Photo Montage (or Slideshow) Tips and Ideas

If you're anything like me, you've got old photos in boxes, scattered pictures in various scrapbooks or albums, a computer hard drive with photos saved in places you do not even remember, maybe even some undeveloped film (who knows what could be on there!). If you're looking for something to do with all of it, why not make a photo slideshow on DVD replete with music and specials effects? It is a great way to keep a permanent record of all those photos as DVDs can last up to 100 years. There are plenty of companies that will perform that service for you (including the author's) or you can do it yourself. If you want to do it yourself, here are some ideas to help you out.

Know Your Audience

The most important aspect in creating any photo montage is in knowing your audience. Ultimately, what you are doing with your montage is telling a story. To tell it effectively, you have to know who you are telling it to. The audience will play a large part in how many pictures you want to include, the type of music you want, and the length of the presentation. Here are a few specific ideas:

* If you plan on showing your montage to a larger audience (like a birthday, wedding reception / rehearsal dinner, or anniversary party) make sure you consider how you are going to present it. Is your slideshow going to be a drop for the party or is there going to be a time to sit down where everyone will gather to watch? If it is a backdrop, you probably want to use more pictures. That way, people can watch parts as they please, mingle, and then come back to watch different parts as the party moves on. If your montage is going to be displayed with the expectation that most people will stop what they are doing to watch, keep your presentation limited to about 4 songs (about 125 to 175 photos). This is a good length to create some nice emotions yet short enough that it will not interrupt the event.

* If you plan on showing your slideshow to a small and intimate audience, the best bet is to make it short and sweet. One to two personal songs with about 75 photographs makes a great surprise gift.

The Importance Of Order

There are a variety of approaches you can take in ordering your photographs (thematically, chronologically, etc). What usually has the best flow is a chronological order. Chronological order allows you to encapsulate all facets of a person's life in a way that everyone will understand. It also creates a great nostalgia effect early on which will grab your audience's attention right away.


Generically speaking, songs with lyrics are best. Since the majority of your DVD will be pictures, having lyrics really helps to attach the photos to the music. If a particular lyric matches up to what is going on in a particular photo that is even better.

As to musical genre, that is a matter of personal taste. From experience, though, a mix is ​​usually the most powerful. If you are making an upbeat, light-hearted presentation, then matching music is appropriate. If you are looking for something engaging and emotional, then think of your presentation like it is a great movie. You want a lighter side, a dramatic part, and a great ending. Depending on the number of photos you have, probably one or two up-tempo songs, one or two slower songs, and then the homerun song for the end.

When picking specific songs, it is a good idea to think beyond the more common popular songs. What is the person's favorite song? How about a song from their childhood? Maybe one version of a song works better than another (like acoustic versus electric)? There is an amazing amount of music available online; it is a good idea to explore. You will know when you see it in your presentation if it really fits.

Photo Quality

A big issue related to creating a photo montage is photo editing. There is plenty of software that can clean up cracks, fix lighting, adjust color, remove spots, etc .; some works better than others (check out for product reviews). The one problem no software can fix, though, is a grainy photo. Unfortunately, an out-of-focus photograph is going to remain an out-of-focus picture in your slideshow. When you are selecting the photos are going to include, you should choose the clearest ones you have. Keep in mind that your slideshow may have lots of transitions, backgrounds, pan and zooms, etc. so you want photos with a focal point that is as clean as possible. Clean photos help keep the flow of the presentation.


A good way to add some flair to your montage is to add video. If you can find and isolate some good video clips, they add a great touch. If you do decide to add video, do not make the clips too long. Remember, you have a story to tell and need to keep it moving. Keep the clip down to about thirty seconds and consider using video as a break point between "chapters" or songs.

Narrate It

Another great touch is to use personal voice recordings in your slideshow. If your presentation is a gift, hearing your voice makes it that much more personal (and memorable). Voice recording can be done on most home computers. Turn on the microphone and go for it!

Quotes and Poems

If you are really looking to create an emotional montage, use photo captions. They can be personal quotes, famous quotes, short poems, etc. Whatever your preference, a good quote can help to convey the true meaning behind a certain photo or draw out deep emotions.

Personalize It

What makes any gift special? The thought of course – especially the thought that comes from you. Since that is the case, some piece of personalization, however small, is critical. Think of it as your signature on a painting. Whether it is a song, a caption, or even a certain photo make sure to make it your own.

The End

Sometimes one of the best parts of a movie is the highlight reel at the end (think "Build Me Up, Buttercup" at the end of There's Something About Mary). If you can come up with your own "bloopers reel," it would be an excellent finishing touch to your slideshow.

Back-Up Plan

Once all of your pictures have been scanned, cataloged, and you are ready to start on your montage, do not forget to create a file with just your origins in case you need to go back to them for some reason. It is a good idea to also create a separate folder with your edited photos. That way you have copies of both for a "Doomsday scenario." This also provides you a way to preserve all your print photos which can degrade over time (cracking, turning yellow, etc).

Hopefully, these ideas are helpful to you. Creating a photo slideshow is a lot of work but it always turns out to be worth it in the end.