My father recently celebrated a milestone birthday. To commemorate the event, I created a digital slideshow to showcase family photos recounting his life: black-and-white shots of my grandparents, images of my uncles and my father in their younger days, and more recent photos of my children and my brother's kids. One of my favorite parts of the project was compiling the shots my dad took nearly every year for our Christmas card from the late 1960s (when I was born) to the late 1980s. (You can find a link to that montage here or at the bottom of this blog.)

If you’re thinking about creating a similar slideshow as a birthday, wedding, or holiday gift, I highly recommend it. With applications like iMovie, it's relatively simple to do. And by posting your work online or on a social media site such as Facebook, you can quickly and easily share your memories with others. Before you start, though, I suggest that you look for online tutorials on the app you want to use. (Hello, YouTube!) This can help uncover features that may not be readily apparent.

Here are the basic steps in creating a slideshow.

This image shows the iMovie app for iPad
That's me on the right. On the bottom, you can see the layout of the photos I placed in the timeline. The green bar represents the audio clip.
Photo: Terry Sullivan

Sketch Out Your Slideshow

Draw a simple timeline and decide how you want to organize your images. Chronologically? By family member? Maybe by hairstyle? Feel free to be creative. It's up to you.

Scan or Photograph Old Prints

Digital images are easy to import into your project, but if you're looking to include old images, such as prints from a family or wedding album, you'll want to scan those. If you have an all-in-one printer with a built-in scanner, use that. If not, shoot photos of the images with a digital camera; just make sure you have good lighting when you do it. For best results, you should also wipe the dust from the vintage photos with a soft cloth. Once you have digital images of everything, you can even touch them up or enhance them with an image-editor

This image shows two children
I used this shot at the start of the slideshow. I like how my dad gets in close to his subjects, filling the entire frame with our faces.
Photo: John F. Sullivan

Import Your Photos

There are many ways to get your images onto a mobile device. For my project, I used DropBox, which allowed me to transfer the photos to my iPad. I could then locate them on my Camera Roll in the Photos app. If you're not sure how to import photos to your device, look online. There are lots of tutorials. Once you've completed the task, drag the shots into the device's video-editing app. I used the iMovie app. Most video-editors let you place your images on a timeline. This lets you shift the pictures around until you're happy with where they appear in the video. You also get to decide how long each photo remains in view on the screen. A fraction of a second? Ten seconds? Even more? Better be a beautiful shot.  

Add Transitions

This is the really fun part. The transitions in particular add a wonderful effect, giving your slideshow a professional-looking sense of animation. You get to decide if one image fades or dissolves into another. Or maybe you'd rather have them slide one on top of another. If you're feeling very bold, consider the Ken Burns effect—named after the famous documentary filmmaker—which lets you slowly zoom in on a specific section of a photo or pan side-to-side across it. I used this technique a lot in my slideshow.

This image shows the iMovie app on the iPad
At the very bottom of the screen, you can see there are six options for the transition effect.
Photo: Terry Sullivan

Add the Audio

I created an original soundtrack for my slideshow using the Garageband app. But you don't have to go that far. Many apps provide you with music options. You can also add songs, sound clips, or other forms of audio from the music library on your device. And since most mobile devices come with voice-recording features, you can even ask family members to email you voice clips and quickly add their birthday or holiday greetings to the presentation.  

Add Text, Then Complete and Upload the Project

This is another fun way to impress viewers with the level of quality in your project. I placed text on photos and used them as title pages at the beginning and end of the project. Once that was done, I saved the slideshow and uploaded it to YouTube. You can also save it as a video file, depending on which app you use.

More Video-Editing Apps

There are plenty of ways to put your photo documentary skills to the test. You can use video-editing software on a computer, for instance, to get more control over the various special effects. You'll also find several iOS-friendly app alternatives to Apple’s iMovie. And here are three Android options with comparable features. As they say in the entertainment business, break a leg!


To see the slideshow I created, click on the image below.