For the inexperienced producer, film or video production can easily become a laborious and frustration-filled undertaking. You’ve got a great story to tell or an excellent message to share, but you have no idea where to begin. Several questions are running through your head: Is my script good? Do I have the right performers? Am I using the right audio and video equipment? Am I shooting enough material?
You’re soon facing mounting expenses and much more work than you could have prepared for. And your hair is fast becoming gray! But, that’s the nature of production. Whether you’re working alone or in a group, producing something substantial can often stretch you beyond your limitations. Regardless, you’ve still got an amazing story or message to share. So, what’s the best way to communicate it effectively with limited resources, time and money? A powerful video slideshow may be the way to go.
I’ve created several video slideshows during my career as a new media producer. In fact, the two most popular videos on my YouTube channel are video slideshows. One is something I arranged around an inspirational old Nike print ad; the other is “The Internet is Unstoppable,” a vignette I recently put together to showcase the importance of social media. I am still amazed that these simple sequences of images and text are the most popular pieces I’ve generated. There must be something special about the video slideshow format that appeals to viewers.
I believe that anyone can produce an effective and powerful video slideshow, and you don’t need much video production experience to do so. A video slideshow is similar to, say, a PowerPoint presentation, but without the need for personal presence and audio narration. Your story or message will be driven solely by text and images interspersed together, set to music.
First, you need an effective message. Script out your story as if you were giving an in-person presentation. Think of it as a speech, but also think about the images you would show behind you if you were giving that speech live. You want your speech to grab the listener’s attention, then drive home a point. Finally, the speech should invite the audience to take action. This form of storytelling – a beginning, a middle and an end, often referred to as the “story arc” – is fairly universal: Hook your audience (beginning), explain your vision (middle), culminate your story with a major key point at the climax of your presentation (end), then invite them to act (wrap things up). Be sure to keep it short and simple. Write snippets of text that anyone can easily read on a screen.
The Video Editor
Next, you need access to a non-linear video editor. Most Windows-based PCs have built-in software like Windows MovieMaker while most Macs come with iMovie. For my latest “Internet is Unstoppable” video slideshow, I used the more advanced Adobe Premiere Pro. I recommend you use software that will give you a “timeline” view in which you can insert elements, such as titles (text elements) and images.
You need to find music that matches your message. Most songs follow universal storytelling patterns; they contain a beginning, a middle and an end. So you want to look for music that fits your story’s arc. I prefer instrumental pieces because lyrics might detract from my slideshows. There are plenty of free* music resources online, including the popular CC Mixter, which offers Creative Commons-licensed music remixes, as well as Jamendo, a similar Creative Commons-based music service.
Lastly, you need images*! Your images could be slides that you would have included in a PowerPoint presentation, pictures of the subject matter or images that otherwise complement your written message and help advance your story in meaningful ways. Whatever the image, try to use the best quality picture you can get. If you choose a particular aspect ratio, or resolution, (such as “640 x 480 dimensions, 4:3 aspect ratio”) when setting up your video project in the editing software, try to find or create images that match those settings. If you can’t, you can always use the editing software’s “scale” setting to resize the image, but it’s better to start with the appropriate size.
Creating Your Video Slideshow
Now that you’ve gathered all of your elements, you are ready to begin! Follow these steps to create a video slideshow, but keep in mind that the actual process may vary based on your editing software.
- Start a new project.
- Import the images and music to your project’s “bin” or folder.
- Create a new “sequence” or timeline.
- Drag and drop your music onto the main audio track in your timeline. This will be the backbone of your slideshow and you will edit to the beats.
- If possible, enable the “wavelength” view on your audio track so you can visually interpret where significant beats and crescendos in the music are. You might not need to do this if you are very familiar with the music. Try listening to the music in small chunks to help familiarize yourself.
- Find the “title” or text generator and create your opening title and/or the first line of your written story or script. Think of this as the first thing you would say if you were presenting in person.
- Drag and drop your first title onto the main video track of your timeline where you want to see it. The timeline allows you to see where all of your elements will appear in sequence, so this process becomes a matter of timing your text and images to the music. Pro tip: Once you’ve dropped your
title onto the timeline, click and drag the right edge of the title element to extend its length. Then move the preview slider to the beginning of the element and press “play” in the preview window or monitor provided by the software. This will allow you to watch the title element and test how long it takes to see or read it. Once you’ve judged how long it takes a viewer to absorb or read the item, click and drag the right edge of the element and resize it to the appropriate length. Time the elements so your viewers can read and see everything the way you intend them to!
- Drag and drop your first image from the bin to the video track of the timeline. You’ll have to decide where you want the image to appear in relation to the text. If you want the text to appear over the image, move the text to the video track above the main track where the image resides (if the software provides for multiple tracks).
- Repeat steps 6-8. SAVE FREQUENTLY. Create titles, add images (scale when necessary) and time all of your elements into a cohesive slideshow movie. Your video slideshow is coming together! If you want to, note the audio peaks that are visible in the music track’s wavelength and use those key musical cues to fashion your slideshow to the beats. After you make a series of edits, view your work in the software’s preview monitor to see how it flows.
- Advanced users might want to experiment with animating titles or images using key frames to zoom in or rotate throughout the sequence.
- When you have finished your video slideshow, save it, then preview it one last time to make sure it’s to your liking. Invite someone else to watch it and get feedback. Be sure to add ending credits using the title or text generator. Give credit to anyone who was involved in the project or supplied images, text or music.
- When you are satisfied with the final product, export your project as a self-contained video file with the software’s video export or video compressor utility (some software calls this “Share your movie”). Try to export to a file format that most closely matches the original project settings (such as dimensions, aspect ratio, etc.). Depending on how you will be showing your slideshow (e.g, YouTube, off a laptop at a conference, on a DVD, a broadcast, etc.), you might have to consult with someone about which video and audio codecs to use. The defaults provided by your editing software might be best to start with.
- Kick back, relax, grab a slice of pizza and wait for your project to finish exporting. Depending on your hardware and software, this can take some time.
All done! It might seem like a lot, but once you get the gist of dropping images and titles to your timeline, it becomes a lot easier and you’ll grow more comfortable with the editing software. Experiment and preview often. You’ll sometimes find that you’ve created a unique visual cut or interesting musical timing all by accident!
Video slideshows are just one of many creative ways to communicate a message, reveal discoveries or insight, and tell a story. However, because moving images and music can have such a powerful effect, the video slideshow might be one of the most effective ways to share a presentation. So, hunker down, buckle in and start playing with your computer’s video editing software!
*Author’s note: I do not condone copyright infringement, but if you contact me directly, I would be happy to discuss the ways in which the Web is changing attitudes about copyright and fair use in the digital age, especially when it comes to not-for-profit online storytelling, education and communication.
Matthew Stringer is the blogger at Nerd Acumen, a current student of the MCDM, and a New Media Producer.