Taking photos for online slideshows

Posted by on Feb 18, 2009 in Uncategorized | No Comments

In a previous post I presented some basic ways to approach the short photo story or slideshow. Below are some tips specifically for the online slideshow.


One of the most common afflictions of beginning photographers is that they don’t shoot enough frames. The results can be fatal when it comes to producing a good slideshow.

Pro photographers shoot A LOT of frames to get a few good ones.  It is not uncommon for a photographer to take hundreds of photos with the expectation of producing a couple dozen really strong images.

Here are two extreme examples to illustrate the point:

The Whale Hunt’  – This experimental project by Jonathan Harris includes more than 3,000 images that can be sorted and displayed in a variety of ways along a timeline.

Iraqi Kurdistan’  – Done by Ed Kashi and produced by Mediastorm.org, this project features thousands of images presented in flipbook style.

The point is this: shoot now, edit later. Take pics that will give you the most options when you are putting your piece together.


In addition to simply shooting a large number of images, it’s important to shoot a selection of images that will make the slideshow work on two levels: it must provide the viewer a logical, visual narrative through which to understand the story and it must be graphically sophisticated enough to be pleasing to watch.

On the graphic level, plodding sameness from image to image can kill a slideshow. Be sure and vary your images  —  Wide shots, close-up, left-facing, right-facing and angle of view.  This will provide some visual and emotional modulation through the slideshow.

Note: for photo stories in print photographers shoot a selection of both horizontal photos and vertical photos as part of creating variety. But, in the online world horizontal images are heavily favored because the skins or themes in which slideshows play are designed for horizontal presentation.

On the narrative level, slideshow has to be more than a random assortment of pictures. It has to have a clear narrative structure or arch — a beginning, middle and end.

If it’s a process story, it should illustrate the whole process, sometimes step by step.

The Lourdes of Twang’ photographed by Tim Schaffer of the New York Times takes the viewer through how the renown Martin guitar is made – from beginning to end.

If it’s a story about a conflict or social issues it will seek to illustrate cause, relationships and effect or maybe the core conflict and its resolution – if there is one.

Gun Nation’ by Zed Nelson examines America’s love affair with guns. He shows where they are purchased, their role in communities and, ultimately, their impact.

If it’s a personal profile, chronology might be the structure.

Recreating Himself, One Album at a Time’ by New York Times photographer Todd Heisler is a
day-in-the life profile of Rap Artist Bones Don.

Andrew DeVigal, the multimedia director at the New York Times, says that he encourages the Times photographers shooting slideshows to shoot lots of detail shots and transition shots.

Detail shots may not carry a lot of narrative weight, but they work well to highlight or dramatize a specific element of the story and are very effective in advancing the visual story.

Transition shots work to move the viewer from on place to another or from one idea to another.  In the ‘Recreating Himself, One Album at a Time’ we visually escort Bones Don from home to Union Square and back home again.  A transitional photo (and text) also are used when the character moves away from talking about his music to talking about his past.


The two pillars of good presentation are timing and sequencing. Seven seconds is often an effective working number for the length of time a single image can be displayed in a slideshow. You can then game out how many images you will need if the length of time is a consideration, as is the case with audio slideshows.  To be sure, this number can vary a lot, even within a single slideshow: flipbook sequencing on one extreme and complex, atmospheric photos that take more time to understand on the other.

As mentioned above, a slideshow needs some sort of narrative structure.  This is usually the primary consideration for how images are sequenced.  The need to change up images on a graphic level – move from a wide-shot to close-up to portrait, etc. – is a close second.

The transitions (the term is used here to mean something different than when we talk about a transitional photo) between images — dissolves, cross-fades, etc. — are also important, both in terms of style and pace. A slower, moodier piece might use longer dissolves, while an upbeat high tempo story might use a push or straight cut.

Two other quick points on presentation:

Viewers like to be able to control the rate at which images are display. If the images are tied to audio viewer still like to be able to review images after they’ve played the piece.  Slideshow programs like Soundslides or SlideShowPro both have a preview scrubber that allows the viewer to see thumbs of individual images during or after a slideshow plays. Use this tool.

Many of the software programs in which slideshows are produced have lots of bells and whistles that allow the producer/photographer to do lots of snazzy things  with colors and functions. Resist the urge.  Simple elegance and ease of  use will win the day.

One in Eight Million’ by New York Times photographer Todd Heisler is a series of very atmosphere stories about New Yorkers. Note the sophistication and functionality of the presentation.


The main thing to consider with audio is that you have a selection of appropriate images to cover the material being presented in the audio both in terms of length and subject. You don’t want to send your audience in one directly with the visuals and another with the audio.

With some stories the images can be more atmospheric and do not need to correspond directly to the audio.  The images can be used to illustrate the overall theme or to give an emotional sense of the issue.  This is true of most of the ‘One in Eight Million’ Segments.  In some slideshows the photos may match with the audio only at certain points and then drift off again. For example, it is smart to display a portrait when a new character is introduced in the audio. Keep in mind places can be characters too.

On the other hand, with some stories – news stories or process stories, for example — the viewer will want to see specifically what’s being presented in the audio. Not only that, if your working on a process feature about an ocularist and he spends 25 seconds explaining exactly how he makes a blue iris for an artificial eye, you may need enough images specific to that element of  the story to ‘cover’  that amount of time.

Next week I will present some examples for using text in combination with images in a slideshow format.