FCP 6: Prepping Still Images

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the August, 2008, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]

Probably the two most popular questions I get are:

A while ago, I wrote an article on how to prep still images for Final Cut Pro which generated a lot of response. Recently, two things happened which allowed me to revisit this issue: an effects class that I was teaching at Video Symphony and some new training I was recording for Lynda.com.

During that time, I realized that just as the software has been updated, I needed to update some of my recommendations.

First, it is important to note that images on our computer are not the same as images we see in video. They differ in color space, color sampling, gray scale, bit depth, and, worst of all, the aspect ratio of their respective pixels.

Computers display all images using square pixels. Almost all video displays an image using rectangular pixels. And converting between these two aspect ratios is going to drive all of us mad — because it seems that no two video formats use the same shape pixel.

This means that we need to size images on our computer to compensate for these different aspect ratios.

Let me illustrate the problem.

Here is a circle in Photoshop.

circle in Photoshop

Here is a circle in Final Cut Pro 6.x

circle in Final Cut Pro 6.x

So far, so good. But, watch what happens when we move that Photoshop circle into Final Cut.

Photoshop circle into Final Cut

Sigh… it gets squashed. Those poor pixels! On the computer, they are supposed to be square. On video, they are supposed to be rectangles. They are having a hard time coping.

You can see this especially well when we superimposed the two circles.

Circle Image

The way to solve this problem is to create our images in Photoshop at a size that allows us to see our images correctly on both computer and video screens.

For instance, when working in 4:3 DV, if we create our image at 720 x 540 x 72, watch what happens when we bring it into Final Cut.

Circle Image

Its still a circle! Notice how closely the two cirlces match. (There is a slight difference because they are not the same diameter and the centers are not perfectly aligned.)


All is not yet resolved — a controversy still rages. (Cue dramatic music.)

There is a debate on whether you should bring your Photoshop images directly into Final Cut Pro, or if you should, as the last step in processing your image, scale it in Photoshop to a size corrected for video and then bring it into Final Cut.

Based on what I’ve seen, I have not found any benefit to scaling the final image in Photoshop, In fact, my tests show that text looks worse when the image is scaled in Photoshop before bringing it into Final Cut. However, it is essential that you do one last scaling of your image if you are bringing it into DVD Studio Pro. (This finally explains a problem I had two years ago that cost me a client.)

In fact, scaling your final image in Photoshop from, say, 720 x 540 to 720 x 480 in Photoshop just prior to importing into Final Cut Pro makes the text look worse.

scaling your final image in Photoshop

Finally, I’ve also discovered that one of the corrected image sizes I’ve been recommending for years is incorrect.

Note: this article just covers single-layer TIFF, PNG, or JPEG images. I’m still working on multi-layer PSD files. I haven’t found any numbers that I like well enough to recommend so far; the image scaling, especially in 16:9, is a complete mess.


Moving Singe-layer Still Images into Final Cut Pro

This process works for both 4:3 and 16:9 images.

Final Cut will scale the image into the correct aspect ratio for video automatically.

Moving Singe-layer Still Images into DVD Studio Pro

You need to do this whenever you are creating a DVD SP menu background in Photoshop.

This process will materially improve the look of your text on screen.

Note on images for HD Video

Regardless of what HD video format you are using, always create your still images at one of two sizes. Final Cut will handle all scaling properly. While I haven’t checked this for all possible formats, I have found this works perfectly for both HDV and DVCPRO HD.

Note for creating images you want to do moves with

For those images that you want to do moves on in Final Cut, multiply each dimension by 2.5 and size your image in Photoshop to match. Remember, the highest quality for any image is when it is sized to 100% or smaller in Final Cut Pro. So, use Photoshop to do image scaling – it will look much better.

Note on pixel dpi

In video it is the total NUMBER of pixels across, by the total NUMBER of pixels down. DPI is not relevant for video, just for printing. For this reason, we traditionally say that video is 72 dpi. It isn’t, really, but since it is the number of pixels we care about, not their density, we arbitrarily set the DPI setting to 72.

Note on computer monitors

A problem I ran into recently was using a third-party (non-Apple) monitor with Final Cut Pro. This particular compuer monitor, from a name brand company, used rectangular pixels to achieve full resolution. This meant that even when you looked at a circle created inside Final Cut Pro, it looked squished. Sheesh! Make sure your monitors display circles accurately – a test is ideal, but, at least see if they use square pixels to display their images.


NTSC DV 4:3 720 x 540 x 72
NTSC DV 16:9 864 x 480 x 72 This is the NEW number
NTSC SD 4:3 720 x 486 x 72
NTSC SD 16:9 853 x 486 x 72 From Apple’s FCP manual
PAL DV 4:3 768 x 576 x 72 From Apple’s FCP manual
PAL DV 16:9 1024 x 576 x 72 From Apple’s FCP manual
NTSC DVD SP 4:3 720 x 534 x 72 Scale to 720 x 480 in Photoshop
NTSC DVD SP 16:9 853 x 480 x 72 Scale to 720 x 480 in Photoshop


Apple’s manual says this can be confusing to beginning editors. From my point of view, it’s confusing to pretty much everybody. I hope this explanation helps.


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5 Responses to FCP 6: Prepping Still Images

  1. Linda King says:

    Please, I need your help. I am in the process of converting a slide show to DVD. I am using Final Cut Pro 7.0.3 . I have all of my slides scanned in high resolution. The final DVD will be projected for larger groups. I want the highest quality possible. Do I convert my high resolution slides to 720 x 540 (72) in PhotoShop…and then to 720 x 480 before I take them into FCP? There won’t be any movement on the slides. It feels like I’m dropping lots of quality. Thank you so much.

  2. Thank you Doctor Final Cut Pro Jordan. I am back in business.

  3. beth allen says:

    THANK YOU so much for breaking all this down. Very well done. Totally appreciate it!

  4. Gina Osterloh says:

    Hi Larry,

    I followed the instructions to convert still images (taken with a Canon T1i) camera to import into FCP7. It’s an image of the top of a cup (circle). When I import it into FCP, the cup is still slightly squashed (thin.) It does though fill the entire 16:9 frame in FCP.

    Any suggestions?

    Thanks. Gina (instructor)

  5. Gilbert says:

    I’m looking for guideline to edit photographs for use as stills in video sequences. Tips and guidelines for how to edit for that format as opposed to web or print. This doesn’t seem to be discussed online.

    I got a crash course in school from a prof who I think really didn’t know his stuff. I’ve heard ‘don’t sharpen’ and then ‘always apply unsharp mask.’ And contrast, vibrance, colour… I’m confused.

    I initially learned photo editing for print, so editing the same photos to be used in video is a whole new animal. Any chance you could discuss that?

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