Turning inner space into outer space

November 23, 2012

How to: an audio slideshow tutorial

The best thing about audio slideshows is that they are unique to the web. Sure, we can write stories like newspapers or create videos like TV, but where else do you find audio slideshows? Nowhere.

The second best thing is their impact. Video is fleeting. Pictures — even if they’re shown for only a few seconds — are engaging. You get to think about what you’re seeing. And with narration you’re given a deeper understanding.

The third, and final, best thing is that they’re easy to make. All you need is a couple of minutes of sound recording and a dozen or so pictures. Let’s go through the steps, starting (arbitrarily) with sound.

Recording audio

First off, you need a digital audio recorder of some kind. It has to be a device capable of recording sound in a format that can be exported to your computer. After recording, you typically plug the device into your computer to get at the file. Or it may allow for sharing via email.

I use an iPhone with a built-in Voice Memos app found in the Utilities folder. It’s super simple to use and allows you to email the recording — which I did.

Here are a few tips for recording great sound: Hold the microphone with a straight arm a few inches away from your subject’s mouth. The closer you can get without making them uncomfortable, the better the sound quality will be. Also, hold it as far away from yourself as possible so that your own breathing or bodily sounds aren’t picked up by accident.

Converting audio

If you record with an iPhone and export the file to your computer, you’ll find yourself with an .m4a file. The apps we’ll be using in this tutorial — Audacity and SoundSlides — don’t play well with that format so it has to be converted to mp3.

If you have iTunes installed, conversion is easy. First go in to the iTunes preferences and click on the General tab. Then click on a button that says Import Settings . . . You’ll see a new window with options for Import Using. Make sure it’s set to MP3 Encoder.

Now you can drag your .m4a file into iTunes. Right-click on it and go for Create MP3 Version. iTunes will create a new file that you can drag onto your desktop and use for your project.

Editing audio

If you haven’t already, download and install Audacity. This a free audio editor that’s powerful enough to be used by many professionals. We’re lucky to have it — thanks to the open source community.

Fire it up and import your audio file. There are many things you can do with Audacity. In the course of recording your audio, you likely got a lot of stuff you don’t want. That stuff needs to be deleted, so you’re left only with the audio you want. You might also want to change the order of various parts of your audio. Or you might want to combine various parts of a number of audio tracks into one.

Full-blown instructions on how to do this are beyond the scope of this tutorial, but you’ll likely be able to figure it out for yourself. For example, you can use the edit tool to highlight portions you don’t want and hit the Delete button on your keyboard. You can create a new track and use the edit tool to grab portions of the original track and place them in the right order on that track.

When you’re done, export your audio in .mp3 format to a convenient spot on your computer. I use the desktop as a temporary way station because it’s easy to find things there. But you should later stash everything away in another folder to avoid desktop clutter and slowing your computer down.

Taking pictures

If you work with professional photographers, persuade one of them to take your pictures. You can be sure they’ll do a good job. If that’s not possible, the next best thing might be to have someone submit photos — depending on what type of project you’re doing. And if that fails, don’t be afraid to jump in and take your own pictures.

There are plenty of good digital cameras at affordable prices these days. If you have a smart phone, there’s probably a half-decent one built in. If you’re not confident about your camera’s abilities, go outdoors where natural lighting is almost always better. And don’t be shy about getting close to your subject when warranted — it makes for better impact.

Export or share your pictures into your computer, pick out the best 15 to 20 and put them in a folder.

Editing pictures

A slideshow works best if all the pictures are horizontal and the same size. So open up each photo in an image editing program, and crop them to 500 pixels by 350 pixels (as you become more experienced, you may decide a different size works better). Photoshop is the industry standard, but for the simple editing we’re doing, there are many alternatives that work just as well.

You’ll also want to enhance each photo so that it looks good. If you don’t know what you’re doing there are two ways to go — rely on a staff photographer to help you or use the automated enhancements built into your editing program. iPhone, for example, has this function.

One last thing — your pictures should all be in the .jpg format. They likely are, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure.

Putting it all together

Download and install the demo version of Soundslides. There’s a “plus” version, but you won’t need it for your first project.

Soundslides was made by journalists for journalists, so you know it has to be idiot-proof. The opening screen asks you to import your sound and picture files. Do it. If you followed my advice, you’ll find them conveniently located on your desktop.

You can now move your pictures around to whatever order you like and have them display for however many seconds you like. Make them co-ordinate with the audio, if you wish.

Under the Slides tab, all the pictures are displayed. Grab them and move them to your heart’s content. As you do that, their order is changed on the timeline displayed at the bottom. To change the duration of how long a picture is displayed, click and drag the white bars in between them.

Yes, it really is as simple as that. There are other things you can do, but for now this will be enough to finish a project. Click on the Test button to make sure it’s what you want. If that’s a go, click on the Export button and you’ll find a folder (once again, go for the desktop) with all the necessary files called “publish_to_web.” That’s kind of unwieldy, so change it to something like “slideshow.”

Uploading and embedding

You may have someone on staff to do this for you, but if you don’t there are step-by-step instructions at the Soundslides website. Basically, that folder you exported needs to go on server you have access to. After that, you can get an embed code from the Soundslides website and place it on your website.


This tutorial might seem daunting, but once you’ve got a project or two under your belt, your fears will disappear and you’ll feel like a pro. Go ahead and fumble your way through a project. The satisfaction at the end will make it worthwhile.