RGMP 10: Learn to use Soundslides

This is the 10th post in a series titled “Reporter’s Guide to Multimedia Proficiency.” In the ninth post, I explained how to think about managing the photos you add to your blog posts, including the advantages of photo-sharing sites such as Flickr. I also discussed copyright concerns that every blogger should be aware of. In this post I’m going to introduce you to Soundslides, an inexpensive (not free) program for creating audio slideshows on Windows or Mac computers.

Please do not think Soundslides will take a long time to learn. It will not. It’s much, much easier than you probably imagine. Can you find a spare hour, or maybe 90 minutes? That’s enough. Try it. You’ll see.

Your first step will be to go to the Soundslides site and download one of the versions of this program. On the left side of the page, you’ll see four download links: Soundslides Plus: (1) Mac, (2) Windows. Regular Soundslides: (3) Mac, (4) Windows. Choose one and click to download. It will function normally as soon as you install it; you can buy it later. At the bottom of that page, you can read “Which edition is right for me?” to help you decide between Plus and regular.

Soundslides does not produce video files, and you cannot import video into Soundslides. It is a simple tool that builds simple audio slideshows. That’s all. But that’s actually quite a lot — especially because Soundslides is almost ridiculously simple to use.

Before you begin

Soundslides cannot be used to edit photos (see RGMP 8), and it cannot be used to edit audio (see RGMP 4). This means you will need to have your photos selected and edited before you begin to work in Soundslides. You will also need to have a final, finished MP3 file with the correct audio settings before you begin to work in Soundslides.

  • Have all your photos for the slideshow cropped, rotated, toned, and stored in one folder with no other photos. They must be in the JPG file format. (You cannot edit the photos inside Soundslides.)
  • Have your finalized MP3 file. (You cannot edit the audio inside Soundslides.)

Note that the length of your MP3 file will determine the length of your slideshow. This is part of what makes Soundslides such a simple tool. If your audio lasts 1 minute and 25 seconds, then that’s how long your slideshow will be.

Another thing to consider is whether you have too many photos, or not enough, to match the length of your audio. A very good rule of thumb for audio slideshows is about 5 seconds per image. You can change this while working within Soundslides, but using this guideline helps you decide how many photos you will need to edit (if you know the length of your audio), or how long to make the audio — if you have very few photos, for example.

A 60-second slideshow needs about 12 photos, and a 2-minute slideshow needs about 24 photos. (If you have too few photos, the viewers will get bored!) You do not need to be overly rigid about the 5-second rule, but do be aware that after 6 or 7 seconds on one single image, the viewer is likely to lose interest and quit. To the other extreme, seeing the photos flash past too quickly is also unsatisfying for people watching your slideshow.

Get started now

If you have an MP3 and a dozen or more photos (make sure the photos are isolated in one folder), you’re ready to go.

  1. Launch Soundslides and name your new project (more about this below!).
  2. Select the “Custom” option: Choose the width and height of the slideshow based on the size of your photos.
  3. Import your photos (click the big JPG button, and then show Soundslides that folder containing your photos).
  4. Import your audio file (click the big SND button, and then show Soundslides the location of your MP3).

And now, you’re ready to put the photos into an order that matches your audio. Just drag and drop the thumbnails on the right side to change the line-up. Use the player controls at bottom left to review the results. Click the Save button at bottom right often, to save your work.

To alter the timing of any photo, go to the timeline at the bottom of the window. Use the mouse to grab the border line between two photos. Drag the line left or right to make a photo visible for more or less time. (Wider thumbnail: more time. Narrower thumbnail: less time.) Save and Test (buttons, bottom right) to see the results.

Captions, credit information, and headlines

These are all controlled via the tabs at top right in the Soundslides application window.

  • To write captions for each photo, click the Slide Info tab. The Back and Next buttons let you move to each one of your photos so you can write cutlines.
  • To write a headline for the slideshow, and/or to include credit information, click the Project Info tab.
  • To return to editing the slideshow image order and timing, click the Slides tab.

Publishing your slideshow on the Web

At the Soundslides site, see Uploading a slide show to a Web server using an FTP client. I know, I know — some of you have never seen the abbreviation FTP before in your life. Don’t panic. It stands for file transfer protocol, and really, it just means “upload.” The Soundslides manual recommends an FTP program called FileZilla; I prefer FireFTP (see tutorial), but it really makes no difference which one you use.

If you work for an organization that has a separate Web production staff (or person), you can simply copy the publish_to_web folder that Soundslides generates and give it to the Web producer, who will upload it for you. However, if the Web producer has been living in a cave for five years and has never heard of Soundslides, you’ll need to emphasize to him or her that the entire folder needs to be uploaded. The folder can be renamed, but nothing inside the folder should be touched. (One exception: The index.html file can be edited or replaced by someone who knows HTML.) Some smarty-pants Web folks will upload only one file from inside the folder, but that will not work!

There’s a lot more information about how to upload (publish) your slideshow at the Soundslides site: Publishing.

Tips for keeping your work safe and organized

  • Name and save the “project folder” carefully. Know where you saved it, and what name you gave it.
  • Don’t forget to save AND export the Soundslides.
  • The publish_to_web folder must be uploaded to the Web in its entirety.
  • KEEP the PROJECT FOLDER INTACT in case you need to make changes to the slideshow later. If all you have is the publish_to_web folder, you cannot edit the slideshow.

Adding or deleting photos after the initial import: This can be done (Slides tab: click +Add Image, or drag to Bin, lower right), but if you have already adjusted the timing of any images, this change will alter that timing, and you’ll have to adjust everything again. It’s adding extra work for yourself. So it’s really best to have your exact set of photos chosen in advance.

Changing the audio: You can replace the audio file you imported with a different one (or an updated one) — click the Audio tab, and you’ll see how. But like adding or deleting photos after the initial import, replacing the audio file with a new one is going to disrupt any timing changes you have made.

See the Soundslides Forums for tips, help, and examples. The Soundslides user manual is online.

Soundslides uses the Flash player, which is a Web browser plug-in that most Internet users already have. In other words, most people will not need to download anything to view your slideshow on the Web.

There are many examples of elaborate, cinematic Soundslides online, but even a print reporter can combine an interview and some on-the-scene photos to produce a story with both audio and images. In this example, I happened to be present when an American writer was signing copies of his book, freshly translated, for Vietnamese journalists. I shot a lot of pictures at the signing and then interviewed the writer the next day about the subject of his book. (Note that you can hide and show captions using the link below the image, on the right. You can also pause the slideshow at will.)

Previous posts in this series: