Monthly Archives: December 2008

How To Get Excellent Green Screen Results for Free

A chromakey green background

A chromakey green background


Do you wish you could create green screen effects?

You know the ones – everything from Superman flying over Metropolis to a weatherman standing in front of a local map as cold fronts swirl into view. It’s easy, if you have the right tools.

The secret to greenscreen (also known as chromakey) video is two fold:

  1. A smooth green or blue background that can be “keyed” so that it becomes invisible and is replaced by something else
  2. Software to do the keying

The green screen itself needn’t be very expensive. CloverCity sells The Chroma Twist, a collapsible, folding, double-sided green screen / blue screen that’s perfect for videographers.

(Video works better with a green screen, but film works better with blue.)

The talent stands in front of the evenly lit green background. In post production, the editor creates a key and the magic happens.

Of course, creating the key is easier said than done.

A smooth, wrinkle-free greenscreen, like the The Chroma Twist, can make keying easier. An evenly lit, shadow-free background is essential. And software that can intelligently match and remove the chromakey is a must.

There are several products on the market for creating chromakey effects. A simple chromakeyer is bundled with Sony Movie Studio and Sony Vegas. While it works on well lit, high contrast sets, it can be difficult to get a good key on poorly lit subjects. Serious Magic’s Ultra software was considered by many to be the best keying software around. Unfortunately, it was bought by Adobe and is no longer available as a standalone product.

Don’t give up yet. Just in time for the New Year, here comes CineGobs. Not only have they created excellent chromakey software, it is free.

If you want to learn about chromakey special effects, go to CineGobs and download the latest version of their software, the CineGobs Keyer. Be sure to check out the manual and the tutorials. And while you are there, grab one of the free special effects explosions they are giving away.

You’ll be creating your own movie magic in 2009.

Photo by ZapTheDingbat Released under Creative Commons License

Three Free Tools For Better Screencasts

tools for screencastingCamtasia 6 has changed the screencasting landscape – perhaps for the better, perhaps not – but whether you are using Camtasia 3, Camtasia 5, or Camtasia 6, you will find screencasting infinitely easier if you use three, free tools.

1. Sizer The ability to precisely resize the screen area you want to record to exact dimensions is so crucial to good screencasting that TechSmith built it in to Camtasia 4. But no matter which version of Camtasia you use, you still need Sizer. You can choose from standard 4:3 apsect ratios like 800 x 600 or 1024 x 768 – or you can create you own custom sizes. Choose a profile, click your mouse, and any window is precisely the size you want.

Now that You Tube is accepting widescreen videos, Sizer is more useful than ever. Use it to make sure your videos recording area is 1280 x 720, for best HQ results.

2. Audacity is the one sound editor you need if you want your screencasts to have professional audio. TechSmith has been laboring to incorprate better audio editing into Camtasia – and v6 has finally introduced a third audio track and a way to de-couple audio and video on Track 1 – but they also dropped their stand alone Sound Editor. Even TechSmith now recommends that you use Audacity. How much does it cost? It’s free!

3. Color Cop let’s you find the exact RGB or Hex value for any color. If you want to create callouts that match a particular screen element (like your browser’s toolbar, for instance), Color Cop is perfect.

I’ve recommended these applications for years. No matter how much TechSmith improves each new release of Camtasia, Sizer, Audacity, and Color Cop remain indispensible.

Photo by linh.ngan Released under Creative Commons License

Fanning The Flames

Flame wars destroy

Flame wars destroy

I have lost track of how often I have read a blog post entitled something like, “10 Tips for Boosting Traffic” that includes the advice “Be controversial.”

Please, don’t.

Be honest, be straightforward, be blunt, be yourself.  But please, no – please do not be controversial.

It’s hard to build a community. It’s easy to destroy one.

Screaming matches add nothing to a blog. Snide and snarky remarks do not sway opinions. The shouting match culture of cable TV is not entertaining – it’s adolescent.

I don’t know of any studies that show the number of blogs and forums damaged by flame wars vs. the number of blogs and forums made successful by controversial posts. I do know that I no longer visit a number of former favorite hang outs because of the ugly atmosphere created by internet bullies.

Why would you open the flood gates to toxic sludge just to boost your stats?

Use Offline Manners Online


It may not get you to the front page of Digg, but using your offline manners can be surprisingly effective if you want to participate in an online community, rather than a mob.

  • Address people by name.
  • Ask, don’t demand
  • Say please and thanks
  • Give others the benefit of the doubt

In short, even on the internet, treat others the way you’d like to be treated.

Photo by Esther Kirby Released under Creative Commons license

If You Must Work – Work From Anywhere This Holiday Season

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays from Information Sells

Don’t be tethered to a desk. Give yourself a Christmas treat while indulging your geeky cloud computing cravings this holiday season.

LOG ME IN

Do you need remote access to your PC? Do you use LogMeIn? If you use anything except LogMeIn, you are paying too much. LogMeIn is free and it is safe, secure, and time tested.

I’ve been using it for at least 3 years, and I can recommend it unreservedly.

And here’s a great Christmas bonus to give yourself: if you have a free LogMeIn account, until Dec. 31, you can upgrade to LogMeIn Pro for half price. That’s an entire year for only $40.00

The Pro version adds remote printing (open a document on your PC in Timbuktu and print it on your printer in Katmandu) and file sync, file sharing, and a few other nice features.

The Pro features aren’t essential – but at $40.00 they are hard to pass up.

LIVE MESH

When it comes to online file storage and file sharing, Microsoft can’t make up its mind. First they bought FolderShare, then they renamed it LiveSync.

Somewhere along the line, they introduced Live Mesh.

I tried FolderShare in the past, but I’ve switched almost entirely to Mesh now. You get 5 GB of storage for your documents. You can use it to keep PCs, mobile phones, and even Macs all in sync. You can share and collaborate on documents in your mesh. And it gives you access to your remote desktop, so you can grab even documents you haven’t synchronized.

Like Log Me In, it’s free.

WINDOWS LIVE PHOTO GALLERY

If you are still using Windows XP, but you’ve cast a covetous eye on Vista’s Photo Gallery – you don’t need to upgrade to experience all those fine, new features. Live Photo Gallery is part of Windows Live Essentials. And it is free.

The downloader includes the entire Live Essentials family, so be sure you only install the parts you want.

If you want a photo organizer but would rather stick a fork in your eye than download a Microsoft product, try Picasa 3 from Google instead.

Both Live Photo Gallery and Picasa include simple photo editing and web albums for sharing your pictures online.

ENJOY YOUR MUSIC, TOO

It’s hard to imagine not having space for an iPod, but if you are netbook user, you might not have room for iTunes. Forget the iPod and tune in to Pandora, the internet radio station that only plays what you want to hear.

Pandora let’s you pick the songs and artists that you enjoy and, based on your selections, suggests other music you might like as well. Their predictions are, in my experience, quite good.

It’s not only a way to listen to your favorite music – it’s a great way to discover new music.

And it’s free and available on any computer connected to the internet.

Photo by Kevin Dooley Released under Creative Commons License


Have You Upgraded Your WordPress Blog to v2.7?

Blogging With WordPress

Blogging With WordPress

Back in the fall, when I released my eBook, Blogging With WordPress, I promised that there would be a free, full, follow-up report on WordPress v2.7  for anyone who bought the eBook.

I posted the new report – WordPress 2.7: Redesigned & Easier To Use – to the Members Only area of GhostLeg yesterday, along with a 1 hour video preview of WordPress 2.7’s new features.

If you are looking to upgrade your blog, and want a concise, heavily illustrated look at the new features and how to use them – as well as a guide to the the sometimes confusing, occasionally nerve-wracking process of  installing WordPress 2.7 on an existing blog – I think you’ll find the bonus report quite useful.

WordPress 2-7 Upgrade Bonus Report

WordPress 2-7 Upgrade Bonus Report

The PDF report will not be sold (or given away) separately. It is only available as a bonus when you buy the original eBook, Blogging With WordPress.

The ebook, the report, and the video might make a nice last minute Christmas gift for the aspiring blogger on your list. Or yourself.

Instant delivery – no driving in the snow required.

And, as a holiday Thank You to Information Sells readers and subscribers – if you purchase the ebook before December 26 from GhostLeg, I’ll refund $10.00 of the purchase price. (But you must use the links in this blog post to make the purchase and you must buy before 11:59:59 PM, Dec. 25.)

How To Add Spectacular Photos To Your Blog

Photos make your posts stand out

Photos make your posts stand out

Do you want to add beautiful photos to every blog post, without paying a cent and without infringing anyone’s copyright?

Creative Commons and Flickr make it easy to find photos as good as you will see anywhere – for free. If you pay attention to the license terms and chose only the By Attribution license, you can use these pictures in commercial, for profit sites and projects, you can crop or alter them, you can do just about anything you want – as long as you give the photographer credit for the picture.

There are several other types of Creative Commons licenses, but if you stick to the By Attribution only licenses, you are sure to stay out of trouble.

Begin by going to Flickr’s Creative Commons by Attribution license section.

Once there, enter a search term. It can be as broad and nebulous as “snow” or as specific as “Pere-Lachaise.”

To speed your search for the very best photos, use this technique I recently learned from Skelliwag.org: On the results page, look for a small link at the top called “Most interesting.” Click on it to re-order the results according to community votes of what are the most interesting photos.

Whether you want to create a mood or use an exact illustration, you should be able to find the perfect picture for your post within a minute or two. In fact, the difficulty will be in resisting the temptaion to just look at a few more pictures, and then a few more, and then just one more page…

Remember to credit the photographer by name. It’s also good form to use a link back to both the Creative Commons license and the photographer’s Flickr stream.

Photo by ekillian Released under Creative Commons License

Learn How To Make Holiday Greetings With Photoshop Elements

Mery Christmas Banner


I just learned how to make this banner from a tutorial by Dave Cross on Photoshop Elements User.

Photoshop Elements is an essential tool, not only for photographers, but for every independent product producer.

If you don’t already own it, take advantage of Adobe’s Christmas Special to get it for $20.00 off, with Free Holiday Shipping , using this link and coupon:

Save $20 on full version of Photoshop Elements 7! Use Coupon Code:HOBBYISTHOLIDAY08

And if you would like to learn more about using Photoshop Elements, check out the CloverCity’s December Newsletter for information on the online Photoshop Elements class Cindy Shebley and I will be doing for in January.

Everyone at Ghost Leg Media – including all our dogs and cats – wishes all of you a Happy Holiday season and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Is the Perfect Computer… A Notebook?

That's What I Like!

Oh yeah - portable and happy-go-lucky - like me!

This is Part 6 in the How To Buy A New Computer Series

Part 1 Buying A New Computer
Part 2 Hard Drives and Memory
Part 3 How to Pick A CPU
Part 4 What Are L1 and L2 Cache and Bus Speed?
Part 5 How To Choose The Right Monitor


PERFECT  FOR YOU

There is no such thing as The Perfect Computer – but there is a perfect computer for you.

Now that you understand the hardware specs, it is time to find the right combination of speed, memory, power, and price that will make your working life a dream.

LAPTOP OR DESKPTOP

The first, obvious choice is between a notebook computer and a desktop computer.

Do you need a computer that let’s you be online any time and everywhere? If your idea of an office is the local Starbucks, then a notebook is a must.

There are two essential questions to ask about a notebook:

  1. Is it light enough to lug around with me?
  2. Is it powerful enough to do the work I need to do every day?


Notebook computers necessitate a series of  compromises.

  • A big screen adds weight, but a small screen makes multitasking impractical.
  • A processor powerful enough to run applications like Photoshop drains the battery quickly.
  • A computer light enough to carry for any length of time is going to be either under-powered or over-priced.

So you need to seriously think about how you will use your notebook before you fall in love with it.  If you don’t plan ahead, the divorce can be costly.

Notebook computers fall into roughly three classes, each heavier and more powerful than the previous one:

  1. Lightweight and super-portable
  2. Every day use
  3. Desktop replacements

THE DESKTOP REPLACEMENT

If a notebook will be your only computer, even if you travel with it, you may need a larger, heavy desktop replacement style notebook. These computers usually have 15 – 17: screens and can weigh over 8 pounds. They will probably run for less than 2 hours on a fully charged battery.

But a powerful laptop can run video or photo editing software without choking. It will have a hard drive roomy enough to store your documents without the added weight and space of an extra external hard drive. And it will be able to handle all your business tasks as well as playing a DVD to pass the time in airports or on the plane.

Just make sure to buy a rolling case for your new computer.

THE FEATHER WEIGHT

Until this year, a super-lightweight computer (under 3 lbs.) cost over $2,000.00. The only market for such devices was assumed to be salesmen and business executives who would gladly pay any premium for small and light.

Then the ASUS Eee PC changed everything.

A real computer that runs Windows XP, weighs less than 3 lbs, fits in a bookbag, and costs less than $400.00 – the EEE PC shook up the notebook market.

Now everyone from Lenovo to Dell to HP is selling a netbook, and prices keep dropping.

It can be hard to resist the “grab and go” appeal of the netbook – but before you buy one, make sure you understand: a netbook cannot be your primary computer.

The netbook excels at one thing: it is the perfect companion PC for reading email or surfing the web when you can’t or don’t want to use your regular computer.

At least as they are currently configured, netbooks are too underpowered to use for much serious work.

THE EVERY DAY NOTEBOOK

In between these two extremes is the every day notebook.

A good laptop will have a good (but not super) processor – usually Core2 Dual instead of Core2 Quad. Most online sellers, like Dell, will allow you to beef up the specs, so that you can buy a large enough hard drive and enough RAM to run several applications at once.

Expect to pay anywhere from $800.00 to$1,000.00 for a laptop with a 15 1/2″ display, a Core2 Duo  2 GHz processor, 4 GB of RAM and a 320 GB (5400 RPM hard) drive. Increasing the size of the hard drive or the speed of the procesor will, of course, increase the price.

Such a notebook will be able to replace your desktop computer when you travel without breaking the bank. You may find you often use it in the evenings, when you are away from your desk, as well when you are away from the office.

If you decide to settle for less power, a smaller hard drive, or less RAM, you can probably save $150.00.

PLAN A YEAR OR TWO AHEAD

Keep in mind – it is harder to upgrade components on a notebook. You can’t add a second hard drive or buy a new monitor. Even swapping out the RAM can be tricky, since many notebooks have only one user-accessible memory slot. So you often have to discard the installed RAM, rather than just add to it.

Many business users replace notebook computers just as they do cell phones. They buy a cheap model, expecting it to only last a year or two. When it slows down, breaks down, or gets stolen – they just buy a new one.

If this sounds like you – invest in good back up and encryption programs.

If you want your computer to last for 3, 4, or 5 years – don’t shop bottom of the line. The dollars you save up front will melt away with wasted time and lost productivity.

Photo by Tanakawho Released under Creative Commons License

Tell The Story of Your Product’s Benefits With Video

Did he learn to do this by watching Windex ads?

Did he learn his technique watching Windex commercials?


Why do even smart eBay sellers forget everything they know about selling when they turn to video?

Whenever I do a video workshop, I am struck by the number of sellers who say something like, “Video is OK for cars, but I’m selling used blue jeans. Why on earth would I use video? What is there to show?”

Riiiight.

Like there has never been a single commercial on TV for Levis.

Video – just like written copy – is all about the benefits of your product, not the features.

You do not need to demonstrate how the product works. You need to demonstrate why the buyer should buy it. You need to create an emotional bond with your viewer. Video is so powerful precisely because it is emotional, rather than literal.

Of course it can be very useful to demonstrate how something works. But the magic of video is its ability to tell a story, to create a mood with pictures and music that makes your viewers say, “Gimme!”

Think about the last five TV commercials you saw. Did they demonstrate how to use the product they were selling? Or did they show you the wonderful things that could happen, if only you owned XYZ?

Commercials are made by people who have mastered the art of telling a story in 30 seconds. Next time a commercial comes on, watch it closely. Ask yourself, what are the benefits? What is the story? Why does this work?

There is a free Master Class in Selling With Video happening in your livingroom every ten minutes. Don’t fast forward through it.

Photo by D’Arcy Norman Released under Creative Commons License

Saying No and Meaning It

Who Are You Calling A Dog?

That sign does not apply to me

Sometimes good customer service means saying, “No.”

We’ve all had clients who demand services we don’t provide – or customers who want products we don’t carry.

The temptation to say, “Yes, I can do that,” “Yes, I can get that,” “Yes, whatever you want,” is strong.

Maybe you can contract out some of the work. Maybe you can rearrange your day. Maybe you can say Yes now and figure out how later.

But what about the clients who you just know will never be happy.

No matter what you offer, they want something else. If you work by the hour, they want a half hour consult. If you charge for phone support, they want unlimited access via email. If you teach Microsoft Office, they expect you to diagnose their WiFi connection problems. If you can recite the whole of Paradise Lost while standing on one leg, they want to see it written out in Sanskrit – in long hand – instead.

These are the clients who will cost you money. Beware of getting entangled.

Only you can set the rules for your business. Don’t allow clients to do it.

Establish firm boundaries as soon as possible – ideally during your first transaction. Then stand firm. Do not let yourself be bullied.

And do not be afraid to say no. Sometimes turning down business is the most profitable thing you can do.

Photo by SeenyaRita Released under Creative Commons License