Creating a Video Slideshow tips on a successful workflow

Why Create a Video Slideshow?

Creating a video slideshow (sometimes called a "photo montage") is a fun way to show your family and friends a collection of photos. These photos are often animated and can be accompanied by text, voice, recorded sound, and music which can be presented on a television or computer screen or shared via YouTube.

A photo montage is nothing new to film. We've seen the art form for years, however, the technique was popularized by the documentary, "The Civil War" by Ken Burns (1990). If you have never seen this famous American documentary series, it's available on YouTube. It's certainly worth a watch if you want to learn expert photo montage technique. Hint: it's more about the story than anything. Sound is a very important thing to note here as well. Keep these things in mind as you watch the following clip.

MONTAGE IS A TECHNIQUE IN FILM EDITING IN WHICH A SERIES OF SHORT SHOTS ARE EDITED INTO A SEQUENCE TO CONDENSE SPACE, TIME, AND INFORMATION.

For this film, Mr. Burns used a device called the rostrum camera. This camera creates the movement on the photos you see in the film. The camera movement, along with the sober narration style (even quoting the men of the civil war) and period music makes the photos almost spring to life.

A rostrum camera similar to this was used in the production of "The Civil War."

Enter After Effects. The capability of creating a 2D animation for stills on the computer desktop was quite revolutionary for its time. In 1990 during the time of "The Civil War"; the idea alone was insane. From its inception, with its 2D animation capabilities, After Effects offered the same opportunities for photo animation previously done by rostrum cameras by the mid-90's—except much more cheaply and easily.

In fact, becoming experienced in After Effects allowed me to get a job at Pixar in the early 2000's doing the equivalent of rostrum camera work inside After Effects for "Finding Nemo." These days, I am not aware of such a camera used in documentary production or the animation industry. It's all done in software now.

Premiere Pro. These days, Premiere Pro and other non-linear editing systems have just as much power as After Effects for these kind of productions. In fact, one could argue that they are more powerful because of the real time capability for photo animation that is not possible to do with other applications.

Other applications. As you'll learn, other applications, including Adobe Lightroom CC can automate the creation of a photo montage, making the process even simpler. There are even websites offering the service of creating movies for free or for a small charge. Of course, these automated processes come at the expense of customization and control over narrative.

Advantages of a Photo Montage

Advantages of a video slideshow over simple photo sharing, scrapbooks, etc.:

  • Availability. You can upload a photo montage to YouTube so that your fans, family, or friends can enjoy your images on their own time. My family doesn't want to watch my slideshows at a family gathering, but on their own time.
  • Creativity. If you don't do something with your photos (and videos for that matter), they just collect dust on your hard drive, never to be seen again. It's a lot more fun watching your photos come alive with some lively "camera moves."

Pre-Project Considerations

Camera Choice

You can make slideshows from any kind of photo or digital still image, so choose your camera wisely. I like to shoot with whatever camera I have handy, which is usually my iPhone. This is totally fine! Of course, if you have a high quality DSLR definitely use that.

iPhone. Not long ago, I used the iPhone 6s Plus with good results over a 3 week trip to Europe. One thing I liked about the iPhone is that it generates GPS metadata for the photo which is useful for finding shots that I had forgotten the location of. You can even shoot high quality 4K video with a device like the iPhone 6s Plus. I like to add video to my photo montages (and vice versa) so this capability was important to me.

Use what you've got. So, shoot images with whatever camera you have available to you, but do keep in mind that you are limited to the acquisition capabilities of that device. If you've got a powerful camera with expensive lenses, then you are in an even stronger position for creating a slideshow at a higher quality. You'll have advantages once it comes time to making image adjustments (I call "grading") and then exporting your presentation.

Mobile Apps for Shooting Photos and Videos

Shooting photos with your mobile phone. Recently, Lightroom Mobile offered the ability to shoot in DNG (a raw format) within the app, which I took advantage on that trip to Europe. Raw formats give you amazing flexibility when adjusting settings. I recommend shooting in DNG over JPEG by far for this purpose.

The problem is that Premiere Pro doesn't support the DNG files created by Lightroom Mobile. After Effects does. In After Effects, it was great to make exposure adjustments in Camera RAW (via Interpret Footage) to stills in my slide shows whenever I wanted to. In Premiere Pro slideshows, I worked around that by creating TIFF versions of the files that I needed for the montage from the DNGs in Lightroom.

Lightroom Mobile helps the slideshow workflow. Shooting in Lightroom Mobile conveniently backed up all my photos to Creative Cloud whenever I tapped the wi-fi, so I never had to worry about back-up. When I got back to my MacBook Pro, Lightroom Mobile began synching my photos with the desktop application, which is great for organizing your photos.

Shoot video. In my own video slideshows, I might also include some accompanying video clips, as well. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth, well, even more. You can also use video clips to use as a sound bed for your photo montage. If you are out shooting photos, take a moment to squeeze off a few video clips, as well. If you can shoot the video at 4K resolution, all the better.

Shooting video with Filmic Pro. If you are shooting with your mobile phone, it's hard to top the app, Filmic Pro. Most of the pros swear by it. I do. You can shoot up to 4K at various bit rates and frame rates. Lots of flexibility in image acquisition with this application. The biggest advantage is that the audio typically doesn't lose sync once imported into Premiere Pro like the native iPhone's video camera app does. Keep the clips fairly short in Filmic Pro and you'll not see it "drift" as you might with the native camera, even at higher bit rates.

Pro-project considerations for Music and Sound

Sound. You've done lots of thinking about your images and video and how you are going to acquire them, but what about the sound for your video slideshow? Is that even worth thinking about in the project planning process? I think so. You not only need sound to go with your images, sound is the thing that makes or breaks an emotional piece. Recording sound is very simple and unobtrusive, as well. Having a variety of good sound sources is the "secret sauce" of filmmaking, really.

Use the right music that's OK to use. The right piece of music is very important to the feel of your piece. You'll probably need to do a lot of searching. However, keep in mind that if you plan to share the video on YouTube or in public at all, you need to have the artist's permission to use the music or you may be infringing on their copyright. In other words, if you use a popular song from the radio on your video, it will likely be taken down by YouTube and you could be subject to fines (OK. You probably won't be fined, but you should be aware that you could be). You can search the internet for royalty free music you can use. In fact, YouTube has a site filled with music you can use as long as you credit the artist. See this link for that. Don't worry, millions of YouTubers use these tracks with no worries about copyright whatsoever. Do some searching here for the right track to make your video slideshow sing. It will be worth your time.

Make music. Sounds like a crazy idea to make your own music for your slideshows? It's not. You might be surprised that you can make music nearly as fast as searching for an appropriate piece. All kinds of software packages make it simple to create your own music quickly and easily. It's great to be able to use your own music in your video pieces, and it's fun too. Since I am a Mac user, I often make quick compositions in GarageBand to use in such slideshows. Try it.

Nat Sound. Think about being a sound "collector" so that you have a lot of audio sources to draw from when making your photo montage. I use a mic connected to my iPhone and the Apogee MetaRecorder app to do my audio recordings. I'm a big fan of this device. For example, when I was in Florence, Italy, I recorded some singer songwriters on the steps in front of the Santo Spirto with MetaRecorder that I plan to use in one of my video slideshows.

Sennheiser ClipMic Digital and Apogee MetaRecorder app

Audio post. You might consider processing audio prior to importing it into Premiere Pro. If you are a Creative Cloud member, you can use Adobe Audition for this task. The "Essential Sound" panel in Audition can give you better sounding audio with the few clicks or slider adjustments. Even if you are new to audio, you should try this out. I processed all the field sound I recorded with the MetaRecorder app with excellent results. With the Essential Sound panel, it was easy too. Certainly, any voice overs you are going to do for the photo montage will sound much better in the end with a pass though Audition.

Granted, with Adobe Dynamic Link, you can always perform sound post at any point in the post-production process. However, I find it easier if you do a lot of this work in advance. Many people find that sound editing and video editing take two distinct kinds of focus. I agree.

I FIND IT EASIER IF YOU DO A LOT OF THE AUDIO WORK IN ADVANCE SO THAT SOUND POST-PRODUCTION DOES NOT INTERRUPT THE CREATIVE EDITING PROCESS.

Video Slideshow Software Choices

You can create photo montages in a variety of software both by Adobe and by third parties. Search around to see which ones make the most sense to you and match your skill level.

Video slideshows using Adobe Lightroom CC. If you have zero skills in digital video applications, you might start your slideshow endeavors with a simple photo application. Lightroom can create a photo montage for you automatically, with very little effort involved, for example. See this video tutorial for more info on that.

If you are so inclined, Adobe Creative Cloud's digital video applications can help you create a more interesting video slideshow with just a little more effort. This article is focused more on how to create custom video slideshows with Creative Cloud digital video applications than with Lightroom.

Then, Is Premiere Pro overkill? One question you might have before starting a Premiere Pro project. Isn't it overkill? Why should you go to any added effort beyond what Lightroom can do for you more simply? The answer lies in how customized you want your slide show to be. If you want control over a photo's animation and composition, then you'll want to use Premiere Pro or After Effects. If you don't care how a photo is animated, then stick to Lightroom. It also takes more time to create a customized slideshow, so keep that in mind when creating your piece. If you're under a deadline, keep it simple and stick to Lightroom. Have more time and want to create something eminently more watchable, use Premiere Pro or After Effects.

Using After Effects or Premiere Pro for video slideshows? How do you choose between After Effects an Premiere Pro? Both do the job. After Effects is fantastic if you need to create slideshows with lots of effects and text animation. Premiere Pro is better for editing slideshows. So, which one do you choose?

Premiere Pro. Why? Put simply, Premiere Pro seems to be the better tool of the two for creating custom photo montages. The reasons for a faster workflow are related to the editing tools available and overall improved performance. Furthermore, while functions like retiming animations, resizing graphics, and swapping shots are painful in After Effects, they much less cumbersome in Premiere Pro. In the end, I find myself traveling to After Effects only when I need to. That is, to perform tasks that are too cumbersome or impossible to do in Premiere Pro, like text animation.

Go Forth and Shoot!

With the camera chosen, the apps loaded on your phone, and the workflow you decided to use, go out and shoot photos and videos of the subject you want to make a slideshow for.

Old school. You can also use photos from your collection, or scan some "oldies but goodies" photos you might have lying around in an old photo scrapbook. A scanner is a very important tool in photo montage creation.

Frame it for TV. When you are composing a shot for ultimate use in a video slideshow, try to compose it as such. That is, as a "camera shot" in a video. Most often, you do want to be shooting in landscape aspect ratio (lengthwise) for any kind of video screen, however, you can also shoot in portrait aspect ratio. You'll later be able to reposition, scale, and make changes that will suit such photos. For video and a majority of these stills, you should be shooting in landscape (sometimes called 16:9 or "widescreen") aspect ratio.

Get close. One other hint for creating great slideshows is to grab lots of close ups of objects you find around the scene you are shooting. These items can really make a video slideshow seem that much more special.

I'm not a "video guy." Not a good excuse! Be sure to grab video clips as you shoot stills, as well, especially if you're more oriented to shooting stills only. A little video, especially close ups, can go a long way in a video slideshow that is primarily made of stills. C'mon! It only take a few seconds to squeeze off a shot. You'll be glad you did.

Organizing the Slideshow

Now that you've shot all your material, it's time to organize it into the slideshows you want to create before importing them into Premiere Pro. I like to begin this creative process by making collections in Lightroom focusing on the photos I want to use for the slideshows.

On creating photo collections. It's OK to create either larger, generalized collections or many of collections in Lightroom, it's up to you. I typically have larger collections which I further organize in Premiere Pro. My photo collections are typically not as granularly organized as my video projects are. If you don't know how to create collections in Lightroom, see this article.

Make the pictures look pretty. After I've got photos imported and organized in Lightroom, I usually make an exposure pass for all the photos I plan to use in a video slideshow. Optionally, I edit select photos in Photoshop to add effects, selective blurring, content aware fill, and other image adjustments to get the photos looking the way I want. Even if these image effects are available in Premiere Pro, I often adjust them in Photoshop or Lightroom so I don't need that processing power once played back in Premiere Pro. For example, Vibrance is available in Premiere Pro in the Lumetri Color panel, but the effect takes a lot of GPU power. Why not pump up Vibrance in Lightroom prior to importing the image and avoid applying the GPU intensive Lumetri effect in Premiere Pro? That makes much more sense and the kind of thinking that make for a smooth running project.

  • Export the stills. I first create and appropriately name folders for each video slideshow I want to create on my media drive. I then select the photos for exporting within Lightroom and then export to the appropriate folder at full size. I choose to export TIFF copies of the DNGs over JPEG because of the format's added capability to carry alpha channels and additional Photoshop layers. JPEG is usually a fine format if you don't intend further manipulation of the image, like adding Photoshop layers and with a smaller file size. It's up to you how you process these exported stills.

You're now ready to set up the Premiere Pro project.

Working in Premiere Pro

Setting up the Premiere Pro project

Having Premiere Pro set up correctly will greatly assist the success of your video slideshow.

  • Launch Premiere Pro. Create a new project in Premiere Pro by first launching the application and choosing File > New > New Project or by clicking the New Project button in "Welcome" screen. Name the project something appropriate.
  • Set Preferences for Still Image Duration. Choose Edit > Preferences (Windows) or Premiere Pro > Preferences (Mac OS) to launch the Preferences dialog box. In the General pane, you can set the "Still Image Default Duration." I found a good setting for this is 4 seconds. Click OK to close the Preferences dialog box.

Premiere Pro Import and Organization Strategy

Here's how I might set up a photo montage project using "bins" in Premiere Pro. My top tip is that I usually make bins before I even import footage. Organization is key doing montage work.

Why are folders called bins? This is BECAUSE FILM EDITORS HISTORICALLY STORED CLIPS in carts called "bins." these bins had LONG STRIPS OF FILMS clipped to them overhead so that editors could sort through them visually. Certain Non-linear editing systems, like premeire Pro, use the same terminolgy today.
Strips of film hanging in 2 different bins. Nice editing bay!

Organize using bins. Choose File > New > Bin to create "bins" (sure, think of them as folders) within the Project panel. Name bins for each subject and drag photos and clips into each one. Here in my "Europe 2016" project, you can see I've made bins for photos and videos for each city I visited.

Organizing images and clips into bins

Import stills. Now that you are organized, begin to import stills. To import images, you can use File > Import to import footage into the Project panel.

Tip: right click on any bin and import files directly into that bin. That saves you the step of having to import footage into the Project and then moving it to the appropriate bin.

Importing standard audio and video files. Most standard audio and video files can also be imported in the same fashion as you imported stills.

Importing camcorder files recorded to SD card. If the video footage you need comes from professional camcorder that records to a SD card, you need to import it using Media Browser. To do so, copy all the folders containing footage and metadata to your hard drive. Then, in Premiere Pro, navigate to the Media Browser and then import the footage by right-clicking the footage and choosing "Import." More info here. Importing these files by Media Browser is important to capture all the necessary metadata that was formerly carried on the SD card and will make your experience using the files easier in Premiere Pro. This is a crucial step that many people miss.

Bin Organization

If you didn't import the footage directly into bins, drag the photos, audio, and video clips into the appropriate ones. Need further organization? Create more bins!

Create bins within bins, if needed. You can further organize your bins by creating more bins within a bin. This idea is precisely the same as creating a folder within a folder in your operating system's file directory (Finder or Explorer).

How to create a bin within a bin. To do this: with any bin selected, create a new bin. File > New > Bin. A new bin is made within your existing bin. All you've got to do now is name it and move items into the bin that apply to your criteria. I've done this in the example project pictured.

Organize media in bins according to location, idea, person, etc. Add more bins to further organize media.

For example, within the London bin are still more bins for "Tower of London," "London Eye," and "Buckingham Palace." These bins contain images for other video slideshows. The goal being that later I join each of these smaller video slideshows into one longer piece about London. Creating bins and bins within bins (and so on) in this manner is at the heart of organizing a project like this. The bigger a project is, the more bins are likely needed.

Sorting by Date and Time. If your images or videos aren't named sequentially and time of day sorting in a bin is important to you (it often is), you can have that capability with a couple of easy steps by enabling the Metadata Display.

  1. Open the Project panel.
  2. Right click in any column.
  3. Choose "Metadata Display."
  4. In the search field, type "Creation Date."
  5. The Creation Date column is now available for sorting the images and videos by date.
Adding a Creation Date column to the Project panel is possible by adding it via the Metadata Display

Easy sorting method. With any bin in List View, you can sort images by certain criteria by clicking on any individual column. For example, to sort images by the order they were shot in, click the brand new Creation Date column. Click it once more to reverse sort the items. Icon View has a menu for sorting clips, Sort Icons, shown in the next section.

Create a Storyboard for your Photo Montage

There are fewer better ways to get started with a photo montage than creating a storyboard. A storyboard is a place where you can lay out your images in sequential order before you execute the actual production of the sequence. What do you use as a storyboard organizing space in Premiere Pro? A bin, of course! You do need to know how to display it visually, however. Here's how.

Open the bin. To get started in displaying a bin visually, double click the bin to float the bin over other windows in the user interface. You can also do, as I prefer, to open the bin in its own tab by Alt (WIN) or Option (Mac OS) double clicking the bin. Once the bin is open on its own, you can display it visually so you can sort it in your desired order.

Expand the bin. You can expand the bin (or any window, really) to cover the entire interface by pressing the accent gravé key, sometimes called the "tilde" key. When storyboarding, I often need to expand the bin to see more clips.

Get the bin into Icon view. In the lower right corner of the bin are two icons: List View and Icon View. With the bin selected, click "Icon View" (circled in red) The bin then switches to a visual display, rather than the default List view for the bin. Next to the Icon View button is a slider for altering the size of the icons.

The "Paddington" bin is now open in its own tab and set to Icon View

Sorting the icons. In this bin, drag to sort the icons in the order in which you plan to display them in your presentation; "storyboard order" so to speak. It's what I usually do. If you are unable to drag them into a different order read on. Next to the slider is the "Sort Icons" menu that looks like a button with arrows pointing up and down. You can click the icon to display a pop up menu for different sorting criteria, as follows. You will want this to be in "User Order" before you start dragging clips in a custom order. If you want to sort them in another specific order, you can.

Set the Sort Icons menu to "User Order" to drag clips into a custom sort order for storyboarding.

Usually, though. you will use your own custom sorting order. In my case, a travel montage, all my clips are sorted in order set by date and time. I may take a few liberties here by sorting certain things out of their original order, and delete any duplicates, bad quality, or shots that aren't working for my story.

You may want to drag in any other items you plan to use in your story, like video clips, audio clips, voice over, music, or Photoshop files and place them, in order, in the "storyboard bin" as well. I'll return to this storyboard after I've set up the sequence and laid in some basic audio tracks.

Creating the Sequence

Creating the sequence, or "timeline" correctly is one of the more crucial steps to creating a photo montage. There are a number of ways to create a new sequence, but doing so the right way will make all the difference in the way you work with the project. Here's how.

First decide on the destination of your slideshow to determine the right sequence size: DVD (Standard Definition), Blu-ray (High Definition), or YouTube (High Definition to 4K). The sequence size you pick should reflect that destination. I'm going to assume that you are probably going to be creating a HD, 2K, or 4K sequence for YouTube.

Personally, my workflow has moved to the maximum video frame size capability of my chosen camera, my iPhone. my chosen destination are video sharing sites like YouTube and Vimeo. I am looking to work into other social media platforms, like Behance.

Creating a new sequence. In general, it's easy to create a new sequence. Choose File > New > Sequence and the Sequence Presets dialog launches. Pick a preset for the frame size and frame rate that matches what you need for your photo montage, name the sequence in the field at the bottom of the dialog box, and then click OK. A new sequence is created. This is the more conventional way to create a sequence.

Here a 1080p 30 fps sequence is selected in the New Sequence dialog box.

No preset that works? Often, I want to generate a sequence that has no preset in the New Sequence dialog box. For example, there is no sequence preset for UHD clips shot with the iPhone. What if I wanted to create a photo montage with a few iPhone UHD clips in it. For example, I want to create videos and slideshows at UHD frame size so that I can upload it in UHD (AKA "4K") resolution to YouTube. For this, I use a UHD video clip to create that sequence. Right-click any clip and choose "New Sequence From Clip" and a new sequence is made at that size with the clip edited into it. You can get the same result by dragging a clip into the Timeline area when no other sequence is open. Delete the clip if you like. The sequence has been created inside your bin. Rename it by clicking once and type a new name. Drag the sequence to a bin where you are storing sequences, if you like. You now have the right sequence size for the UHD frame size and frame rate suitable for photos and iPhone video clips.

Editing Audio

With your sequence created, it's time to start laying out the sequence. I like to start with the emotional guts of a photo montage, the audio. Hopefully, you've got some music that's suitable for your piece by now. If you do, edit that into the sequence first.

  1. In the Project panel, double click the music clip you want to edit into the sequence. It loads into the Source Monitor.
  2. Press "I" where you want to come in on the music. Press "O" where you want to go out.
  3. In the Timeline, be sure the A1 Source Patch (blue box) is next to the A1 track. If it's not, drag the icon to the A1 source area.
  4. Click the Insert or Overwrite button in the bottom of the Source Monitor. The music is edited into your Timeline.
  5. Press the \ key to fit the whole sequence into the Timeline.
  6. With the Timeline selected, press the up arrow. The playhead returns to the Home position.
  7. You need to see audio waveforms better. Expand the track by dragging between A1 and A2 in the Track Header area.
  8. Right click at the edge of the beginning and end of the audio track to see the shortcut menu for adding a default audio transition. Add transitions to your audio.
  9. Press the Space Bar to playback audio.
Fade audio in and out with a Default Transition

Place Markers in the Timline for the Music

Another enormously helpful tip is to set markers into place at highlights in the music and sound so that when you edit your images into place generically, you can edit or trim them to these markers, making the presentation a bit more dramatic from the get go.

My technique is to try to become very familiar with the music before attempting the actual tip I'm about to share. A few listens front to back is usually sufficient.

With the clip deselected, I play the track from the beginning. Whenever I feel a musical pulse coming on, I press the "M" key. This lays in Sequence Marker right at that point in time. Keep in mind that you don't need to be super precise. You can make adjustments by trimming later.

A lot of people lay down markers only on musical downbeats, which is a cool technique, but I think a better one is just to feel the pulse of the music and lay down markers to where you feel is best. Today's music videos do not cut on the beat very often, if you've not noticed, so although effective, it's a dated technique.

An alternate technique is to scrub (drag) the Playhead around certain waveforms and then place the marker at certain high points in the music or visually by inspecting the waveforms. The only trouble with this technique is that the clip needs to continually be deselected. Deselect Sequence > Selection Follows Playhead before doing so to defeat this action.

After you're through, your sequence should look similar to this.

Note the markers in the sequence reflect high and low points reflected by the audio waveforms.
Tip: if the marker is appearing on the clip, it is selected. That's not what you want. Undo the action (Ctrl-Z WIN or CMD+D Mac OS), deselect the Audio clip and start over.

Overwrite in other audio. If you'd like to add other audio tracks at this point, like narration or natural sound, it might be a good time.

Before doing so, you might want to move the music track to a lower track to make room for sync sound from video clips, narration, and other audio clips you will later have to spot more precisely, so can have easier access to them. If you only want to have music in your slide show, just leave the audio in place.

To edit other sound sources into the Timeline, follow the previous process you used to edit the music into place. Just move the A1 Source Icon to the proper target track before Overwriting the other audio clips into the Timeline.

Your audio is now roughed in and you're ready to add visual imagery like photos, illustrations, video clips, or whatever you like.

Using Automate to Sequence

It's time to return to the storyboard bin you created and organized earlier and put it to use for editing them into the Timeline. The technique you'll use is called Automate to Sequence.

  1. Select the clips in the storyboard bin. Either Ctrl-click (Windows) or Command-click (Mac OS) them in the order you want or by dragging a selection marquee around them.
  2. In the bottom right of the Project panel, click the Automate To Sequence button.
  3. A dialog box launches with choices. With this workflow, choose the following, then click OK.
Automate to Sequence can get your photo montage off to a great start!

The result is a Timeline that looks like the following:

The resulting Timeline from the Automate to Sequence dialog box.

Trimming to Markers

Use the Selection tool (the "Arrow" tool) or the Rolling Edit tool to fix any gaps that are between markers. The gaps should close easily by simply dragging them towards each marker.

The Rolling Edit tool is great for adjusting the placement of edit points
After closing all gaps, the Timeline should look like this now.

Play the sequence back from the beginning to see that the pictures are hitting the beat as you'd expect. If they need slight adjustment, you might want to press "S" to turn off snapping momentarily, then drag the edit point to the left or right with the Rolling Edit tool to get the edit more to your liking. Zoom into the Timeline ("+" or "-" keys) if you need greater precision with the tool. Press "S" again to turn snapping back on.

Wireframes, Scale, Anchor Point and Frame Placement

You may have noticed certain photos have black bars around them (or other scaling issues) as you played back and retimed the edits in the previous step. No worries, you'll fix that now by adjusting the wireframe of each image. I suggest you choose Window > Workspaces > Effects for doing effects work such as this.

Some commands in Premiere Pro for scaling photos ahead of time can save you time (Scale to Frame Size, Set to Frame Size). However, in many cases, you need to scale and manipulate each photo manually. When you need to do these kind of tasks, handling the clip's wireframe directly in the Program Monitor can help.

To enable a clip's wireframe, double click it directly in the Program Monitor. If you have trouble with that, double click the clip in the Timeline. In the Effect Controls panel, click on the word "Motion" and the wireframe will appear in the Program Monitor.

Click on the word "Motion" in the Effect Controls panel to enable a clip's wireframe.

Program Monitor scaling. I find it advantageous to do wireframe manipulation with plenty of negative space around my "stage," the Program Monitor. This give me room to see the length and width of the entire image wireframe at a glance. To do this, click the "Select Zoom Level" pop-up menu of the Program Monitor until you can see as much of the light gray area you need to see the entire wireframe. In the below example, I'm set to a 10% size. The amount you need will vary according to the size of your sequence and the size of the computer monitor.

My Program Monitor at 10% to show negative space around the "stage." I can now manipulate the wireframe for a good starting frame.

Anchor point. Before you manipulate the wireframes, consider altering the anchor point for each photo. Anchor point alters look and feel of scale, position, and rotation effects. To change the anchor point, with the wireframe showing, drag the the cross shaped icon from the center of the image to a new location. You've just moved the anchor point. For photo montages, I center the anchor point on the focal point or "hero" of the image. When we animate photos, this step will become apparent.

The anchor point (circled blue cross) is moved from center to the image of the actress on the left. A scale up will simulate a camera "zoom".

After the anchor point work is done, put each wireframe into place for a good starting image. To scale a wireframe, you can drag the corners of a wireframe to scale it up or down. You can drag the wireframe along the X, Y axis (up or down, left or right) as well. Note that when you are scaling the wireframe, the scaling takes place from the anchor point, not the center of the photo. Set each wireframe in a good starting position for the next step: animation.

Add Transitions

You can add transitions at this point. It's up to you how many you add or where you place them. In this case, I'm going to add dissolves, the default transition, to every shot quickly. I will take the liberty of making adjustments or swapping out a transition after the following task is done: adding multiple transitions.

  1. Place the playhead at the beginning of the Timeline
  2. Make sure that the V1 track is selected, and that no other track is selected.
  3. Press Ctrl-D (WIN) or CMD-D (Mac OS). A dissolve is applied.
  4. Press the down Arrow key to move to the next edit point.
  5. Repeat step 3 and 4 until the sequence has a dissolve at ever edit.
Using this technique, you can add a dissolve to every cut in a sequence like this in a matter of seconds.

Replace a transition. Replace a transition by dragging a new transition on top of an existing one.

Adjust duration of a transition. Adjust the duration of any transition by dragging it to be shorter or longer.

Animating the Photos

Making the photos come alive with movement is done by animating three different effects: scale, position, and rotation. The movements that occur are similar to what you might see from a video camcorder.

  • scale up = a zoom in, which moves the camera in on a subject
  • scale down = a zoom out, which moves the camera out from a subject
  • X position change = a pan, which moves laterally across a subject
  • Y position change = a tilt, which moves up or down on a subject
  • Rotation change = a rotation, which rotates around a subject

Keep in mind that you can (and you should!) use these effects in combination, as well as, individually. The way you animate these parameters (sliders, numerical amounts, etc.) can also have varying visual effects, as well. For example, you can animate moves that are very subtle or vice versa. It's up to the animator.

It should be said that you also have the option of not animating an image at all. Note how often Ken Burns does this. That said, there's usually a lot of dialog accompanying those still shots.

The animation technique I'll share with you is somewhat unique, but it works. First we'll animate the simulated camera move, then we'll move the keyframes into place underneath the transition. Premiere Pro's design rather forces this workflow, but it's not a huge deal. The added step is worth the effect.

To animate the first photo in the sequence, first decide what kind of "camera move" is called for. In my case, I want to "zoom in" to a sign from the London Underground.

Zoom in. Here's how to animate a zoom in (scale up) animation.

  1. In the Timeline, position the playhead to the right of the first transition.
  2. Double click the clip to load it into the Effect Controls panel.
  3. Click the Effect Controls panel, if it's not already open.
  4. Click the stopwatch next to "Scale." It turns blue. A small blue diamond appears at that place and time. This is your first keyframe.
  5. Move the playhead just before the next transition.
  6. In the Scale property, move the scrubber to the right, the image "zooms in. A second blue diamond appears automatically.

Your scale keyframes are now set. You now need to move them so that they begin and end underneath the transition.

  1. In the Effect Controls panel, drag the left keyframe all the way to the left, until you can't drag any more.
  2. Drag the keyframe on the right all the way to the right in the same manner.
  3. Press Home, then press the Space Bar to playback the animation for your first image.

Hopefully, you are satisfied with the animation. If not, try to "zoom in" using different scale amounts. A "zoom out" move can be done with exactly the same technique, only the amount of scale for the second keyframe is less than the first keyframe. In other words, drag the scrubber to the left.

Tilt up. Using the very same technique, you can also do a tilt shot from low to high. A photo shot in portrait aspect ratio is a definite candidate for a simulated tilt.

  1. Set the Wireframe so that the bottom of the image is dragged to the bottom of the Program Monitor.
  2. In the Timeline, position the playhead to the right of the first transition.
  3. Double click the clip to load it into the Effect Controls panel.
  4. Click the Effect Controls panel, if it's not already open.
  5. Click the stopwatch next to "Position." It turns blue. A small blue diamond appears at that place and time. This is your first keyframe.
  6. Move the playhead just before the next transition.
  7. Pressing the Shift key, drag the wireframe downward so that the top of the image now appears in the Program Monitor. The second keyframe is automatically set.

Your keyframes are now set. You now need to move them so that they begin and end underneath the transition.

  1. In the Effect Controls panel, drag the left keyframe all the way to the left, until you can't drag any more.
  2. Drag the keyframe on the right all the way to the right the same way as you did with the left keyframe.
  3. Set the playhead prior to the clip you just animated, then press the Space Bar to playback the animation for this image. If you are satisfied, you can move forward with working on other images.

A "tilt down," or "panning move" to the left or the right can be done with exactly the same technique, except that you drag wireframe upward or left/right to set that second keyframe for the animation. Try animating two more photos, one being a tilt down, another being a left to right pan.

Next, move on to the next image and animate it as you wish and so on. Continue animating each image in the Timeline until you are done.

Animations for photos work best if you can vary it a bit for successive images. Don't create four tilt up animations in a row, for example. Keep it interesting. If the last move was a tilt down, try a zoom or pan for the new animation. For sure, experiment with combining scale and position parameters. You can even throw in a rotation once in awhile if you see the opportunity. This whole process of animation is quite time consuming, but it's very satisfying to see your images come to life. See what interesting combinations of animations you can craft.

Playback Tips

Since the workflow here has been how to create a photo montage at UHD frame size. This is no easy task to play this sequence back at full image quality, so you can lower it to 1/2 or lower resolution in the Program Monitor's "Select Playback Resolution" pop-up menu. If you absolutely need to view it at higher quality before exporting the sequence, you can render the footage and then raise the resolution. Sequence > Render In to Out will render the sequence to files that are easier to playback at higher resolution. If you still are not getting decent playback, your computer is probably not powerful enough. That's OK, export the slideshow to check it. It should not take too long to do that.

Export the Slideshow

Nowadays, most people share their photos and videos online, so let's focus on that workflow. If you do want to create a DVD or Blu-ray, you certainly can. If you're interested, see this FAQ for more details about how you can create those.

For the rest of us, it's time to create a file that you can upload to share to a site like YouTube or Vimeo. For that, do the following:

  1. With the Timeline selected, choose File > Export > Media. The Export Settings dialog box launches.
  2. For Format choose "H.264"
  3. For Preset choose "Match Source - High Bitrate"
  4. Click on the Output Name and rename the file, if you like. A Windows Explorer or Mac OS Finder window launches.
  5. Save the location of the encode.
  6. Click the Export button

In a matter of minutes, you can inspect the file to make sure it meets your standards. If so, upload it to your YouTube or Vimeo account.

Enjoy Your Slideshow!

Congrats! You now can go forth and create fantastic slideshows. I hope this guide assists you in creating your very own photo montages, great for family and friends.

Created By
Kevin Monahan
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