Making Still Photos Move

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Getting enough b-roll to cover an interview can be a challenge, especially if you are trying to cover a person or an event in the past and no one filmed it. I use the term “filmed” purposefully, as old tape won’t cut it in the modern 1080-format, HD world. At best it looks jittery and blurry. Old film, even 8mm home movies, can be digitized, however it is a highly specialized process only a couple of labs in the United States can do and few television producers can afford. If you need additional visuals, consider using photographs.
I realize this sounds peculiar as photographs don’t move. That is, they don’t move without a little help. Actually, you’re the one that technically makes the move.
There are two ways to give motion to otherwise inert photographs. The first is to shoot them with your video camera. Or, you can scan them as high resolution JPEGs or PDFs then simulate a camera move during the editing process. The latter is preferable if you can get the photo to your edit suite, but that isn’t always possible. The image might be in a museum or in a private home framed on a wall where your only chance to capture it is at that moment.
Two years ago I shot an interview with Johannes von Trapp, founder of Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vt., for the documentary film, “Passion for Snow.” I needed visuals to show the von Trapp family’s famous escape from Nazi Austria as portrayed in the Broadway musical and movie “The Sound of Music.” I also needed to show the von Trapps during their early days in Vermont, at first struggling to farm the thin soil and then starting their lodge which eventually became the first destination Nordic ski resort in the United States. The long-winded interview would require lots of editing, and thus lots of clips to cover the numerous cuts within the two-minute segment.
While exploring the Trapp Family Lodge, I noticed lots of family memorabilia on some of the upper floors and in a library, including family portraits of Maria and George von Trapp, a giant family tree painted on a wall, vintage photos of the family singing on various stages around the world, a movie poster and some historical images of the original lodge which had greatly expanded since the 1940s. I got to work with my camera-person.
For each wall hanging, I shot a “safety,” about 20 seconds of static b-roll. Then I tried several other camera moves, zooming from the full photo to a particular person or object, pulling out from a person or object to the full picture, panning left to right and then right to left across the image, racking focus, and any other camera move to which the image lent itself. I wanted as much variety as I could muster. ♦

[box]Things to keep in mind if you need to make a still photo move:

  1. If you can scan the photo, make it as high resolution as possible— at least 300 dpi—and as large as possible— at least 8 inches by 10 inches.
  2. Avoid showing mattes, frames, walls or anything that’s not the photo in the frame.
  3. Remove photos from glass frames to prevent glare or reflections. If you can’t, find an angle that eliminates it or start your shot zoomed in enough to avoid seeing it.
  4. Cue each visual on the camera mic to help you re – member what it is and the correct spelling.
  5. Watch for hot spots from other sources. You might have to shoot slightly to the side or from below to avoid it.
  6. Hold the shot for a few seconds at the beginning and at the end of your camera move.
  7. Don’t keep a photo on screen more than five seconds. After five seconds, the camera may still be moving on the photo, but your segment won’t be any more.
  8. If you have more than one photo, use creative dis – solves or montaging effects to add visual interest.
  9. Mix it up. If you need to use multiple photos in a row, avoid making the same camera move for each of them. Your piece will stop if you have three slow zooms in a row.[/box]

— A three-time Emmy winning television producer and host, look for Lisa Densmore’s latest award-winning documentary film, “Passion for Snow,” on PBS. Densmore is OWAA’s Second Vice President in charge of programing at the 2014 conference in McAllen, Texas. If you have suggestions for conference topics and/or speakers, or to learn more about her television, photography and writing, contact her at

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