Tag Archives: photography

app talk: Visual Storytelling and Mobile Studying

Today marks the launch of a regular new series on the San Jac EdTech blog: App Talk. Every other week we will present you with a few exciting apps that will enhance your creativity, support your instructional goals, increase your productivity or are just plain fun to use. We will include apps from both iOS and Android in this series, but if you have another operating system or device that you want us to consider, be sure to comment and let us know.

In this week’s post: Make a 6 second movie, shoot with mobile multi-cam, or study on the go. Our app selections this week are all about visual storytelling and mobile studying.

BackSpaces, free, iOS

Allowing you to create stories using a combination of pictures and words, Backspaces has included a few key features that helps it to stand out from other mobile social apps. Imagine if instagram had individual threads that you could post a series of photos in to tell a short story of your day. Rather than posting individual photos randomly throughout the day, you can create a single story for your followers to click which opens a chronologically listed thread of photos with captions detailing whatever story you feel like telling. Its streamlined interface is designed specifically for ease of use and quick browsing. It could probably be best described as an Instagram/mobile blog hybrid. It’s fun to use and free. After a quick browse through, you can see how many creative methods of storytelling have been used here.


Vine, free, iOS
Shoot, Edit, and post quick 6 second videos with ease. You could argue that Vine is just the animated .gif version of Instagram. While for the most part, you’d be right, the added layer of audio and video provides the ability to tell a funny or cute short story in little to no time. It’s definitely an app worth checking out, if for nothing else than to kill a little time. Also, it’s free so why not?


Vyclone, free, iOS
This is a free video app that has a unique ability to save and edit using a combination of multiple cameras and social media. If you and a friend are both shooting video of the same event from your phones, you can use Vyclone to upload those videos within the app and edit the two of them together seamlessly. There’s also an “auto-edit” feature that will take your various uploads and do edit them together for you so the video will appear to be planned out and well done. You’ll always have access to both your original video and whoever else’s original video was combined with yours in an edit.


Sparknotes , free, iOS
Sparknotes.com has huge and continually growing library of online study guides for literature, test preparation, quick how-to’s, and entertaining short articles aimed at the young college demographic. Now it’s all at your fingertips with the free download of their handy app. It has a clutter-free, clean interface designed for easy navigation and quick referencing. You can save preferred study guides and literature in your virtual library within the app, as well.


Flashcards+, free, iOS
Well the name kind of speaks for itself. It’s a mobile, virtual flashcard app. What makes this app so cool is it’s social media feature. Not only can you create your own study cards, but you can even browse and study from the increasing library of user uploaded cards from Flashcards+ own servers. You even get to view your cards with the familiar and comfortable flashcard paper look, without those nasty paper cuts.

A High-End Video Editor for $55

Elements 9 cover

When faculty and staff members ask about video editing software, I have steered them towards Windows Movie Maker because all Windows-based computers have it, it does an OK job and it’s free.  The biggest downside for Windows Movie Maker is that it’s not compatible with every video file type that is generated by consumer cameras, so the shooter may have to use whatever proprietary software that was packaged with the camcorder. This software will probably be very limited and may only allow a video to be transferred to a DVD.  Even if you are able to import your video into Windows Movie Maker, the output options are extremely limited.

For people with newer, more advanced camcorders or high-definition Flip or cell phones, I’ve suggested purchasing Adobe Premiere Elements which is a down-sized and simplified version of Adobe’s professional editing software, Premiere Pro.  I recently downloaded a trial version of latest release of Premiere Elements and put it to the test.

Frankly, I was wowed by its power and versatility!  The complexity of the interface is reduced to make it easier for novice editors, but the functionality is nearly the same as the pro version.  Instead of a dropdown menu where you have to click “File/import”, there is a big, obvious tab labeled “Get Media From” and instead of “File/Export”, there is a tab named “Share” which gives you many options for exporting to DVD, YouTube, Facebook, mobile phones and others.  The default editing interface is called the Sceneline which looks similar to other novice interfaces, but there is a prominent tab that instantly converts it to a “Timeline”, which is the preferred standard for all professional editing programs.

There are many automated features that simplify things for the novice editor and a useful tool named “Smart Fix”, which can help remedy problems with camera shake, lighting and color balance.  You can accept the recommendations then fine tune them further if desired.  There are also many audio features for fixing problems, including audio polish, auto mute, cleaner hum remover, noise fader and noise reducer.

As I edited, I found that Adobe included all of the keyboard shortcuts that are found in Premiere Pro.  I think that this software developer’s rational is great, because if a person wants to pursue video editing to the next level, the transition from Elements to Pro will be much easier.  I would even venture to say that a video professional, say in the wedding video business, could manage with Elements 9 without going to its big brother.  The stand-alone version of Premiere Pro 5.5 is $350 for the academic version and $800 for the commercial version, whereas the street price for Elements 9 is closer to $75.  I even saw a rebate offered that would bring the price down to $55!  Also, if you don’t have a photo-editing solution, you can add Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 in a bundle for under $100.

Using Photo Story 3

If you want to produce a photo slide show for a presentation, to put on a social media site or just to email to family and friends, then you need to look no further than Microsoft’s free Photo Story 3 to get the job done. http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/digitalphotography/photostory/default.mspx.

This is a very powerful  little program which can perform such editing tasks as color-correction, brightness and contrast control, rotation, red-eye removal, adding smooth transitions and best of all, complete motion control which allows zooms and pans of your photos.  You can also add titles or text on any of the photos and insert pre-recorded music files or create your own with the built in music composer.

What’s amazing is the simplicity and intuitiveness of the product.  There is a wizard that prompts you to import pictures, which can be done by simply dragging and dropping your selections from your photo folders then arranging them on the timeline as you wish.  There’s an option that you shouldn’t overlook called “remove black borders”.  This is especially useful for vertical photos where you need to “crop in” to eliminate the black borders.  What’s great is that you don’t have to lose any of a vertical image because you can later use the motion control to move from head to toe if you wish.  I wouldn’t skip past the horizontal pictures here, because you can still fine tune them with the crop tool.

Clicking “next” brings the “add a title” page where you select the image(s) you want text on, then type into the window.  You can justify left, center or right then adjust fonts, colors, etc.  There’s also a drop down menu where you can add effects to the pictures like black and white, sepia , glow and others.

The next page allows you to narrate your slides and customize motion. If you click on the preview button you’ll see the default slide show with preset picture durations and the zooms.  It may look fine to you because the zooms are slow and subtle, but the zooms are random which probably won’t agree with you creatively.  Clicking “customize motion” enables you to easily set the start and end positions of the zooms and to change the duration that the image is displayed.  As I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to cut off part of a vertical photo because you can pan and tilt to include the whole image. There is also a tab to set transitions, but for the most part, I would stick with the default “cross fade” instead of the cheesy wipes that are included.

The next page allows you to add background music.  If you have a song you want to use, click on “select music”, locate a song and open it to insert onto the timeline. You can also use the “create music” button to generate various styles, moods, tempos and intensities.

You’re almost finished now.  “Next” takes you to the “save your story” section. You choose to output for a higher quality computer presentation, a mobile phone or for an email.  Clicking the settings buttons takes you to a profiles drop-down menu.  The default for computers is only 640×480 pixels, so I’d suggest going with the 1024×768 setting to get optimum quality.  I would also go with a higher quality email setting unless the show is going to be long.  Look at the resulting file size to see if it small enough to be attached to an email.  The limit here at San Jac is around 4MB.  Save your files to a folder where you can find them.  Clicking next will produce the slide show in a WMV (Windows Media Video) format that can be viewed on nearly every computer.  You can also click the “back” button and create other profiles of the video.

These instructions/tips aren’t intended to be detailed, because once you get started, it’s so intuitive that you’ll learn more by just experimenting with the creative controls and choosing those that you like

Here’s a brief test show which didn’t take over 5 or 10 minutes to complete. mms://media.sanjac.edu/111/PhotoStoryTest.wmv.

There are, however, a couple of drawbacks that I must mention.  The first is that the resulting slide show is in a video formant so some of the resolution of a high quality photo format will be lost (the highest resolution is 1024×768).  The second is that the software is designed to be used with Win XP and there isn’t a version for Win 7 at this point.  Hopefully, a newer version will be made available soon because this is a program that is worth keeping.