6 crazy tricks for digital cameras and photos

Draw images with light on your photos, make time-lapse video from a lowly point-and-shoot, fix your stereo with your digicam, and more fun tricks.

Get High-Def, Time-Lapse Video From a Lowly Point-and-Shoot

Time-lapse video can create beautiful scenes that condense hours or days into seconds. Shadows drift across skyscrapers at sunset, the moon rises and sets, and morning crowds cross a street en masse.

You could speed up video footage for similar results--but don't accept that substitute. Camcorder scenes are limited to the length of a full tape, and they lack much of the aesthetic charm that you can create by controlling things with a still camera. Here's how to do it.

First, pick a subject and plan the shot. Consider different scenarios: flowers opening, ice melting, a construction project rising. Such examples will look fluid in the final video, but you might also consider capturing scenes without any beginning or ending, like cars alternating at an intersection, children running around a playground, or a snowstorm swirling outside your window.

You'll shoot each frame of the final video, so use some simple math to make a plan. It's a bit involved, but worthwhile.

For smooth motion, aim for 30 frames per second. Think about how long you want the final shot to last, and factor in the length of the event. For example, if you want a 10-second video clip at 30 frames per second, that totals 300 frames. If the real-world scene lasts 20 minutes, say, divide 20 minutes into 300 frames to get the shooting rate (in this case, one photo per 0.066 minutes). Multiply by 60 to turn that rate into one photo every 4 seconds.

Many cameras include a time-lapse mode to shoot automatically on an interval. Without such helpful automation, you can manually fire the shutter on the schedule yourself. Just be sure to mount the camera on a tripod, and position it out of the way of the action you're photographing--you don't ever want to have to move your camera during the process. To save effort later, set the camera to shoot JPEGs at a resolution of about 1024 by 768 pixels.


After shooting, import the digital images to your PC, and store them in a single folder. Download and run the free PhotoLapse 3, which creates .avi movies from a collection of .jpg files. Select your folder, and click Load files from current folder. After it finishes, set the FPS (frame rate) to 30, and click Create Movie.

In the Video Compression prompt, leave the setting at Full Frames (Uncompressed) if you're going to import the video into an editing program. Otherwise, you can reduce the final file here. Click OK. Depending on the number of frames and their sizes, the process could take a few minutes to finish. --Zack Stern

Troubleshoot Your Stereo With a Digital Camera

You're mashing buttons on your remote control, but the stereo ignores you. You replace the batteries. Still no action. So which is malfunctioning: the remote control or the stereo?

Believe it or not, your digital camera can tell you the answer. Most models can see well into the infrared spectrum, which is the region where your remote control operates. To troubleshoot, point your remote control into your camera lens and then push some buttons.

Now look at the camera's LCD screen (not at the optical viewfinder). If the remote works, you'll see a flashing light where the remote's infrared emitter is. --Dave Johnson

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Zack Stern and Dave Johnson

PC World (US online)
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