The Making of the Dream

 


The Making of the Dream

From behind the shutter

Disneyland is our routine gateway. Seven hours drive for guaranteed mind floss. But what is it about Disneyland that makes it so unique? Is it the claim to be the “Happiest place on Earth”, its size, its colors and music, its creativity, its shows and rides, or simply the opportunity to spend family time?

All of the above is probably true to some degrees, but Disneyland is for me also a photo paradise. Between people, lights, shapes and colors of all sorts, water, smokes and night shows, there is not a minute without a great photo op.

Toontown is no exception, and I always found the fake 2D-ish background hills fascinating. Their size and perspective merge perfectly with the (real) sky and (real) clouds. It creates a unique tension between reality and fiction. Is the sky real? Are the hills real?

During our last trip, I tried to capture that tension. Here is the original and un-edited shot:

Original: Nikon D90 • Nikkor 70-210mm f/4
100mm • 1/3200s • f/6.3 • ISO 400
2.21.2012 3:35PM

Note that I used a high speed (1/3200s for no visible motion effect) and a good depth of field (f/6.3 to reduce the sense of distance) to reduce the visual references to the reality of dimensions and perspective.

But this image remains to me un-finished. It doesn’t express my feeling of the place. So, I felt the urge to explore and play with it, like a sculptor would do with clay. How to express the feeling? What visual techniques are available? What would work, what would not work?

And wait, there is more… can a creative work alter the very reality of the memory I have of the place itself? Can a photo I took be modified to the point where it creates a new reality that never existed in the first place?

After all, Walt Disney said once “Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.

And so I let the dream come to me. How did the idea come to me? I don’t know, it just came. Suddenly I saw the final image before my eyes, the image of the dream coming true through the hand of the craftsman. The hand of the designer who once made Toontown come to reality, or the hand of the photographer recreating the dream while adding an other layer of tension to the perception of reality.

Once the idea is there, time to execute… and sometimes details are tough to control. A few pixels can make the all difference at the end of the day. I used Photoshop CS5 for this project.

I first took a picture of my hand, nothing fancy, handheld, over the kitchen table.

Original: Nikon D90 • Nikkor 18-70mm
35mm • 1/100s • f/9.0 • ISO 640
4.22.2012 4:06PM

Steps to integrate the hand over the photo:

  • Flipped the hand horizontally
  • Created a mask to isolate the hand from the background
  • Used a hue/saturation effect layer over the pencil using a mask to match the color of the photo
  • Used a curve effect layer to brighten a bit the inside of the hand
  • … and some man-icure touch-up

I then added a paper background texture to create a canvas. The canvas is an important part of the image, it turns the photo into a drawing and helps create a continuity between the image and the image-to-come.

I also created a mask to create the perception that the drawing is in progress. I used a pressure sensitive tablet and stylus and a pencil-like brush to create the mask. The mask is applied to the texture layer, and the see-through effect achieved using a “multiply” blending mode to the photo placed under the texture layer. Here is a close-up view of the edge of the mask of the texture layer:

I then added a few more details 

  • Added a shadow under the hand
  • Added a shadow behind the lead
  • Added a shadow behind the lower part of the pencil
  • Added a light reflection on the lead

To finalize the image, I added a light vignetting that darkens the outside of the image. It helps add some unity between the different elements (along with the background texture). It also helps the eye focus on the main focal point which is the lead of the pencil.

Here is the final layer palette in Photoshop:

And here is the final image:

The Making of the Dream

 

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Building a custom Photoshop computer

I have been using Photoshop from version 1 in early 1990 and before that photo editing software such as SuperMac’s PixelPaint and Electronic Art’s Studio 8. Even before in the late 80s I was using photo editing software on an Amiga, which had the first affordable photo editing tools.

For more than 20 years, I always had to experience technical limitations. Most of the limitations are hardware based and include:

  • Image quality (screen resolution, color resolution)
  • Processing speed of edits (CPU and graphic card performance)
  • Storage (limited number simultaneously available)
  • Time to load the software
  • Time to open and save large file
  • and more recently the noise from the computer

I have been hearing about PC gamers building their own custom system tuned for the games they play. And so came the idea to design and spec a custom machine optimized for my photo workflow.

Here are the specs:

  • Over powered to run Photoshop, Digital Lightroom, and Picasa
  • Silent
  • Affordable (under $1,500 for the computer only)
  • Scalable

I didn’t find any machine from Dell or HP with these requirements. They were most underpowered and too noisy.

I did some research online and found some companies who are specialized in high end machines, some even focusing on high end and silent machines.

I can recommend for example Puget Systems. They are very professional, and help you review your requirements and recommend the best configuration. They also have lots of experience shipping custom systems. Shipping is very sensitive when it comes to custom systems, mostly because of heavy CPU coolers. If you are interested in a silent system, one line of product they have is called Serenity and run at 11dba. Unfortunately, the price of such configuration runs around $2,500, about twice much as what I’m willing to pay.

For more references, check the reference section at the end of this post.

After doing some research I found out that Photo editing software require:

  • Lots of CPU power
  • Lots of fast RAM
  • Fast hard drive
  • not much video card power (at least much less than video editing)

I opted for the following components:

http://www.logitech.com/en-us/mice-pointers/mice/devices/5870
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Printing photo enlargements at Costco Photo Center – FAQ

I receive many follow-up questions after I posted my previous article which describes how to print fine art photography at Costco.

Read the full article Read full article “Printing photo enlargements at Costco Photo Center

I started this Q&A to offer a quick way to address some of the basic questions regarding printing photo enlargements and fine art at Costco.

Feel free to ask questions using the commenting box located at the end of the page.

 

DISCLAIMER: THIS SITE IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH COSTCO, NOR DO I RECEIVE ANY BENEFITS FROM COSTCO. THIS SITE IS MEANT TO SHARE MY (POSITIVE) PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH A PRINTING VENDOR. THE INFORMATION BELOW IS PROVIDED AS IS.

General questions

Q: Do I need a Costco membership to print at Costco?
A: Yes, Costco requires you have a valid Costco membership to print through their online service or directly at the Costco Stores. Costco memberships are valid for 1 year and start at $50.00.

Q: Does Costco print photos locally?
A: Most photos can be printed at your local Photo Center. You can submit the files online and select the store you want them to be picked up. You can also directly bring the files on a CD or a thumb and print them at the local store.
If you as your photos to be delivered by mail, then the photos are being processed in one of the Costco “printing farms”. Also, some prints cannot be processed by the local Photo Centers. It the case for Canvas and over sized posters for example.

Q: How Long does it take to print photos submitted online?
A: Most of the time within 2 business hours when submitted online and picked up at the local store. When you submit the photos online, the site gives a pickup time. Note that sometimes the photos are ready much earlier.

Q: Do you have to pick up Costco photo at exact time?
A: I had some luck in the past where photos were ready before the estimated time. Over the past 5 years, I ordered about 200 enlargements and they were never late. I don’t know how long Costco holds the photos in store for you after they are ready. I suggest you call them at

Q: Is there anything printed on the back of the photo, like the Costco name or logo?
A: Sometimes you may want to sell your photos and don’t want your customers know that you printed them at Costco… sounds familiar? There are good news… The images I had printed on the Epson 7880 did have any marking on the back, not even the Fuji paper branding. When you print on the Noritsu, you have some options at checkout time, to what you want to be printed (ex: order number only, order number and image name, order number and a short custom text such as a copyright, etc). Note that the Fuji Crystal paper used on the Noritsu also display the “Fujifilm FujicolorCrystalArchive Paper” pattern marking.

Image format, print workflow and settings

Q: What is the best image format to upload for prints
A: You will get excellent results most of the time using a JPEG file format. If you have an advanced application and know what you are doing, you can submit files in TIFF format. You will not be able to upload RAW images generated directly by your camera. You will have to convert them into JPEG first. If you use Photoshop, you will also have to save first in JPEG (highest quality possible/minimum compression).
Read the full article Read full article

Q: What photo settings to print at Costco?
A: Once you submit your photos in JPEG high quality, you want to make sure you select the “Do not auto-correct my prints” option. It’s available on the last step of your online order.
Read the full article Read full article

Q: How to assign Costco printer profile to Adobe Lightroom?
A: Once you have downloaded the color profile of one of the Costco printers on your computer, you can preview your photos in Lightroom using any of the printer profiles. To downloaed the Costco printer profiles, refer to the following instructions. To preview your images using the printer profile, go there.

Q: What should I do with the Costco photo auto correction setting?
A: This is, in my experience, one of the most important setting to insure fine art photography printing. You want to make sure that Costco DOES NOT auto-correct your images. The option is available on the last step of your online order and is labeled “Do not auto-correct my prints”.
Read the full article Read full article

Q: How to make the best best of Costco printing?
A: Cotsco is no magic and will print pretty accurately what is being sent to them. This is true if you print using your own printer or use an online provider (Shutterfly, Cotsco, etc).
I wrote a detailed tutorial on how to get the best out of Cotsco printing.
Read the full article Read full article

Q: How to print in monochrome at Costco?
A:The Costco website allows you to convert your image to a monochrome or sepia version of your uploaded color image. Those effects do not have any controls though. I have never used them and would only recommend them if you are desperate. The best outcome would be to prepare your monochrome image in Photoshop, Lightroom, or any other photo editing application. One tip regarding the printing of monochrome images: the Noritsu printers will sometimes add a color cast (green or purple), you want to print on the Epson 7880 Inkjet, which has multiple black inks. Here is how to make sure your image will be printed on the Epson.

Q: Do I need to use Costco printer profile?
A: I had excellent results printing fine art photography at Costco without downloading the profiles for their printers. Now, if you have a color management workflow (calibrated monitor, previewing unsing printer profiles, etc), then you may want to know that DryCreek, the company who develops the profiles for Costco, makes their profiles available for free. First find out which Costco photo center you are using, then which printer at that center your photos are going to be printed on, and download the corresponding profile. The profiles can be used to preview in Photoshop or in Lightroom how the image is going to be printed. Note: the profile does not need to be embedded into the file submitted to Costco.

Q: How do I make sure Costco prints have similar colors to what I see on my screen?
A: Professionals recommend to have a robust color workflow in place in order to have the least surprises between what you see on the screen and the actual print. Color workflow includes callibrating your monitor, and installing a printer profile. Having a good monitor is also a very important step. I have been using a Dell Latitude D810 Laptop which has an excellent 1920×1020 (yes, that’s correct) display and consistently get very close prints to what I see on the screen. Many professional photographers still don’t want to hear about it!
See other Q&A above for mode details regarding getting the Costco printer profiles.

Q: How can I print directly to Costco from adobe Lightroom?
A: AlloyPhoto has developed a plugin for Lightroom that allows to submit your photos directly from Lightroom to Costco. You can find the plugin at this link: Export to Costco Photo Center (US) and here to print to Costco in Canada: Export to Costco Photo Centre (Canada)

Sizes, Prices, and Resolution

Q: What are the Costco print sizes and prices?
A: Here are some of the sizes and prices offered by Costco as of October 2010. For accurate sizes and pricing, please refer to the Costco.com website.
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Paper Size Price
8 x 10 $1.49 ea
8 x 12 $1.49 ea
11 x 14 $2.99 ea
12 x 12 $2.99 ea
12 x 18 $2.99 ea
16 x 20 $5.99 ea
20 x 30 $8.99 ea

Q: What if Costco doesn’t offer the size I need?
Q: How do I resize images before printing them at Costco?
A: It’s often the case that you need to print a photo at a size not offered by Costco. The trick is to place your photo on a canvas or document that matches one of the sizes offered by Costco. For example, if you need to print a 14×14 image (that format is not offered by Costco), you will first need to place it on a blank (any color) 16×20 document (that dimension is offered by Costco) . Once the image of printed, you can cut the extra space to keep your 14×14 image. That process can easily be done in Adobe Photoshop.
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Q: What happens if I submit a photo that doesn’t have the same aspect ratio as the dimension offered by Costco?
A: First I strongly recommend that you always submit a photo that matches exactly the same aspect ratio as the dimensions offered by Costco. But if you don’t, the website will display a warning indicating that some of your image will be cropped. You will be able to select which part you prefer to be cropped using a mini editor.
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Q: What sizes does Costco print?
A: The following paper size are available in both lustre and glossy:
4×6, 5×7, 8 x 10, 8 x 12, 11 x 14, 12 x 12, 12 x 18
The following paper size are available in lustre only:
16 x 20, 20 x 30
Those options are available in the shopping cart.

Q: How big can you make a photo print at costco photo?
A: The largest photo size available through Costco is 20×30, and will most likely be printed on an Epson 7880.
Note that if you are looking for a larger display, their prints on canvas goes up to 16×48 (for $99.00).

Q: What resolution or number of pixels do I need when printing at Costco?
A:For a more detailed answer concerning image resolutions and number of pixels, please refer to this article.
Here is a summary of the minimum and recommended number of pixels for images printed at Costco.
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Print size Minimum resolution
between 115 and 180ppi
(recommended by Costco)
Recommended resolution:
300 or 320ppi for a Noritsu 3111
(recommended by DryCreekPhoto)
8 x 10 1150×920 pixels 2400×3000 pixels
8 x 12 1380×920 pixels 2400×3600 pixels
11 x 14 1610×1265 pixels 3300×4200 pixels
12 x 12 1380×1380 pixels 3600×3600 pixels
12 x 18 2070×1380 pixels 3600×5400 pixels
16 x 20 2300×1840 pixels 4800x6000pixels
20 x 30 3450×2300 pixels 6000×9000 pixels

Q: Why does Costco crops my photos even if the aspect ratio is already correct?
A: I have printed many enlargements at Costco and the only cropping that I have noticed rarely exceeds a few pixels. Once the paper was slightly slanted and they re-printed the image right away for me (they have access to your image file). So, if you have noticed noticable cropping, and that you are sure that your file is exactly the same aspect ratio of the size of the photo paper, then share your experience in the comment box below for others to learn from.

Q: How do upload the full resolution of my image to Costco?
A: When uploading your image to Costco (on the costco.com website), make sure that you select the “Full resolution” option in the uploader user interface. Otherwise, the uploader application will re-sample your images assuming you most probably want to print a 4×6 or a 5×7 image.

Q: How to make Costco prints actual size?
A: It is possible to print actual size images at Costco. As a matter of fact, I only print actual size because of the very precise dimensions I need the image to be when placed behind a gallery mat. That being said, I have sometimes experienced a 1% enlargement.
To print actual size, use Adobe Photoshop, or any advanced image editing software. I have some steps by steps instructions there.
Read the full article Read full article

Q: Does Costco print on Canvas?
A: Yes, Costco offers prints on Canvas. Here is the description you can find on their website: “Gallery wrapped” – ready to hang,  Special “fine art” protective coating, UV light protection, Prevents fading and cracking, Easy to clean, Available for warehouse pick-up in 5-10 business days, Available for mail back (delivered in 6-12 business days).
The price varies from $29.99 for a 8×10, to $54.99 for a 18×24 and $99.99 for a 16×48.The following Canvas sizes are available: 8×10, 11×14, 12×16, 16×20, 18×24, 20×30, 24×32, 14×14, 16×32, 16×48

Q: What is the quality of canvas printed at Costco?
A: The quality is excellent. The shipping is excellent, the canvas is shipped mounted in a robust packaging. You may want to know that Costco is not printing the canvas. The canvases are being printed by an independent company specialized in printing fine art on canvas. the company name is “Get Your Photos On Canvas“. Ordering them through Costco is much cheaper than ordering directly on Get your Photos on Canvas, almost half price!
For printing on canvas, Costco beats again the market in term of ratio price/quality.
For those who are curious, here is a series of photos of the canvas print lab (found on their Flicker page) the assembly of the stretcher bars, the printers, the shipping, and so on.
And an article on USA Today.

Q: What printer Costco uses to print on canvas?
A: I believe that Costco uses the Roland Hi-Fi JET PRO II – FJ-540 printers. I’m making that assumption based on a photo of the printing facility of their provider. Although note that this photo was taken in 2006 and Get Your Photos On Canvas may now be using some more recent equipment.

Photo paper available

<<coming next>>

Costco lustre or glossy print difference
Lustre vs. glossy
Costco photo center fujicolor crystal archive
Photo paper used at Costco photo center
Does Costco print mat prints

<p>Based on the success on my previous article which describes how to print fine art photography at Costco, I have received many questions.</p> 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

<p>I have listed some of the most frequently asked questions below hoping you can find some answers more quickly.</p>

<p>Happy printing!</p>

<p>

</p>

<h2><strong>General questions</strong></h2>

<p><strong>Q: Do I need a Costco </strong><strong>membership to print at Costco?</strong><br />
A: Yes, Costco requires you have a valid Costco membership to print through their online service or directly at the Costco Stores. <a href=”http://shop.costco.com/membership/join-costco” target=”_blank”>Costco memberships</a> are valid for 1 year and start at $50.00.</p>

<p><strong>Q: Does Costco print photos locally?</strong><br />
A: Most photos can be printed at your local Photo Center. You can submit the files online and select the store you want them to be picked up. You can also directly bring the files on a CD or a thumb and print them at the local store.</p>

<p><strong>Q: How Long does it take to print photos submitted online?</strong><br />
A: Most of the time under 1.5h. When you submit the photos online, the site gives an estimated time (with a 10 minute precision window). Sometimes I needed the photos earlier and went to the store 30 minutes before the estimated time and the photos were already ready for pickup.</p>

<p><strong>Q: Do you have to pick up Costco photo at exact time?</strong><br />
A: I had some luck in the past where photos were ready before the estimated time. Over the past 5 years, I ordered about 200 enlargements and they were never late. I don’t know how long Costco holds the photos in store for you after they are ready. I suggest you call them at</p>

<h2><strong>Image format, computer and print settings</strong></h2>

<p><strong>Q: What is the best image format to upload for prints</strong><br />
A: You will get excellent results most of the time using a JPEG file format. If you have an advanced application and know what you are doing, you can submit files in TIFF format. You will not be able to upload RAW images generated directly by your camera. You will have to convert them into JPEG first. If you use Photoshop, you will also have to save first in JPEG (highest quality possible/minimum compression).</p>

<p><strong>Q: What photo settings to print at Costco?</strong><br />
A: Once you submit your photos in JPEG high quality, you want to make sure you select the “Do not auto-correct my prints” option. It’s available on the last step of your online order.</p>

<p><strong>Q: How to assign Costco printer profile to Adobe Lightroom?</strong><br />
A: Once you have downloaded the color profile of one of the Costco printers on your computer, you can preview your photos in Lightroom using any of the printer profiles. To downloaed the Costco printer profiles, refer to the <a href=”http://photsy.com/blog/?p=457#printers”>following instructions</a>. To preview your images using the printer profile, <a href=”http://help.adobe.com/en_US/Lightroom/3.0/Using/WS268F3399-80B2-4169-A598-04C7F769FFA0.html” target=”_blank”>go there</a>.</p>

<p><strong>Q: What should I do with the Costco photo auto correction setting?</strong><br />
A: This is, in my experience, one of the most important setting to insure fine art photography printing. You want to make sure that Costco DOES NOT auto-correct your images. The option is available on the last step of your online order and is labeled “Do not auto-correct my prints”.</p>

<p><strong>Q: How to make the best best of costco printing?</strong><br />
A: Cotsco is no magic and will print pretty accurately what is being sent to them. This is true if you print using your own printer or use an online provider (Shutterfly, Cotsco, etc).<br />
I wrote a detailed tutorial on <a href=”http://photsy.com/blog/?p=457#printers”>how to get the best out of Cotsco printing</a>.</p>

<p><strong>Q: How to print in monochrome at Costco?</strong><br />
A:The Costco website allows you to convert your image to a monochrome or sepia version of your uploaded color image. Those effects do not have any controls though. I have never used them and would only recommend them if you are desperate. The best outcome would be to prepare your monochrome image in Photoshop, Lightroom, or any other photo editing application. One tip regarding the printing of monochrome images: the Noritsu printers will sometimes add a color cast (green or purple), you want to print on the Epson 7880 Inkjet, which has multiple black inks. Here is how to make sure <a href=”http://photsy.com/blog/?p=457#printers”>your image will be printed on the Epson</a>.</p>

<p><strong>Q: Do I need to use Costco printer profile?</strong><br />
A: I had excellent results printing fine art photography at Costco without downloading the profiles for their printers. Now, if you have a color management workflow (calibrated monitor, previewing unsing printer profiles, etc), then you may want to know that DryCreek, the company who develops the profiles for Costco, makes their profiles available for free. First find out which Costco photo center you are using, then which printer at that center your photos are going to be printed on, and <a href=”http://www.drycreekphoto.com/icc/” target=”_blank”>download the corresponding profile</a>.  The profiles can be used to preview in Photoshop or in Lightroom how the image is going to be printed. Note: the profile does not need to be embedded into the file submitted to Costco.</p>

<h2><strong>Sizes and Prices</strong></h2>

<p>costco print sizes and prices<br />
costco photo sizes costs<br />
costco photo 10 x 8 photo<br />
how much costco 8 x 11 photo prints?<br />
costco photo crop sizes</p>

<h2><strong>Sizes and Resolution</strong></h2>

<p>what size does Costco photo print<br />
how big can you make a photo print at costco photo<br />
resizing/sizing photos for costco printing<br />
costco photo enlargements resolution<br />
photo enlargements minimum pixels<br />
what resolution do i need for costco pictures<br />
costco photo crops even if aspect ratio already correct<br />
upload full resolution to costco<br />
any way to make Costco prints actual size</p>

<h2><strong>Quality</strong></h2>

<p>making sure costco prints have similar color to what I see on my screen<br />
costco canvas print quality</p>

<h2><strong>Paper</strong></h2>

<p>COSTCO lustre or glossy print difference<br />
lustre vs. glossy<br />
costco photo center fujicolor crystal archive<br />
photo paper used at costco photo center<br />
does costco print mat prints<br />
does Costco print on Canvas?</p>

<p><br class=”spacer_” /></p>

<p><br class=”spacer_” /></p>

Posted in Printing | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

The Art of Photo Story

This post describes some technical and creative considerations when creating a photo slideshow. Although it is written for photographers, it can be used by anyone interested in making or understanding photo slideshows.

The post contains several sample of slideshows made by several artists. They are used to illustrate the concepts I describe. I believe that examples are the best way of experiencing some key creative concepts, especially when an author successfully convey an emotion that goes beyond the mere collection of visual artifacts.

This post was created based on a presentation on the subject I gave to the members of the Palo Alto Camera Club in September 2010.

Some Background

This post is influenced by some of my professional experience in digital media. In 1989, I was involved with a large European project which consisted in creating an experimental modern interpretation of a Middle Age manuscript, Le Roman de Fauvel. I had the chance to work with a great artiste, Joelle de la Casiniere, who had a great influence on my career. The project consisted in inventing a new visual form using the time-based nature of video, and the composition tools that the computers in the late 80s were offering us. It was a study of the relation between text being read and narrative, a study of notes on a partition and interpreted music, the orchestration on a time line of a flock of visual elements.

That project lead to the design of an animation software called Object Dancer (which I happened to design the user interface). For those who remember, Object Dancer was a Mac software in the mid 90s and a direct competitor to what became Macromedia Flash (now part of Adobe) and Adobe After Effects. I even managed to get a patent on kinetic typography out of that project.

Later on in my career, I designed or was involved with more digital media authoring tools when I was managing the Product Design group at Adobe Systems, then at Roxio (“The Digital Media Company”), and most recently at Filmloop.

Some conceptual considerations

A photo slideshow is a method to present a collection of photographs. The main difference between a series of photographs and a photo slideshow is the time based nature of the photo shideshow. It introduces a large array of creative options usually not part of the art of photography.

Photos are by nature considered a “static” medium, one where the viewer “takes his/her time” to observe and depict the visual construction to eventually interpret a story. The photograph is present before the viewer looks at it, and still present after the viewer is done viewing. In that regard, a photograph belongs to the same class of static art-ifacts than painting, collage, sculpture, architecture, products, furniture, etc.

A photo slideshow, or, for that matter any type of slide shows, is time-based with a Start-time and an end-time. A photo slideshow assumes that the viewer will be present for a defined period of time. The slideshow belongs to the same class of art-ifacts as music, dance, theater, movie, storytelling, and to some extend sport performances such as games and competitions.

There are fundamental differences between authoring for a static medium and authoring for time-based medium:

Static medium Time-based medium
Example Photography, Sculpture, Music, Dance, Theater, Movie
Nature of the medium Monodimensional, Space, 2D, 3D Multi-dimensional, Space and Time
Primary execution focus Best use of the physical space Best use of the time/duration
Storytelling constraints Rely on the viewer interpretative skill Use time to tell story
Audio none Sounds tracks, sound effects, loops, music, narration

Start with the basic of photo slideshow

Starting with a simple slideshow design gives the insurance that your photos will keep the center-stage of the presentation. I have seen many times over-done slideshows which take over the power of the image and that of any message or story that the photographer intended.

Like when putting together a photo exhibit or a photo portfolio, the cohesive message of the group of images remains the core of the exercise. One needs to be clearly intentional about what it is that is being communicated to the audience.

More than with a photo portfolio or with a photo exhibit, every inconsistencies in the series of images and anything that doesn’t intentionally serves your point will immediately distract the viewer and the attention will be drawn by the mechanics of the slideshow instead of being captured by the beauty of your visual narration.

Definition of a photo slideshow

Here are two definitions I created. I’m sure there must be plenty of other definitions all around, but those are designed with the photographer in mind:

Basic definition
A visual sequence of still images set in time and space with optional text and sound.

Advanced definition
A story conveyed with still images using a unique language. As such, it is evolving into an art form.

Why making a photo slideshow?

Basic reason
As a photographer, a photo slideshow might be a way to present a portfolio, a photo essay, or some other catalog of images that share some sort of common theme. A slideshow may very much be thought as an alternative way to put together a photo exhibit or a photo book.

Advanced reason
But photo slideshows are also a growing art form. Photo slideshows can be used as a medium on its own right to tell stories, create art, share social and political opinions and all of what other art form allow. In that regard, photo slideshows can stand up against books, movies, photographs, songs, or theater plays.

In order to successfully achieve such an ambitious goal, one will have to master the language of the slideshow, all the technical aspects, and focus on the creation of the story. The photos in that context become the matter of the slideshow, they serve its message.

Authoring a photo slideshow

Basic authoring
Use the following steps to create a basic photo slideshow (it will take you about a couple of hours including some tweaking):

  1. Select 15 to 30 images
  2. Sequence them to insure some sense of continuity using a slideshow software (see list below)
  3. Stay away from all the software effects, bells and whistles and use only the basics
  4. Preview, adjust, and save your slideshow
Title: Art of Photography - Cole Thompson
Author:
moonlightnoir
Description:
a simple portfolio of photographer Cole Thompson
What I like: fade to black transitions to separate the images, focus on the images, light music doesn't interfere with the images. Some basic synchronization with piano notes.
The variable pace breaks the monotonic rhythm. The intro slide and the extro credit are simple and nicely done.
What could be improved: better consistency of format of images, although the use of fade-to-black transitions reduces the impact.

Advanced authoring
Creating a phenomenological experience through a slideshow requires to be intentional about the expected message. Like with other medium, one needs to concentrate on the core message and purpose of the creation ahead of us.

To become art, the language of the slideshow, the steps, the elements, the technique, need to disappear or fusion to let the expression and the message take over.
This endeavor can take a lot of work and a lot of time. Powerful photo slideshows can take days, weeks or months to see the light.

Title: Crumbling Romance, Undying Hope
Author: Jon Truei
Description: example of a photo slideshow designed to tell a story
From the artist:December 2008
This is my final presentation for my visual frame and sequence semester, consisting entirely of 35mm stills shot on a Nikon FM10. It is based upon the haiku included at the end of the sequence of stills, and edited to the music of Yiruma's "River Flows in You."
What I like: Strong story, nice use of music, illustration of a Haiku. I like the use of different animation effects to serve the story and to guide the viewer. The consistent use of the space is core to the basic rules of consistency.
What could be improved: not much!.

Consistency rule

When it comes to animation and motion in general, the eye and brain are wired to detect changes and differences first and foremost. there was once an installation at the San Francisco Discovery Museum to experience this behavior. The installation was made of 2 images taken in a street within a few seconds of interval. The difference between the 2 images was limited to a different position of cars and people. When the 2 images were being displayed one after the other, the difference between the 2 images were obvious, instant. When the same 2 images were being displayed with a transition to black, it was almost impossible for the brain to register the differences.

In a photo slideshow, all differences between an image and the previous one are being highly amplified.

The control of the consistency is critical when authoring a photoslideshow.

Here are some aspects of consistency to consider:

  • Borders
  • Colors
  • Light source, brightness
  • Orientation
  • Scale
  • Quality
  • Composition
  • Position
  • Perspective
  • Aspect ratio
  • Visual style
  • Depth of field

Pace and Synchronization

Basic
Start with 20 to 100 images, give them 3 to 5 seconds each.

Add a sound track such as a music, use an option if available from your slideshow software to “fit to music”. This feature will spread the duration of the images in time to fit the duration of the music track. If your music track is about 3 minutes long (180 seconds), use about 45 images (4 seconds each).

Try to stay within 2 and 10 minutes for your first photo slideshows.

Advanced
If you are ready to explore more advanced pacing of your photo slideshow, then start with the soundtrack and build your image story on top of it.

Also, you can change the duration of each image to give them a richer pace. But do it with intention so that it serves your narrative plot. Change also the duration of the images so that it fits the tempo and the events of your sound track. Some slideshow software have a feature called “beat matching” which will adjust the images to appear/disapear in rhythm with the audio track.

Layout and presentation

Basic layout
An easy win when creating your first photo slideshow is to fill-in the canvas of the slideshow real estate. For example, if your canvas is 1024 x 768 pixels, then always he images. This means that you will have to “crop-to-fit” most of your images. This technique will address one of the most distracting lack of consistency: aspect ratio and image dimensions.

Depending on the software that you use, you may want to try to use some basic slideshow “Templates“. Templates can be more or less advanced piece of software that will take your images and assemble them in time and space for you based on some pre-defined rules set by the creators of the software. Usually, the more advanced the template, the less control you have to adjust, tweak, and modify it.  Templates can be a good starting point to help you understand better what you want and what you don’t want.

Pan and zoom is a visual effect that has been used in motion graphics for ages. Apple introduced it as a pre-canned effect in its iMovie 3 and named it the “Ken Burns effect” after Ken Burns for his notorious use of the technique in his documentaries. Here is an example of a documentary from Ken Burns.

the problem with the pan and zoom effects need to be controlled precisely in order to make sense. Otherwise, and despite of the advanced technology in face detection and other smart “stuff”, your animation will tell the viewer that this is all “random”.

Advanced layout
Once you are ready to explore more complex layout and use of the visual space, you can experiment with different dimensions of the images. But only with a clear intention.

You can also explore compositions using more than a single concurrent image, using either a template from the software or a software that supports multiple video tracks. Each image in the composition can have a different lifespan, a different way of coming in and getting out of the composition. they can have transparency effects, etc.

Another vector of exploration is the use of video snippets. Even if we are talking about a photo slideshow, why not incorporating very short video segments, which come with their own audio track and pace. They could be treated as images as well in the way they are sequenced and inserted within the rest of the flow.

Title: Airstream Gathering
Author: travel photographer Alison Turner more about Alison
Description: example of a photo slideshow using pan and zoom (Ken Burns effect). The slideshow is about people and a the event, and the effects are used to convey that message.
From the artist: Alison Turner traveled to Jackson Center, Ohio to be the official photographer for Alumapalooza. Airstream owners from around the world came together for their love of the trailers and to have some fun getting to know each other.
What I like: Strong story, we are carried into the event. Consistency across the images
What could be improved: The text effect in the extro is not consistent with the rest, and the slideshow ends brutally.

Soundtrack

The sound track can be one of the most powerful component of the photo slideshow. and yet, as photographers, we are not as savvy when it comes to audio, sound, music, tempo, voice over, dubbing, sound editing, multiplexing, multi tracking, filters, audio file formats, sampling, recording techniques, copyrights, and all of what makes an entire industry of artists and technicians.

And that’s ok 😉

The sound track is the most important ingredient used to achieve the continuity across the visual. That’s because of the intrinsic linear and time-based nature of that media.

I need to mention here that the world of music copyright is pretty tricky, when you buy a song, you don’t own it, you only own a certain right to do something very limited: listing to it. and even that is restricted to certain device. That being said, you should know the rules and use your own judgment.

Basic soundrack
Let’s start with the basic. Select a music or a sound track that you feel will work for your project and place it in your slideshow software.
Then preview and adjust the duration and the pace (see chapter above on that topic).
I then suggest that you pay special attention to the end of the slideshow. Make sure that the audio and the visual end in harmony. Below is an example of how a poorly managed end can ruin a nicely done slideshow.

Advanced soundrack

Once you are getting familiar with the basic, explore the use of sound effects overlay. Those are natural sounds such as sounds of the city, the everyday life, people screaming or laughing, or sounds of machines, and other creaking sounds. when carefully placed over your music track, they help re-enforce your story. Poorly used and they distract the viewer from the story.

Title: 12:54
Author: Melissa Balan
Description: example of the use of sound effects to help carry the dramtic plot of the story.
From the artist: my final project for Frame and Sequence, an introductory course in still photography with the Film & Television program at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, taken in spring 2009 It was photographed with a Nikon FM10 and edited on Final Cut Pro
What I like: Strong story, simplicity of the execution, use of sound effect
What could be improved: The pace feels slow at times.

Use of dramatic music track.

Title: Magnum photography
Author: edmondedmond84
Description: a photojournalism portfolio from Magnum
What I like: use of music track (Saints from Swayzak) What can be improved: It's not clear if all images are from Magnum. Although the music creates a sense of continuity, some synchronization could help. Some inconsistency in image presentation and poor ending.
Title: Hardkor 44 - Trailer - 2010
Author: Tomasz Bagi?ski
Description: example of the use of sound effects to help carry the dramtic plot of the story.
From the artist: The film will be the debut feature from Platige Image, and director Tomek Baginski. Co-produced by the Warsaw Uprising Museum it will be a sci-fi re-imagining of the events of the Warsaw Uprising in World War II and, if the concept art is anything to judge by, it will have healthy steampunk overtones.
What I like: Strong intro with title and music, use of the music to carry the the visual drama. Interesting inflextion point at the middle of the slideshow with the "pause"
What could be improved: Inconsistent use of images, some concept images have the movie logo on it, the visual inconsistencies in the first part are distracting away from the concept.

Another advanced use of the soundtrack is  voice over. Voice over can provide a strong foundation for your story, as well as providing additional information to the viewer.

Some music resources
There is a growing number of sound tracks, sound effects, and even full music albums created by many artists around the world licensed under the Creative Common Audio Licenses. Many of those artists are offering their work as free to use, re-use, edit, and even re-sell. Many websites have now grown around that business, offering places for artists to list their work.

Here are some places you can find great free and legal audio and music files:

Here are a few sample sound bites that I randomly picked:

Transitions

The term transition is used here to refer to the technique used to replace one visual with another. Since in a photo slideshow the brain sees mostly the difference between one image and the previous one, the transitions are very important resources available to re-enforce or alleviate differences or similarities between images.

Basic transitions
I suggest to start with applying the same transitions across the entire slideshow to start with and to use an identical duration of transitions for all images.

Use and stick to the following transitions, avoid to use any of the “creative” or “rich” transition effects that slideshow software tend to offer. They are of no use in achieving a professional photo slideshow. There are three transition effects available:

  • Fade-to-black, mostly used to increased drama and to conveniently hide a lack of consistency between images. Can also be used between sequences like to mark a chapter. Fade-to-black transitions are made out of fading out the image to a black screen and fading in the next image.
  • Straight cut, also used to increase drama, it brings the next image without a progressive fade in of the next image. Images come in brutally one right after the previous.
  • Cross fade, to be used to give a sense of continuity. Lack of consistency between images will be increased and can distract away from the story. One image fades out while the next one fades in.

Advanced transitions
As you get more comfortable with using transitions, I still suggest to stick to the three basic fade-to-black, straight cut, and cross fade. You might want to explore what other transitions could do to help support your story, but keep it under control!

Also, it’s time to try different durations of transitions across the photo slideshow. You may also try variations of the basic transition effects. For example, image A could fade out to black while image B could enter with a straight cut. Again, it depends what your story says at that very moment. Are you changing subject? Is this a new scene? Is this a surprising moment for the viewer?

Transitions can also mirror the sound track by creating visual parallelism to the pace set by the audio.

Title: Bourne Free 2010
Author: Mark Rigler
Description: example of the use of complex transitions.
From the artist: Bourne Free - A gay pride march in sleeply Bournemouth! Wot ever next! Bourne Free was originally set up in 2002 when a far right organisation was due to come to Bournemouth [England] and preach that homosexuality was wrong.
What I like: use of rich transition and music, good title intro and extro credit, use of photo title, good pace
What could be improved: Lack of story. It also contradicts my preaching of only using basic transition effects ;-)

Intro & Extro slides

Intro and extro slides are simple additions to open/start and close/end a photo slideshow. Like with every time-based stories, you want to start with a clear beginning and end with a clear ending. Think of the beginning and the end of a song, a movie, a play, or even a sport event.

Basic Intro & Extro slides
Start you first slideshow with a slide that contains the title of your photo slideshow, the name of the author (that would be you), and optionally a date and maybe a brief context such as “A fairy tale” or “A national event organized by ABC”.

End your slideshow with “The End” slide. This technique remains the most powerful and obvious to your viewer. Add another slide with a credit which may include some information about the music and a thank you note to people you may have helped you. And don’t forget to end the music at the same time.

Advanced Intro & Extro slides
More advanced titling techniques include the use of image background, using a photo with a large uniform area over which the text can be overlaid. The design of those slides can take a lot of time, finding the right typography is an art in itself.

You may want to explore animation techniques such as vertical text scrolling to emulate a movie-style credit at the end of the slideshow.

Title: Street Photography London
Author: photographer Ronya Galka
Description: example of the use of an intro title.
From the artist: Black & White Candid Street Photography from London-based photographer Ronya Galka.
What I like: Strong intro with title on background image. Nice choice of music, some good synchronization, nice urban photography.
What could be improved: Catastrophic ending of music before the end. No ending.

Text Overlay and Intertitles

Text overlays can be used over images to add information, comments, point of view, or anything that can help construct your story.

Intertitles, also called “title cards” are slides with text inserted within the slideshow. They can be used to add some information, to mark a new chapter, or for any purpose that would help support your story.

Basic use of text
If you are making your first photo slideshow, keep text overlays for later.

Advanced use of text
There is an infinite application of text overlays and intertitles when it comes to photo slideshows. The field of still typography and the emerging field of kinetic typography provides a rich addition to the photographic material.  Because you have a full control of the typographic material, it can be used both to re-enforce the visual consistency across the slideshow, but also to help communicate meaningful information.

  • Narrative tidbits (title, caption, supertitle)
  • Mark sequences and chapters
  • TV-Style sub-titling (storytelling/captioning)
  • Magazine style articles (stories, poems…)
Title: Winnipeg: Love and Hate
Author: photographer Bryan Scott
Description: example of the use of an intro title.
From the artist: Promo video for photo blog Winnipeg: Love and Hate (winnipeglovehate.com).
What I like: Strong intro with title and music. The title comes as an intertitle slide, movie style. Well done blog trailer.
What could be improved: not much!

Some kinetic typography…

Title: Psychatric Answering Machine
Author: photographer Michalforcer
Description: example of pure kinetic typography.
From the artist: Psychatric Answering Machine. Funny Answering Machine. Typography. Animation.
What I like: powerful story and excellent use of kinetic typography.
What could be improved: not much!

Click here for a selection of kinetic typography sequences.

Title: Robbie Williams - Please don't die
Author: a Robbie Williams fan anajuliah
Description: example of pure kinetic typography.
From the artist: Psychatric Answering Machine. Funny Answering Machine. Typography. Animation.
What I like: use of text intro, use of intertitles. Use of the "old movie special effect", helps with continuity.
What could be improved: Grammar and spelling... can kill the story effect instantly... please check for language and spelling! Also, some goofy transitions and some low quality images.

A few successful photo slideshows

Title: Water access in Ethiopia
Author: water.org/
Description: a photojournalism essay
Notes from the author: H. Arney, from our international programs staff narrates her recent visit to photographs from Tigray, Ethiopia. She learns that generations ago, before deforestation and climate change, many in these areas had access to water. Now women walk miles each day to collect water for their families. http://water.org/ethiopia
What I like: Strong story, use of full space of the screen, use of sounds, voice over narration including interviews. Use of text subtitle for the local interviews.
What can be improved: Use of vertical photos breaks the flow of the story, distracts from the message.
Title: A footwears tale
Author: surendhar1010
Description: a photo story
Notes from the author: The first ever story telling excercise in my life.
What I like: Strong story, use of intro slides, setting of the plot, title comes later. Consistency of presentation, sync to music.
What can be improved: Not much to improve, except maybe the blue background behind the text... just a personal opinion ;-)
Title: Gulf Oil Photo Essay
Author: Gerald Herbert, AP Photographer - PBS News Hour
Description: a photo story
Notes from the author: Since the oil leak began in the Gulf more than a month ago, Associated Press photographer Gerald Herbert has as been documenting the people and places at the center of the disaster..
What I like: Strong story, strong images, powerfull narration and synch image/narration.
What can be improved: Not much!
Title: Her Morning Elegance / Oren Lavie
Author: Gerald Herbert, AP Photographer - Yuval & Merav Nathan
Description: a stop motion music video
Notes from the author: "Her Morning Elegance" from the album The Opposite Side of the Sea written and produced by Oren Lavie © 2009 A Quarter Past Wonderful
Oren Lavie music on iTunes
Her Morning Elegance video
Directed by: Oren Lavie, Yuval & Merav Nathan
Featuring: Shir Shomron
Photography: Eyal Landesman
What I like: Like the title of the song: elegance, precision, story.
What can be improved: Not much!

Authoring resources

Basic photo slideshow authoring

Here is a comparative review of simple packages made by CNET
My suggestions go for: Photodex, Google Picasa, Apple iPhoto, ProShow, Ms PowerPoint, Adobe Lightroom

Also the following web site offer online, template based authoring features:
Slide.com, Photobucket.com, Rockyou.com

Advanced photo slideshow authoring

  • Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere
  • Apple Motion and Apple Final Cut

Sharing resources

Once you have created your photo slideshow, you may want to share it…

Offline sharing solutions

  • Burn a DVD
  • Save a file on the computer (Quicktime H.264)

Online sharing solutions

Note: rendering a slideshow can take up to 10x the duration of the slideshow itself. For example, rendering a 10 minute slideshow can take more than an hour depending on the quality, dimension, use of effects, etc.


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Psychatric Answering Machine
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