Digital Slideshows – 2

The earlier article on digital slideshows focused on some key differences between the old 35mm slideshows and today’s digital presentations, and spent some time on the importance of the resolution of the digital slide projector. Today’s piece looks at the software part. Now that you have your folder full of “right-sized” images, what do you do with them? What are the commonly-used programs, what features do they offer, and how do you choose?

Manual Slideshows

The traditionalists among us think in terms of manual slide shows: the speaker stands at the podium clicking the remote to advance the slides while speaking about them. With luck, none of the slides is warped and gets stuck in the projector. Things have changed substantially with digital.

Manual slideshows are still the mainstay of the lecture circuit. Microsoft’s ubiquitous presentation program, Powerpoint (PC and Apple) is probably the best known example, though Open Office’s Impress (free, all platforms) and Apple’s Keynote have many adherents. Since my experience is with Powerpoint, I will focus on that program from here on.

Each of these has the ability to embed one or more of your pictures onto presentation pages, change the page backgrounds, add text (headings, captions, etc.) and finally, control the transitions from one page to the next. Powerpoint offers many transitions, drawn from movie-making, like fades, wipes, dissolves.

The basic idea is to take all those nice images you downsized (see the first article for the rationale) and drag them into Powerpoint. And here is the first problem. Powerpoint (at least Powerpoint 2008 for Mac) does not support en masse drag and drop. You have to insert each image, one at a time. This is fairly tedious if you have a large number of slides.

There are at least a couple of add-ons for versions of Powerpoint that use VisualBasic (this includes 2003 , 2004 and 2007 to my knowledge. Alas, the latest Mac version, 2008, does not support add-ons). The first is Image Importer Wizard, a $40 program and the second is Pixerter, a $15 add-on. Both have free downloads so you can try them out. I found the first to be far more easily useable and would strongly recommend it recommend it. Just to give a little idea of the power, it took about 12 seconds to load 134 images into a blank Powerpoint presentation. Way better than drag and drop!

I was unable to try a similar add-on for Powerpoint for Mac (Insert Picture Add-In for Powerpoint 2004) since it doesn’t work in my version, Powerpoint 2008 (MS dropped Visual Basic from Office 2008 for Mac). As a result, I will probably do the basic addition of images to Powerpoint on an old Windows pc using Image Importer Wizard and then transfer the file to my Mac for further processing.

For a lecture, I like to keep the presentation simple. One or two transition styles, no fancy borders and minimal text. Titles on the slides, of course, help with organizing the material. Fades and dissolves can also add substantially, but remember the adage, “Less is more.” Your tastes (and the audience) will be a guide toward the artistic side of showmaking.

Automatic Slideshows

Several excellent programs can automate your whole slide show. What these programs do is help you create a movie with your slides, a movie incorporating the slide motion effects (panning and zooming) made famous in the Ken Burns documentaries on PBS. They typically use the same timeline motif used in movie-editing programs for placement of images, transitions, titles and sound tracks (music and voice-over). While all these are customizable, the default settings do an excellent job for beginners.

The point of this, of course, is to be able to distribute a complete, stand-alone slide show either as a downloadable movie file from a web site or for display on an unmanned computer running, for example, in the lobby of your office. You can also burn the movies to CDs or DVDs (depending on length) and send them to remote family members. On the other hand, you could produce a complete documentary a la Ken Burns at full HD resolution. The sky is the limit.

Some of the programs available are:

  • Animoto – web-based, membership. Automatically generates motion, music. Free membership allows generating 30-second videos, while other membership options broaden the range of possibilities.
  • FotoMagico – Mac – excellent, very flexible, many options. Free downloadable trial, then either $49 (Express) or $129 (Pro). The Pro version integrates with Lightroom and Aperture.
  • iDVD – this is the Mac’s movie-making program that is part of its iLife suite. Many good reviews (especially of the 2009 update), but I have no direct experience with it for slide-making.
  • Lightroom – Adobe’s wonderful picture catalog + raw developer + non-destructive editor + lots more (if it’s not obvious, I’m really sold on these features in Lightroom). It also can generate slide shows, but it lacks many of the customization features of some of the others, e.g., panning, zooming, timeline editing, movie file rendering. I use Lightroom to catalog all my images, to select the ones I want to use in a slideshow and to export them to a folder, all resized to the projector output size, for use by one of these more tailored programs.
  • LQ Graphics Photo to Movie – another excellent entry, this program is available for both the Mac and the pc. Like FotoMagico, it offers both good default rendering as well as extensive edit capability. It costs $49.95 and it too is downloadable.

I have no experience with the following programs that came up in my search but they looked interesting enough to list:

In my next chapter of this series I will detail my experience with generating a slideshow with LQ Graphics Photo to Movie.