Today’s guest post comes Jenny Larson, owner of Forever Digital Memories.
If you are reading this blog, you know how great slideshows can be. When the right photos are set to the right music, something magical happens. People cry, people laugh, and the show becomes a treasured family keepsake.
I’ve been helping families, non-profits, and small businesses make slideshows for over ten years. During this time I’ve also been to my fair share of weddings/mitzvahs/camp and school shows and seen some really bad ones – the kind where everyone is checking their watch.
My goal in the next few blog posts is to help you make your slideshows into something truly professional that people will cherish for years to come – something that holds the audience’s attention and makes them want to watch over and over. And, if you are interested, you can make a nice business creating slideshows for other people.
Start with the Best Content
The first step in making a great show is to start with great photos. Sounds easy, right? It can be if you are a professional photographer or if you are working with someone with all new digital photos. But this doesn’t happen often. Family shows that tell the best stories are a mix of old and new: old slides, photos from many decades that age differently, some photos that people printed at home once they got their first digital cameras (these are the worst!), and photos that are sent to you by email or other digital methods. Let’s discuss different types of images and how to make them shine on the big screen.
- For digital images, pick the highest resolution image you can get your hands on. If friends/family are emailing you photos, ask them to send them at the highest resolution. Many email programs will give you an option if you want to reduce the file size. Advise them to JUST SAY NO! Always pick actual size. (See this iPhone message).
- When possible, pick horizontal/landscape images over vertical/portrait. Even though most ProShow effects have great options for both types of photos, there are times when you want to forgo the effects and just use simple motion, having the photo fill the screen. In these cases, landscape photos will work better. Portrait photos will have black bars on either side of them, which isn’t quite as nice as having the photo fill the screen.
- When gathering large amounts of files from people digitally, use a free service like Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) or WeTransfer (www.wetransfer.com) These are simple to use and will avoid people having to send dozens of emails if they are trying to get you a lot of photos.
Slides are my favorite things to scan. They are first generation content. Compare that with a photo, which is actually a copy of a negative. There is so much great data and detail in a slide and they typically restore to “like new” condition. The trick is to scan them properly.
OUTSOURCING: If you have the luxury of time, sending your slides out to be digitized can ensure the highest quality outcome. While there are many places you can choose, learn about where the actual work is being done. Believe it or not, some large scanning services ship your precious memories overseas. When I outsource my scanning, I use Pixcel (www.pixcel.com) located just north of Chicago. I choose their Platinum service which includes scanning at 4000 dpi and dust and scratch removal. Pixcel has been in business for over 10 years and has trained technicians that do a fantastic job. They have excellent customer service and can tell you at any moment where your slides are in the production process.
DO IT YOURSELF: For scanning only a few slides or photos, I own the Canon CanoScan 9000F MKII (about $170 on Amazon). If you plan to scan a LOT of slides, take a look at the Pacific Image Powerslide 5000 Automated 35mm slide scanner (about $1100 on Amazon). This allows you to load up a slide tray of up to 100 slides and walk away while it scans. There is a steep learning curve, but if you are tech savvy and have lots to scan this is a nice automated scanner.
SCANNING SOFTWARE: No matter what slide scanner you choose, I recommend VueScan Scanner Software (www.hamrick.com) over the proprietary software that comes with your machine. VueScan has a standard edition that is only $39.95. What I love about it for slide scanning is it has great infrared cleaning options (for dust/scratch removal) and its pretty simple to use in basic mode. You can save your settings and use them for multiple jobs too.
Photos are a lot easier to scan than slides, but you still have to know what you are doing. Again, outsourcing is always an option if you have the time. And, again, Pixcel (www.pixcel.com) is my scanning vendor of choice.
But for the do it yourselfers…I always scan my photos at a minimum of 300 dpi – and typically I choose 400 or even 600 dpi. While this might seem like overkill for what you need for screen resolution, my philosophy is this: you are only scanning these photos once, so scan them for archival purposes, not just for screen resolution. Plus, with extra pixels to play with you can really crop and zoom in on photos in the slideshow. You also will have print quality images if you decide to design a custom DVD case.
My favorite photos scanners are:
FLATBED: The CanoScan 9000f mentioned above, or the Epson Perfection V600 ($192 on Amazon). These work great but it can get tedious loading a handful of photos at a time.
AUTO FEED: The Kodak Picture Saver Scanning System PS50 was truly life-changing for me and my business. I bought mine from E-Z Photo Scan (www.ezphotoscan.com). The PS50 sells for $1699, so it’s not cheap. But if you plan on doing a lot of scanning, you should seriously consider making the investment. It scans photos at either 300 or 600 dpi at speeds of up to 50 photos per minute. It has Kodak Perfect Touch software restoration too, which does a nice basic job at brightening up photos after they are scanned. There is also a PS80 version which offers additional features and scans even faster (up to 85 photos per minute). It costs about $2600. Using the PS50 and ProShow Producer I can scan, retouch and create a slideshow for a client in 2-3 hours! And if you are going to make the investment in a Kodak Picture Saver, I cannot recommend the folks at E-Z Photo Scan highly enough. They spent hours on the phone with me helping me pick the right model, get set up properly, and walk me through cleaning the scanner. Fantastic customer service!
After your photos are scanned you really need to prep them a bit for the best show. I use Photoshop Elements (www.adobe.com) to quickly and easily make my photos look their best on the big screen.
My goal isn’t to do full restorations. I only spend 5 to 10 seconds per photo to remove flaws that detract from the show. If people are noticing the flaws in the photo they are missing the emotion that you are working hard to convey. So just give each photo a little bit of love and you will have a much more polished and professional looking show.
- Crop: Make sure you crop all white borders from around old photos. Even a speck of white on the side of a photo can be extremely distracting during a slideshow. Any white left behind will flicker and be very visible. You can crop within ProShow Producer and ProShow Gold if you forget to do so beforehand.
- Color correct: Most of the time, the auto color correct button does the trick. However, there are times when an old color photo cannot be corrected well – in these cases I recommend converting to grayscale.
- Remove red eye: This seems easy and obvious but I’m surprised how many slideshows I’ve been to where there is a ton of red eye left in.
- Create a uniform look: Turn old black and white images to grayscale to create a uniform look for old photos. Photos can age differently and get discolored in spots. By turning them all to grayscale you are ensuring the audience will be absorbing the emotion in the photo – not noticing the differences in age spots between photos. (See slideshow example below.)
- Fix obvious blemishes/dust/scratches: Don’t go too crazy fixing every little flaw – but when there is a scratch across a face or something really obvious, the Band Aid tool is the best! Technically, it’s called the Spot Healing Tool, but it looks like a Band Aid.
- Remove time/date stamps: These are distracting and can often be cropped out or removed using the Spot Healing Tool.
- Crop scanner lid/background from odd shaped items: When scanning art or photos that have been cropped into weird shapes (this happens a lot with scrapbooked photos), use Photoshop Elements to remove the scanned background and place a black or white background behind the art/photo.
- Apply a blur to offset printed material: For scans of newspapers, yearbooks, magazines or other offset printed material, apply a slight blur filter. I like to use a 1 pixcel Dust/Scratches filter. This type of filter also works well for really scratched images. Also, newspapers tend to age badly and yellow, so don’t forget to turn them to grayscale for consistency. You can also apply a 1% blur within ProShow Producer or ProShow Gold.
Need Help? Find a Photo Organizer
If you’re excited to get started and gather up photos to make a show, but you don’t know where to begin, call a professional! I am a certified member of APPO, the Association of Personal Photo Organizers (www.appo.org) APPO members reside in all 50 states, Canada, England and around the globe. They can help you get your messy albums, bins and years of photos into an organized system that you can actually use to put together photo books, slideshows, photo gifts and much more. Photo Organizers can also help you pick out the “stories” in your photos to make the most compelling photo slideshows.
Coming up in my next guest blog post: Telling the best story with your slideshows. Incorporating video clips and other cool tricks and tips to set your shows apart. Stay tuned!
Jenny Larson has over 10 years in the photo organizing/video industry. Her passion for storytelling compelled her to found Forever Digital Memories in 2003. Since then, Jenny has helped thousands of clients tell their unique stories through the magic of combining photos, videos and music. She also has helped corporate clients and nonprofits grow their businesses through compelling marketing videos. Jenny has a passion for learning cutting edge technologies and prides herself on offering her clients the best options for their photos/videos. Jenny has an undergraduate degree from Northwestern University in Communication Studies and a law degree from the University of Southern California. Jenny lives in Glenview, IL and is the mom to three boys and a small zoo of animals who have taught her the value of staying organized and capturing each and every moment and preserving it carefully.
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