How to make your audio slideshows better


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When Joe Weiss released his audio slideshow production tool called Soundslides in August of 2005, I quickly produced my first slideshow of a grand entrance at a Native American powwow. I was amazed at how easy it was to put together. I didn’t need to know Flash or have programming skills. I had a feeling back then that this little program was going to change photojournalism forever, and it did.

Now two and a half years later, I think it’s time to take a constructive look at audio slideshows and review ways to make them better. One of the raps on audio slideshows is that they can be boring and predictable. I agree. I’ve watched hundreds of audio slideshows and it can be painful at times. But then I hit one that just nails it and my faith in the genre is restored. I have probably produced 75 or so audio slideshows. I understand the challenge of making a compelling narrative resonate with viewers. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over time:

  • I shoot the photographs for my slideshow like I  shoot a video sequence–by taking wide, medium and lots of tight shots. This gives my shows visual variety and allows me to cover my audio by opening with a wide shot, then transitioning to a tight shot of the same scene.
  • It’s best to open your show with a bit of natural sound rather than with a subject talking. The ramp up into your story is important. If you don’t pull the viewer in fast they will bolt. Natural sound eases the viewer into your story without jolting them with dialogue.
  • Stop having the subjects introduce themselves. Really, stop it! The biggest cliché in audio slideshows is the “Hi, my name is…” intro. Instead, use a lower thirds title.
  • Use passionate subjects for the narrative of your story. If your subject has a boring monotone voice, then maybe you should write and voice some narrative bridges yourself to help move the story along.
  • Like video, try to match up photos to what the narrator is talking about. The same goes for the natural sound.  When you do this, your story will really start to crackle.
  • Get yourself a decent flash card recorder. The cheap one makes your show sound amateurish. You use a  $3000.00 digital camera to shoot the pictures. A $200.00 recorder is a small price to pay for decent sound quality.
  • When you record an interview, make sure to do it in a quiet spot. Then add your natural sounds (at a reduced level) under the narrative to give it sound depth.
  • Record a minute of room tone wherever you are taking photographs. Use it to cover the sound gaps between or under the narration.
  • Never, I mean NEVER have dead air sound gaps in your audio narrative. Cross-fade your audio between clips or add room tone to prevent this at all costs.
  • Use a multi-track sound editor to do your audio edit. It allows you to add the layers of sound that helps you create a soundscape that rocks the viewer of your show.
  • Your final audio edit should be as smooth as butter. Nothing should take you out of the moment. I like to close my eyes and just listen to my edit without looking at the timeline. Hit stop when you hit a bump and fix it. The difference between a great edit and a poor edit is in how you do your final audio tweaks. Make sure to normalize your audio so that there are not low and high dropouts in the mix.
  • Make sure your show is paced correctly. Too fast and you make the viewer mad, too slow and you bore them visually.
  • Use music for a reason, and not because you need to make a boring show more interesting. Don’t use music to manipulate emotion. If it is not in the narrative or photos, don’t force it with music.
  • Finally, create what I call a nat/narrative weave with your audio edits. Start your show with natural sound, and then weave your narration and ambient sound in and out. The worse thing you can do is have one subject drone on for three minutes without stopping.
  • Other suggestions? Let’s hear them. 

 

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53 thoughts on “How to make your audio slideshows better

  1. Pingback: Prosthetic Device: How to Improve Your Slideshows

  2. The link to the one that restores your faith seems to just have the Danville logo on it.

  3. Excellent tips. (That link to a slideshow that you say just nails it comes up broken in my browser, though). I have done about 10 SoundSlides as editor of the online newspaper feature magazine thegazz.com and am just beginning to wrap my head better around these narrative and production challenges posed by doing them. One issue for me is the challenge of gathering both audio and photos at the same time — multiple visits may be the solution to that when possible, breaking those two demanding tasks up.

    Here is a SoundSlides I did on an intriguing metal sculptor I feel gets closest (I hope) to what you are talking about, granting that I am still learning this wonderful art form:
    http://thegazz.com/mywestvirginia/

    Douglas Imbrogno
    editor | thegazz.com

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  5. The link is working for me. I’m wondering if the workshop site was down overnight. You can get to the main site by going here: http://mountainworkshops.org/2007/ Then click on the menu tap up in the top right. Click “Multimedia Participants” and open “Holding up the Memories” Their are a lot of other excellent stories on this page, so check them out too.

  6. Douglas,
    I liked your audio slideshow a lot. Interesting subject. The things I would suggest is to break up his narrative in a few more places. The subject talks almost the entire time without a break.

    The clanging of the metal is the best part of this show–great audio and a good weave of narrative and natural sound. The pacing seems fast in this show. I was trying to look at the photos and listen to what he is saying and I feel I short changing both.

    Your show is 4 minutes long. I’m wondering if you had gone maybe three minutes and tightened the narrative edit up, if it would have been stronger.

    I like the music in this piece, but at times it seemed to overwhelm the subject. It is important to check the music levels in your edit on small computer speakers to see how most people will hear your show. One final thought, when the subject was making the sounds off the metal, I would have loved to see a one picture of him doing it. I always think it is best to show where the audio in coming from. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Nice list Colin.

    A couple things I’d add:

    Just like with your audio you need to be ruthless in editing your stills. Just because you can use all the pictures from your take doesn’t mean you should.

    The goal for any SS should be to make it an experience for the viewer so keep the facts to the print side of things and ask questions that evoke an emotion and make your audience feel.

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  9. Excellent! I have attempted slideshows with both vocals and music with flash and swish and apart from taking a long time to create especialy with flash, Soundslides is so much easier.

    Thank you!

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  13. Nice tips! Yes, the audio production is, it can be argued, as important as the visuals. Even mediocre visuals can be enhanced by a stellar audio piece.

    I would also suggest using a video editor to produce slide shows – for several reasons. You can still easily manage the still frames sequences but gain the additional story tool of using some video sequences as well. Digital cameras allow you to grab video assets as well in the field. Consider filming some short sequences while shooting to enhance your slide show.

    Also, if you use even the $200 Final Cut Express you can export to any video format you like. Why? Video is like text – you can pour it into any container and playback device. Not so with Flash.

    This gives a more fluid user experience and the ability to scale and share your productions with greater ease.

    It is amazing the quality you can get out of a Zoom H4 recorder, good miking techniques and a simple, visual multitrack audio editor like Garage band.

    A small investment in audio engineering and technique will elevate every piece of multimedia you produce from videos, to podcasts to soundslides.

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  16. Thanks for the tips. I’m an amateur that just started playing with i-movie and now I am digging into the web to learn the common mistakes and tips for better clips. I am forwarding this link to my team.

  17. I am an Intro to Photojournalism student and I’ve just been introduced to Soundslides. My professor showed me how to use the software after class one day and I’m so excited to get started using it, and Audacity for the audio part of it. Everything on this page has helped me plan my photo essay assignment, which happens to be my final “exam” for the class. Thanks for all the tips.

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  23. Wow. Thanks for taking the time to make such a great list. Well done. And that sequence of the eyeball coming out of the socket made me shiver!

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  48. Great tips, thanks for sharing. I have a lot to think about next time I put an audio slideshow together so hoping practice makes perfect :0)

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