For our recent solo concert, I created my first ever slideshow to accompany a piece, and someone requested I write about it. If projection equipment is available, a slideshow is an excellent way to add variety to a program, almost like adding another instrument. I first started thinking about my slideshow a year ago. I had hoped to present it last spring, but that didn’t work out. The delay allowed me to prepare properly, and even to take some digital photos with the slideshow in mind.

Overview of the steps involved:

• Choose the piece of music you want to augment with images.
• Get necessary permissions from copyright holders.
• Talk to the venue.
• Find (or create) appropriate images.
• Listen to the music and outline a plan.
• Edit your images and organize them into a coherent presentation.
• Test the slideshow and present it.

Choosing music for your slideshow: If you’re reading this article, chances are you already have a piece in mind. Trust your instincts. I chose a piece of music that was long, somewhat repetitive, and quite evocative. I could see images in my mind’s eye whenever I played the music. The piece was also restful and called for a slow progression of images. You could choose something more upbeat, with rapid slide changes, but that makes accurate timing critical. I’ll talk more about timing below.

Write to the music copyright holder for permission to create a slideshow. Setting images to music is considered synchronization, for which you need permission if the music is copyrighted. You can read about how to obtain permission to use copyrighted works elsewhere on this site.

Test your idea: Consider the appropriateness of the occasion and the suitability of the venue. I looked for a concert where I would present the entire one hour concert (in conjunction with my music partners), not a group concert or short program. Many churches with contemporary worship use projection equipment, so that presented an opportunity to incorporate a slideshow into my concert, with the venue’s permission.

Questions to ask the venue:

• Is someone available to run the projection equipment? Is there a fee? Can that individual attend part of the warm-up?
• Do certain software programs work better with your system than others? For example, I was advised to supply a movie instead of a Powerpoint presentation, because of timing problems.
• What file types can you accept? Examples: .mov, mp4
• What media can you accept? Examples: flash drive, DVD
• What specifications work best with your equipment? In particular, ask about aspect ratio (e.g. 4:3), minimum image resolution (e.g. 72 dpi), ideal image size (e.g. 1280×1024 pixels), preferred file size (e.g. display, large, medium).
• Is the projector type UXGA, XGA, or SVGA? You can use this information to answer the specification questions yourself (if the venue doesn’t know), by researching online or asking your techno-geek friends.
• Are there multiple screens? Do they project the same image or separate sets of slides? How should I construct my slideshow to accommodate this?
• May I bring a slideshow draft before the concert day to test in the equipment, allowing time to correct any problems?
• May I send a single representative image file in advance to check the resolution?

Visit the venue and look at where the slideshow will appear to confirm it will coordinate well with your solo table placement.

Consider where in the concert to program your slideshow. Like any variety-enhancing technique, a slideshow is most effective after the audience has already seen you ring “all those bells” and needs something to pique their interest. I chose to open the second half of the concert with my slideshow. There was no intermission. If there had been intermission, I would have placed the slideshow partway through the second half. I doubt I would ever open or close a concert with a slideshow. It would be overwhelming to open with it, and the rest of the concert might seem like a letdown in comparison. Conversely, I end with a flashy piece, where the audience will want to watch me, not a screen.

Choosing images: Determine a theme for your slideshow, and assemble as many pictures as possible within that theme. I chose Karen Lakey Buckwalter’s ‘Reflections,’ and have always interpreted the title as a play on words (invoking both reminiscences and the ripples on a glassy pond), based partly on her program notes. I pulled pictures from the years spent on our boat in British Columbia, as well as photos we’ve taken in our other travels. With this project in mind, I also took photos at several gardens while visiting Victoria.

Favor digital photos, as they’re easier to work with. If you have special printed photos you decide to include, you might scan them into digital form, but wait to ensure they survive the winnowing process before spending any time processing them. I used JPG files, but other file formats would probably work.

Use only photos that you took yourself, or that the photographer gives you permission to use. Photos are copyrighted like any other creative work, even photos you find on the Internet. In some cases, the photographer may be flattered by your interest and grant permission at no charge. Professional photographers make their living selling images, and you’ll need to compensate them if you want to use their work. If you don’t have enough images of your own, review your friends’ Flickr accounts to look for material you might get permission to use. You can also look for images on Flickr with a Creative Commons license.

For your own photos, consider whether your photography violates the subject’s terms of use. For example, museums and private gardens may permit photography only for personal use. If you intend to use it commercially (which would include showing it in a concert for which you’re paid, or distributing a slideshow to other handbell soloists), that may require a commercial photography permit from the location where you took the photos. If you didn’t buy one at the time you took the pictures, email to explain the situation, and offer to pay the fee after the fact. The venue may waive the fee, considering your use incidental, not as significant as, say, selling postcards or publishing photos in a book.

Go through your collection of images and prune mercilessly. Remove duplicates or near-duplicates, keeping the best one of each type. No one wants to see 24 pictures of your dog, child, or favorite rosebush. Remove images flawed in any way: out of focus, incomplete, marred by things like telephone wires (unless they can be cropped out), etc. I started with more than 200 images and had to reduce the number to 42. Even many favorites didn’t make the cut!

Favor horizontal images, which look better on most screens. If you have multiple versions of the same thing, choose one in horizontal instead of vertical format, if you can. Also favor simpler images over busy ones. What looks good on your computer, close up, may be hard to digest at a distance, where it appears smaller.

Outlining the slideshow: Once you whittle the collection down to a manageable number, listen to a recording of the music while taking notes. What images or emotions does each section evoke? Ring the piece yourself, thinking about possible pictures. Sketch out a sequence in very general terms. You want to tell a story, in a logical progression, not skipping around too much.

I often create rehearsal marks to denote sections of my solo music. Here’s my final outline, by rehearsal mark:

A – State theme. Tranquil, reflections on water.
B – Transition. Add some interest in subjects and color.
C – Restate theme in lower register. Japanese gardens.
D – Transition. Delicate. Fountains, waterfalls.
E – Interlude. Whimsical. Seabirds, otters.
F – Restate theme with key change. Delicate. Gardens.
G – Lead-in to first climax. Most breathtaking images in collection: panoramas, mountain lakes, and rivers.
H – Restate theme. Harsh, stormy. Gathering clouds, visible wind, ocean waves, rushing water. Second climax.
I – Tranquility returns. Sense of release; things settle down. Ethereal qualities of light.
J – Restate theme. Majestic. Mountains, sandstone formations.
K – Ending. Gradually diminish scope. Pull in closer to create sense of smallness, centering. Last image very special, summation.

Obviously, my first outline draft was much sketchier than that, refined while I worked with the images.

Creating the slideshow: Your software choice may depend on what you have and feel comfortable working with. I used iPhoto, and my suggestions below are based on features available in that program. Powerpoint is a popular choice, but the venue advised me that they had timing problems with Powerpoint presentations loading on their equipment. (Your mileage may vary.) If you plan to use Powerpoint, and don’t have experience with it, I suggest watching the video tutorial or taking a community college class. I also suggest formatting the presentation aspect ratio through Page Setup before starting to insert images. Images will be easier to find if you’ve collected them into a folder.

After the initial pruning, I copied all the images I wanted to consider into an iPhoto album. I then resized them to the specifications of the venue system. (The image size is expressed in pixels.) In iPhoto, this process exports them to a separate folder. I then reimported them into a new iPhoto album, and deleted the old, original-sized images. This step ensures the images load correctly. Images that are too large may load slowly or appear blurry. The reason I used duplicate images, instead of the original files, was to prevent accidentally deleting (or permanently altering) a photo file while creating the slideshow.

Start to organize the images into the rough order of the outline you created from listening to the music. Set aside special images you want to appear at key points in the music, as well as your opening and closing images. You can either delete unwanted images or park them at the end, in case you find a later use for them.

When you have the images roughly organized in order, create a draft of the slideshow. In iPhoto, you do this by selecting the photos from the album and choosing the + button in the lower left corner. In the slideshow, click on ‘Themes’ to choose a global format. I like to use Ken Burns effects. Named for the documentary producer, these effects add motion to still images by slowly panning in, out, up, or down. Though subtle, they add life to a presentation.

Decide whether you want the slideshow to run automatically, or for someone to prompt each image change. The advantage of letting it run is that you don’t have to rehearse the timing with someone, and that’s one less person to coordinate your concert schedule with. Some venues may not allow non-employees to run the projection system. (If you do have someone prompt the slideshow, make sure s/he feels comfortable following the musical score notated with the image that should appear at each change.) Manual slide changes also can’t use Ken Burns effects, nor could I find an option in iPhoto for exporting a slideshow to run manually. It’s possible that you would have to project images from your own Apple computer.

The disadvantage of letting the program run is that you can’t correlate images precisely to sounds, because you probably won’t perform the piece exactly the same way every time. You don’t want a rapid change of images conflicting noticeably with the beat, or for the images to get ahead of, or behind, the music. Bear in mind that, even with manual prompts, the reflexes of the person launching the program, or reaction time of the projection system, may not support split-second timing. Of course, if you have a problem in the piece, a human will wait for you to recover, while a machine won’t. I chose to let my slideshow run, and built some flexibility into it with images that bridged from one section to the next, and with two ending images: the intended last image programmed to stay on the screen longer than usual, in case I finished late, preceded by an image that could serve as the ending if I finished early.

Click on ‘Settings’ to choose your default settings. (Be sure you’re on the ‘All Slides’ tab.) Choose the pacing for your slideshow, both the time each image remains up and the transition time to the next one. Make it match the mood of your piece. My piece was very lyrical, and I wanted to images to stay up long enough for everyone to absorb them, but not long enough to be tedious. Remember that this slideshow will be your audience’s first introduction to these pictures, so allow sufficient time to absorb them. I chose to leave each image up for 12 seconds, and to use a relatively slow setting to dissolve into the next image. In iPhoto, you can set global defaults for these, and can also customize them for an individual slide. For example, I set the last slide for 25 seconds so it could wait for me if I finished late. I chose not to change the settings at other points, because I didn’t want to fine-tune it to the point that any mismatch between the slides and the performance would become obvious.

If the filenames for each slide indicate what they are, or the file information shows where they were taken, you can choose ‘Show caption’ to project this information on the slide. I didn’t use these captions. However, I did select ‘Show title slide’ to include the name of the piece on the first slide. iPhoto chooses the slideshow name for this, but you can edit it, and also change the font, font size, etc. I suggest you not spend time editing the title slide until you approach the final slideshow version.

Set the Aspect ratio (screen proportions) to whatever the venue told you their equipment required. (I used 4:3.) You can choose whether to scale all images to fit the screen. That cut off parts of vertical images, so I declined this option. I also declined options to repeat the slideshow and to fit it to the music.

Record yourself playing the piece, extract audio from a prior video, or use another sound file that contains audio of the entire piece. Be sure the sound file you choose accurately reflects your performance tempo. Import it into your iTunes library, naming it something like “[name of piece] for slideshow” so you can find it later. In the iPhoto slideshow, click on ‘Music,’ choose ‘Play music during slideshow,’ then choose the source (iTunes) and the file. Obviously, when you use the slideshow at the venue, YOU will be the soundtrack. But layering the sound under the images at this stage will help you identify where you need to adjust image timing.

Play the slideshow on your computer, noting which slides hit at key points, and whether they’re early or late (compared to your plan), and by how many slides. That tells you how many slides you need to add, subtract, or move to make the key images hit at the right point in the music. The first version may be wildly off, probably much too long. Count how many slides remain after the music ends. That’s the number you need to prune, in total. You can move or delete images in the slideshow area of iPhoto. However, I found it easier to go back to the album, to see all the images at once. After you update the album, you have to recreate the slideshow, the same way you created it the first time. Give it a draft number so you don’t have to delete the prior draft, but can refer to it if needed.

Repeat this process as many times as needed to make the images appear where you want them in the music. Hint: If you want the slideshow to start running partway through, select the image and click Preview instead of Play.

When you’re close to the final version:

• Identify shots that require straightening and/or enhancement. Make colors as vivid as possible. They’ll look less intense when projected than they do on your computer screen.
• Crop the chosen images as needed, now that you know what they’ll look like in the aspect ratio and theme you’ve chosen.
• Edit the font on the title slide, if desired. (On the first slide, place the cursor in the middle of the screen, and double-click. The hand tool and title will both appear. Click again, and you’re in edit mode.)
• Extend the duration of the last slide. (Select that slide and go to ‘Settings,’ tab ‘This Slide.’) I used 25 seconds.
• If you want to adjust the duration of any intervening slides, do so at this point. I chose not to.
• If any of the Ken Burns effects look strange, go to the individual slide and squelch or modify the effect.
• Click on Export to create a movie with the music. This is useful for testing at the venue, to verify the slideshow is playing at the intended tempo.
• I chose size ‘Large’ and named the file ‘Reflections with music large.’
• Unclick ‘Automatically send slideshow to iTunes.’
• Click ‘Custom export’ and choose the format and file destination. I chose ‘Movie to QuickTime movie.’
• Click ‘Options’ and unclick ‘Prepare for Internet streaming.’ You can leave the default settings for Video and Audio unless you have a reason to change them.
• Click ‘Save,’ and your movie will export. This may take a while.
• Go back to your slideshow, click on Music, and unclick your music file. Re-export the file using the instructions above, and unclicking ‘Audio’ in the export options. Keep everything else the same, except the filename, of course. Now you have a large Quicktime file without music.
• Complete several other exports, without music. For example, change the file size to ‘Display,’ and export as a Quicktime file. Then export it as a MPEG-4 file. Change the file size to ‘Large’ and export that as a MPEG-4 file.
• If your performance partners want to review the slideshow, send a file to them. MPEG-4 files are smaller and therefore easier to email, or you may be able to send a mobile QuickTime file.

The reason for multiple exports: you want as many options as possible to test at the venue, to see which works best. I ended up using the Display size, QuickTime version. However, you may find that the file size is too large, and you have to use something else. The person advising me even suggested saving the files both to a flash drive and a DVD, to have multiple media options. I would have done that, but the processing took so long that I ran out of time to create a DVD before my appointment at the venue to test the file. Moral of the story: you should be at the point of exporting your final slideshow to a flash drive no later than the day before you’ve arranged to test it at the venue, which should, in turn, be at least several days before the concert. Allow even more time if someone else needs to review it before you take it to the venue.

Test the slideshow: At the venue, run the version with sound to see and hear what your audience is going to see and hear. Then start testing the various files without sound to see which works best on that system. Ask the venue to save the final choice to the computer running their projector. Make a note of the filename on your flash drive, which you’ll take to the concert as a backup. Check the lighting conditions required for the audience to see the screen. I learned that I would need to practice playing the piece in near darkness for the audience to see the images well. I was glad that I happened to test the slideshow about the same time of day as the concert was scheduled, so I could see how dark the stage would be on the day itself.

Find out if you can watch a monitor while playing the piece. I chose not to, because I felt it would distract me. I had my hands full playing in the dark on this first effort at a slideshow presentation. However, you may find a monitor helpful to fine-tune the timing of your performance.

Performing with the slideshow: Arrange for the person who will run the slideshow to attend the warmup, and allow time in the warmup to play the entire piece. At this point, it’s too late to do much if you encounter a problem, and you may just have to make the best of it, or abandon the slideshow if the problems are severe. The first time I ever do anything, I consider it a learning experience. If it works well, that’s icing on the cake. Don’t expect professional lighting or technical support, unless you perform in a venue with professional audio-visual technicians and stage lighting system. Your helper is most likely a volunteer, and may or may not have good troubleshooting skills.

Record your performance, extract the audio from the video file, and set it as a soundtrack to the slideshow to review what the audience saw and heard. You can do this in iMovie or other video editing software. Then go back to your slideshow file and adjust it as necessary.

Example: Here’s the final slideshow, which I’ve posted to YouTube with permission of the copyright holder. This example slideshow includes a copyright notice, which was added for the YouTube posting, not part of the original presentation. The resolution is also less refined, to allow for faster viewing. The soundtrack is from the live performance, ringing in the dark!


Copyright © 2013 Nancy Kirkner,