Having dabbled in making a couple of audio slideshows, we felt it was high time to collate some of what we’ve learnt along the way, and investigate how we could have improved our efforts further.
The central question which has pervaded our forays into this medium is, of course, why the audio slideshow? Because we’re not hi-tech enough for video? No. Because audio slideshows are much quicker to produce and are therefore the lazy person’s video? Hours of getting to grips with complicated editing processes in the computer labs says not. Because audio slideshows are the thinking person’s video? Now we’re getting warmer…
As soon as we started investigating the best slideshows out there it became apparent that this was a highly effective, contemplative medium that, like all of the best forms of journalism, could open someone’s eyes up to thinking about a topic in a different way. Whereas video has become a very common place medium, used to convey the facts of what is happening in the world in a very practical, perfunctory way, a slideshow elevates the subject matter to a slightly different status. In this way, creating a slideshow is a bit like portraying something in a photographic exhibition. ‘Here is something worth examining more closely, and contemplating in a more personal, more creative way,’ both an art exhibition and audio slideshow says. As Joe Weiss, creator of Soundslides (a rapid production tool for still image and audio web presentations), says when interviewed by Poynter’s Pat Walters:
for me, I do think … there’s a deliberateness in the editing [of still images], there’s a deliberateness in the visuals.
Indeed, audio slideshows are a great way of providing a little background to art exhibitions. I recently came across this great piece by the Guardian which sets children’s laureate Anthony Browne’s voice to some illustrations from this year’s Booktrust best new illustrators award. They are also great for drawing people’s attention to understated stories or issues, that the viewer might otherwise have overlooked, not realising the subtle interest to be drawn from them. A great example of this is The New York Times’ One in 8 Million series which each tell the personal story of a New York character’s life. I watched a really fascinating one on a wedding wardrober and his thoughts on the art and importance of male grooming.
In the words of Benjamin Chesterton, of audio slideshow specialists Duck Rabbit, audio slideshows are both a new language and a very old one. I agree; there’s a beautiful simplicity to this technique that really allows a certain story to be told in a clear and arresting way. I feel audio slideshows are real testament to the ‘less is more’ theory- a viewer is much more liekly to tune out if they feel bamboozled by stimulus overload.
The real beauty of the slideshow, several experts agree, is the way they make the viewer think for themselves. Again Chesterton encapsulates this better than I could:
with moving video, the viewer’s eye is centred – broadly, locked to the framing of the video camera. With still images, the eye roams. It stops and moves and stops and moves. Frozen gestures and expressions kick off a cognitive process – thinking – that moving images simply never do.
Something similar is true of good audio. The best audio blends reportage (‘being me, being here’) with the kind of aural cues that make audiences think and wander off down their own pathways while still engaging with the sound.
This is all very well, but how does one best arrest their viewer with a poignant and well-paced slideshow? Well, lots of practice is obviously key- it’s a lot about developing an eye and ear for what works. But here are some dos and don’ts compiled from my own experiments and those more well-versed in this field:
– source around 8-10 images per minute says Paul Kerley, also of Duck Rabbit fame, and the BBC’s slideshow guru
– have a clear relationship between what’s being heard and seen
– tell a story- even if it’s an interesting interview that you’re illustrating, be sure to edit it in such a way that there’s a thread running throughout that builds to a satisfying conclusion. If in doubt, remember the golden rules of GCSE story writing: have a beginning, middle and end.
– consider including captions underneath the images to specify exactly what’s going on. A contentious point this- some people say this is too confusing as the viewer won’t be able to read and listen simultaneously. If you do include captions, don’t just state the obvious and describe what the viewer can clearly see is happening in the slideshow.
– include background sound or ease the viewer in with an atmospheric sound which will set the scene nicely.
– do include a picture of the person who is narrating if they are relevant to the story being told.
– record a minute of the room you are recording in so that you can use the sound to add natural space between edits. VERY important this.
– include a good opening image to grab the viewer.
– use too many photos- as discussed above, the whole point is that the viewer gets to contemplate each one for a decnt length of time and notice things they would miss in a video.
– use too few images as your slideshow will start to feel long and drawn-out and like it’s not really going anywhere.
– include any awkward transitions that distract the viewer from a poignant point being made. Don’t make transitions mid-thought but do use them to really emphasise that an important point is being. Think of the change as equivalent to the ‘clunk’ moment after a well-crafted drop-intro in written articles
– allow any background sound to drown out the narration.
– don’t use music or images you don’t have permission to use. Make sure music is royalty-free and only use your own images or those with creative commons on Flickr for example. Even then you must credit the photographer. Another good tip if you find a image you’re dying to use on Flickr, is to drop the owner a friendly email or Tweet- often they’ll be happy to let you use the image for some nice exposure of their work.
– have the subjects introduce themselves- you wouldn’t start a written article like this an expect to keep people hooked now would you?
– make you’re slideshows longer than 3 or 4 minutes.
Hope these are helpful. Let me know if you have any more top tips for us.