Video or Stills on the 4th of July?

Along with the thousands of photos I’ve taken over a lifetime, I’ve also shot hours and hours of video, mostly of my sons growing up.  Baseball.  Soccer.  Football.  Family get togethers. School events.  I didn’t want to miss any of those once in a lifetime moments that seemed to occur at least once every week.

I was quite a sight with my clunky 35mm camera and its long lens bobbing around my neck and my video camera slung over my shoulder like a Winchester rifle, locked, loaded and ready for action.  The gear and its attendant accessories were unwieldy, but the best technology of the time. The all-in-one, does-everything-you-need, stuff-it-in-your-pocket iPhone was still just a gleam in Apple’s eye.

I liked to mix things up a bit, taking a combination of both photos and video.  This worked well at parties, on holidays and social gatherings, but not so well at athletic events.  Sports is action and action is made for video.  Yet I always liked to knock off a few stills at the games.  35mm prints and slides shot outdoors looked especially great with their rich colors and sharp focus.

But shooting film could be risky, as I found out when my son intercepted a pass in a Pop Warner football game.  It was one of the few times the ball was anywhere near him the entire game.  And, of course, I picked the absolute worst moment to turn the video camera off and take some stills.

It was “The Catch” and I blew it.  You can see the football at the top of the picture a split second before he snags it.  What the photo can’t show, and video would have captured in all its glory, was my son cutting in front of the receiver, making the pick, running toward the goal, getting tackled, then triumphantly running off the field to a chorus of cheers and high fives from his teammates and coaches.  Instead, all he has is this still photo, and an admittedly great memory.  He also has lots of video from the game showing the teams setting up on the line of scrimmage and running play after play of about 5 seconds each, none of which feature my son doing anything remotely noteworthy.

There was one event where I never had to choose between taking stills or shooting video:  The 4th of July.  When it came to fireworks, I was all video, all the time.

Some people have mastered the art of photographing fireworks. I’m just not one of them.   But blowing things up? Those are made-for-video moments.  You get to see someone light a fuse, run as fast as they can to a safe distance, then watch in awe as the fireworks ignite and light up the sky. On the down side, shooting video can also give your neighbor’s attorney irrefutable proof of how his house caught on fire.

The pictures of fireworks shown here were taken in the 1980s outside my house in Bellevue, Washington.  I shot them on video tape, transferred the tape to DVD and imported the files into my computer.  I then used MPEG Streamclip to isolate the frame I wanted and convert it to a jpg.  It’s a lot less complicated with today’s digital cameras and removable memory cards.  A simple online search will provide you with a variety of apps that can pull still photos straight from your videos.  Or if you’re using a Mac, you can simply play the video on your computer, pause it on a frame, press the cmd+shift+4 keys, use the cropping tool to highlight the portion of the frame you want to keep, and grab a still photo right off the screen.  For a PC, start the process by using the “PrtScn” key to take a snapshot of the image and then paste it into your photo editing app.

And here’s another case of having your cake and eating it too.

I took this still photo at a 4th of July party 8 years ago.  It was too early in the day for fireworks, so I was okay with putting aside the video camera and taking a still of this star-spangled cake of strawberry stripes and blueberry stars atop a field of white icing.  With some good old apple pie on the side.

Happy 236th Birthday, America!

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