A paper photo in a frame is so, well, 20th century. Why not give your memories some motion by displaying them in sentimental slideshows, playable on your computer, smartphone, tablet or TV?
Unlike physical slides clunking through carousels of old, these digital shows can play almost like mini-movies, with images that segue smoothly from one to the next and options to add music, narration and visual effects. They can make for magical viewing that evokes emotions and tells a story, too — say, showing your grandchildren growing from babies to kids to young adults.
Making a slideshow is a great way to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other milestone events, and to honor relatives and friends at funerals and memorials, whether in-person or virtual. A host of apps available for Windows, Apple and Android devices makes it easier than you might think — a couple even create the slideshow for you!
Before you begin
The first step is deciding what kind of device you want to use. Personally, I prefer the larger screen and mouse-based interface a computer offers, but there are plenty of paid and free options for phones and tablets if that's where you're more comfortable.
The second is collecting the memories. Once you've settled on a subject for your slideshow, gather photos (and, if you like, video clips) of the people, pets or places you want to focus on. Here's how to organize your images.
If any of the images in your planned show are in photo albums, picture frames or a shoebox full of memories, you will need to digitize them. There are multiple ways to do this:
- Pick up an inexpensive flatbed scanner or “all-in-one” printer (one that is also a scanner and a copier) and scan each photo.
- Send your paper photos to a scanning service that can digitize them for you, such as the Costco Photo Center or a specialty company like Scan My Photos.
- Use your smartphone to take a picture of the paper photo (though the quality won't be as good as a proper scan).
Digitizing has benefits besides making your old snapshots slideshow-ready. For one thing, the quality of the image will never fade over time. You can make an infinite number of copies of these precious memories, and the millionth reproduction will look just as good as the original. You can also edit the digital versions to, for example, cover up a tear in the paper, remove red-eye or crop out that tourist in the background with the loud floral shirt.
If your photos are already digital, it helps to put the ones earmarked for your slideshow all in one place, like a folder on your PC or Mac.
Often, they're stored on your smartphone, as that's probably what you used to take them. Getting them on your computer is easy, especially if you've backed up your phone to an external drive or cloud service. Just copy or download them from the backup storage device or website.
Alternatively, you could connect your phone directly to your computer with a USB cable and drag and drop the shots you want to use over to your desktop or laptop (via Windows Explorer on a PC or Finder on a Mac).
If you want to use photos from friends’ or relatives’ social media feeds, you should be able to save copies by right-clicking on the image on a computer or tapping and holding on it on a mobile device.
Whatever method you use to access or transfer them, remember to always keep a duplicate of your photos and videos in their original form, in case you edit, modify or accidentally delete them in the course of creating your slideshow.
While you're collecting your images, consider what music you might want to add, and jot down some stories you may want to share if there is a narration option.
Choosing a slideshow app
Now it's time to get a slideshow maker. Some are specific to certain operating systems; others can work across different devices.
PC and Macs
PCs running Windows 10 come with Microsoft Photos, which lets you create stunning slideshows and incorporates features from the vintage Microsoft video-editing program Windows Movie Maker that was discontinued several years ago. What Photos lacks in advanced features, such as professional-looking transitions, picture-in-picture and fancy fonts, it makes up in simplicity. It's downloadable if you don't already have it on your machine.
Some Windows users create slideshows on PowerPoint, which comes with Microsoft Office or Microsoft 365, but they won't have many robust options. Still, you can add photos, transition effects and music.
A super-slick slideshow tool called iMovie is bundled with Apple computers like MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini and iMac. (You can download it for free from the Mac App Store, too.) It's easy to pick up yet full of advanced features, which you will notice once you start playing around with it. If you feel a little intimidated, there are loads of tutorials on YouTube to help you along.
Slideshow Video Maker from software company Movavi is another highly rated offering, available for both Windows and Mac users. It offers a “wizard” option to automatically create a slideshow for you in two steps. You can try it free for seven days (slideshows you make during the trial period contain a watermark) and purchase for $49.99 if you like what you see.
Phones and tablets
There's no mobile version of Microsoft Photos, but iMovie is built into your iPhone or iPad and works in the same fashion as the Mac version.
Quik, formerly known as Replay and now owned by camera maker GoPro, is a free and intuitive video editor, available for both Apple and Android devices. Quik creates the slideshow for you: Just import photos and video clips from your library and the app does its thing. Within a couple of seconds, the software will stitch together a sharable film for you, complete with transitions and effects and synchronized to music (100 free songs are included).
A couple of other recommendations for iOS and Android are FilmoraGo and PicPlayPost. Both are free to use, but you will have a watermark on your final video unless you pay $4.99 a month, which just gets the mark removed, or $6.99 a month for “pro” versions, which feature more advanced editing tools. Filmora is also available for PCs and Macs, but that costs $89.99 a year or $149.99 for a lifetime license.
Sharing Slideshows on Social
Uploading your sentimental slideshow to YouTube or posting it on a social media platform like Facebook can make it easily accessible for friends and family. But be mindful of your privacy (and that of your subjects) and careful about who you share with.
On YouTube, I strongly recommend setting visibility to “private" for any slideshow you post. This lets you control who can receive the link and watch the video. Similarly, with social sites, remember to keep your circle small. For example, on Facebook, customize your privacy settings to limit who can see (and share) your posts.
Steps to creating the slideshow
Unless the app does all the work for you, the process for creating a slideshow is generally similar across most programs.
1. Start a new project and import your photos or video clips.
2. Drag and drop to arrange them in the desired order across a visible timeline.
3. Edit your media. If you need to, say, crop or rotate photos or trim video clips, tap them in the timeline to launch editing tools.
4. Add special effects or filters, if you like. For example, you could turn photos into vintage-looking black-and-white or sepia-tone images, or go for a “Ken Burns effect” (a slow camera pan across a static image).
5. Select how long each photo will be displayed in the slideshow and how each will transition to the next, for example a dissolve or swipe to the right.
6. Choose music to play during the slideshow. If the app doesn't do it already, select to fade in and fade out the song (or songs) at the desired points.
7. Add on-screen titles or captions, if desired. You might want viewers to know the names of people in images, for example, or where and when they were captured. Some apps also let you add narration, using the microphone in your device.
8. Save your finished slideshow and follow the app’s instructions to “export” (convert) it to a common video format like .mp4 or .mov. That makes it sharable and playable on most devices.
That's it! You now have a visual keepsake to enjoy anytime and with anyone you want — at a social event, memorial service or video chat with friends. You can share it in a family Zoom gathering or even show it on your TV, by plugging a thumb drive with a copy of the show into your television's USB port or wirelessly “casting” from your phone or tablet to a smart TV.
You can also send your shows to the people to whom they would mean the most. Slideshow files may be too large to email or text: Widely used services like Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook limit email attachments to 20 or 25 megabytes; a two-minute slideshow with music could be considerably bigger. But you can upload your show to a cloud service like Dropbox or Google Drive and share the link, or post it for loved ones to watch online (carefully — see sidebar).
The main thing is, you've found a creative, entertaining way to preserve precious memories and pass them on to future generations.
Marc Saltzman is a contributing writer who covers personal technology. His work also appears in USA Today and other national publications. He hosts the podcast series Tech It Out and is the author of several books, including Apple Watch for Dummies and Siri for Dummies.