Category Archives: Technology

Edit Video For Free With HitFilm Express

I blogged a while back about OpenShot, which is open source, cross-platform, and still not bad for some things. Are you stuck with 32bit computers? Use OpenShot. For everything else… use HitFilm Express.

HitFilm Express is a robust, cross-platform, non-linear video editor capable of rendering multiple tracks of audio and video, applying chroma key, moving/cropping where video appears on the screen, and a bunch of other effects that I’ve never needed.

Oh, and it’s 100% free. Free as in teachers should get their hands on this.

Now HitFilm DOES have a business model. They have a Pro version that does even more, and the Express version has special effect “add on packs” available for purchase, but I’ve personally never needed these. (WANTED is another verb that I could use, but then I’d be lying.)

Setup isn’t as straightforward as OpenShot, but it isn’t painful.

  1. You will first need to make a free account on their website. I suggest using a school email address – you will see why in a bit.
  2. During the setup process they’ll ask you to post some text to a social media site. I’ve used Twitter for this, but if you’re hesitant to advertise for a product you haven’t tried, last I checked Google Plus was also an option. Let’s face it, almost no one actually looks at Google Plus.
  3. You can start downloading and installing HitFilm right away, now. You may have gotten that option before Step 2, but it’s been a while since I made my account so my memory’s fuzzy.
  4. When you first run HitFilm it will ask for your account information. (The one you made on their website, not the social media one. They’ll never ask about that one again.) If you don’t put in account information You can still play with HitFilm, but exporting will be an issue. This is more or less how they keep their licensing limited to one computer per account. For most people this is fine. If you have a computer lab… read on.
  5. Now here’s the really cool part. This rep from their company explains it better than me…

    Thank you for contacting HitFilm.
    As a company we want to support the education of the next generation of filmmakers. We can provide you with a free license for HitFilm 4 Express, to cover as many computers as you need. We just need some information to get you set up.
    Email address (Official school email only):
    School Name:
    How many computers:
    Mac or PC:
    What country:
    Please start by creating an account using the official school email you wish the licenses to be linked to. Then, if you can please submit a ticket from that account with the other info requested above, we can get you set up.
    HitFilm 4 Express add on packs can not be accessed by the students or staff. Should a student or staff member want the add on packs, they will need to have their own personal account.

    Axel Wilkinson

    FXhome Support

    That’s right, while a personal account is limited, setting up a school account means this software can be on all of your computer lab’s machines for free. No more Adobe subscription fees for you!

The only downside is that the interface DOES take a little time to get used to it. Fortunately, I made a tutorial series to help you out.

How Much Of Your Photo Is Your Choice?

“It’s not the camera that takes the photo, it’s the photographer.”

This or something like it is said a lot by photographers. Sure, a really expensive camera can help, but give an experienced photog a point-and-click disposable film camera from a bygone era and they’ll still crank out a few shots worth remembering.

So I was kind of shocked when I, first learning the difference between taking a good photo and wasting developer fluid, learned that my camera was already doing some of the thinking for me.

You see, at some point, someone sat down and looked  at a whole bunch of good photos, then averaged the lights and darks and decided they equaled about 18% gray. I haven’t found evidence of this beyond what my photography teacher told me, but it’s a nice story.

What’s true, however, is that any camera sophisticated enough to have a built-in light meter looks at whatever’s coming through the lens and tries to over- or under-expose your shot to hit that 18%. This is why that shot you tried to take in a low light situation ended up more blurry than you expected, or why that image where a lamp was in the shot left everyone else in the picture looking like they were in a dark shadow.

More experienced photographers know this and adjust accordingly, sometimes using “gray cards” to help calibrate their cameras for shots that are more true to  the lighting situation on hand, but this is working AROUND the camera more than it is working with it.

Which brings me to this neat little article  on PetaPixel. Apparently light balance wasn’t enough, someone made a camera that does a lot more of the thinking for you.

The Trophy Camera is an experimental camera powered by artificial intelligence that can only shoot images that it deems to be “award-winning.”

There’s a lot more to it than that. This invention is meant more as a statement on the more formulaic and “questionable” (to quote the inventor…) nature of photojournalism than a useful tool for amateur shutterbugs that can’t be bothered to learn which end to point at a subject.

The article is an interesting read with several useful links for more information,  but it also brings to mind some common thoughts about education: There’s the right answer, then there’s everything else.

We fall into this trap all the time. Multiple choice answers are easier to grade, so that’s what we put on tests.  We’re hardwired to look for differences, so it’s easier to grade worksheets when the finished ones all need to look the same.

This is fine, if you’re just pointing your camera at things and hoping it’ll go click.

… but what are you doing to get around making all of your students 18% gray? What’s your equivalent of a “gray card” in your classroom?

Is Sharing Still Theft If It’s A Site Feature?

If we don’t teach our students about respecting the copyrights of artists, who will?

Although this case is a bit of a grey area.

“I attend breaking news stories across the county of Sussex as my role as a full time bonafide news-gatherer,” he wrote in a letter to the court. “In this case one of the firefighters asked if he could tweet a picture of mine I said yes, he did, and this is the picture that Sky News embedded on their website, for their own gain, in respect of web hits.”

Twitter gives us the code to embed tweets in other web sites. The information is stored on Twitter’s servers, and the person who posted the tweet arguably has control by leaving up or deleting the tweet. Just like posting to Tumblr implies you’re OK with someone reblogging you, posting to Twitter (or telling someone else they’re allowed to post your photo to Twitter…) implies you’re OK with embeds … though not everyone knows this is a feature.

Either way, it would make for an interesting classroom debate on ownership and permission. Getting students to think about it is the first step towards getting them to understand it, and cases that aren’t cut-and-dry are more likely to lead to interesting discussions.

I Didn’t Know About The Great Social Media War

This article on Mashable reads like it was written by a petulant teen.

Schools may provide students with a wealth of academic knowledge, but do they really think they have what it takes to outsmart children when it comes to social media?

What’s worse is … they’re kind of right. While many educators are more forward thinking about cell phone use in the classroom, there are a lot of old school (pun intended) individuals that see any distraction as an affront to their station and duty.

Problem is, fighting against social media use (or cell use in general) is like holding back the tide with a sieve. You’re better off harnessing that power for good and building lessons around its use.


Why You Should Try Mastodon

MastodonFriends, teachers, life long learners, I come to bury Twitter, not to praise it.

OK, with apologies to Shakespeare, I don’t mean to imply that I’ve found a “Twitter killer” service. I’ve thought that before, and I’ve been wrong. Instead, I think I’ve found a service that can fill some niches that currently are occupied by Twitter (albeit poorly) and some other social networks.  It’s called Mastodon, and I like it a lot.

On to my reasoning, in convenient list form:

  1. Getting started is easy.
    You don’t need to be an expert, know how to manage server databases, or understand the first thing about PHP scripts. There are enough Mastodon instances (I suggest, see #2 below) out there for you to find one, start an account, and jump in with the same level of effort it takes to get started on Twitter. At first  glance, it looks a lot like the so-called “bird site.” The vocabulary is different, but the imagery is similar to that used in both Twitter and its better and lesser-known subsidiary, TweetDeck. Tweets are called “Toots,” and retweets are called “boosts,” but if I blurred all the words you’d know those functionalities based on the icons alone.
  2. Communities can be compartmentalized.
    Puzzle piecesMastodon is what’s known as a federated social network. It runs on a collection of independent servers known as “instances.” This is good for a couple of reasons. First, there are some instances that   are dedicated to specific communities. I have an account on, for example, where members mostly talk about  video games. (An elekk is a fictional animal found in the game World of Warcraft.) Don’t want to be in a small box? There are several larger instances as well. My non-gaming  account is on a different instance called I’m in good company, as  Wesley Fryer also calls that instance home. He even wrote his own post about it. Regardless of which instance you pick, you can still talk to Mastodon users on other servers. The main exceptions to this are when server administrators choose to suspend federation with other instances. This might be because they want the conversation to be more heavily sandboxed, or in some cases its done because they feel another instance is not adequately dealing with members that chose to harass others.And if enough teachers are interested in the creation of a teacher-centric Mastodon instance… I might know a guy who can set one up.UPDATE: I have since moved to As the name implies, it’s for teachers  and other academics.
  3. Content Warnings
    Warning: ConversationMastodon’s Content Warnings are like subject lines.  By pressing the button that says “CW,” you get an additional text field. When you post your tweet – I mean,  your toot, the only thing your followers will see will be the text you wrote for your content warning. If they decide they’re OK with reading said content, they can click to see the rest of it. If they decide that subject isn’t for them, they can scroll past and go about their day. Currently the most common content warning notice I see is for politics, for which I’m actively grateful. Those who know me on Twitter and elsewhere know that I am VERY opinionated on subjects that some would call political, but I do not  always have the mental energy to read, let alone talk   about those things. On Twitter I can set up filters to mute certain key words, but  it’s a bit clunky and I have to remember to turn off the mutes manually. on Mastodon, there’s more of a social taboo about tooting high-stress subjects without a warning. In short, it’s a safer space for your mental health.
  4. I would write 500 characters, and I would write 500 more…
    That’s right, where Twitter gives just 140 characters, Mastodon gives you 500. Threaded conversations on Twitter are a workaround to broadcast thoughts too long for a single tweet while at the same time too short for a blog post, but  500 characters is enough for me, personally, to combine all but my longest diatribes into a single posting. Mastodon  isn’t about to replace this blog, but it might actually replace my Tumblr account.
  5. It’s new.
    Mastodon, for all its similarities to Twitter, is something new and interesting.  Even if you decide you don’t like it, this is a chance to try out something you haven’t done before.(Oh, and if you happen to work in one of those districts where they tend to block everything, there’s a half-decent chance they haven’t blocked one or more Mastodon instances – meaning you might actually be able to build a PLN that you can contact while you’re at school.)
  6. It’s not TOO new.
    New stuff has bugs. New stuff breaks. Mastodon has been around long enough (It’s based on previous services that have been hammered on by developers for a while…) for most of the glaring deficits to have been worked out. Currently the main stickler is that private messages might not be 100% private to server administrators. This doesn’t bother me so much since I don’t send DMs on Twitter, but it might bother you, so just be aware that they’re still working on that.
  7. Yes, there are mobile apps.
    I can’t speak for the iOS side of things since I don’t use many Apple products these days, but the Google Play store has several Android apps.  I’ve tried and liked    Tusky, though since I’m on two different instances   I’ve since switched to  one with an odder name called Subway Tooter. Most apps I’ve tried only handle one Mastodon instance at a time, but Subway Tooter allows you to be logged into more than one simultaneously.
  8. Two-Factor Authentication
    This might be more geeky than some enjoy, but it’s getting increasingly   more important for people to secure their accounts with more than just a password. I’m not just talking about Mastodon here, but about accounts in general. If you have a Gmail account and you HAVEN’T activated two-factor authentication, you’re at risk for all kinds of ways for someone to get into your account and take everything. Securing it with SMS can work, but it isn’t as secure as having an authentication app on a mobile device.As it turns out, Mastodon instances are compatible with the Google Authenticator. To enable it, all you have to do is point the app at a bar code that Mastodon will generate for you in the settings menu. Once it’s activated, your account is much less likely to be compromised by someone trying to guess your password.

That’s about it for now, so how about you try Mastodon out for yourself? When you make an account, be sure to follow me so I know there’s another teacher on the network. I’m actively looking for new people to follow.

10 Commandments of Media Arts

layer1-8Teachers all have their pet peeves, rules that are not to be broken at any cost. At this point I think I’ve taught enough Media Arts curriculum to list mine. I plan to print these out and put them on my wall for next year.

  1. Respect the intellectual property of others. (Cite sources, don’t use anything without written permission.)
  2. Black borders are to be avoided. (Video, with very specific exceptions, is a HORIZONTAL format.)
  3. Talking heads are to be avoided. (People can be on camera, but add variety.)
  4. Proofread EVERYTHING. (A typo in a report? Embarrassing. A typo on the big screen? Devastating.)
  5. Plan ahead. (One minute of planning is worth 5 minutes of post processing. Use your time wisely.)
  6. Hide your mistakes. (If it can go in a blooper reel, it shouldn’t be in your final product. If you flub a line, do it over.)
  7. Don’t zoom in if you can walk closer. (You will have a steadier shot and better audio.)
  8. NEVER use a digital zoom. (No, really. Only do this if you want your video to look bad.)
  9. Turn off your built-in flash, and leave it off. (Over 30 ft away, the only thing a flash does is annoy people. Under 30 ft, it annoys people and gives you bad photos.)
  10. Make each project something you would be proud to show to others. (Media is meant to be shared.)

What are your classroom commandments?

OpenShot: Open Source Video Editing

2016-05-23 10_37_08-TL;DR: OpenShot is a free video editor that supports multiple tracks and chroma key. Try it out.


I’ve been an off-and-on-again fan of Linux for years (decades?), but one of the things that always had me come crawling back was the lack of decent video editing software. (And video games, but that’s another blog post.) (Yes I know about WINE, but it doesn’t work for everything and it adds extra steps that complicate things for younger students.) When I taught Visual Arts it wasn’t that big a deal, but now that I teach Media Arts, well, it’s kind of mandatory that I be able to edit video.

Now the word “decent” is rather important here. I’d tried some open source and web based video editors in the past, but of those that worked, none provided the features that I considered mandatory for a Media Arts classroom.

Then lo and behold, one day I had a Twitter conversation with Phil Shapiro. If you’re not following Mr. Shapiro, you might want to correct that mistake. He’s a librarian who frequently arms himself with metaphors and wordplay, making anyone’s Twitter timeline much better for the effort.

He is also the biggest proponent of open source software I’ve seen in a VERY long time, bragging about $20 laptops that he makes serviceable by removing Windows XP and replacing it with Linux Mint. (Although maybe a different flavor of Linux is in order now? I like PuppyLinux for very ancient machines, myself…)

In any case, Phil’s wit and love of all things maker/open source and my own laments about video editing led to this:

2016-05-23 09_07_40-Phil Shapiro on Twitter_ _@theartguy OpenShot 2.0 is in beta. I've been testing

Wait, what’s this? A free video editor that doesn’t suck? I mean, HitFilm Express is free and quite good, but you still need to register an account to use it (ruling out most of my students as they are under 13), you get one install per person (ruling out my ability to install it on every computer in my lab), and it only runs on 64 bit machines (ALSO ruling out my ability to install it on all the things).

OpenShot has the same price tag as HitFilm and maybe not as many bells and whistles, but what it lacks in 3D composite shots it makes up for in its low-powered goodness. OpenShot easily handles multiple tracks of video and even does chroma key, which is something not frequently seen in a free editor.

2016-05-23 10_52_01-Untitled Project [HDV 720 24p] - OpenShot Video EditorLike all software there is something of a learning curve, but for OpenShot the main hurdle is understanding that you right-click on a clip to split it at the play head. Most of the rest of it is quite intuitive.

While OpenShot truly shines when run under Ubuntu Linux (32 bit Linux seems to make better use of system resources than 32 bit Windows, so programs like OpenShot have more room to stretch their legs), it also works reasonably well on Mac and Windows and, as it’s a free, open source program, there’s nothing preventing me from installing it on every computer in my lab.

Many of my students are still addicted to Camtasia in spite of its crashes (TechSmith tech support tells me it would edit HD video better if only I replaced my lab with 64 bit computers… Thanks, TechSmith.), but I hope to slowly wean them away from paid software and towards free and legal alternatives for the same reason that we’ve NEVER used an Adobe branded editor … ever.

I want students to be able to take what they learn in my class and be able to use it at home. Some of them have parents willing to spend $100 or more on software (or in the case of Adobe products, MUCH more than that as a subscription service so when you stop paying the software stops working), but most of them don’t. Those that do, I’d rather they invested that in nice hardware: computers, microphones, and cameras.

I’ll admit that when it comes to the Open Source movement I am far from a purist. My main draw (even now) is the idea that I can get something useful without having to pay an arm and a leg for it. Blame it on my salary as an educator, or perhaps my Visual Arts background (art teachers can make a lesson out of almost ANY material, particularly if it’s salvaged or donated), but if I can get it for free without breaking any laws, then I’m all for it.

OpenShot fits the bill for me. If you do anything that involves students editing video, you should try it out as well.

… now if only there was a decent way to edit video with a ChromeBook…