Who could have figured that 150 years after the Civil War -- that signature event in American History -- would forever change the way we video editors approach a part of our craft?
Well, not the Civil War itself, but the Ken Burns documentary about it. For many, that program was where we learned about the power of using "moving stills" in a video project. Clearly the subject matter -- the Civil War -- didn't have any usable footage available, since during the Civil War there weren't any motion picture cameras! They hadn't been invented at that point in history.
But still photography -- as practiced by pioneers such as Matthew Brady -- was developing during that era and there was a significant, but not unlimited, catalog of early photos available. Perhaps there was only a single photo available of a noteworthy general, perhaps posed as a part of a group shot.
Mr. Burns must have faced challenges like having only one usable image of a key historic figure -- and an important copy point about that person's role in the war that required many seconds of voiceover to make clear. Just tossing a static photo up, full screen, for 30 seconds would make for some pretty boring video.
He solved the problem, as others before him had, by using a technique known as "move on stills" photography.
In that documentary Burns worked with over 16,000 archival photographs. Instead of showing static images on the screen, he used a tripod to pan across and zoom into points of interest in the photos.
Turning Static Images into Moving Pictures
The earliest move on stills work was undoubtedly just someone shooting a photograph from a tripod-mounted camera and figuring, "hey, this shot would be more interesting if I panned across it while rolling." And that's still a useful technique today. If you have a photograph of, for example, a cheerleading team, and a static shot of the full team photo yields faces so small that nobody can see the kids -- well, zooming in and panning across the faces in the shot will improve your video a lot.
But of course, the history of the human race is one of people always trying to invent a better way to do something, so it wasn't long before folks got together to invent tools to make moving around still images more sophisticated. Welcome to the rostrum camera.
A rostrum camera is a very specialized piece of hardware that's set up to perform moves on stills, video and a lot more. It's a camera combined with a specialized motion controlled system that allows the operator to set up and re-create various combinations of pans, tilts, zooms, and camera rotations so that the operators can literally map out precisely how they want the shot to unfold.
In some mechanical rostrum camera designs, the camera head moves while the object stays stationary -- in others the object is moved while the camera head remains fixed. Some rostrum camera rigs -- particularly those used for motion picture work -- are huge, occupying large rooms specially outfitted for this kind of photography. Others are more modest, perhaps consisting of a small, motorized platform under a fixed down-pointing camcorder. And of course, there's today's digital equivalent -- "pan and scan" software.
Most of my slideshows have motion effects built-in and utilize principles from the ‘Ken Burns Effect’. Additionally I interweave video clips I shoot throught the day into the sequences, which gives even a more storyboard effect.
Here is an example of a short clip I produced, for a Seniors Fashion Shoot promotion, which utlizes some of these techniques: