SECTION: BLOG
 

2017 – New Years Message

Categories: Travel Adventures
March 19, 2017

VALUE OF INDEPENDENT TRAVEL

Wild Horizons began in 1985 as a photographic safari company, and I have always encouraged others to spend some of their hard-earned $$ on independent international travel. By “independent” I mean traveling alone or with one or two companions to places off the beaten path. Yes, travel takes you out of your comfort zone at times, but the rewards are enormous. Humanitarian and travel journalist Rick Steves sums it up well in this 2014 TEDx Talk:  http://tripdazzler.com/rick-steves-the-value-of-travel/ .  I believe that you will enjoy this humorous and enlightening 20-minute video. “Fear,” he says, “is for people who don’t get out very much.”  And fear is what our new President has been nurturing.

FIJI :: A MODERN EXPERIENCE WITH HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES

Luckily, I snagged a frequent flyer ticket to Fiji last year, allowing me to experience four totally different worlds:  First, the awesome new Tom Bradley International Terminal in LAX—I spent a full day there waiting for my 11-hour flight to Fiji and was fully entertained the whole time with awesome giant-screen videos in the concourses and shopping areas. Second, Musket Cove Resort, a 4.5-star hideaway where our meeting of the Iguana Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature was held (visit iucn-isg.org). Third, a home stay with a park ranger’s extended family in a metropolitan suburb of Suva, Fiji’s capital city.  And fourth, another home stay in Ranger Mata’s small village on the remote island of Yadua—getting there required a full day that went like this:  a 20-min taxi ride, a 2-hour bus trip, a 3.5 hr ferry boat crossing, a 40-min taxi ride, and a 1-hour wet, bouncy ride to Yadua in a small open fishing boat propelled by a 40hp outboard motor.

FIJI, AN OVERVIEW

Before this trip, all I knew about Fiji is that many planes stop there en route to  Australia (see map). Tourism is Fiji’s most important industry. Much to my surprise, I learned that there are over 300 islands in the Fijian archipelago, 108 of which support human populations, totaling 900,000. About 60% is ethnically Fijian, people who are primarily Melanesian but have close genetic ties with the Polynesians. As one would expect, the Fijian language contains elements from both Polynesia and Melanesia. English & Fijian are official languages, but Hindustani (a language adopted from India) is also widely spoken. Fiji’s political history has had its share of unrest, well summarized in this article:  http://fijiguide.com/page/history-1.  And here’s an excellent introduction to cultural protocols for most visitors to Fiji:  http://yachtpartnersfiji.com/?page_id=28

Fijian hospitality is second-to-none, and in this friendly multi-cultural, multi-racial society, tolerance and peace prevail, most of the time. No less than 23 religious groups are represented in Fiji, the majority being Protestant Christians (more than 50%), Hindus (about 30%), Catholic (9%) and Muslims (6%). Although not evident to outsiders like myself, discrimination does occur (see http://www.paclii.org/journals/fJSPL/vol12no1/pdf/narayan.pdf). Religious tension caused by “Christians” vandalizing non-Christian temples and mosques has been an on-going problem. The earlier, traditional Fijian religion was based on ancestor worship, and local gods were celebrated in legend and song. Fijians love to sing—and our group was greeted at resort islands with welcome songs and sent on our way with heart-warming farewell songs.

 
Evangelism is big in Fiji, and rural villages are tightly bound to Christianity. In Ranger Mata’s village on Yadua Island, a local Methodist minister visits every school classroom for 15 minutes twice each week, at 7:00pm villagers devote 8 minutes to daily prayer at home, fasting is expected every Wednesday from 6 a.m. to either 6 p.m. or midnight, and of course there’s church attendance on Sunday. Historically, Christianity reached Fiji early in the 19th Century. Religious historians attribute its rapid spread to the desire of indigenous people to gain the missionaries’ “mana”/power; and to do so one must worship his God. Fijians were attracted to the material wealth, weapons, and literary skills that Europeans brought to the islands. And some saw the spread of European diseases—smallpox, influenza, and measles—as punishment for disobeying the “white man’s God.”

2016 ANNIVERSARY

Here’s a bit of front-page news in the Fiji Times that caught my eye during a ferryboat crossing. Formerly a British colony, Fiji gained its independence in 1970; and 2016 marked the 100th anniversary of the end of indentured servitude in Fiji, known as the Girmit Era, which began in 1879. Because the Fijian people had little interest in working for the British, thousands of laborers/slaves were imported from India, mostly men, to work under “five year contracts” on sugar plantations, a program of deceit and oppression. A 1921 population census showed 84,475 Fijians, 60,634 Indians, and a balance of 12,117 Europeans, Chinese, Rotumans (a small, isolated indigenous ethnic group), and others. (http://himalmag.com/girmit-fiji/)

YELLOW RIBBON PROJECT

I discovered that modern Fiji is a peace-building society; and the people there are polite and soft-spoken. While exploring downtown Suva, I wondered about the significance of the large yellow ribbons tacked on trees. Turns out, the Yellow Ribbon Project Initiative, a concept borrowed from the Singapore Prison Service, was introduced into the Fiji Corrections Service in 2007. The goal is to put prisoners on a positive path for reintroduction into society. The program includes personality enhancement, academic and vocational training, and community service. Before being released from prison, inmates must also pass through a pre-release center for psychological rehabilitation to help with the transition back into society. This program is so effective, it has reduced the rate of repeat offenders from 50% to 3.6%!  Fijians take Nelson Mandela’s words seriously, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” The yellow ribbons serve as a reminder to the community to support ex-offenders (many of whom were imprisoned for theft or domestic violence) while adjusting to post-prison life.  And no, Fiji is not a gun-toting society, but firearms are allowed for sport (http://websites.sportstg.com/get_file.cgi?id=2823935).
Severe fines and life imprisonment deter the trafficking and unpermitted use of guns.


 
In contrast, the U.S. has by far the highest incarceration rate in the world; and as of 26 November 2016, 46% of our inmates have been locked up for “drug offenses.” Even though bills drafted to overhaul our criminal justice system received strong bipartisan support in Congress last year, they were caught up in the Presidential election and failed.  Here a summary of why, as explained in the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/17/us/politics/senate-dysfunction-blocks-bipartisan-criminal-justice-overhaul.html 
 
Furthermore, in a careful examination of facts related to New York City’s “stop-and-frisk” practice by metro police officers between 2004 and 2012, U.S. District Judge Scheindlin found that 83% of the 4.3 million people frisked by police were either black or Hispanic, and 90% of the stops were unjustified. Furthermore, whites who were frisked were far more likely to be carrying concealed weapons or contraband than non-whites. And, in comparing each group, a much smaller percentage of whites in violation of the law were incarcerated by police. By court order, this clear indication of racial profiling ended the NY Police Department’s failed “stop-and-frisk experiment.”  If you are interested, here’s the full text of the judge’s ruling:  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2013/08/12/nyregion/stop-and-frisk-decision.html?_r=0  I include this information because it’s new to me, it’s important, and our President-elect appears set on targeting minorities.
 
It’s also noteworthy that our 2016 Presidential election was foreshadowed by a steady growth of hate groups in America between 1999 and 2015 (now totaling 892), plus a dramatic rise of anti-government “patriot” groups immediately after our first black President took office (check out this map: https://www.splcenter.org/hate-map).
 
SEVUSEVU IN YADUA VILLAGE

Life in Fijian villages is tightly governed by cultural protocols that visitors should respect. For example, no outsider should explore an island without a ceremonial invitation from the Village Chief (the “sevusevu,” see http://fijimarinas.com/sevusevu-101/ ). And before fishing or diving near an island or setting foot on any uninhabited island, visitors are expected to first formally ask permission from the Chief of the nearest village. When our conservation group arrived for a pre-conference field trip on Monuriki Island (aka Castaway Island, the uninhabited island where the movie CASTAWAY starring Tom Hanks was filmed), Chief Semisi Nacewa from neighboring Yanuya Island Village welcomed us with an informal seaside speech.
 

On far-away Yadua Island, Denimanu is the only village; and not long after my arrival, Ranger Mata advised me that the Chief was ready to receive me. Abiding by local etiquette, I wrapped a sarong-like “sulu” around my waist to cover my shorts and legs and followed Mata to the Chief’s house. Before entering, we removed hats, sunglasses, and shoes. Chief Jone Cakau was seated on the floor, cross-legged, and we quietly joined him. We presented two gifts, a half-kilo bundle of Kava root that I purchased in Suva and a DVD of my film DESERT DREAMS (this is one of the few Fijian villages with televisions—more on that later). Mata began speaking in a rapid monologue, and the Chief responded similarly. This exchange went back and forth for about 10-15 minutes, interrupted only by occasional claps with cupped hands (“cobos”) by both parties. When the time seemed right, I introduced myself as an educational media specialist with a desire to document village life on Yadua and photograph wildlife on their small nearby island Yadua Taba, home to 90-95% of the critically endangered Fiji Crested Iguana (Brachylophus vitiensis) population. Yadua Taba is an iguana sanctuary maintained by the National Trust of Fiji and Denimanu Village. Much to my surprise, most of these village people have never seen a live Crested Iguana.

Participants in Fijian sevusevu ceremonies normally drink “kava” (aka grog or yaqona) after introductions have been made.  Kava, Piper methysticum (meaning ‘intoxicating pepper’ in Latin) is a relative of black pepper, Piper nigrum. Dried roots of this crop are pulverized, put in cloth bags, and soaked/squeezed in a bowl of water to make a drink with mild sedative and anesthetic properties. On Yadua, the Methodist Church forbids kava or tobacco use during the first week of each month. My visit fell in the first week of November, so, much to my relief, no kava drinking was expected. In Suva, I had several opportunities to partake, but being nauseated by black pepper, I chose not to risk it.

QOLIQOLI, CORAL REEFS, & SEA CUCUMBERS

Community-based management of marine resources, known as qoliqoli, has been effective in Fiji for hundreds of years. This includes seasonal bans on fishing and the use of temporary no-take areas. In contemporary Fiji there is increasing pressure on the coral reefs and inshore fisheries, with dwindling catches reported all over. A growing cash economy, destructive fishing practices, weak enforcement, and the effects of climate change have all contributed to the decline  (https://www.cbd.int/countries/profile/default.shtml?country=fj#facts and http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=376435.) 


 
By carefully designing a qoliqoli program for sustainable fishing in 1997, community leaders began a Locally Managed Marine Area (LMMA) network in Fiji. This program includes educational community workshops, enforcement of no fishing regulations in Marine Protected Areas, and a ban on destructive practices such as dynamite- or cyanide-fishing and dumping waste in the ocean. The program has been so successful, by 2005 it had been adopted by 52 communities and copied by other South Pacific nations. At that time, the Fiji Government committed to finance the management of at least 30% of its inshore waters by 2020.  But keep in mind that enforcement requires funding for boats and fuel, always in short supply. On some maps, you’ll see a huge Marine Protected Area around Yadua’s fringing reef—I was saddened to hear that this MPA has been “de-listed” because publicizing it has done more harm than good by attracting poachers to the area (see http://wcsfiji.org.fj/tag/marine-protected-area/).


 
Fijian leaders take climate change and education very seriously. Fiji was the first country in the world to complete its domestic processes to ratify the Paris Agreement, and the Prime Minister said his country would do everything possible to secure its rapid ratification (http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=376435). Increasing hurricane ferocity has wrecked coral reefs and coastal villages. Yadua, which had one of the most stunning coral reefs in Fiji was hit hard by Hurricane Evan in 2013, and many homes were wrecked. With government aid, new houses were built (mostly of wood and corrugated tin) and some traditional homes (bures) were restored. Because traditional wood frame and thatch construction can bend and sway without collapsing, bures are relatively well adapted to cope with cyclones and earthquakes.


 
Early in 2016, Tropical Cyclone Winston, the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the South Pacific Basin, wreaked havoc on Fiji. This Category 5 storm significantly affected 40% of Fiji’s widespread population. It damaged 40,000 homes and will have lasting effects on agriculture, the marine environment, and tourism. The weather was unfavorable for diving during my visit, so I had only one opportunity to snorkel over a coral reef, and it was extremely disappointing.  I know what a healthy coral reef should look like, and in the Caribbean, I’ve seen seen two of its most beautiful reefs turned to rubble by hurricanes. Recovery will take decades, IF it’s even possible nowadays.
 
Small changes in ocean temperature and chemistry have huge consequences for marine ecosystems. Ocean acidification+warming disturbs the delicate balance between corals and micro-algae. Warmer, more acidic water favors the growth of micro-algae. Proliferation of micro-algae limits the growth and recovery of corals by attacking them with chemical defenses and trapping sediment that smothers coral larvae (https://fiji.wcs.org/Portals/82/Western%20Bua%20Report%202012_alldistricts.pdf ). This leads to coral “bleaching,” decline in fisheries, and lost tourism $$.


 
Sea cucumbers help to keep algal blooms under control, but they are vanishing from the Pacific sea floor, driven by the Chinese demand for these slug-like animals for use in food and medicine. To see a cool cucumber video clip and to understand their importance in nutrient cycling, check out this blog:  http://echinoblog.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-importance-of-sea-cucumber-poop.html.  Easy to catch and easily turned into cash, sea cucumbers are taken, dried, and sold whenever found by local fishermen. One large animal can fetch as much as F$100 (about US$50).  On Yadua, wealth from selling sea cucumbers to middlemen in the Chinese market has allowed villagers to purchase televisions, appliances, and solar panels, things rarely seen in other rural Fijian villages (http://wcsfiji.org.fj/tag/marine-protected-area/). Cash “crops” like this are great for the local economy, but studies indicate that once gone, sea cucumber populations may never recover.


 
HAND GESTURES

Fijians love to be photographed, and most, especially children, pose with a warm smile and a two-finger gesture, either a “V” peace/solidarity sign or a thumb+pinkie “hang loose” gesture in surfer culture, also known as the “shaka” sign, a common Hawaiian greeting. In the UK, Australia, and South Africa, making a “V” sign with back of the hand facing out is an “up-yours” gesture; those with the palm facing outward signal “peace” or “victory.” Cultures differ, and in Fiji I discovered that no special meaning is given to the hand position, so don’t be offended if someone there flashes a friendly “V” with the back of the hand facing you. And, BTW, in Fiji, I saw no children throwing temper tantrums and no crying babies—except one that broke into tears when she saw me.

As a New Year’s message, I urge everyone to consider what is really best for our nation and our planet. Brace yourself for a stormy new year. This is no time for complacency—stay focused and get involved!
 
John Lennon’s song “Give Peace a Chance” became the anthem of the antiwar movement in 1969. Everyone knows the song’s refrain, but having never read the lyrics, I decided to close with this timely plea for peace.
 
Ni Sa Bula Vinaka!  (which means much more than “hello”+”thank you” – it’s the Fijian way to express wishes for one’s happiness and good health).


 
“Give Peace a Chance,”
an Aerosmith version of John Lennon’s song
 
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance
 
Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout
Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism
This-ism, that-ism, ism ism, I don’t know
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance
 
Yeah c’mon
Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout
Minister, Sinister, Banisters and Canisters,
Bishops, Fishops, Rabbis, and Pop Eyes, Bye bye, Bye byes
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance
 
Let me tell you now
Everybody’s talkin’ ’bout
Revolution, Evolution, Masturbation, Flagellation, Regulation,
Integrations, mediations, United Nations, congratulations
All we are saying is give peace a chance
All we are saying is give peace a chance
 
Fight for peace, it’s peace that we need
Too many died, too much mouth to feed
(?) for the good of the peace
Why punch them for what they never did
Forget the past and learn to forgive
Everything on Earth has a right to live
Whether you are black and whether you are white
Stop this and let us unite
 
All we are saying is give peace a chance . . .

[repeated 10 times]

Bula vinaka!
Thomas Wiewandt
Valentine’s Day, 14 February 2017

 

Tribute to the Author Byrd Baylor

Categories: Special Events
January 13, 2016

Byrd Baylor & Paul Mirocha, December 20, 2015

Byrd Baylor & Paul Mirocha, December 20, 2015

Some holiday gatherings are more memorable than others. And last Sunday I was invited to one of those . . . celebrating Desert Dwellers. Where? . . . way out in the desert of course, at an old homestead nestled within Tucson Mountain Park.

The event honored the release a new poster that pays tribute to one of our most cherished children’s book writers, Byrd Baylor. For those of you unfamiliar with her work, in the words of Wikipedia, Byrd’s writing “presents images of the Southwest and an intense connection between the land and the Native American people. Her prose illustrates vividly the value of simplicity, the natural world, and the balance of life within it. . . . She is related to Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor, the namesake of Baylor University, and to Admiral Richard E. Byrd. Her first name, Byrd, is taken from her mother’s maiden name.”

Byrd is on the cusp of turning 92, and she offered to sign posters and read passages from a couple of her books. She chose EVERYBODY NEEDS A ROCK and YES IS BETTER THAN NO, two of my personal favorites. Byrd is as humble, bright, and soft-spoken as anyone you’d ever want to meet. And the gentle, perceptive spirit behind her writing is laced with deadpan humor. Here’s Byrd’s Rule Number 3 for finding a good rock: “Bend over. More. Even more. You may have to sit on the ground with your head almost touching the earth. You have to look a rock right in the eye. Otherwise, don’t blame me if you don’t find a good one.”

This 24”x36” poster, spearheaded by the Desert Dwellers Education Project of the Tucson Audubon Society, is a masterpiece of intrigue. Paul Mirocha’s lovely artwork of desert treasures is paired with quotes from Byrd’s books. The spiral motif was inspired by prehistoric Hohokam rock art.

I met Byrd back in the 80s while living at Rancho de Las Lomas, a historic guest ranch nestled in a tract of pristine desert in the Tucson Mountains at the far west end of Speedway Blvd. Las Lomas, now up for sale, was a mecca for artists, biologists, and writers – some of whom (not Byrd) grew pot to make ends meet. Byrd rented the tiniest of tiny places there called “One Door.” At the time, she was crafting a small adobe home in the desert south of Tucson, where she lived completely off the grid, by choice, for many years. She had no electricity, no Internet, a wood-burning stove, and a compost toilet.

I wish you all a pleasant holiday season, with the closing thought that we are a nation of immigrants, the heart and soul of which lies in our diversity and democracy. Let’s celebrate that. Get a copy of YES IS BETTER THAN NO – it’s a delightful novel for young adults and adults based on the lives of people Byrd met at the Tucson Indian Center in South Tucson. This sensitive, non-preachy, often humorous look at family values and clashes between and within cultures is as relevant today as when it was written in the 1970s (it’s out of print – buy a Kindle edition or used copies on Amazon.com). In 1990, YES IS BETTER THAN NO was named one of the Arizona 100: Essential Books for Arizona’s Centennial by The Journal of Arizona History and University of Arizona.                      ~TW

 

Three quotes among many that appear on this poster:

Listening to the rocks and hills and sand is so important, it should be taught in every school. But you can’t learn it in a classroom. You have to be turned loose to wander around alone in open country, the wilder the better. All you have to do is be there at the right moment. And of course, the teacher is the earth.”

  • Byrd Baylor, from THE OTHER WAY TO LISTEN, 1978

Packrats and people both know to save some for tomorrow—or later. The desert gives what it can to each of its children. They’re more at ease in a desert place . . . They don’t shove a horned lizard out of the path. They know the land belongs to spider and ant the same as it does to people. They never say, “This is my land to do with as I please. They say, “We share . . . we only share . . . .” They share the feeling . . . of being desert creatures together.

  • Byrd Baylor, from THE DESERT IS THEIRS, 1975

When a cactus blooms you should be there to watch it because it might be a color you won’t see again any other day of your life. How much would you say that color is worth? “Fifty cents?” my brother asks. But they decide on another five thousand. So now I write forty thousand dollars.”

  • Byrd Baylor, from THE TABLE WHERE RICH PEOPLE SIT, 1994
 

4th EDITION of THE SOUTHWEST INSIDE OUT Now Available

Categories: Website News
March 16, 2015

We have released a new edition of our award-winning book THE SOUTHWEST INSIDE OUT :: An Illustrated Guide to the Land and Its History (ISBN978-1-879728-06-6; Wild Horizons Publishing, 2014). Our revisions include a re-write of Capturing the Beauty: Photo Tips as well as updates to Where to Find Them, An Annotated List of Southwestern Parks and other Notable Sites of Geological Interest and Good Books & Website, An Annotated Selection.

To order, please visit our Gift Shop.tom's_cover_12-5-03_0_1073267787.tif

 

PIANO BONFIRE :: NEW BEGINNINGS

Categories: Special Events
March 19, 2011

Early last week I received a fiery invitation that caught my eye, billed as THE BURN IN THE BOWL – WHERE OLD JUNKERS MEET THEIR FATE.  This was to be no ordinary bonfire – seven junked pianos were set to burn, to celebrate the Vernal Equinox.  I was hooked. Twice each year, Earth’s position relative to the sun brings night and day into perfect balance, with 12 hours of each, an “equinox.”  The Vernal Equinox marks the turning point when winter gives way to spring (at least in Tucson).

Joining a group of friends, we headed towards the O’odham Reservation. Our printed invitation led us to a dirt road, a gate, and into a private patch of desert.  I recognized this place – last summer I was filming toads out here, and what an orgy it was!  In front of us stood seven pianos in a heap of old timbers. The ball of the sun sank in the west, chased by a spectacular moonrise in the east. As a live band set up their sound system, a group of kids made their own music on exposed piano keys and wires within their reach. A couple fresh-in from Socorro, New Mexico, came over to strike up a conversation, as I caught a glimpse of a guy sporting a pirate’s hat.  A fun evening unfolded as cars continued to pour in.

A musician announced just one more song before the pianos would meet their fate.  The music ended, and someone lit a dried Christmas tree to start the blaze. Whoosh . . . within minutes the whole pile was ablaze.  Two or three piano strings let out a “ping” under the stress. The intense heat drove us all into a quick retreat. People were quiet and mesmerized as piano skeletons were exposed and tumbled, one by one.

What a visual treat!  So engaged in my photography, I failed to notice the arrival of a fire truck and ambulance that sat silently in the parking area, lights flashing.  Even though we were on private property a fair distance from civilization, the conflagration had drawn outside attention.  But it was a calm evening with no risk of the fire spreading, so all was well.

You just never know who you might bump into at an event like this, one of the things I love about living in Tucson. A super-friendly gal visiting from New Jersey spent a lot of time peeking over my shoulder, watching me work. She was one of the few people in the group without a camera but was artistically involved, calling my attention to fiery details that she feared I might overlook. As we waited for the last piano to fall, I raced around the fire to fetch a fresh CF card and got back in time to capture a few more stills and a video clip of the piano falling. She was as excited about this success as I was.  And herewith is one of those images.

So who is his mystery lady? I immediately checked out her website when I got home last night, and it turns out she’s a world travelin’ freelance singer-songwriter-musical performer of rising fame, Linda Chorney – perhaps you’ve heard her perform. She has shared the marquee with Paul Simon, Jackson Brown, Sheryl Crow, and Dave Mason, among others. Linda has entertained audiences as big as 250,000 and has had the honor of performing for Nelson Mandella in Boston. Check out her cool website:  www.lindachorney.com.  Under the “Tour” tab, you’ll even see a picture of her getting a squeeze from Bruce Springsteen, one of my idols. I’m certainly honored to have crossed paths with such a genuinely sweet and talented human being last night.

It’s fortuitous perhaps that 2011’s Vernal Equinox marks the “completion” of this website, a time for new beginnings.  What you see here has been three years in the making, with a couple of major set-backs along the way.  This, like all websites, is a work in progress, and we hope that you like what you see.  Please notify us of any flaws that you encounter as you browse through these pages. ~ TW

LAST PIANO STANDING in a bonfire lit to celebrate 2011's Vernal Equinox west of Tucson, Arizona.

 

HOW TO CREATE A WATERMARK IN PHOTOSHOP AND ADD YOUR LOGO OR NAME TO VIDEOS IN iMOVIE ’11

Categories: Photography Biz
March 17, 2011

BACKGROUND :: OK, readers, here’s a short disclaimer: Like many of you, I’m new to the video world and am struggling with video editing basics. I began filmmaking with real film, and for convenience in multimedia production over the last 3 years, I have been shooting with a 5DMarkII.  BTW, the results with this camera can be superb, but Canon never intended it to be used by serious videographers (if you’ve ever handled a real motion picture camera, you’ll know why).

Adding metadata to your stills and videos, especially ownership info, should be a fundamental step in your workflow.  Unfortunately, others can easily remove this information.  Social networking sites are among the worst offenders (see this Survey on the Controlled Vocabulary Forum).  So to protect your work, it’s good practice to also add visual and/or cryptic watermarks, e.g. a Digimarc.  Visual watermarks offer the best protection.  Branding your media with visual ownership information entitles you to Copyright protection to the full extent of the law if anyone intentionally removes your identification marks.

While preparing video clips for this website, I needed an easy way to watermark videos and upload them to Vimeo. I’m not a tech-head, and I’m writing this to save others some pain along the way.

After a little research, I decided on iMovie ’11 (designed for Macs with Snow Leopard only).  After wasting a lot of time on Apple’s website trying to find the information I needed, I ended up paying about $15 for the download. As part of iLife ’11, the program bundle costs $49. Users who know more about iMovie than myself recommend other programs for serious video editing.  But iMovie ’11 does allow you to upload your videos directly to Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, CNN iReport, MobileMe Gallery, or Podcast Producer – the one iMovie feature I was looking for. I prefer QuickTime Pro for trimming useless material from raw video clips and stay with professional editors armed with programs such as Final Cut Pro for creative post-production work.

After watching a popular iMovie tutorial on the Internet, I decided to try watermarking one of my video clips with our company logo.  The logo looked crisp in Photoshop, but when viewed in iMovie and on Vimeo, it was out of focus and fuzzy. I could find no useful advice on forums and spent two days trying to find an answer. I watched two more tutorials on this subject and read related material in a book on iMovie. By themselves, none of these sources offered a clear explanation of how to create and add a watermark to videos.  But by piecing information together from all four sources, here’s what I discovered works well.

USING PHOTOSHOP TO CREATE YOUR WATERMARK :: The following information is not geared to those using PS Elements. Using PSE would require a modified tutorial.

1.   Create a new file in Photoshop (PS):  File > New

Give it a name. Set the Opacity to Transparent, the Bit Depth to 16, and the Width and Height to the size of your video format, i.e. for HD-1080p, use 1920px x 1080px; for traditional TV formats, use 720px x 480px; etc.  Use the format that matches your camera output specs. Set the resolution to 72ppi, but for branding videos, the resolution you choose won’t matter.

2.  WORKING WITH A READY-MADE LOGO (logos that make good watermarks are bold and have little intricate detail – if yours is delicate or you don’t have a prepared logo, I recommend using PS’s Type Tool to create your watermark – and jump down to Step 3 below).  Begin with an electronic file of your logo (preferably solid black and/or solid white) on a transparent background; and in PS, size its background to match the specs you used in Step 1 above. Be sure to adjust the size of your logo to nearly span the width or height of its background. Leave some breathing room around it, but to retain the logo’s clarity when you move it into iMovie, it must be large.

Now you have two files open in PS, one with the logo and one with a blank background. Using PS’s Lasso or Rectangular Marquee Tool, select your logo, click on the Move Tool, and drag the logo onto your new blank transparent canvas. You should be able to click on the logo and drag it around on the new background to reposition it if you want (but you’ll later see that it’s position isn’t very important at this time).

In the Layers Palette (Window > Layers), your logo will appear as a new layer above the transparent background layer. Highlight the logo layer, right click on it’s thumbnail, and choose Merge Down. You should now have only one layer, with your logo on a transparent background. Note that in the Layers Palette, when your logo layer is highlighted, you can move the Opacity slider to adjust the logo’s density/transparency. Skip down to Step 4 below.

3.  USE PHOTOSHOP’S TYPE TOOL to create some combination of letters or words that identify you or your company. Begin by selecting the tool with the big “T” icon in PS’s tool’s palette. Choose a font that you like from the drop-down list.  Avoid fancy fonts with fine lines; for watermarking, bolder is better, and I suggest using all capital letters.

Click in the Type Tool’s color-picker box (top right) to choose a font color.  I recommend using only pure black or pure white.  If you’re working in black, go to Image > Duplicate and make a copy for use with white lettering.  You’ll need both if you have an assortment of video clips to watermark, some light and some dark.

Choose a Point Size for your font from the drop-down menu.  Click in the transparent background that you made in Step 1, and begin typing. It’s likely that your type will be much too small relative to the size of its background.  PS allows you to enter your own numbers for Point Size, all the way up to 1296.  So experiment, keeping in mind that you should try to fill about 80% of the field’s width or height with your lettering.  You can reposition the type by choosing the Move Tool in the Tools Palette, and you can also adjust the opacity of the type by using the Opacity Slider in the Layers Palette.

4.  ADJUSTING YOUR LOGO OR TYPE OPACITY allows you to create a semi-transparent watermark that can be read but doesn’t compete with your video.  Much to my surprise, I have found that 15% opacity works the best on my video clips, but I have made and saved multiple watermark files at different opacities in both black and white. Blacks look the best over light videos and whites are ideal for dark videos.

5.  NEXT, CREATE AN ALPHA CHANNEL by opening the Channels Palette (Window > Channels).  Click on the small dotted circle at the bottom of this palette to “Load Channel as Selection.” Then click on the icon next to it (a square with a circle in it) to “Save Selection as Channel.” Then deselect the channel selection (Alt D).  Be sure all Channels are visible (eyeballs showing), and highlight the new alpha channel at the bottom of the stack of 5 channels.

6.  SAVE AS A PNG FILE by going to File > Save As > choose PNG, saved to your Desktop. You will get a message that says “This file must be saved as a copy,” so click Save.  Choose None for Interlace Options. Your ready-to-use watermark will now be sitting on your Desktop as a PNG file. Save your working file too. You can use it to make variations of your watermark, e.g. some with different opacities.

ADDING YOUR WATERMARK TO VIDEOS IN iMOVIE ’11 ::  Now for a few tips on using iMovie to apply watermarks and export videos to video-sharing sites.

1. Open iMovie ’11 and clear all video clips from the Project Window (I found that all clips in the Project Window—even those not selected—will be uploaded together when choosing Share > Vimeo).

2.  Select “New Event” in left column

3.  Go to File > Import Movies and select a video clip to import

4.  Select entire video clip in iMovie’s New Event Window and drag the clip into the Project Window.

5.  Drag and drop your PNG watermark from your Desktop onto the video clip now in the Project Window and select “Picture in Picture” from the pop-up menu.

6.  Your watermark will appear as a small rectangle sitting on top of your video clip.  Click in the rectangle to Select it and use your cursor to click and drag its left highlighted edge to the front of your video clip (assuming you want the watermark to begin when the video begins to play). This can be fussy to do, but keep trying if it doesn’t move as expected.  And similarly, assuming you want the watermark to show to the end of your video, drag the right edge of this rectangle all the way to the end of the video clip.

7.  Look for your watermark in the upper right corner of the video preview window.  You’ll see small white corners marking the transparent frame you created in Photoshop.  By clicking within your watermark frame, you can drag and position it anywhere you want within the video frame.  And by clicking and pulling on one of its white corners, you can enlarge the watermark to suit yourself.

8.  If you need to REMOVE an unwanted SOUND TRACK, this is a good time to do it.  Just select the video clip, right click on it, and choose “Detach Audio.”  An Audio Bar will appear below your video clip. Click on the bar to select it, and with a right click of your mouse, choose Delete Selection.

9.  In the top iMovie bar, choose Share > Vimeo (or another site, such as YouTube).

10.  A metadata menu will appear.  Here you can add the clip’s Title/File Name and Description/Caption info.  If uploading to Vimeo, I suggest leaving the Tags/Keywords field blank at this point – I could never get the iMovie Keywords to load properly in the Vimeo Tags field.  So wait to do this in Vimeo after the upload.

11.  Log in and Upload to Vimeo.  You will be given Share options—choose one.

12.  The upload and processing time depends on the length of your video.

13.  IF YOU ARE A VIMEO USER, after uploading your video, go to your account.  Under Videos >MyVideos you’ll see the video you just uploaded.  Click on the SETTINGS button and here you will be given many important options (if you have a Vimeo Plus account), including Basic Info, Privacy, Credits, and Embedding, with explanations along the way. Under Basic Info, you can add up to 20 Tags/Keywords separated by commas (do not leave empty spaces after commas).  Always end with SAVE CHANGES.

I hope this write-up proves useful to others.  Feel free to share this information, but please provide a credit line (Thomas Wiewandt / wildhorizons.com), preferably with a hot link back to our website.  ~ TW

Screen-shot of a video preview in iMovie '11 with our watermark created in Photoshop using black type reduced to 15% opacity.


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