A Christmas Present for Extended Family and Friends

This article was originally posted on Nov. 28, 2012

As a military family, we have moved around a lot, making it difficult to visit our relatives on a regular basis. One of the things I liked to do, starting the last week of November is make a year-in-review DVD to send to everybody. This used to be a HUGE project with the software I had available to me over the years, but modern technology has made the process so much easier.

The idea is to go through all your home videos from the year and capture the best segments using video editing software. You can then add transitions, effects, captions, still photos and music. I have to admit that my first videos were overly long and boring, with WAY too much grainy footage of babies laying on their backs blowing raspberries, or babies in the bouncer, or babies in the swing, etc. These are the types of videos that only the most doting of grandparents can tolerate. Since then, I’ve learned a few things. Here’s my top tips:

Top Ten Tips for Year-in-Review Videos:

1. Take good footage in the first place! Most cameras these days are pretty good, but take the time to look over the manual and learn how to use the various features. The improved video and sound quality (yay for “Wind Reduction!) will make your job so much easier.

2. Don’t just take video of the kids. People want to see the adults in the family too, and someday your kids will want to remember what you looked like. Also try to get video of family friends (if they’ll let you) and various gatherings. This will give you a variety of material to mix in with the kid footage.

3. When filming, remember to change angles and use the zoom occasionally, but don’t make everyone seasick by walking around and panning the camera from side-to-side. Just use the pause button before switching to a new vantage point.

4. When editing, the key word is EDIT  . . . ruthlessly. Extended family and friends do want to see your kids, but not as much as you do (grandmothers excepted). You’ll have to decide how many seconds of a scene to include, depending on what’s going on in the scene. You can also edit out dead time to include only the most exciting bits of a birthday party or a trip to the zoo. Aim for a video length of about 20 – 40 min depending on how much action you have to work with.

5. While editing, alternate segments of different angles (if you have them) of the same scene. For example, if you’re editing your family’s Thanksgiving gathering, alternate between a broad view of the dining room, to action shots of the cooks in the kitchen, close-ups of the food, low angle of the kids playing on the floor, etc… If possible, try to alternate outdoor events with indoor events so that viewers don’t get tired of the same lighting.

6. Add a transition with a caption between events in your video. This helps viewers understand what is going on, where you are, when it happened, etc. My favorite transition is the “Ken Burns,” which is very understated and effective.

7. If you have a lot of great pictures, consider creating one or more separate slideshows that can be included on your DVD. Then on the DVD menu, list your slideshows and video/s titles with duration times for each so that viewers can choose what to watch based on how much time they have. 4 minute slideshow or 40 min video? Breaking up your content also helps viewers if they really want to see the pictures of your Yosemite vacation again, without necessarily seeing all the soccer team photos.

8. Quick – learn to play the guitar! For music to accompany your slideshows, it’s best to create your own, or search for “Royalty Free Music.” I’m no lawyer, but even if you have purchased music and only plan to make four copies of your slideshow, I believe copyright law only allows you to make one spare copy for yourself.

9. Use “Youtube” videos to teach yourself how to use whatever software you are using. It’s amazing how much you can learn when you are stuck, and really need to figure out how to do something.

10. This would be an excellent project for older kids and teens. They might need your help uploading all the raw video into the computer, and some overall editorial guidance, but then step back and see what they come up with. It will probably be hilarious. Plus, if they are at all computer savvy, they’ll probably figure out how to do it quicker than you will!

After burning your DVDs, label them and place them in jewel cases before packaging up in bubble mailers. Add a card and any gift cards, and you’ll have a great present to connect with faraway loved ones!

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