The Ultimate Slideshow
by Scot Hacker
A couple of professors in the Photo department recently asked for my input on methods for digital storytelling with still images. They're interested in having student photos packaged up into multimedia modules that optionally include interleaved text, audio, effects, and transitions in addition to still images. I've started compiling a list of various slideshow technologies, with their respective pros and cons.
The professors want the students to remain focused on the photos and on the journalism; to be distracted by the technology as little as possible. I've started to look at various slideshow technologies, trying to determine what will best meet their needs. Here are what I see as the most common options, with pros and cons. Our labs are Mac-based.
Flash: Probably the best filesizes and obviously the highest level of interactivity, but also the steepest learning curve. Text scales well in Flash, too. It is certainly possible to teach just enough Flash to do a slideshow without getting into symbols and instances and tweening, etc. In fact you can even have a Flash template that students can drop images into. But in my experience, these are still not as easy to learn as other techniques. Works on the web. Can sync with audio.
PowerPoint / Keynote: Traditional presentation software is reasonably easy to teach, but doesn't offer as much control when presentation needs go beyond the basics. For example, you don't get an independently controllable audio track, and sync'ing up audio with visual transitions is next to impossible. And while these presentations work fine in a lecture hall, they don't play on the web without conversion to HTML, a process which can be funky at best.
iPhoto: Since all the student images start out in iPhoto to begin with, and because iPhoto has a built-in slideshow feature, this one seems like a natural choice. You can play iPhoto slideshows on the web if you export them to QuickTime. Unfortunately, iPhoto has no built-in titler, so if you want to interleave text into your presentation, you have to bitmap it in Photoshop first. And while iPhoto can play music during a slideshow, you can't sync music to your presentation with any accuracy because there is no timeline and no way to edit the durations of individual slides.
iMovie: Non-linear editors such as iMovie or Final Cut give you the kinds of controls iPhoto lacks: built-in titler, individual image duration, independent audio track... But there are two drawbacks: 1) Because titles and text get bitmapped, they don't scale well to different resolutions. The jaggy text when viewed full-screen diminishes the professionalism of the rest of the presentation (I'm thinking there's probably a way around this; suggestions welcome). 2) Exporting to full-quality DV from iMovie gives you a file nearly 100 times larger than exporting to full quality QuickTime from iPhoto. It took a bit to figure out why: In iMovie, full-quality means 29.97 fps, as it should, while exporting QuickTime from iPhoto gives you a movie at .19 fps (which makes sense since iPhoto can assume that you're working with stills rather than with video). Yes, you can manually change the export framerate in iMovie, but it's an educational step we'd rather not do.
I'm sure there are options I'm missing here. Fill me in - what's your favorite interactive slideshow technology, either for lecture hall or web-based use?
Maybe SMIL could fill the gap?
Fotonotes might work, at least for part of the project.
You could add actionscripts to add text in an easy way (e.g. read from an external xml file)