The trick to creating a successful montage is editing your images so they match the rhythm and tempo of your music. I'll show you how to use iMovie 4's editing tools -- including bookmarks, audio scrubbing, and timeline snapping -- to precisely time your photos and movie clips so they sync with an imported audio track.
Prepare Your Soundtrack
Your first job is to import music into iMovie. In a new iMovie project, click on the Audio button and select an appropriate song from your iTunes library. For best results, use a song that has a strong rhythm and whose lyrics complement your visuals. For example, if you're making a montage of a recent road trip, you might consider downloading Rosemary Clooney's big-band rendition of "On the Road Again" from the iTunes Music Store (or, for a different mood, Ghoti Hook's punk version). I once made a video tribute to my dog and set it to Barry White's version of "Just the Way You Are." It brought the house down.
Once you've chosen a song, you'll use iMovie 4's bookmarking feature to mark where in the song each new image or scene should start. Bookmarks are timeline "guideposts" indicating points you want to refer to later. By pounding these guideposts into the timeline now, you'll have an easier time positioning your clips to match the rhythm of your music.
Bookmarks appear as small green diamonds over your timeline. To create a bookmark, you typically move the iMovie playhead to the desired location in the timeline and then choose Add Bookmark from the Bookmarks menu. However, bookmarking music is challenging; the timeline doesn't show you where a song's refrain occurs, for example. Luckily, iMovie offers some new features that can help.
Bookmark As You Play To develop a rhythm, and to better sync your cuts to the flow of the music, insert bookmarks as you listen to the song.
Play the iMovie project from the beginning, and press Command-B each time you hear a spot where you'll want a scene change -- for example, at the end of every phrase or at important beats.
If you need to remove a stray bookmark, just drag the playhead to the bookmark and choose Delete Bookmark from the Bookmarks menu.
Scrubbing for Precision If you're having trouble accurately placing bookmarks, use iMovie's new audio-scrubbing feature to better control playback speed.
First, zoom in on the timeline by adjusting the zoom slider. While holding down the option key, slowly drag iMovie's playhead left and right. Your audio playback will match the speed and direction of the playhead. If the playback is still too fast, zoom in further. If it's too slow, zoom out.
Visualize Your Audio iMovie 4 can also display an audio track's waveform -- a visual representation of changes in the track's volume. This is useful if you need to locate pauses or particularly loud moments, such as the whack of a snare drum.
To see the waveform, open iMovie's preferences and select the Show Audio Track Waveforms option. If your song's waveform isn't visually dramatic enough to help you find what you need, you can intensify it by selecting the song in the timeline and pressing the up-arrow key. Conversely, the down-arrow key will make a waveform less intense.
With your bookmarks set, you're ready to assemble your photos and video clips. If you're using photos, be sure to turn off the Ken Burns option in the Photos pane. You can apply the effect later, after you've refined the placement and duration of each photo.
You'll want to piece together your images so a new photo or movie clip appears at every bookmark. Here are a few ways to make this process easier:
Make It Snappy Instead of struggling to position a clip at the exact spot you've bookmarked, let iMovie do the work for you. Open iMovie's preferences and turn on the Timeline Snapping option. As you drag items within the timeline, they'll automatically align to any other items they encounter, including bookmarks.
Trim Clips Since most of your video clips will be longer than the space you've allotted, you'll need to edit them to fit within your bookmarks.
Editing a video clip is now much easier, thanks to iMovie's new direct trimming feature. Direct trimming lets you hide unwanted footage without irrevocably altering the clip -- so you can refine your edits later if you change your timing or need to rearrange your images.
First, trim the clip's starting point so it comes in at just the right moment. Click on the clip's left edge and drag it inward until you reach the beginning of the scene. Make sure the front of the clip aligns with your first bookmark.
Next, click on the right edge of the clip and drag it to the left or right until it snaps to the following bookmark. Repeat this process for each clip.
Make Room for Transitions When iMovie inserts a transition between two clips, it lops off some of the first clip's footage. But you can compensate for this -- and ensure that your transitions appear right on cue -- by leaving some extra footage at the end of each clip.
To do this, click on the right edge of your trimmed clip or photo in the timeline and slowly extend it to the right as you watch the time-code readout just above the timeline. How far you extend the clip will depend on the duration of the transition you're using. For example, if you're planning a 15-frame (half-second) cross dissolve, you'll want to lengthen a clip so that it extends roughly seven frames beyond its bookmark.
As you make these kinds of small trimming adjustments, you may find that timeline snapping works against you. If so, you can quickly toggle the Timeline Snapping feature on and off by holding down the shift key while trimming. Now drag the next clip into place and add the transition. It should fall right at the bookmark you set.
Add Motion to Photos If you're using photos, you can give them a sense of motion by applying iMovie's Ken Burns effect. First, make sure that you've downloaded Apple's iMovie 4.01 update. (It fixes a bug that caused the Ken Burns effect to zoom out too quickly.) Control-click on a photo and choose Edit Photo Settings from the contextual menu. In the Photos pane, select the Ken Burns Effect option, set up the desired move, and then click on Update.
Beyond Ken Burns
iMovie's Ken Burns effect is great for adding basic panning and zooming effects to your photo slide show. But if you want to do something more complex -- for example, create an elaborate panning path that loops around an image -- you'll need a more robust slide-show creator.
Two such programs are Still Life, from Granted Software ($25; www.grantedsw.com), and Photo to Movie, from LQ Graphics ($50; www.lqgraphics.com). Both programs specialize in creating music-driven slide shows and have advanced options for panning and zooming -- such as panning along a curve, rotating the camera while in motion, and creating multiple still shots of the same image.
In this example from Still Life (left), the camera turns to follow a winding path through the woods. You can download trial versions of both programs before you buy.
Check It Out
Store Photos on an iPod
If you're constantly deleting digital photos from your camera's media card to make way for new ones, you need more storage. You could invest in additional media cards. But Belkin offers a better solution -- the $90 Belkin Digital Camera Link for iPod (www.belkin.com/ipod/cameralink), which lets you download the photos to your iPod.
Unlike Belkin's Media Card Reader, which required that you insert your card, the Digital Camera Link lets you transfer photos directly between your camera and your iPod. To download photos, just plug your camera's USB cable into the device, plug the device into the iPod's connector, and then press the Transfer button. The Digital Camera Link is also faster than the older device. It can download the contents of a full 128MB card in three to five minutes.
To use the Digital Camera Link, you'll need a third-generation iPod with a dock connector, and a compatible digital camera. (Go to the company's Web site for a complete list of supported cameras.) -- kelly lunsford