In yesterday's jazz post I mentioned Ken Burns, one of my favorite documentary film makers and storytellers of our time. He is perhaps most famous to many people for the "Ken Burns effect," a technique for adding motion to still photography. In this technique life is given to a photo by slowly panning or zooming in or out to give emphasis or create drama, etc. Burns learned the technique from his mentor in the '70s and applied it in the making of the documentary Brooklyn Bridge in 1981 (nominated for an Academy Award). The effect first appeared in software (as the "Ken Burns effect" at least) in Apple's iMovie several years ago. Below you can see a good example of the Ken Burns style in this powerful introduction to the documentary Jazz. The first five minutes is mostly old film clips, but after that you begin to see the usage of old photos set to subtle motion. The beauty of it is you really never notice. The modern interviews, the voice over, and the mixing of still images with motion picture footage is smooth and seamless. Like any good art, the viewer doesn't notice the technique. What they notice, and are taken in by, is the whole of the visual experience and the narration, that is, the story.
Ken Burns on the "Ken Burns effect"
Below is a great piece featuring Ken Burns explaining the power of the technique and a funny story of how Ken met Steve Jobs, etc. Really good stuff.
When you think about it, often the photo really is more powerful than video at telling the story. The photo captures a moment in time allowing the viewer to slow down and think and wonder and reflect. Photos allow for greater emphasis and may have less distracting elements, giving the presenter or narrator/film maker more freedom to augment the photo (or the other way around). We can learn a lot from documentary film, especially the kind like those created by Burns which rely so heavily on still images. One tip is to avoid the usage of imagery as ornamentation. What you see in Burns' films is a simple and powerful use of photos and other imagery that support the narrative and illuminate the story on a visceral level, thereby making the experience richer and stickier.
• Checkout this cool app — Fotomagico by Boinx. This is one of the coolest apps out there and can certainly be used for many kinds of presentations. It has many features including Ken Burns effects and text, etc. Really powerful application for the price.
• A couple of years ago I put this slideshow together in about 45 minutes with just some minor tweaking of the Ken Burns effects in iPhoto. It's just your typical wedding album, but with the effect added the set of photos are a bit more engaging.(Youtube version, higher rez version on bliptv).