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Monday, October 5, 2009

Digital Slide Shows


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This screen shot shows the transition choices in Pro Show Producer.
Like most nature photographers, I like to share stories of my travels and projects via slideshows. The impact of images projected on a big screen in the dark is way more impactful than passing around a few prints or bringing out the laptop. Add some good music, and you can easily engage a crowd for fifteen or twenty minutes without even saying a word. In the old days, you needed two or more projectors and special equipment that would record slide times and fades that were synched to the music on a cassette tape. The results could be great, but it could easily take days to put together a good show.

When digital projectors started to be affordable nine or ten years ago, I was excited about the possibility of digitizing shows, but the quality of the software at the time just didn’t compare to what was possible using traditional equipment. The transitions in particular of this early slideshow software just looked too ìdigitalî, with pixels coming and going in ways that looked nothing like the beautiful fades possible with slide projectors. That started to change four or five years ago, and about three years ago I went all digital with my shows.

A lot of photo editing software now comes with slide show capabilities built in. Lightroom and iPhoto both have easy to use slideshow features with attractive fade transitions. However, they are very limited in their ability compared to the program I now use, Pro Show Producer (Photodex software www.photodex.com.) There is also a less expensive version called Pro Show Gold. For example, in Lightroom you set the slide duration and fade time, which is applied to every image in the slideshow. In Pro Show, you can vary the slide duration and fade time for each individual image – varying the timing of transitions is important to keep your audience from being lulled to sleep. Pro Show also has dozens of choices for transitions, while Lightroom only has one – a standard fade.


This screen shot shows the controls in Pro Show that let you easily edit the way music is played during a slide show.
Pro Show also shines at adding and synchronizing music, allowing you to easily edit the starting and ending points of music tracks as well as fades between music pieces. In addition, it’s easy to add captions and to set the way the captions fade in and out and how they enter and exit the screen. With additional features like layers and the ability to rotate, pan, and zoom images as they are shown, you can easily create Ken Burns-like documentaries (you can even include video footage.)

I usually don’t have time to get too fancy, but by using Pro Show, I can easily put together a good slide show in about an hour, once I have selected and prepared my images. For digital projection, you can usually use lower resolution files than when you make fine art prints. Once I’ve selected my images, I either use the Image Processor script in Photoshop or Export my images from Lightroom so that my images are resized to 2000 pixels on the long side. This is probably overkill, as most projectors have a lower resolution than that, but I’m happy with the results at that size, so I’ve stuck with it for a few years now. I’ve recently started using the Pro Show plug-in for Lightroom, which is a quick and easy way to get a show started, but it usually still needs tweaking in Pro Show itself afterwards.

Once you’ve created a show in Pro Show, you can output it to a number of formats, such as DVD, Blue Ray, MPEG and AVI videos, screen savers, and an executable file. You can also upload a show to You Tube directly from Pro Show, though I’ve found the quality is better if you create a high-quality MPEG and upload that from using You Tube’s upload button. (You can see a recent show I put together using Pro Show on You Tube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-R7i3uJMmuw&feature=youtube_gdata)

Pro Show is only available for the Windows operating system, and unfortunately, nothing comparable really exists for the Mac at this time. Pro Show Gold runs $99.00, while the Producer version is $249.95 (Photodex lists the differences between the two here: http://www.photodex.com/products/proshowgold/compare.html). You can also try either for free for 15 days.

And since this may sound like an ad, I should mention that I’ve never spoken personally with anyone at Photodex, and I’ve always paid for my own copies of the software.

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