, then set the constraints and the crop you draw will maintain this ratio. The same tool also allows freeform rotation – handy if you just need to move the image a few degrees clockwise or counter-clockwise to make the horizon level or correct for a badly angled tripod.
Photo organization is achieved through Smart Collections. Images can be tagged with addition metadata, such as key words and/or ratings. Smart Collection folders can be set up accordingly, so any images with the appropriate tag will automatically be filtered and pop up in the appropriate Smart Collection. A producer trying to cull 100 selected options from 1,000 possible images can easily tag the desired shots and automatically create a Smart Collection of the selects.
Once the images have been selected, then simply export one or more images for use in your NLE. Images can be exported from Library or Develop by right-clicking the image and choosing Export. Select a range of image to get more than one. This opens the export dialogue where you can select a preset or set new parameters for target export location, file format, size and color profile. You may also rename the exported file. So, exporting a batch of JPEGs – resized to 1920×1080 and labeled by project name and sequential number – is a simple one-step process. When the images are exported, any color correction, stylistic effects and cropping will be applied to the exported images.
©2010 Oliver Peters