Video memoirs – featuring the subject talking about their life recorded to video – are an increasingly popular choice for people interested in preserving their own personal biography or that of someone they know. Written memoirs still command the greatest number of adherents, and still allow you to include the greatest amount of information, but video biography has the advantage of being able to preserve personality. It is hard to convey a subject’s humor in writing – and almost impossible to record their emotion the same way video can.
A video memoir also has the advantage when it comes to pictures and photographs. Images can be incorporated into a video memoir seamlessly and in a number of easy (and some more challenging) ways. They can be made to show up right at the very moment when the subject is covering that point (rather than being gathered randomly in the middle – which is often the case with written memoirs). Color is not problem and adds no expense and there is really no limit to the number of images you can include in a video memoir.
So, you have decided you are going to embark on a video biography and you want images. The options for including photographs in a video biography can be broken down into A. incorporation “in camera” and B. inclusion during the editing process. If you are new to video editing, you may find it easier to include images during filming (“in camera”). If you are more confident with your editing program, you may want to wait for the editing to begin to include images. If you are confident, you can include photographs both in camera and during editing.
In camera photo inclusion
Including old images or even documents using your video camera is the fastest method of capturing and displaying photographs that are associated with your subject’s life. If you are not going to edit the video tape at all (or if you don’t know how to) then you can film the interview with you or the subject showing the images at the appropriate time.
There is more than one way to include photographs in your video memoir as you go along:
Allow your subject to show them to the camera: You film your subject talking and at the proper time you pass them a photograph and they hold it up in front of them towards the camera then talk about it. When they are finished they simply pass it back. It usually works best for the interviewer to give the photographs to the subject, rather than have them rummaging through piles looking for the one they want.
You can rely on your subject to choose the images as they go along, but be ready for sorting and shuffling on film that you may have to edit out later. If you do wish to leave the selection to your subject, then try positioning the camera across the table and have just a small selection of the images spread out in front of them.
Record your subject turning the pages of the book or photo album: Often, the images are still in a book or an album. Filming the subject from behind as they turn the pages of the album is often an attractive shot and it can give you some variation from the regular interview set up.
Shooting your video memoir subject flipping through the leaves of an album works particularly effectively when you have a historical album – especially when there are captions written by the subject. Watch out if you have a photo album with the plastic protection – reflections can mean that you cannot see the image at all.
Film the photograph right off the computer monitor: Increasingly, people are uploading their images to the web and to one of a plethora of photo hosting websites. If that’s the position with your video biography subject, then you should be able to record the photos directly from the computer screen. You could ask your subject to scroll across the images, and you may even decide to position the computer screen in the background with an appropriately chosen image. (Depending on the light source on your subject, you may want to dial down the brightness of the computer monitor so that it is more in balance with your subject.)
Take care that your camera and your computer monitor are in synch (they usually are). It works best if your video camera is recording at 30 fps and the refresh rate of the monitor is some multiple of that – say 60 or 90 Hz.
Video an image in extreme close up: Another method to incorporate an image “in camera” for your video memoir is to video record the image on its on and in extreme close up. You will want to ensure that the photograph is set up where there is sufficient light and no reflections. And you will want to have the camera mounted on a tripod and then zoom in nice and close. Then, try panning across the face of the photograph, trying to keep the video camera within the image at all times.
You can also achieve this same effect during the editing process, with a higher degree of precision and control.
Photo inclusion during the editing process
We have seen a number of ways to include photos during the interview (or just before or after). A more common way is to include the images you have during editing. This is a little more involved than including photos within the video camera, but you will have more control and therefor will get a better result. For instance, you can take the opportunity to first correct any color, contrast or other problems with the photograph. And, not using the video camera, you won’t have any camera shake or any bumpy or non-linear camera pans. Also, you will be able to get in very tight to show image details that may not have been apparent before.
So, you want to include images into your video memoir or video biography during editing? You need to first digitize your images with a scanner or with a digital still/SLR camera. Then, take the time to correct any problems with the image like poor color or contrast. Some photo editing software programs – like PhotoShop – will even allow you to fix tears and compensate for dust spots. It always enhances the video memoir, and give a more professional look, to use photographs which have had any distracting blemishes removed.
Once all your photos have been carefully digitized, you can import them it into your video biography project and place them throughout the interview footage. You should take the time while editing to create and place appropriate captions, recording the who, what, when and where of the images you have chosen to include.
Green screen: Some video memoir professionals film the subject against a green screen and then later, during editing, replace the green with images relevant to the subject. The impact created using a green screen – if done carefully – can be very powerful. Other video biographers prefer to situate their subjects in their own homes in more natural settings – surrounded by their own furniture and possessions. And maybe even a family photograph in a frame on the side table (that would be another instance of “incorporation in camera”.)
How long should photographs be allowed to remain on the screen in your video memoir? That depends on several things like how engaging the image is, its condition (less time if it is out of focus or damaged), the amount of detail in the photograph, how many other photographs you have available to include in the video biography, and the final project length. Images can be effective if shown for as little as six seconds or for as long as thirty seconds.
Good luck with your project. If you need professional help then there is more t