I was recently asked to create a farewell slide show. It didn’t sound too hard, so I accepted the task having never done it before. Along the way, I learned some things that I think you’d find useful if you ever need to do this.


The first question you might ask is what software to use. I really didn’t want to buy anything for this one-time task, so I simply used Windows Movie Maker. This is a free download from Microsoft. I’m sure Macs come with something just as good or better. I’m not going to go into super detail on how to use the software, so I much of what I say will apply no matter what software you are using.


The first thing you should establish is how long you want your slide show to be. I was given a target of ten to fifteen minutes, and I ended up at fifteen minutes because I was given so many photos. Once you get going, it’s easy to make your slide show too long and forget how much you are taxing people’s attention. My suggestion is to make your slide show a maximum of fifteen minutes long if people in your audience are in the slide show, and ten minutes long otherwise. People are always more interested if they are part of the show.

Choosing Your Photos

I was given way more photos than I could use. A large part of the task was sorting through them. For the first pass, I simply weeded out the bad photos. I paid no attention to how many photos I really needed (more on that in a second). I simply eliminated any photos that were poorly shot or unacceptable for whatever reason.

Now on to figuring out how many photos you actually need. This depends on how long you want to show each slide. Windows Movie Maker defaults to six seconds per slide. I thought this was a bit too slow. After playing around with the default settings and some trial and error, I found the optimal speed to be five seconds per slide. You can use this rule of thumb to estimate how many slides you need. For example, if your slide show is ten minutes, that is 600 seconds, divided by five is 120 slides. Another way to say it is twelve slides per minute, which isn’t very many!

Now that you know roughly how many slides you need, you can gauge roughly how “picky” you can be with your pool of photos during your second round of sorting. If the number of slides after your first round of sorting is close to what you need, you are lucky – you will only need to throw away a few. If the number is much greater, it will take time to sort through the best ones. At this point, pare down your photos to something in the neighborhood of what you need, but leave some extras in there to give yourself some wiggle room with the music.

There are a few more things to keep in mind during your sorting. One is to have a good variety of slides with respect to content and subjects. In my case, I wanted to make sure that a good cross-section of the congregation was represented in the slides, not having too many or too few photos of any families or individuals.

Picking Your Music

Now it’s time to think about the music. This was more difficult than I thought. Many songs you might like actually have lyrics that don’t work for the occasion. Here are the songs I chose and why:

  1. “In My Life” by the Beatles: This is an obvious song that is great for times when you are looking back at someone’s life. Be careful though, it does talk about touchy things like “friends and lovers” and “dead and living” people, believe it or not. For the latter, I was careful to show a photo of some flowers in that slide and not any person. Because of these lyrical landmines, I only used the first verse of this otherwise appropriate song.
  2. “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers: This song talks about depending on friends, coming to them with problems, etc. It was a perfect song to show our pastor offering counsel and people helping each other with physical tasks. Now, this song starts very slow so I only used the fast middle part with the drums. I wanted to keep things uptempo.
  3. “I Can See Clearly” by Jimmy Cliff: The chorus of this song says “it’s gonna be a bright, bright sun shiny day”. Perfect to show outdoor activities of the church, as well as an optimistic hope for the future. I showed photos of the church carnival and the church picnic during this song. Again, I didn’t use the whole song but only an excerpt.
  4. “Love” by Chris Tomlin: Since this was for a pastor, I needed some Christian music of course. I picked this one because it featured an African choir, and our congregation has a large contingent from Ghana. It was perfect. With a theme of “love”, this section was a “catch-all” for photos that didn’t really fit in any other category.
  5. “We Belong” by Pat Benatar: This is a really beautiful song perfect for such an occasion. I used it as another “catch all”, but it was really appropriate to play while I showed photos of the marriages that my pastor had performed (“for worse or for better, we belong together”).
  6. “How Great Is Our God” by Chris Tomlin: Since this was to be shown at a church, it was obvious to me that it had to end with a Christian song. I chose this contemporary Christian song because I liked it, but also because it ends with a refrain of “How Great Thou Art”, one of the most beloved traditional Christian hymns of all time. This provided a stirring end to the slide show, and was important to play at a religious event.

A Quick Test

Before going too much further, I strongly suggest randomly throwing all of your photos into the software along with any one of the songs, and then rendering it to the final video file. The reason for doing this is to make sure your computer and software are up to the task. Check for any glitches in the audio or video. It would be terrible to discover after finishing your masterpiece that your software isn’t able to render a usable copy of the slide show!

In Windows Movie Maker, you can simply select all of the photos and drag them into the software. Same with the music. Again, don’t worry about ordering. Just get it to run and render to a file. (In this case it is a .WMV file. On a Mac, it would be Quicktime.)

Paring Down Your Music

Now it’s time for some serious work: cutting down the music. If you plan to use songs in their entirety, it makes things much easier for you. Simply drag them in, in the order you plan to use them. Having snippets of songs adds more interest and variety, but it adds quite a bit of time to the creation process.

I chose to use snippets of songs. Windows Movie Maker supports this. Simply type in the time in the song that you want it to start playing at, and the time in the song when you want it to fade out. An easier way to do it is to listen to the song and press a button to tell it to “start here” and same for the end. Drag all of your songs into the software, and trim them until your desired length is reached.

One caveat: Windows Movie Maker doesn’t support crossfading of audio (which is when one song fades in while the previous song is fading out). One song has to completely end before the next one starts. That is annoying because it creates a gap of silence in between songs. With careful choice of transition points (like a very quick fade-out at the end of a chorus), you can minimize this annoyance.

Edit your music until the slide show is the desired length. This is important to do first, because changing the length of your slide show later will throw all of your slides out of sync with the music. It is a huge pain, believe me.

Arranging the Photos

So, at this point, you have a very crude slide show with music playing. To give it some elegance, i.e., the “Ken Burns effect”, you have to apply an effect to your slide show. This pans or zooms each slide slowly, and crossfades each slide to the next. In Windows Movie Maker, select all of your slides, then click on one of the effects buttons in the task bar. I chose “Pan and Zoom”, because that is the “Ken Burns” effect basically.

As I mentioned, I found the optimal viewing time to be 5 seconds, but you want some crossfade between photos. The Windows default was 1 second of fade, but I found this to be too long. Half a second was much better in my opinion. In Windows Movie Maker, this means that you will actually slide duration to 5.5 seconds. Half a second of that is the fade time, so the total viewing time per slide will still be five seconds.

You should start thinking about the various themes that go with the music. For example, I put scenes from the pastor’s life in during “In My Life”, whereas I put photos of religious services in during “How Great is Our God”. You get the idea. However, you don’t need to be strict about these categories. It’s OK to throw some photos around randomly. In fact, it will add interest.

Don’t be too strict about having the photo transitions line up perfectly with the music either, unless you want to spend a ton of time on this. This project can take forever if you let it.

Windows Movie Maker

Screen shot of Windows Movie Maker

Backing Up

Video software is notorious for crashing, and I believe Windows Movie Maker did crash once on me (which is actually not too bad compared to other video software). Therefore, backup your work early and often. I can’t emphasize that enough!

The Results

I was a bit nervous before playing my slide show in front of a few hundred people. But in the end, they really appreciated the effort I put into it. I got the strongest reactions from the funny photos, so I suggest sprinkling humorous photos liberally through your show. Variety is another key to avoid boring people. Finally, avoid the temptation to make your slide show too long! At fifteen minutes, I felt was pushing the limit of the audience’s attention span.

Here’s an example of a different video I made of a visit to Alpine Village in Torrance, CA, using this technique:

Note that if I had more photos, I would have quickened the pace of the show. As is, it lingers too long on each photo, but you get the idea.

Hope this helped, and good luck with your show! – Brian

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