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Output Like a Pro with iPhoto 5

by Derrick Story
02/01/2005

In my previous iPhoto 5 article, I discussed how easy it is to upload and manage RAW files. This eliminates a huge barrier. RAW photography used to mean "more pain than fun." Instead of playing with my pictures right after a shoot in iPhoto, I found myself "working" in Camera Raw. iPhoto 5 has changed that. Now anyone can input like a pro... and love it.

To test this concept, I went shooting this weekend at Pt. Reyes in Northern California. I set my Canon 10D in RAW mode and left it there. When I got home that evening, I couldn't wait to get on my Mac and play with the images. As it turned out, the experience was even better than I had anticipated. The end result was a 1:40 slideshow complete with transitions, pans, zooms, and music. All of this was completed quickly (and happily) in iPhoto 5. So now, I can output like a pro too.

And that's what this article is about. I'm going to show you some of my tricks for creating standout slideshows in iPhoto 5 -- regardless if you shoot JPEG or RAW. I'll then show you how to export your slideshows to QuickTime. You can share these presentations with anyone who has a Mac or PC.

As you can tell, we have lots to cover. So let's get to work.

Sorting Your Images

Over the course of the day I shot 102 photos, which just about filled up my SanDisk 1GB Ultra II CF card. When I got home, I connected the Belkin USB 2.0 15-in-1 Media Reader and uploaded the images to iPhoto 5. Usually this is when I treat my trail-parched throat to an ice cold Coke. But now that iPhoto 5 shows me postcard sized photos as it imports my RAW files, I'm not going anywhere. Uploading is actually fun.

After iPhoto has grabbed everything, I transfer all the pictures again. This time I drag the DCIM folder from the SanDisk card on to an external FireWire drive and rename it "Pt. Reyes Masters, Jan 05." This serves as my immediate backup and long term archive of the untouched RAW files. During this second (non-entertaining) upload, I finally have a moment to get that Coke.

I can start playing in iPhoto as soon as the archiving is complete. First I rate each picture using the "star" system that was introduced in iPhoto 4. The slideshow function works great for this because I can view the pictures at a whopping 1440 by 900 pixels on my 17" PowerBook. This makes it easy to determine image quality and sharpness.

To enable this function in iPhoto 5, you might be tempted to click on the "Slideshow" icon beneath your thumbnails to get things started. Don't do it. That button builds a slideshow object that has more features than we want right now. You just want to rate and sort. So instead, click once on the "Last Roll" icon to highlight it, then click on the "sideways triangle" icon in the lower left corner of the iPhoto interface (beneath the Source window). That will present you with the following dialog box that you set up as shown here:

Figure 1. Keep the settings simple for rating images. We'll add the motion stuff later. Figure 1. Keep the settings simple for rating images. We'll add the motion stuff later.

You want to work quickly through this phase. As each image presents itself on the screen, click on the appropriate star rating in the slideshow controls until all the images have been starred. Once this is completed, I usually create a custom album, drag all the pictures into it, then click on View > Sort Photos > By Rating. My highest rated images are at the top of the window working downward to the lowest rated pictures.

Now I create a second custom album and drag all my absolute favorite images from the first album into it. Because the pictures are star rated, this task is easy. Here I can arrange them in the order that will ultimately become my slideshow. I named this second album, "Pt. Reyes Picks." I'm almost ready to create my slideshow.

A Little Editing First

If I've had a good shooting day, I shouldn't have to do much editing of the pictures in "Pt. Reyes Picks" -- maybe a little cropping and exposure adjustment. The image-editing dashboard in iPhoto 5 (click on the "Adjust" button in editing mode) makes these refinements a snap.

Figure 2. No need to use an external editor for speedy image adjustments. iPhoto 5 has a capable set of tools for fine-tuning slideshow pictures. Figure 2. No need to use an external editor for speedy image adjustments. iPhoto 5 has a capable set of tools for fine-tuning slideshow pictures.

If you started with RAW files, keep in mind that iPhoto 5 automatically generates JPEGs from that RAW data, and it's those JPEGs that you're editing with the slider bars in the dashboard. This is a fantastic convenience for building slideshows quickly. (Your original RAW data remains safe and unchanged deep within the folder labyrinth inside your iPhoto Library folder.)

Later on, if you want to return to that original RAW data for another project, such as making fine art prints, simply go to Share > Export... > File Export, and choose "Original" for the format. iPhoto will send the original RAW file to the destination of your choice, where you can fine tune to your heart's content in Camera Raw.

But for now we're building slideshows, so there's no need for any of that. Once all the images in the "pick set" look good to the eye, it's time to put things in motion.

Build Your Slideshow

Arrange the images in your "picks" album to create a sequence, called a storyline, for your presentation. Just grab them and drag into position. I recommend that you begin the show with a few powerful images, and end things the same way. Hide the average stuff in the middle.

Keep in mind that you're telling a story. You'll be surprised how effectively you can communicate a storyline by how you arrange the pictures. Once everything is in place, click on the album name once to highlight it, then click on the "Slideshow" icon beneath the thumbnails. iPhoto 5 will take you to a new interface you've never seen before. It's playtime!

Figure 3. In the new slideshow work area, you have new tools to create your masterpiece. Figure 3. In the new slideshow work area you have new tools to create your masterpiece.

You'll also notice that you have a new "object" in the Source window -- a slideshow named after the album that provided the images. I like this function because now I have a separate sandbox to play in without messing with my "Pt. Reyes Picks" album.

I usually start by clicking on the "Settings" icon at the bottom of the interface to set up the basic parameters of the presentation. I choose my default transition -- I like Dissolve -- and click on the "Fit slideshow to music," then click OK. I leave the other checkboxes blank because they do things I don't want. (Take a look at this Apple help page if you want a handy overview of all the settings in this dialog box.)

For example, if you check the box labeled, "Automatic Ken Burns Effect," then iPhoto applies panning and zooming to every image in your show. This is handy if you're in a hurry, but I don't like this look for every slide. Plus, there is some image degradation associated with it (during presentation only). I'll manually apply Ken Burns a little later, and only to specific pictures.

Figure 4. In the Settings dialog box you can configure the basic parameters for your presentation. But don't go crazy here. Save the customizing for individual slides later. Figure 4. In the Settings dialog box you can configure the basic parameters for your presentation. But don't go crazy here. Save the customizing for individual slides later.

Next, I select my soundtrack. Click on the "Music" icon, check the box "Play music during slideshow," and select the appropriate track out of your iTunes library.

Here's a good tip: pick a short song for slideshows consisting of 25 images or less, and medium length tunes for longer presentations. For my Pt. Reyes presentation, I picked a music track that was 1:40 in length for 20 images.

Why do I care? Because I've told iPhoto to match the length of the slideshow to the length of the music I put with it, if I choose "Stairway to Heaven" for 20 slides, each image will be on the screen for an eternity -- not exactly good movie making. I like my presentations to hum along at a good clip. So I choose short musical pieces for shows with a couple dozen images or less.

Figure 5. Short soundtracks work best for presentations with 24 slides or less. Figure 5. Short soundtracks work best for presentations with 24 slides or less.

At this point, if you did nothing else other than click on the first thumbnail for your slideshow and hit the "Play" button that's beneath the preview window, you would have a more engaging presentation than most of your friends. But iPhoto 5 still has a few tricks up its sleeve, so let's see what else we can do.

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