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Creating Quality Slideshows

All those photos you have on your harddrive, what are you doing with them? Are they sitting there and then up on a website? Maybe a share on Facebook or Google+? Have you ever thought of presenting your work in a slideshow, or projected, exhibition?

Presenting a slideshow of your work can be a very rewarding event or an evening of frustration, depending on how well you prepare and plan. It was once told to me that for every 30 minutes of presentation, I should spend 40 hour preparing. This includes planning, choosing images, organizing, practice, rework, more practice, more rework and then some more practice. This rule of thumb is more true for a professional or highly important presentation than a backyard viewing during a BBQ, but the process is just as important.

Whether for your friends, family, neighbors or complete strangers at the local library, here are  a few helpful hints to get you started with creating a slideshow (forgive my throw-back vocabulary, I’m getting started early at being a cranky, old photographer).

Know your Audience

There are two ways to tackle starting on a slideshow; either you start with an idea and find an audience, or your start with your audience and find an idea. Either way, it’s best to make the two match so people aren’t falling asleep and out of their chairs at the 15 minute mark.

If you are going to present some photos from your latest trip abroad, know who’s going to show for the presentation and tailor your talk to them. Will it be a rowdy crowd looking for some fun photos or a more refined group interested in a deep dive of culture? Are you presenting to a 6th grade class and need to hold interest at every turn or can you let the images linger on the screen to be soaked up by those viewing.

Knowing your audience is important in fashioning your slideshow so everyone enjoys what is being presented. And that goes for you as well.

Keep it Specific

Once you know who you will be presenting for, or if you are starting with a topic before knowing the audience, keep your slideshow topic specific. I have found broad topics for a 45 minute slideshow don’t work as well because, frankly, there is not enough time. While I have a broad sweep with my People, Places & Patterns Project, I create individual topics for individual slideshows and don’t expect to cover the 20 years of my photography taking history in one evening.

Instead, I sit down and think of what I want to convey and stick to a few things. For instance, I want to give people an idea of how we live differently and the same, from country to country that I have visited. I’m not going to try to cover all 21 subjects I try to shoot on each trip, in detail, and compare and contrast. I will pick something like water use and transportation and stick to those.

The more specific you can keep the topic(s) the better a story you can weave and keep viewers engaged because they know what’s coming, but how. Write down your theme and keep it by the monitor as you choose images to make sure you are staying on target. It worked for Luke Skywalker, it can work for you.

Keep it Short(ish)

Speaking of being specific, keep your talk to the limit of your audience. This goes to step 1, knowing your audience. If it is a 4th grade class, 20 minutes might be all they can handle. If you run into the realm over an hour, you will likely start to lose audience members (this is a rule of thumb and not always true).

My suggestion is to keep general talks for broad audiences to 30-45 minutes, with 60 minutes being the max. Also let your audience know how long things will run. People like knowing and are more likely to remain enraptured if they know things won’t last forever.

Timing Is Everything

Speaking of slideshow length, you will need to know who much you will be talking and the pace of the presentation. I find that pre-timed slideshows, where each images is on the screen will be on the screen for X seconds, can cause audiences to check out, unless the images are simply meant as supporting material for the speaking part of the presentation.

If you are highlighting the images and the story they tell, try mixing up the tempo and slide duration. Not every image needs equal time on the screen and you can build suspense and interest by ebbing and flowing, moving faster then slower. I use a few slides as punch lines and the images before them come in quick succession, while at other times I let an image linger and pull stories from it, letting the audience sink into the screen before moving on.


How do you know if your timing works? PRACTICE! This is the one most important aspect of slideshow prep work and has the largest impact on presentation quality. You might have stellar images but if you forget the order they are in, or the stories you want to tell at important parts, your effort might fail.

At least a week before the presentation is to be held, set up a projector and screen (if you have them) or just practice on your own computer. Stand up if you will be when you present. Write out notes to keep you on track and talk out loud. I know it can be odd to talk in an empty room for 45 minutes, believe me, but it does help to go through the whole set of images and not just skip through, saying things like, “And I’ll talk about this at that point and the move on to those and…done!”  Actually talk the talk as you will be.

Be Open To Feedback

Before you give the presentation, find a willing audience. It can be an audience of one, but find someone who will help give you honest feedback. You want the critical friend here and then one who is always supportive, if you can get them both in the same place at the same time. The critical one will help you find flaws you didn’t know were there (we all have them when creating presentations in the vacuum of our office/coffee shop) and will help you improve. The nice friend will sugar coat things, help with improvements and also boost your confidence. I find running the presentation by both personality types, no matter how semi-painful it might be, helps me improve.

This also includes feedback after the big event(s). Ask around to those who attended if there is anything they think you can do better (this is usually best with people you already know). Also ask what you did well to balance things out.

In short: Know your audience, know what you want to say, and practice!
Slideshows can be a lot of fun for all involved, even if they no longer include slides.

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Peter West Carey
Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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