The traditional way of telling a story with photos is with the photo essay: a series of images presented with words to explain the story behind them. Readers are accustomed to photo essays as they have been used in magazines and books for decades. Life magazine was famous for its picture stories and National Geographic continues the tradition today. The internet has since provided us with another way to tell stories – the multimedia slideshow. In 2005, photojournalist Joe Weiss launched the first version of Soundslides – an easy to use program aimed at photographers producing their own multimedia presentations.
Soundslides works by taking a folder of images and arranging them into a slideshow accompanied by an audio soundtrack. It gives you a way of displaying a portfolio or telling a story by displaying a sequence of images. Once complete, you can display the slideshow on a website. One of the main benefits of Soundslides is that it's quick and easy to use.
The Creation of Soundslides
Joe Weiss got the inspiration for Soundslides from a trip he made to an orphanage to shoot a photo essay. He realised that the stories the children were telling were as important as the photos themselves, and had the idea of combining them. He bought a mini-disc recorder so that he could record sound and created his first multimedia presentation.
Soundslides was born some years later out of the frustration of using Flash to create multimedia presentations. Flash was the most widely used tool at the time for creating multimedia – but it wasn't purpose built for it and the process took time. Joe designed Soundslides to make the task of combining a selection of photos with an audio soundtrack simple and fast.
There are two versions of the program – Soundslides and Soundslides Plus.
Soundslides lets you combine a selection of photos with an audio soundtrack to make a multimedia presentation. This has become a popular method of story-telling amongst photojournalists and you can use it yourself to do the same.
Soundslides Plus gives you some extra features, such as the capability to pan across or zoom into the images, or create a full-screen presentation. You can also use it to present a gallery of your photos in slideshow form without an audio soundtrack, which is just another way of presenting your photos online.
Example Slideshow without Soundtrack
Soundslides is a tool, not a magic wand, and to get the best out of it you need to brush up on your storytelling and editing skills.
Editing in particular is an important skill for any photographer. It's crucial to edit your photos down to the best images. Any set of photos tends to be judged by the worse in the series – making sure that only your best are included is a good way of making the entire set look better.
In fact, Joe Weiss recommends keeping your slideshow presentations to a length of around a minute or so, although you will see plenty of presentations around two or three minutes in length. It's not common to see anything much longer than this though.
If you're using Soundslides to tell a story, not just to present your photos, then it's important that the photos you select are part of the storyline. Get used to editing tightly and eliminating any photos that aren't keeping with the theme.
Getting Started in Soundslides
Getting started in Soundslides is quite easy. Just to go their website and download the sofware – it's available for both Windows and Mac OS X. You can use the software without paying for it – but you'll get a message on any slideshows you create to tell people that it was made with an unlicensed version of the software.
The idea is that you can use the demo version to see if the software is for you, and then pay for a license if you decide to use it.
The license for the software is relatively inexpensive. Soundslides Plus costs $US69.95 and Soundslides $39.95.
Example Slideshow with Soundtrack
If you include an audio soundtrack with your slideshow you need to get the audio organised before you import it into Soundslides. Soundslides has no audio editing facility and stretches the timeline to match the length of the audio clip. That means you need to edit the audio, and make sure that it's the required length before you import it.
It's quite common to see videos of photos accompanied by music on YouTube. It's easy to see why, photographers like music and it's easy to match photos to your favourite songs. But you should be aware that this is usually illegal – you can only use music that you created yourself or have permission to use.
One way around this is to approach up and coming musicians to ask if you can use their music in exchange for a credit. Another is to buy royalty free music clips from websites like Envato's Audiojungle.
Another approach is to use an electronic recording device to record ambient sound to accompany your slideshow. This is the approach that photojournalists tend to take – for example recording an interview with the subject of the slideshow. But this isn't required – if your slideshow consists of photos taken at the beach, for instance, it may be enough to record the sounds of the sea shore (waves lapping at the sand, seagulls, etc).
Audacity is a good open source program for editing audio files. You can also use it to convert your files to MP3 format (required by Soundslides). You can also convert audio files to MP3 in iTunes – the instructions are here.
This simple demonstration shows how easy Soundslides is to use. In the example, I'm using Soundslides Plus to produce a photo gallery without audio.
Install Soundslides or Soundslides Plus and start the program. You'll be greeted by this screen. If you've purchased a license you can enter the Registration key here. If not, click the "Later" button to continue.
Here you can choose to create a new project, or load one that you have already created. Recent projects are listed at the bottom.
The next step is to load the photos. Put the photos that you want to use in a folder. You should resize them first – I resized mine to 1280 pixels wide so that they can be used in a full screen presentation (the full screen option is available only in Soundslides Plus). The full-screen option won't appear if the photos are too small – the maximum size of the slideshow is limited by the dimensions of the photos.
Once the files are loaded, click the "Slide Show Only – Skip Audio' button at the bottom to continue (Soundslides Plus only). If you want to include music or other audio, click the SND button to load your MP3 audio file.
Then you come to the heart of the program – this is where you can rearrange the images and change the appearance of the slideshow. Changing the order is a simple matter of dragging and dropping the thumbnails.
Click the Slide Info tab to enter captions for the photos. If you're already entered captions into the metadata, Soundslides automatically picks them up.
The Template tab lets you change the appearance of the slideshow. You have control over the colours, fonts and the style of transition between the photos.
You can give your project a headline and enter credits under the Project Info tab.
This shows what the slideshow looks like. Click the icon with the four arrows on the right hand side under the image to enter full-screen mode. Click on the arrow keys to scroll through the photos (if you create a slideshow without audio, there is no 'play' option and the user has to move through the photos by using the arrows).
You can click the icon with the four squares on the left hand side under the image to see thumbnails of the images in the slideshow. Click on a thumbnail to go to that image.
Click the "Save" button to save your project, "Test" to see the slideshow in your default browser, and "Export" to save the slideshow in a new folder.
This is what you will see if you import an audio soundtrack with your photos. The photos are spread out evenly along a timeline that matches the length of the audio soundtrack. You can click the space between the images to adjust the timing of each one.
After you've exported, you'll need to find the "publish_t0_web" folder within the project. This the folder you'll need place online in order to see your slideshow. The folder can be renamed without affecting the final result. Once you have the folder upload, you can utilize online tools to further work with your project.
Soundslides also provide some online tools to help you.
1. The Soundslides manual is very important. All the instructions you need are here.
2. The Embed tool generates the required code to embed the slideshow in your website. All you need the the URL of the publish_to_web folder once it is upload.
3. The Menu tool combines several slideshows into a single presentation. You can see an example of that here.
4. The Online Video Converter converts your slideshow to an MP4 file that you can view in a video player or upload to video sharing sites like YouTube. Just follow the instructions at the link. Your version of Soundslides must be registered for this to work.
Take a look at these websites to see what you can do with Soundslides:
The Postcard Collector by Eli Reinholdtsen
Audio slideshows by Tewfic El-Sawy: The Travel Photographer
Slowcoast by Nick Hand
Multimedia slideshows by Lumen Dei students at The Digital Trekker