You simply can't beat the power and emotion of a well-presented audio visual and with the latest high definition technology just arriving, photographic quality is now available from digital files.
In the good old days, it used to be Uncle with his interminable slide nights - photo after boring photo broken only by his monotone commentary. Of course, we all loved Uncle, it was his pictures that sent us to sleep.
Despite the bad reputation slide shows had, when done properly they are simply fantastic. Audiences even ask to see them again if you create the right mix of images, sounds and transitions.
However, talk to photographers who have ‘been around' and the one thing they lament is the change in quality from slides to digital. There's no doubting that a 35mm slide projected with a good quality Leitz projector was hard to beat, especially when comparing it with the early 600x400 pixel projectors. However, the new 1080p standard for digital projectors produces an image quality that is simply mind-boggling. The images look like giant photo-quality prints on the screen - simply amazing.
So, how do you make an audio visual? The answer is on your computer. Whether Apple or PC, there are programs out there that make creating an audio visual really easy. In fact, there are lots of programs already on most computers which can create simple slide shows, but they are relatively limited in terms of transitions, timing and special effects. For a really fun time, you want to have control over all aspects of the production, so go for a special purpose program. Macintosh owners can look at Boinx FotoMagico (www.fotomagico.com ) and Windows users can try ProShow Gold (www.photodex.com - now also available for Mac). And the software isn't too expensive (US$69-$79 over the internet).
Two main components are required - images and sounds. You don't need a digital camera to create the images, just a scanner to turn your prints or slides into digital files. Nor do you need a special film scanner if all your photos are on slides (transparencies): many inexpensive flatbed scanners have a transparency adapter which will create files of sufficient quality for AVs.
When creating digital AVs, you don't huge files as you do with prints. The current crop of digital projectors 768x1024 pixels, while the new high-definition wide-screen projectors (like the Epson EMP-TW1000 mentioned) feature 1920x1080 pixels. While you can work with larger files, you're not going to see more than this number of pixels on screen and indeed many programs will automatically downsize your files to screen resolution anyway.
There is an argument to scan or resize your files to double the pixel resolution and let the software downsample, but others argue that keeping the file sizes small means less drain on the computer and less likelihood of playback errors.
To create an audio visual, resize (or scan) your images and copy them to a separate folder. You will probably need to sharpen (or re-sharpen) the results because down-sizing files tends to soften them and without further sharpening they will look pretty average when displayed on screen or projected.
Before sharpening, though, it's worthwhile double checking the exposure, contrast and colour balance of all your images. The beauty is once you have down-sized your images, you can see exactly what will be projected as you edit. If they look right now, they will look right in the show.
With the old slide shows, all the images were the same 3:2 ratio. In the digital theatre, there is no need to maintain the same framing, but if you do use a variety of frame sizes and shapes, make sure they work when shown one after the other. Changing from a vertical to a panorama and back again is not always effective - you may find you're better off standardising on a particular image size and framing and cropping your work to fit within.
Edit your work. Throw out the average photos where the exposure or the composition is poor. For family photos, exceptions will be made where you have a great expression or an odd situation, but apart from that, the quality of your images needs to be high.
Second, don't show ten photos of the same subject. Pick the best one and show just that, or maybe the best two if you have different angles. Be dispassionate about your work at this stage - put yourself in a stranger's shoes and think what will interest her.
A theme is also useful. If you've been on a trip overseas, you might have a section about the beaches, another about the people and a third covering a local dance performance.
Most audio visuals include music and, if you're creating yours for private purposes only, you might use sound tracks you've borrowed from a CD. If this is the case, you probably only need 20 to 40 images for a single track of music, depending on its length. If you allow six seconds per image (on average, including transition), that's ten images per minute. If your audio track is two minutes, that's only 20 images, four minutes is 40 images.
It is very difficult to maintain people's attention for more than 20 minutes - and these days you might find even ten minutes is a bit of an ask. Rather than creating one long show for 20 minutes, you'd be wiser to try four or five shorter shows which you can run in sequence, with a little break in between.
At the other end, don't leave a single image on the screen for much more than 10 seconds. You're probably better grabbing a second-rate frame and inserting it, rather than stretching your viewers' imagination with a static screen. Practice and experience will soon show you what works and what doesn't.
Most computers have a CD player and can play audio CDs. And these days, most computers also have built-in software for ‘ripping' the sound tracks and storing them on your hard disk, so copying music to your computer should be easy enough - assuming you're not downloading it off the internet already!
Music can be saved in various formats, such as .wav and .mp2 or .mp4 etcetera. Check that the audio visual program you're using can handle the format you choose. They probably will, but make sure just the same or nothing will happen.
More advanced audio visual producers might like to use a slightly more advanced audio editing program so you can join different sound tracks together.
With your raw materials prepared, open your audio visual program and import them. You'll need to familiarise yourself with how your program works, but there are two basic controls to understand - your dissolve time and the image duration.
The dissolve time is the time it takes one image to change to the next. A ‘cut' is an instantaneous dissolve, but some pretty neat effects are produced with dissolve times of half to eight seconds. Too long a dissolve and your audience can become bored or confused, depending on the subject matter (and, of course, rules are meant to be broken).
The duration time is the time the image remains on screen. Again, times from one second to ten seconds are common, although two to six seconds are more appropriate.
When designing your slide show, the trick is to remember to add in both the dissolve and duration times when working out how many images will fit within a sound track. Some programs will allow you to set the dissolve and duration individually for each image, others will require you to select a single dissolve and/or duration for all of the show. The former is best.
As you plan your show, you'll be able to play it back on your computer to review your handiwork. You might decide a title and a few captions are useful. Programs like FotoMagico and ProShow Gold will add captions for you, or you can open up a program like Photoshop or Elements and use the text tool to create them. You can put text onto a blank screen or add it into a photograph - it's so easy with an image editing program that there's really no excuse not to have excellent title slides.
Finally, it's time to put it all together. You can make this as hard or easy as you like. At the hard end, you'll need to move your desktop computer and monitor into the lounge room, connect the sound card connection at the back of your computer to your hi-fi system, and gather people around.
An easier option is to use a laptop computer and purchase a set of computer speakers - the sound isn't great for a large auditorium, but it's fine for a dozen friends and family in a lounge room.
The best option, however, is to use a digital projector.
They are coming down in price all the time and the quality these days is sensational. Add in some powered speakers (so you don't need a separate amplifier) and you can start making presentations in larger venues.
Digital projectors can be purchased from around $1000 and the qualitiy can be excellent (they probably need a 1024x768 resolution as a minimum). However, as mentioned earlier, the new 1080p standard projectors have simply amazing quality, but they might be models that only professionals, camera clubs and the well-heeled can afford. But keep an eye on the market - if not this year then in a few years there's no doubt 1080p standard projectors will be very affordable.
Whether you've thought about producing audio visuals before or not, the technology available makes it easier than ever and a whole lot of fun. We mightn't be Steven Spielbergs, but we can be legends in our own lounge rooms for a few minutes at least.
As photographers, we take the issue of copyright pretty seriously. We like to think people won't steal our photos or use them without our permission.
Musicians feel the same way and the fact we have purchased a CD or DVD (or downloaded a track) containing music only gives us the right to play it ‘privately'. If we use the music for a ‘public' performance (e.g. use it with our audio visual), we are in breach of the ‘licence' we purchased when we bought the music. It's a bit like when someone buys a photo of ours in a book or a magazine - it doesn't give them the right to use our photo any way they like.
If you create an audio visual using music you have purchased and you only show them at home to friends and family, basically you're okay. The copyright police won't come looking for you. However, as soon as this presentation is shown to the public (e.g. a camera club meeting or photography seminar), you would be in breach of the music owner's copyright.
To keep the same music and show it publicly, you would need to separate the sound from the visuals. If you play the visuals through your laptop computer and the music through a separate CD player, everything is in order as long as the venue has the appropriate licences (most larger venues do). The problem is the music and the visuals are rarely synchronised properly, but this is simply bad luck unless you can fit in with Scenario 3 or Scenario 4.
As soon as music is ‘synchronised with visuals' and combined into a single audio visual presentation or file (as you will do with ProShow Gold and FotoMagico), you must approach the copyright owners directly for permission. This is what happens with most feature films and television programs - or music is composed specifically for the production. Scenario 3 is not possible for most small scale audio visual productions.
The final option is to purchase ‘production music' instead. Production music is specifically written and recorded for use in audio visual productions (and television commercials, films, elevators etc). To obtain it, first you must register with AMCOS (you'll find the details on the www.apra.com.au web site). You will be issued with a Production Music Client Number (PMCN).
From here, you visit a production music library (most have excellent websites) and find the music you want to use. Next you submit a Licence Application, pay the invoice and you're in business.
Cost for what most photographers would be doing is around $50 per 30 seconds or part thereof, so a five minute AV is going to cost you $500 for the sound track. The licence is in perpetuity, provided no change is made to the production and provided no more than 100 copies are made.
Allow plenty of time to audition the music - it takes time to listen to lots of tracks, but the material is all there.
Your starting point in Australia is www.apra.com.au and production music.
An other alternative is a music supplier like www.triplescoopmusic.com which has very reasonable rates for music for audio visuals.