Tears and Laughter: Creating a Powerful Memorial Slideshow

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My Uncle tragically passed from pancreatic cancer several weeks ago. For his memorial service, I helped prepare a photo slideshow.

And though it was tough, I’m forever grateful for the experience of putting it together — it made me feel like I got to relive his life, and as I made it, I found myself hoping that it might help the people who watched it relive his life too. Because that’s what memorials are for; a final visit with our beloved before saying goodbye. We invoke them.

So I’d like to share what I did here, in the hope that others can honor their loved ones as well. For me, the process was a mixture of tears and laughter.

Step 1: Collect photos from friends and family

Create a Dropbox account if you don’t have one. A shared Dropbox folder is the simplest way people can collaborate and add photos. Share a folder via email with friends, family or whoever you think might contribute photos for the occasion. We were able to collect nearly a thousand pictures this way.

Collection of family and friends photos in Mylio library

Step 2: Find the best photos

I used Mylio to sort through the pictures. This was the easiest way, because with Mylio I could see the contents of the Dropbox folder, and know right away when new ones were added. I could then tag images using stars in order to sort through them.

I did a first pass using four stars, sorted all the four-star images, then did a second pass, marking the best with five stars.

How did I decide which pictures to pick? I had the following criteria:

  • What pictures told the best story? There were a lot of pictures of people posed in groups. Pictures where people were interacting with each other felt like they had so much more life.
  • Never underestimate the impact of genuine smiles. Chances are you will have a variety of pictures where people are standing together smiling for the camera. While these pictures can be nice, we can tell when people are genuinely joyful in pictures, so I erred on the side of using pictures where they were authentically engaging with each other.

Enlarged view of a single photo within Mylio libraryStep 3: Sort!

I continued to use Mylio for sorting. I moved pictures into special folders, then labeled these folders by theme: family, travel, solo, etc. This step got me ready to answer the next question:

Step 4: What story are you trying to tell?

You could be finished at this point, and just assemble pictures in random or chronological order. But I’d encourage you to think of your slideshow as a story. So: what story are you trying to tell?

If you’ll be telling a story at a wedding, you could build the story of how two people came into each other’s lives. If, on the other hand, you’ll be at a memorial service like I was, you’ll want to tell the story of who this person was, and how they felt about the world. For my Uncle’s story, the photos I had seemed to break into three natural chapters.

The first was the story of growing up in Billings, MT. The second was the love he had for his family. And the third was a recap of all of the things he loved in life: travel, adventure, and motorcycles.

5 star selection in Mylio library

Step 5: Find music

Think again about the story you want to tell, then find something meaningful. If the slideshow is for a wedding, ask the participants for a list of their favorite bands. Then, build a Spotify play list and spend some time listening. Even better, see if you can find a song that has particular significance to the couple.

This is your opportunity to connect with the people who are watching through a specific song with meaning. For my Uncle’s service, we asked my Aunt LouAnn what music was meaningful to my Uncle Rich. She mentioned that he’d often tell her he was Proud to be your old man. This song perfectly captured how proud he felt about his family, and seemed a natural compliment to the photos we had.

Step 6: Compile the slideshow

I recommend using iMovie by Apple.

iMovie process of adding sound to a slideshowThe major time saver? The Ken Burns effect. iMovie will automatically apply a zoom in or out to images that you load. This saves a lot of time and adds life to the image (there was a reason Ken Burns’ documentaries — despite lots of the source material being just photos —  were highly acclaimed).

And that’s it. I hope that if anyone has a need for this that it helps. If you have any questions, ping me on Twitter. Happy to help in anyway I can.