Adjusting Dark Movies
What can you do
if your video footage is so dark it doesn't seem to be usable?... it was the end of the wedding
reception party and time for 'the last dance',
and the lights were down to the lowest of the low . I knew my Hi8 camcorder would take much
better video in low light than my digital, but its batteries were drained... so I shot the dance
with the digital, which is really poor in low light.
I was thinking
that bad footage might be better than no footage... at least I'd be recording the audio which
I could put together with some snapshots in a Photo Story... and I can toss the poor video to
the editor. Maybe he can fix it (yes, I'm the shooter and the editor)!!
I'd been rolling
out the videos to the bride and grooms website... after most were finished, the bride asked
'...do you have video of the last dance?...". Sure, I'm working on it :)
Take a look at
the challenge. Here's a link to the 3 minutes of raw footage (almost raw - it's an unedited
WMV file made from it).
I remember how
great it was to get Adobe PhotoShop with its 'Levels' adjustment feature to work on still pictures.
Adobe Premiere also includes a 'Levels' feature... and so does some other software.
The feature is
kind of an all-in-one tool for adjusting brightness, contrast and colors. My wife Bernadette
uses 'levels adjustments' all the time in her Photoshop work, but I rarely go to it.
color impaired I tend to skirt around color issues, and I don't trust my color judgment when
I do it.
Jumping ahead to
the conclusion, here's a link to the happy ending, the last dance scene on the couple's website...
and the VCR tapes, and the DVDs.
It's a pretty dramatic
before and after situation.
Movie Maker has
brightness and contrast effects... but I opted to take the footage over to Premiere 6.0 to make
the adjustments with its levels adjustment feature.
the adjusted footage back into Movie Maker, I added a sepia tone effect to the final edited
video, giving it a bit more of an old time, end of the party mood... and to hide any of the
off-colors I can't see very well.
For the newsletter,
let's explore this footage and how to do the adjustment. We'll see what we can do with brightness
and contrast effects in Movie Maker, step through the process of levels adjustment in Adobe
Premiere 6.0, and then look at a few other options in our video utility toolboxes. There are
adjustment features in:
- Virtual Dub
- Rad Video Tools
If you want to
compare what you can do with the footage to what I ended up with, you're welcome to download
the online copy of the dark file. If you make it better than the one on the website, send a
copy so I can upgrade it.
... before getting into the adjustments,
a couple notes about things
• This newsletter
aligns a bit with the book chapter I'm working on about the world of Virtual Dub...
the Levels adjustment is one of its standard video filters. If it works as well as Premiere
and that's all you need to fix in a video, its a much more cost-effective option. I have a feeling
it might even be easier to get better results using Virtual Dub.
• The wedding
project has progressed
to the point that I've delivered 10 copies of a one hour video on VCR tapes, and I used MyDVD
4.5 to make 7 copies of a DVD. Everything came out great, including the last dance.
• Here's a link
to a free download that just rolled out after my last week's newsletter about adware/spyware,
a Microsoft® Windows AntiSpyware
(Beta) app - a security technology that helps protect Windows users from spyware and other potentially
I haven't tried
Adjusting Dark Movies
When it comes to
dealing with visual adjustments, I'll classify video editing apps and utilities into 4 groups,
those that: (1) don't provide any adjustment features, (2) provide individual adjustments for
brightness, colors, hue, saturation, luminosity, etc. (3) provide 'levels adjustments' for easier
put-it-all-together selections, and (4) include Photoshop style 'curve adjustments' with even
more power and ease than 'levels adjustments'.
I checked a book
about Premiere 6... it says you can use brightness and contrast effects but for more control
try using the levels effect. Extrapolating that to video - if software offers levels controls,
use it. If not, use brightness and contrast controls.
Movie Maker and
its third party effects don't include slider type user-adjustable levels effect settings. Microsoft
only allows single parameter add-ons. We'll see what you can do with the brightness and contrast
Then we'll go to
Premiere 6.0 for a look at its levels feature... and then explore what's in Virtual Dub, TMPGEnc
and Rad Video Tools... free apps that should be in everyone's toolbox. There are links on the
Setup > Other Software page of my site.
For this newsletter
I went back to the original tape from the wedding, and used MM1 to capture the scene as a type
II DV-AVI file. I knew the type II would work in all the apps. The newer type I file from MM2
isn't supported by some utilities.
2.1 - Brightness Effect
Movie Maker 2 includes
a video effect to increase brightness... and you can apply it up to 6 times on a clip.
You can see from
the figure at the left that using it on this video isn't a good solution. I see lots of posts
asking how to make a dark picture brighter, and applying the brightness increase effect is the
first response... not necessarily the best.
The levels adjustment
of Premiere is a lot more complex than just the brightness dimension.
Pixelan has a package
that includes brightness and contrast effects. And you can get into the tweaking of custom XML
code if you want. They are all limited by not having adjustable slider type options for the
user, with real-time feedback about what the effect will do.
6.0 - Levels Adjustment
You've seen the
final movie. There were only two adjustments made from the raw footage, applying levels adjustment
in Premiere 6 followed by a sepia tone effect in Movie Maker 2. Let's look at the steps needed
to do the levels adjustment in Premiere.
1 - Use your file
manager to drag/drop the video file into Premiere's left preview monitor.
2 - Drag the clip
from the left preview monitor to a video track on the timeline.
3 - Drag the levels
adjustment control from the video palette onto the clip on the timeline... the marching ants
will outline the clip that is selected.
4 - Go to the setup
option in the Effect Controls palette and tweak the levels settings until the image in its preview
monitor looks good. If you have 6 dance scenes in the same place with the same lighting, and
you have one looking good... use the Save button to save the settings... when you open the other
dance scenes, just Load the saved settings file.
5 - Right click
the clip on the timeline and opt to 'Clear Clip Marker > All Markers' - this is to preclude
the effect being applied between markers rather than the entire clip.
6 - Use File >
Export Timeline > Movie to get the adjusted DV-AVI file to use in Movie Maker.
I haven't mentioned
audio... I'm using Premiere here to adjust the video only. When I'm done with that I'll marry
the adjusted video with the original audio in Movie Maker. So no need to think about the audio
in Premiere or any of the other apps we'll look at. The goal is just to get the visual looking
Premiere is great
for this adjustment feature... but it's more of an upscale pricey application. Those who use
Movie Maker and want to stay a bit lower in utility prices.... continue reading. If you want
to try Premiere, Adobe usually offers a 30 day full featured trial version of its software.
Virtual Dub specializes
in helping you fix video clips by applying filters. Its Levels filter is perfect for doing this
video if you don't own something like Premiere... or even if you do.
1 - Using your
file manager, drag the clip of dark footage into Virtual Dub.
2 - From the main
menu, use Video > Filters > Add > Levels.... select the Show preview button.
3 - Adjust until
the preview looks good... see how similar the controls compare to Premiere... and how much bigger
the preview monitor of Virtual Dub is. I've reduced the size of this picture by a factor of
4, whereas the picture of the Premiere feature above is shown at full size.
4 - Say OK a couple
times and press the Enter key to preview the before and after footage.
5 - Repeat until
pleased with the results, and then use the main menu File > Save as AVI to get your adjusted
video source file.
Most are familiar
with TMPGEnc as a tool to take a saved movie and convert it to an MPEG file as it heads toward
a disc for TV viewing. What you might not know is that you can use a DV-AVI file as an input,
do some adjustments to it, and save it as an AVI file that works fine in Movie Maker.
Here are the steps
to fix the dark video.
1 - Using your
file manager, drag the clip of dark footage into the Video source field.
2 - Select the
Setting button in the middle of the bottom line
3 - Advanced tab
> select the Custom color correction in the list > double click the item to open up the world
of possible settings. Adjust them until satisfied and...
4 - From the main
menu use File > Output to File > AVI file
Tools - Bink Version 1.6h
Rad Video Tools
is usually mentioned as the utility to convert QuickTime MOV files to AVI... here's how to use
it to adjust a DV-AVI file and save it as another AVI.
1 - Use the browse
feature to select the dark AVI file
2 - Press the Convert
a file button
3 - Select the
Output type as AVI
4 - Enter values
for the adjustments:
Here's the info
from the Rad Video Tools help file:
Contrast - This filter
allows you to increase the contrast of a video. Increasing the contrast will make the blacks
blacker and the whites whiter. This almost always improves compression because it will make
"almost black" pixels fully black. The contrast range is 0 (no contrast increase) to 127
(maximum increase). A good default value is 8.
Black clamp - This
filter hard clamps the pixels to fully black when each of the color values are below the
specified value. This is another way to force "almost black" pixels to become fully black.
It's especially good for video captured titles. For most video, however, the contrast control
is the best way to get black pixels looking nice and dark. The clamp range is 0 (no clamp)
to 255 (all colors forced to black). A good starting value is 20.
Brightness - This
filter lets you increase or decrease the brightness of the input video frames. The brightness
control is a percentage where 100% is the existing brightness, 10% is 10 percent of the
existing brightness (or 10 times darker), and 200% is twice as bright.
correct fields - This filter lets you increase or decrease the gamma of the input video
frames. Gamma is kind of like non-linear brightness - that is, the entire spectrum isn't
all brightened by the same amount. The gamma correction range is from 0.0 (completely dark)
to 1.0 (the existing level of gamma) to above 1.0 (which brightens the pixels). Gamma correction
is usually used to adjust a Mac-authored movie that plays too dark on a PC. A gamma of 1.4
is usually about right for converting the gamma of a Mac input file to the same level of
PC brightness. If you have a movie that looks good on the PC and you want to use it on an
Xbox, PS/2 or GameCube connected to a TV, then you must adjust the gamma (or the
movie will be too bright and washed out). Use a factor of 0.88 to covert from PC gamma to
Press the convert
button to pick a compression codec > OK to start the rendering..
One of the points
I stress over and over is to get to know the tools you have, and use them when appropriate.
It's usually not a matter of having the perfect app as it is being able to effectively use the
features of many apps, and easily move your clips among them.
Adjusting an extremely
dark video to something presentable is one of the cases that illustrates the need.
For this type of
dark situation, I consider Premiere, VirtualDub and TMPGEnc to be the best as they provide 'levels'
type adjustments.... Rad Video Tools comes next with the ability to easily enter a number of
adjustment factors, followed by Movie Maker 2 which supports one tweak at a time.
I look forward to comments and discussion about
this and other newsletters on the forums at:
Movie Maker 2 -
Photo Story 2 -
Photo Story 3 - a branch of -
Products and Services
in many things that support the users of Movie Maker and Photo Story, and adding more daily.
Here's a list of what is available to the public. Some are free and others are reasonably
2 - Do Amazing Things (with
its online companion on
winter quarterly special - with a 7 page tutorial 'Make a Killer Home Movie with Maker 2'
- now on newsstands in the USA through March 7th.
- 3 goals: to help you solve problems, be the online companion to the Do Amazing Things
book, and provide a detailed tutorial for Photo Story 3.
- see the menu branch close to the bottom... like the Photo Story 2 site, it's more
about how it works and how to use it, not about how to resolve problems.
Online Support - Forums, Channels
I'm a regular
on many online forums and newsgroups, the main ones being:
Maker 2 forum at SimplyDV.com
XP Movie Maker newsgroup at microsoft.public.windowsxp.moviemaker
Photo Story 2 newsgroup microsoft.public.plus
Photo Story 3 newsgroup microsoft.public.windowsxp.photos
2/Photo Story newsletter. The annual subscription is $20 and the link to subscribe is
on the main page of my Movie Maker website at:
Topics for upcoming
newsletters (always subject to change):
- open (I'll post to the forum as soon as I know)
newsletters (more than 6 issues ago) are archived by Rob Morris at:
Transition Maker 2
(TM2) - a utility for the ultimate in making personal and custom transitions for Movie
a joint effort by Patrick Leabo, the programmer, and myself.
beta test the Pixelan
packages and think very highly of their people and products: Their SpiceFX packages
of additional transitions and effects for Movie Maker 2 are available at:
package for Movie Maker 2 is available at:
Other fee-based services:
you can't save a movie because your project has become too complex, e-mail
it to me and I'll divide it into manageable sub-projects for you, and provide detailed instructions
to render the parts and assemble them into your final movie. $49.95 - for details, see the
sidebar on the Problem Solving > Can't Save a Movie page of
2/Photo Story 2 training and support services
start at $50 per hour - send an email to
PapaJohn@CharterMi.net and I'll help you determine your needs,
and work with you to plan and implement them.
Wedding combo website/video packages - starting
at $2,500 + travel expenses. See
www.jill-mark.papajohn.org or the bottom branch of my Movie Maker 2 website for
a sample of what you can expect from the online portion of the package.