Using Google’s Motion Stills with Live Photos

image03Earlier this week, Google released Motion Stills, a free iPhone app that exports the video from Apple’s Live Photos — with or without sound — as a GIF or brief MOV file. The result can be added to your iPhone’s Camera Roll or shared via certain social media channels. The app is dead-simple to use, with image stabilization tech that can tame even the most erratic clip.

I’ve had a great time exporting and sharing MOV files, but lots of trouble with GIFs. I think the latter is an issue with the platforms I’m trying to share to, however. More on that later. First, a few words on Live Photos.

The problems with Live Photos

Sharing

When Apple demonstrated in 2015 I went nuts. Just press and hold to have images of my perfect little snowflake children come alive whenever I want? Oh, the proud poppa moments just entered ANOTHER LEVEL, BABY. I couldn’t wait to foist these on people.

The trouble has been in sharing them with your friends and family members who don’t have an iPhone running the latest iOS 9, as well as on social media.

You could take the DIY approach, which involves connecting your iPhone to your computer, launching Image Capture, sorting by kind and then importing all of the MOV files to your computer.

diy

If you want to do this on a Windows computer, navigate to your iOS device in File Explorer and give your machine permission to browse the internal storage. From there, you should be able to see everything in the DCIM folder on your iOS device.

Not the slickest process.

Eventually, iOS apps began to offer support, including Lively (free with in-app purchase), Live Studio ($0.99) and PicPlayPost (free, with a $2.99 in-app-purchase to remove a watermark).

Services got on board as well, and now Tumblr and Google Photos officially support the technology. Facebook does too, but only for those using the official iOS app on a phone running the latest version of iOS 9 (sorry, Paper users).

While you can get Live Photos off of your device and out to the world, the best experience is still on a compatible Apple gadget.

A blurry mess

Whenever Apple shows off a new photo technology or app, I have two simultaneous thoughts:

  1. Wow, I can’t wait to try that.
  2. My photography skills are garbage.

Grace in her New York Football Club hat. Either that, or she just saw that video from The Ring.
Grace in her New York Football Club hat. Either that, or she just saw that video from The Ring.

Consider this demo of Live Photos that Phil Schiller gave in 2015. Water ripples before a completely static background. A hiker raises his arms triumphantly before a waterfall. These are terrific Live Photos. Meanwhile, I get this type of thing at the end of my clips, as I tend to lower the phone at the end of a clip.

Google’s image stabilization lets me get results that are very close to Apple’s demo images. How does it work? From Google:

“Our algorithm uses linear programming to compute a virtual camera path that is optimized to recast videos and bursts as if they were filmed using stabilization equipment, yielding a still background or creating cinematic pans to remove shakiness.”

It works very well and has allowed me to get demo-ready results.

Using Motion Stills

To share you first GIF or video, follow these steps:

Launch the app and scroll to the image you want to share. Next, tap the image to bring up the editor:

buttons

There are four simple buttons (from left to right):

  1. Turn the stabilization effect on or off
  2. Turn sound on or off
  3. Export your clip
  4. Close the editor and return to the image library

Pay attention the sound option. In my experience, it’s best to turn off, or else you get three seconds of a sentence or other repeating background noise that becomes annoying very quickly. Also, hit the stabilization button a couple of times to see the difference.

When you’re ready to share, hit the share button to reveal two options: Send GIF and Share Clip:

exporting

Tap GIF and the image is created and the Share Sheet appears, ready to go. Hit Share Clip and the same thing happens. In testing this out, I noticed a few little quirks.

GIF issues

This may be the fault of the platforms I’m trying to share GIFs to, but they do not animate. I tried Twitter across various platforms and apps, as well as Facebook and Instagram. Bummer. I did find one little workaround, though.

If you opt to export a MOV and post it to Instagram, you can then share that link to Twitter and view the file that way. Cheap, but there it is.

Unlike my GIF woes, the MOV file worked perfectly. It’s great fun to share a great-looking little clip to Instagram and Facebook with almost zero effort.

This is a fun app that largely does what it’s supposed to do. Give it a try and liberate your Live Photos. As long as they’re not GIFs.

Your father’s music

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“David, we’re late,” my mother says, stuffing me into cold weather clothes. I open my mouth to answer but she’s already in the kitchen grabbing a Dukes of Hazard lunchbox, two backpacks and her own coat and hat faster than a quick-change artist. She opens the door and the cold air hits us like a board.

“Into the Embarras-mobile,” she says. “Go.”

The Embarras-mobile was an ocean blue Ford Galaxy 500 with no hubcaps, fist-sized rust holes and flesh-colored patches of unsanded Bond-O. It was huge — with a hood like a helipad and bench seats half a mile long.

I climb in. The windshield is caked in a thin sheet of ice. My mother cranks the defroster and peers through a shoebox-sized hole in the frost.

She clicks the radio on. “Another Saturday Night” by Sam Cooke floats through the speakers. “Ugh,” she says. “Your father’s music.” She shifts it into drive and hits the gas.

My father listened to the “oldies” station with a smile on his face. “Someday,” he’d tell us, “I’ll take the car to the car wash, drive through the spray and the brushes and when I come out on the other side … it’ll be 1963.”

“That’s weird, dad,” I’d say, but he wouldn’t answer. He was lost in a memory far away.

My mother turns the corner and the icy windshield suddenly shines with piercing sunlight. “I can’t see,” she says.

I roll down my window and stick my head outside. “Don’t worry, mom, I can see,” I lied. “Keep going.”

“Are you sure?” she says, hitting the brake.

“Yeah,” I say. The frigid air burns the tip of my nose and makes my eyes water. “Just keep going straight ahead.”

The collision throws me hard against my seat belt. We hit a parked pickup truck.

“I thought you could see?” my mother says.

“I thought I could, too,” I say. Now the radio was playing “Put Your Head On My Shoulder,” and I was wishing for a magical car wash.

* * *

Last week, my wife and I took the kids to the playground. After three days of bickering in the house, we needed to get out.

We pulled out of the driveway and my wife turned on the radio. A Van Halen song blasted from the speakers.

“Jeeze, hon!” she shouted, turning the volume down. “Don’t leave it on like that.”

“Sorry,” I said.

“What was that?” my daughter, Gracie, asked from the back seat.

“Your father’s music,” my wife said.

“Someday Grace,” I told her, “I’ll go to the car wash ….”