Boring travel slideshows.
YOU KNOW what I’m talking about. You gather at your friend’s place, who’s just returned from their travels. They fire up the computer, open up their photo gallery, and splash their journey onto the screen.
Usually, the first few photos are compelling. A crammed street. A stunning vista. (Or more likely, an airport lounge as they’re waiting for the plane).
Twenty minutes later, the glossly excitement has worn off. You wonder just how many photographs of buildings/trees/desert your friend could have taken. And they’re only on the first week of their two month trip.
You don’t have to sit through this nightmare anymore (or inflict it upon others). This comprehensive guide will show you how to craft memorable travel slideshows that will have your friends raging with envy and bubbling with compliments.
But first, a disclaimer. This guide is NOT for professional and/or accomplished travel filmmakers. I’m sure those people have their own way of doing things.
Instead, this guide is for the vast majority of amateur photographers that are capable with a camera, possess basic video editing software, and lack the storytelling skills to bring it all together in a killer presentation.
So if that sounds like you — read on, dear friend, and heed these words.
Consider your audience
Who are you making your travel slideshow for? Yourself? Your friends and family? The world? It’s always best to start with your audience in mind when you make these first crucial decisions.
Your audience will dictate everything from the photos, the soundtrack, and the overall impression of the travel slideshow.
For instance, your friends and family may enjoy slow pleasant shots of mountains and temples, while your friends are hungry for a taste of the nightlife, glorious beaches, and midnight fire-twirlers.
In some cases, these slideshows can be one and the same. In others, you may want to create multiple versions for each audience.
Tell a story
Random slideshows are boring. These are slideshows filled with a mix of photographs that are arranged in no coherent order, or predictably chronological.
These are boring because they don’t offer any compelling narrative to guide the viewer through your journey.
Think about it – when was the last time you watched a film that was a random assortment of movie clips? Unless you only rent art house flicks, chances are, you watch films that offer a story.
Your job, as editor, is to convey the “emotion” of the trip, rather than a comprehensive play-by-play. Nobody wants to see endless photographs of absolutely everything you saw/ate/did.
They want to experience a taste of what it feels like to venture into a world they’ve yet to experience. Do them a favour and tell them your story.
Use Appropriate Transitions & Movement
Once you’ve selected and arranged your photographs in some semblance of order, you can then decide on transitions and movement.
Keep in mind, certain types of transitions invoke certain feelings in your audience. For example, slow fades are calm and relaxing. Hard cuts are jarring and frantic. You should attempt to match the transition with visual emotion you’re trying to convey.
But sometimes even interesting photos can become monotonous if they’re always sized exactly to the screen. An effective trick is to add movement to the photos, zooming in on interesting aspects much like you would a video clip.
A word of caution: this technique can be easily abused, with too much movement confusing your audience. In this case, less is more.
Insert movie clips
These days pretty much every new electronic device, from mobile phones to digital cameras, has a video recorder built in.
True, the quality hasn’t been all that great, but it’s getting better all the time. The last camera I bought was able to shoot video that looked excellent when blown up on TV, which is more than good enough for YouTube.
You’d be surprised at how effective a clip of you jumping off a waterfall or a 360 pan of Times Square looks when mixed in with the rest of your photographs. It breaks up the monotony and visually brings your trip to life.
If you blend the video clips in well enough, you’ll even leave your audience with the impression of movement throughout the entire film (what I call ‘motion transference’).
Pick A Good Soundtrack
This sounds easy – just grab a couple of your favourite songs and throw them in the background right? Wrong. That’s a recipe for an utterly forgettable travel slideshow.
After all, when you consider your soundtrack ultimately sets the tone of your entire presentation, you realize the music is the most important decision.
Here’s what I do: split my film into multiple sections, than decide on the “mood” you’d like to invoke, and how that fits into the overall structure of your slideshow.
For example, my Thailand trip starts off conveying the feeling of arriving in Bangkok with a heavy rock song. From there, it’s on to Koh Phangan, party central, and the music continues that mood.
Next, I shift gears for a peaceful reflection in the jungle wonderland of Khao Sok National Park, and I picked some ambient, dream-like electronica. In all cases, I matched the music with the mood I wanted to convey about the location.
Avoid Photo Repetition
The invention of digital photography allows us to take thousands of shots at a time. This does not mean you should include more than a fraction of these in your travel slideshow.
There’s no better way to kill a memorable photograph in an audience’s mind than to have 8 other versions right after it.
Instead, limit yourself to the few shots that let you tell the story. You have to weigh the visual and emotional impact of each sequence to determine the impression you want to create.
If this means cutting out some of your favourite shots, so be it.
Mix Scenery With People
A rule of thumb for scenic photographs – they’re always more interesting when you’re actually there.
The colors, the majesty, the smells. None of that is conveyed through a TV or computer screen. That means try not to use too many scenic photos in your travel slideshow.
Scenic photos are helpful in setting a stage for the destination, but don’t rely on them to keep your audience’s interest for long.
A good strategy is too mix the scenery photographs with shots of people, as faces are generally more compelling than sunsets.
Keep it short (leave them wanting more)
We’ve all watched travel slideshows that start out well, but after an hour of mountain sunsets and drunken party photos, you’re fighting to stay awake. Don’t let this happen to you.
Carefully weigh every photograph and every video clip you’ve used. Does it further the momentum of the slideshow? Is it visually compelling? Do I get tired after watching it more than twice?
When in doubt, cut it out. It’s always better to leave your audience wanting more, rather than buried under an avalanche of mediocrity.
Don’t narrate it
Finally, the big day arrives! You gather your audience around your TV or projector screen, the air buzzing with anticipation.
You dim the lights, voices hush. You click play and wait for your travel slideshow masterpiece to blow them away.
The best thing you can do from this point on, is keep quiet. I know, the temptation to deliver informative and fascinating tidbits behind every photograph will be great.
You’ll be thinking: what if they don’t know how old that building is? Or what the name of my guide was? Or how incredibly drunk I was when I took that?
Trust me. You will ruin your slideshow if you try and narrate it. A better idea is to view the show once in its entirety, THEN go back and reveal the factoids behind your journey.
The important thing is to allow your audience to experience the slideshow on their own terms, without your voice in the background.
When the lights come back on, they will applaud your genious, and wonder when you’re going on your next trip.
*From pro photographers to someone just getting started with a DSLR, the MatadorU travel photography course was created to serve a variety of students.
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Ian MacKenzie is the founder and former editor of Brave New Traveler. He is Head of Video at Matador Network. Ian is also an independent filmmaker, with his first feature (One Week Job) released in 2010. His more recent projects include Sacred Economics and Occupy Love.
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