In the old days, when you wanted to compile photos, movies, and audio to create a video, you either had to know the location of all these objects or search for them throughout your hard drive. With Windows 7, you can use tools that aggregate all your personal media in one place, such as Windows Live Photo Gallery (Figure 1). Don't be fooled by the name. From here, you can view in one place all your pictures and videos. This application is feature-rich. For example, if you're looking for a very specific picture, you might find it helpful to sort by the date the photo was taken.
What if you have very little media on your computer? The Internet is a rich source of pictures, videos, and audio. Websites like http://www.google.com and http://www.yahoo.com contain powerful search engines specifically dedicated to looking for media files. Try out this tip: download YouTube videos to save on your computer by installing a browser plug-in or by going to a site like http://www.downloadyoutubevideos.com/
Once you have a collection of media that you would like to put together, it's important to make sure that your media can all be imported into a video-editing application like Windows Live Movie Maker. Believe it or not, the movie you download might not be compatible with your editing program. For example, maybe you found a video on http://www.youtube.com and another on http://www.google.com. They might be in formats such as .FLV or .MOV. In order to edit them, they need to be encoded into a compatible file format, such as .mpg or .avi. One great application that does this is Any Video Converter (Figure 2). Better yet, it's free. Any Video Converter's simple interface makes quick work of encoding all common video formats.
If your pictures need some editing, here's a trick for you: Windows Live Photo Gallery and its robust set of editing tools. It's as if Microsoft became worried about the inroads Google Picassa has made in the home photo-editing segment. One feature in particular is especially useful: Straighten Photo (Figures 3 and 4).
Once you have your media files collected and edited, you're ready to prepare them for production. Windows Live Movie Maker is a great way to get started. Here you'll put all your videos, photos, and audio together (Figure 5). You can add a title or credits to a movie or even jazz it up with animations, transitions, and visual effects. You can get lost for hours with all the possible combinations. Be careful about not overdoing it, especially when it comes to the length of your video.
It's All in the Timing
Think of your favorite commercial. How long is it? Unless it's an infomercial, it's probably only 30 seconds long. Most likely, your video clip won't be that short, but a good lesson can be learned from a 30-second commercial. The lesson is: Keep your information short and sweet. Too many videos ignore this principle and drown the viewer in endless babble. Bored, frustrated, or simply disinterested, the viewer turns off the video and the impact of the message is lost.
On the other hand, a shorter, fast-paced video gives the viewer bite-sized chunks of a specific topic or message to focus on. It's not a long, boring, and never-ending clip that they just give up on.
So how long should your video clip be? Long enough to capture your viewers interest without losing it. Sometimes that might be hard to judge objectively. If so, why not have someone you respect view the clip and see what they think of it? Timing your video correctly might be the deciding factor whether someone watches it or not.
Once you've perfected your video, it's time to share it with the world. How do you plan on doing that? Were you planning to send it to someone in e-mail? If so, be prepared for your video to display at a very small resolution to make it small enough for email distribution. Do you want a share it on the Internet? Newer video-editing software applications, such as Camtasia Studio (Figure 6) or Windows Live Movie Maker, have sharing options that allow you to publish directly to web sites such as http://www.youtube.com or http://www.screencast.com. Then, instead of sending a large video file to each intended recipient, you can simply share a link to your online video (Figure 7).
Getting the Message Out Online
If there is one trend in the Internet that will continue to advance regardless of economic conditions, it is the use of videos to transmit messages. Whether it's a sales presentation, educational based, or any other type of webcast, video is the way to communicate with your audience. How does video help your website? Consider these 3 reasons:
- Video is expected. Today's Internet surfer expects you to have video or a link to video somewhere on your website. With a short attention span, the average viewer would rather watch your message than read it. Don't worry, all the facts still need to be backed up in print, but a short video presents your message in a concise manner that more viewers pay attention to.
- Video sites have more traffic than yours. That's a good thing, because you want to funnel some of that traffic to your site. For example, a video uploaded to YouTube is watched by several more people than when this video just sits by itself on your website. If your video contains information about your website, your e-mail address, or other relevant contact info, you will have direct, targeted leads coming to you for free. Who couldn't use that?
- Quality video presentations project the right image. Notice the key word in this section: Quality. Poor quality can actually turn-off viewers from your presentation. There are few things worse than poor audio, badly done video, or an ineffective presentation. However, getting these key elements done right can make all the difference in the world. If you're going to feature video, don't waste your time[md]and don't waste your viewers' time[md]with an inferior presentation. Do it right.