Posts in Education
SLIDESHOW SOFTWARE – A SMARTSLIDES REVIEW
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Let me start off by saying that I’ve been making slideshows with photos and music in some capacity for about ten years.

I’ve been frustrated with the products that have been designed for many reasons such as ease of use, ability to professionally present, how much behind-the-scenes preparation time is needed and the basic support of said software.

As a wedding photographer, I’m always looking for ways to save time and give my clients a professional product to easily consume their photos on multiple platforms.  Pixellu’s SmartSlides does that. It’s minimized the options to meet all the important necessities, gives the photographer an easy way to make a professional slideshow for clients and doesn’t bog us down with “bells and whistles”.

SmartSlides Slideshow Software

I think many times online photo products forget just how much multitasking we do in our profession and that we’ll take any help we can get.

As soon as I opened up Smartslides and was ready to create my first slideshow I was reminded that I had to do some prep work first.

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It was recommended to have images that were at least 2200 px high.  This seemed like a lot of pixels for a web video so I clicked the “Learn more” button. I was greeted with “minimum requirements”, “recommendations” and a very helpful screenshot of the what the “export window” should look like in Lightroom.

I found out that slideshows will display in 4K and that’s why each image needed to be at least 2200 pixels high.  That seemed fair.

I went ahead and pressed export.  I was exporting about 120 images so I had to wait about 3-4 minutes.

 

I added my images by pressing the big red plus sign.  This took a few minutes for SmartSlides to process but you could “continue” on to the “music” section as your photos uploaded.  I really appreciated that consideration of my time.

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I was greeted by 7 music “categories” to add to my slideshow with 5 licensed songs per category.  I could listen to the song and add it instantly to my slideshow.

I also was able to tell if the song was of “low”, “medium” or “high” energy and the exact length.  This was important to me because I didn’t want to have to listen to a song all the through just to see if it fit the mood or number of my photos.

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I was able to choose multiple tracks, delete them and see how long each image will show up on the screen during the slideshow.

The “duration of each image” was such a thoughtful piece of information added in Smartslides.  It helps me make quick music choices based off of how many photos I have.  With many of the other slideshow softwares I have used, I had to figure how long each photo was shown by trial and error.

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The next section is what Pixellu refers to as “Wrap Up”.  Once you get to this section you can’t go back to the “Music” or “Images” section that you were previously in but you can still do those same functions as if you were in those sections.

I didn’t understand why that was but I was fine with it when I realized that I could still add/delete/rearrange images as well as add/delete/trim any music track that I had previously chosen.

 

In the “Wrap Up” section you have the ability to create “segments” based off of how many music tracks you chose (i.e. 2 music tracks = 2 segments).  Each segment is customizable by clicking on the icons on top of the segment.

You can rearrange, delete, and move images to other segments and change, add or trim music. You can also easily click the “play” icon or “preview” button to see the slideshow and any changes made.

The information that was most important to me was still how many seconds each image showed up.  The difference in the “Wrap Up” section was that it showed how many seconds each image showed up in a specific “segment” comparatively to the whole slideshow in the previous screen.

I found that helpful when I started moving images out of one segment and into another.

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The ability to move images to specific segments was valuable in cases where I might want to have a slower, romantic song for getting ready and the ceremony versus having a fast-paced, party song for the reception.

I also found the ability to shorten any music track very helpful because many times I didn’t have enough images to display for an entire song.

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The other option you have in a segment is how each image “transitions”.  I can choose from 3 options plus choose how long the transition takes place.

If you wanted to create continuity between multiple segments then just click “apply to all segments”.

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During import, SmartSlides distributes your images throughout each segment and displays them at different lengths for some reason.  Luckily, it has a “one click” solution that would “spread images evenly across segments”.  This displayed all of my images throughout the whole slideshow for the same duration.

The thing to keep in mind here is that if you move images to another segment after pushing this button then your images will not be displayed evenly across segments.

Once you’re done editing your slideshow, you can press the red “preview” button. Here you choose one of the four themes to display the slideshow in as well as choose the “featured image” to display before the slideshow is played.

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Once you’re ready to publish you’ll have two options to share.  The first is the direct URL to the slideshow.  Pixellu actually creates a stand-alone page for your slideshow that is professional and beautiful.

The other option is to embed the video into your own site using the “embed code”.

SmartSlides Slideshow Software – Pricing

There are two types of pricing plans for SmartSlides. Annual and Monthly. The “monthly” plan is very similar to the Adobe CC plan in that you can pay month-by-month and cancel at anytime. This would be ideal for photographers who may just want to use it temporarily or just don’t have it in their budget to purchase the “annual” plan.

Monthly is a bit more expensive than the “annual” plan but for those of us who may only use it for a limited amount of time this may make the most sense because you can purchase it temporarily. The “annual” plan is better value even though in both plans, the payments are made monthly.

 

There are 3 different levels that you can purchase with a Smartslides account: Starter, Pro and Studio. This is simply based off of how many slideshows that you would like stored using SmartSlides‘ web platform.

The only thing that I think could be improved here is the “studio” storage. Although 1,000 slideshows is a lot of content to create and it would likely take a while to produce that, I am curious why there is limit on the slideshows that you can create considering it’s the highest plan that you can purchase.

Pound-for-pound I think the pricing is reasonable and has been customized with the modern photographer in mind. When you compare the pricing to their competitors, the ease of use, and professionalism, then you’ll see that SmartSlides is packing in a ton of value.

There’s also a special 25% discount if you head over to the SmartSlides website today – click here to find out more.

SmartSlides Slideshow Software – Conclusion

One of the highlights of SmartSlides is the well-thought-out customizations that seem to tailor towards the most important elements of a professional photography slideshow.  Elements like music, theme, segments, transitions and a custom domain are all notable.

Another valuable highlight is the learning curve.  Comparing to other slideshow software, the amount of time it took me become proficient in SmartSlides was was around 50% less. I found the interface intuitive and easy to use because of the minimal, simple design.

Because SmartSlides uses HTML5 rather than Flash, the speed during upload, designing and publishing was easy and fast.  I was under the impression that because my files were so large that SmartSlides would struggle to quickly change and manipulate the slideshow but I made changes without any lagging or loading.

The simple, minimal design of SmartSlides is another highlight that stands out to me although I do think there is room for improvement here.  It’s evident that Pixellu put so much time into the features and options.  They’re functional and I actually enjoyed designing my slideshow.

The specific areas that need improvement are with the images after they’re uploaded.  When rearranging images to tell a story in a visual order I found it difficult to make changes.  I had to “zoom out” in order to see the “rows” of images so I could rearrange the order.  I also could only move images up one row at a time which was inconvenient in segments with more than a dozen images.

The professionalism alone, stands out from all other slideshow software that I’ve experienced.  The final product helps my clients focus on the images themselves and allows them to experience the photos without the usual distractions of videos such as ads, pop-ups or promos.

The ability to customize a client tailored URL as well as embedding the video into my website was extremely easy, quick and I didn’t have to make any tweaks!

Here is an example of the slideshow that I made using SmartSlides as well as the same video embedded in my Squarespace blog.

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT SMARTSLIDES

This review was written in collaboration with ShotKit.com

How To Shoot A Double Exposure With The 5D MARK lll & IV

As a "purist", I'm not much into special effects and a ton of "post-production" with my photography.  When I discovered that I could make multiple exposures "in-camera" in a few easy steps I was stoked.  Read on to learn how to make your own multiple exposure.

Steps to making a "multiple exposure":

1. Shoot the silhouette in front of a white, highly exposed background. Try to shoot later in the day when you can so you have more even light.  Shooting from a low angle is good here. 


2. Find the background/fill image.  Trees, shrubs, buildings and other continual shapes and lines work well. 


3. Go to "multiple exposure" mode in your DSLR (I use the 5D Mark iv).  Select the first portrait image (silhouette) and go to the "live view" mode.  The back of the screen will now give you a preview of your images when combined.  You also want to make sure that you've set the "multiple exposure" to "additive" in the settings.  This mimics the film technique of combining images. 

4. Take the photo.  try to put the facial features in a "full" part of the the texture and have it spread out into the back of the face and head.  

Challenge
Do this 10 times.  Be open-minded and experiment.  You'll probably come out with at least 1 you like. 

 

5 Things I've Learned From 10 Years In The Classroom

I've been teaching over ten years now in one way, shape, or form.  I've taught marines how to survive in water combat situations.  I've spent a ton of time teaching my little brother Jonathan  (who has autism).  I've taught kids with "severe and profound" disabilities including cerebral palsy, autism, intellectually disabled-moderate and mild, fragile-X syndrome plus many more.  I've taught teenagers with severe emotional and behavior disorders who have been abused and who have abused others.  I've taught middle school language arts and middle school social studies. I've taught as an adjunct professor at the university level.  I currently teach photographers and help them with their businesses. .  

As a teacher it's been hard over the years as you can imagine.  I was immersed in chaos, defiance and frustration when trying to teach my students.  I honestly didn't know what I was doing for a long time and had to "fake" it. It's taken perseverance, discipline and some deep reflection to get to the point where I actually enjoy teaching.  I'm happy to say that I'm getting there though.  I'm also extremely happy to say that I am actually "teaching" too.

Here are five things that I've learned and have brought to my photography education through all of this:

1. Divergence

Divergence is made up of these four main areas and I try to practice them in all areas of my life including my classroom.

Deferring judgment: During critiques, grading, peer reviews or simple sharing activities I challenge my students to use language like "I notice", "I see that" or say "I wonder" rather than "I like", "I don't like", "it's good" or "it's bad".  This type of language leads to negative and emotional responses that make students (and teachers) judge themselves.   

Being open-minded and considering every possible idea:  During goal brainstorming I encourage students to put ALL ideas up on our "goals sheet".  Some students are hesitant but over time they loosen up and stop judging their own ideas.

Encouraging different perspectives: Building a culture of diversity and difference is so important.  This all happens during my questioning sequences.  

Building off of the ideas of others:  Daily I have students share with others what they are doing.  This allows them to notice other's reactions to their work and motivates them to think about them in a critical way throughout the process.

 

2.  Students Lead

In my photography education...students lead most of the big decisions like how they're assessed,  what the project is on,  how they go through processes, discussions and much more.

One example is students spend multiple days exploring, discussing, twisting and considering ideas before goals are made for every project. They make their own goals and those goals eventually turn into their rubric.  This takes away any "gray" areas and mystery during the actual "evaluation" of the project because they actually came up with the objectives.  They take ownership of the goals.  When a questions arises about how they're being graded I point to the big poster on the wall where they wrote down the goals.  I make them do 90% of this because students tend to get frustrated with the "wishy-washieness" of the modern day teacher regarding grading, expectations and if they're going to get in "trouble".  

BTW. They were only able to come up with their own goals after a ton of questions were asked: what makes a good..., how is this most effective..., what type of person would respond to ..., how does the public see a ..., what would happen if our world didn't have, what are the alternatives, if I was ___ what would..., etc...

  

3. Freedom To Fail

Generally, students (especially teenagers...I said generally) are brainwashed.  They are so afraid that they are going to get in trouble or get a bad grade or their parents will get mad at them or they'll get sent to the principal's office or whatever.

I aggressively work from to "re-brainwash" them into understanding that they are in charge of their choices and they get to choose in my classroom.   

I do this in many ways.  When it comes to grading I have students grade themselves and a peer before I ever consider grading them (using the goals they created ⬆️). This forces them to reflect on their own work and their peer's.  I give them each 12.5% of their own grade and mine is worth 75%.  I justify mine being worth more because of my years of experience in the field (like getting paid or evaluated by a boss in the real world).

When I see the fear in their eyes about doing it right I help them think about the outcomes of their decisions and I help them and reassure them that failing is part of learning.  I continually communicate to them that failing is an important part of learning in my classroom.  There are some students that get this quickly and some that don't.  The important thing is that the culture of my classroom revolves around the "freedom to fail".  If students ever feel rejected then we talk about that and what happened.

Some questions I ask my students to help with this are: what are you actually being graded on?...If you respond in a way that others don't agree with what's the worst that could happen?...why do you think that is?

 

4. Go With The Flow

I used to try and control how my students learned.  The process they went through.  The activities they did.  I used to judge their natural responses to my teaching strategies in an unhealthy way.  This was because I wasn't "going with the flow".

I now plan on acting spontaneous and intuitive when teaching.  I know that I've always been a thoughtful, creative teacher but it didn't show until I accepted that problems, unexpected events and uncommon situations WILL arise on the daily. 

I've started experimenting with things like "wait time", the vocabulary I use, body language and tone of voice during my teaching to help with this.  

You can't learn this one except by doing it though.  This is also just letting go of things you can't control and using those uncontrollable events to your advantage as a teacher.

 

5. Do Less

The only way I can do any of the previous four is because I do less.  This means I assigned less work, spend less (and almost no) time on tests and quizzed think more about each project.

Some benefits of doing less for me has been that I've observed students going deeper in their work and the students who used to "slip through the cracks" are much more easily identified because I'm able to go through the process with them and observe, experience and facilitate the environment according to what they need not what I need from them.  I am basically able to actually think on a deeper level about each individual aspect of my classroom.  

More importantly,  when I do less I'm happier and when I go home to my family I don't feel like I've just been run through a gauntlet.   

 

This is my opinion and I challenge you to create your "way" to be happier and more effective.  I feel like whether you're a teacher, artist, business person or manager then one or more of these ideals could be shaped to help you enjoy your job more and make you more effective.  

Creatively,

Mark