Saturday, 19 May 2012

Screen grab without any additional hardware (or software)

When I send the DVD copies back to customers I print stills from the films onto the DVD and case inserts. In the past I have been asked how to get further images by customers and have ended up asking what PC software they have and advising techniques based on their software.
There is, however, a fairly easy way which I have detailed below.

1. Play the video file or DVD on your pc using whatever video software you already have (usually something like Windows Media Player). Pause the video at the position where you want to grab the still

2. Keep the media player screen quite large and move the mouse so that the cursor is not over the image to be grabbed. Look at your PC keyboard; usually along the top row, next to the f12 key is a key marked 'print screen' or 'prtsc' - press this once.

3. Open 'Paint' - this is a program included within Windows (Start/All Programs/Accessories/Paint) and press edit/paste

you'll get the screen shot pasted

4. Now click the square dashed 'select' icon ( just below 'Edit') and draw a dotted box around the image you are grabbing, you get a dotted box around the image (close up shown below)

 5. Now click Edit/cut, then File/New. Choose 'Don't Save'

6. Then when presented with a new 'untitled' page, click edit/paste and the image you had selected and 'cut' in 4. will be pasted here

7. Now it is simply a case of saving the image - File/Save as - the default is bitmaps but a drop-down menu will let you change to a jpeg if you prefer.

So there you have it, I hope it doesn't look too complicated because it is fairly easy and after a few goes it will be like second nature

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Get a tripod or your films will look like tripe (and odd)

Anyone who knows me will know I love photography. I love everything about it - the images, the gear, the excuse to go out a shoot stuff.
I love old gear - I'm currently infatuated with Topcon cameras - the pro stuff like the RE2, RE Super, SuperDM. When I pick up one of these cameras and raise to the eye, there is a wonderful feeling as you focus and everything turns smoothly, precisely with absolutely no play; the lens works as well as it did the day it came out of the factory. The gear is as old as me and in that time I've developed a hell of a lot of play and my optics are certainly not quite as clear as they once were.
I also shoot video, now HD. In the past I've shot real film too - standard 8 and super 8. One piece of gear I have that is common to both video and stills is a tripod. Over the years I've upgraded the tripods to the stage where I have a £100 model
This is not the top end of the market by any means and some cameramen will happily (or grudgingly) invest five times this amount. That said you can also pick up a tripod for £25. And both these options will usually bump your image quality up a couple of notches.
  Years ago I used to have a little Olympus μ[mju:]-II (I called it the 'mew') which I used for my work, photographing tasks such as night club refurbishments. 

This tiny 35mm camera was regarded at the time as a classic camera featuring a clamshell body barely thicker than the film it contained and topped off with a fast (for a AF compact) f2.8 lens. Put a 400asa film in and you could shoot in quite low light without resorting to using the flash. 

One day I had to take pictures of an almost finished nightclub and because I knew the light levels were ridiculously low (so punters could not see just how ugly all the other punters were) I took my tripod along. When I got the results back I was very impressed by how sharp the pictures were. A lot of users of these modest little cameras didn't realise just how broad the shutter range was, 1/1000sec all the way down to 4 seconds - basically the same spec typically found on a £300 SLR. By using the camera self timer (and therefore not touching the camera at the moment of exposure) lovely sharp images were obtained at very slow speeds.

I found that I used the camera with a tripod more and more, often in situations where I would have previously found hand holding acceptable and all the time my photos were getting more bite. Basically my camera was delivering results which looked like they had been taken with a more sophisticated and expensive camera.

As I started shooting video I used the same logic but found that panning shots needed a fluid head and this was when I splashed the cash on my £100 tripod. The improvement was appreciable and when you are one of a team shooting a gig, if you have rock steady static shots and smooth pans then you can give the editor the maximum possible footage.

So the bottom line is - spend a small amount on a tripod and add a great deal of value to your stills and videos.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

I blame 'Tomorrow's World'

More years ago than I care to remember, as a callow youth I used to be wedged in front of the TV on a Thursday. The channel was BBC and Thursday night was a great night; 'Top of the Pops' was on and that was always good value. There were some naff acts, some disco acts - which I publicly really hated but now remember fondly and some class acts. Queen took up residency at No.1 with 'Bohemian Rhapsody' but whilst, like a lot of boys, I would give my right hand to play guitar like Brian May, my definition of class was quite broad - I thought Sparks were fantastic.
When Sparks played on Top of the Pops, I would lie in front of the tv and gurn in the hope of getting some sort of reaction from Ron Mael, strange bearing in mind that it was probably pre-recorded. But that was us; teenage boys wanted their entertainment with a Hitler moustache. Freddie Starr was happy to oblige, Spike Milligan's wartime memoirs were a gateway drug into big person literature and Ron Mael seemed like a perfect piece to the jigsaw.
Photo by Linda Danna Robbins

But Top of the Pops was only part of Thursday evening, there was also 'Tomorrow's World' . This was like a 'Gadget Show' for a more sensible time - some of the items would eventually have a place in the real world, most ideas were never to be seen again. Sensible men like Raymond Baxter and William Woollard would look earnestly into the camera and describe current issues frustrating British Industry. My Dad and I would rattle out our solution to the dilemma before the new invention was revealed. I rarely got it right although my expanding shelf bracket was a rare direct hit as a solution to shelfs that had been cut too short (never saw these for sale).

Then in the 80s TW showcased a new music medium Philips were pushing, the Compact Disc. I do remember this show but I never imagined how much these little discs and their derivatives would dominate technology for the next 30 years.
What is strange is a lot of people recall the CD show and everyone remembers the CD receiving some fairly rough treatment. I was sure jam was spread on the CD, others insist it was peanut butter. I'm almost certain at one point Maggie Philbin bounced over the top of it on a space hopper wearing hobnail boots.
What everyone agrees is that the CD was successfully played afterwards. The damage was done.
For the next 30 years half the world's population held CDs like a precious, delicate flower. The rest held a CD like it was a pizza that doubled as a cup coaster and a back scratcher.
Strangely I have never come across a CD as resilient as the CD from TW, sometimes just looking at a modern CD makes it unplayable. Writable CDs and DVDs are even more temperamental.

I get a videos in all shapes and sizes to copy over to DVD, from VHS to Micro SD cards and everything in between (remember Betamax, VHS-C, Video8, microDV tapes?), I also copy small 3 inch DVDs from those DVD camcorders that were popular about 5 years ago. When I get a disc I always expect it to be covered in fingerprints and scratches and I'm only occasionally pleasantly surprised.

So my heartfelt plea is this - forget what you saw on Tomorrow's World, if you want to be able to watch your films well into the future, treat them like a treasured vinyl 7" single - only more so. Keep burnt discs out of direct sunlight, otherwise they will continue to burn. And backup treasured digital files to DVDs, hard-drives and even up into 'The Cloud'. Spread the risk.

I will be watching.