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Exporting Still Images from Final Cut Pro

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So how do you export a still frame from Final Cut? Tom Wolsky shows you how and also alerts you to a number of gotchas to avoid along the way.
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Exporting still frames from FCP has puzzled many people, if for no other reason than there is no Export > Still Image function in Final Cut as you might expect there to be. There are also a number of gotchas to be aware of, not least of which is the difference in pixel aspect ratios between television formats and computer graphics.

First Steps

So how do you export a still frame from Final Cut? Well, the first thing you do not have to do is make a freeze frame. Instead, all you need to do is place the playhead over the frame you want to export, whether in the Viewer, Canvas, or Timeline. This can be a frame of a clip or of a sequence. It can even contain a multiple layer stack of videos with effects combined including transparency (FIGURE 4.1). Here are the steps:

  1. Place the playhead (either in the Viewer or in the Canvas) on what you want to export, select the window the playhead is in, and choose File > Export > Using QuickTime Conversion.

    Whoa! You’re thinking: I don’t want to have to send a whole clip out. You don’t have to.

    Figure 4.1

    Figure 4.1 Here’s a multi-layer image from the Timeline that we want to export as a still frame.

  2. From the Format pop-up menu, choose Still Image (FIGURE 4.2).

    Figure 4.2

    Figure 4.2 To export a still frame, rather than a movie, change the Format to Still Image.

    Notice also the Image Sequence option—this is exactly the same as Still Image. You can use either.

  3. Next click the Options button.
  4. If you want to create an image sequence—one still image for every frame of video—simply enter a frame rate, but be careful because this can generate an enormous number of files. Make sure you have only a limited selection if you want to do this.

    To export just one frame, simply leave the frame rate value box empty. That’s the only difference between exporting a sequence of images and a single image.

  5. From the Format pop-up menu in that window, you can choose what type of file you want to export. If you want to export with transparency, pick a file format like Photoshop or TIFF or PNG (FIGURE 4.3).

    Figure 4.3

    Figure 4.3 To maintain both high quality and transparency information, choose either Photoshop, PNG, or TIFF formats. (If you want to output an image sequence, rather than a still, enter a frame rate for Frames per second.)

Personally I like to export in PNG because it exports transparency as a Photoshop layer rather than with an alpha channel (FIGURE 4.4). I then usually save the file in Photoshop as a Photoshop file with multiple layers. Although other people prefer TIFFs, I think their file sizes are larger than necessary. If you just need a flattened image, and minimum file size is important, you can save as JPEG, which is substantially more compressed than other formats.

Figure 4.4

Figure 4.4 Exporting an image as a PNG maintains transparency information by creating a separate Photoshop layer. Exporting as a TIFF maintains transparency in the alpha channel of the image.

If you choose JPEG, make sure you click the Options button in this window and set the Quality slider to Best (FIGURE 4.5). Do this every time because the setting is not “sticky,” and it will revert to the default Medium every time you do it (see the sidebar, “Still No Still Export”).

Figure 4.5

Figure 4.5 Only select JPEG when you need the image to be as small as possible. Remember to set the Quality to Best before clicking OK.

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