Lesson 18 The Underwater Photo Course
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Slide Shows

One of the advantages of slides, rather than video, is that slides are claimed to register up to 40 times more detail than a TV picture. You've got to be on a winner to start with.

Slide shows can vary from the very basic, where you are showing a group of friends some of your better slides and chatting through them as you go, to very complex affairs involving multiple projectors and synchronised music soundtracks.

Seeing one of these professional audio-visual shows presented will probably lead you to conclude, as I have, that this is as much a specialist subject as underwater photography is, and the planning that is required for a sophisticated ten minute slide show may run into months or even years.

Starting out

Once you have mastered the basic art of operating your projector, you may wish to branch out to wider audiences than small groups of your friends. It is probably best to target a sympathetic audience, perhaps the other divers in your club, who will appreciate the images, but at the same time not be too critical of any faults in your images or presentation.

There are still some good rules to follow, which will help make the show go more smoothly. They are:

Do make sure that you have run through the show at home, and all the slides are in the right order, and the right way around.

People who aren't used to speaking in public are bound to suffer from first-night nerves. There is no easy answer to this, and it is primarily a matter of confidence. If you practice your slide show many times, with an audience of one or two (what are mothers for?) then you will build up your confidence that you know what you are talking about, and that the show will go as planned.

Making a show of it

Remember that you are trying to entertain your audience, so don't be fooled by the idea that you can just stand there and project your slides one by one to an audience - you will quickly bore them. You must provide some sort of commentary, which can be a description about the subject, its size (very difficult for audiences to judge if they are not familiar with that fish), how difficult it was to track down, how deep it was, how you took your life into your hands to get the shot etc. Only when your slide show has reached a high degree of visual sophistication should you contemplate substituting music for a commentary which would otherwise distract from the slides themselves.

Try and introduce a degree of flow into your slide show. Make it have an obvious start, and a finish. If you can divide the slides into sections, then do so, and have title slides for each section. My first slide show was organised along the following lines:

This is only one possible organisation of your slides. You could take a chronological approach, showing the slides in order of each dive site you visited during the week, perhaps with some slides of the surface conditions, the dive boat, everyone enjoying themselves (or otherwise). The important thing is to give the show structure by either an inherent organisation, or by telling a story as the show progresses.

Making title slides isn't as hard or expensive as it may seem. Many people now have access to a home or business computer, and you will need to use one of the popular presentation packages such as Microsoft Powerpoint, Harvard Graphics, or Lotus Freelance. Once you have prepared a 'slide' it is a simple matter to photograph it onto transparency film directly from the computer screen. If you can create an 18% grey screen image, then exposure can be judged from this, and it is then simply a matter of using a medium telephoto lens, such as a 100mm to 200mm to give a good flat image, and taking the exposure at 1/15 second or slower to avoid any beam scanning effects of the screen.

Good results can be simply achieved, and if photographing from a high resolution monitor with a large number of colours, to permit graduated fills, then near professional results can be expected.

Moving onwards

Once you have mastered a single projector slide show, then you will be ready to launch out into the world of multiple projectors. At its simplest, it provides merely a smoother change in-between slides by fading one slide out, and fading the next (from the other projector) in. Of course, you are going to have to spend more money, not only on a second projector, but also on some form of dissolve unit.

As you become more experienced, you will no doubt start to experiment with automatic dissolve units. Special tape recorders can record both your music or commentary soundtrack along with special electronic pulses that control the projectors, and have them dissolve from slide to slide at precisely the right time. This represents more expense naturally, but now you have moved away from the interactive slide show, and all your work will have to be carefully planned and timed in advance.

Although the show may be much more 'professional', because you are not directly interacting with the audience, the show will have to be that much better in order to sustain their interest. You can do this with a lively soundtrack and commentary - intelligent use of stereo can add a further dimension - and your choice of music will be very relevant. Take a close look at some of the underwater natural history videos produced by the BBC and pay close attention to the soundtracks used, they are very careful to match the action in the film, while remaining so much in the background that it is almost subliminal.

Another way of sustaining interest is to change slides more frequently. Mostly your slide show will not be a demonstration of the pure photographic quality of your work, and you will probably be putting in many slides that you wouldn't dream of entering into contests. A rapid succession of slides, pausing just long enough for the audience to scan over the major features will keep their attention. Try building in sequences of shots, such as the shark approaching you, looking at you, and swimming away. Such sequences will give flow to your slide show, but you will need to adopt a completely different method of picture taking to that which we have discussed earlier in the book.

Further fun and sophistication can be built in by displaying more than one slide on the screen at a time. Do you remember our technique of shooting perhaps a distant diver, along with a nice background, then putting a well lit foreground subject in the frame? With a slide show, you can make this composite scene up from two slides, one containing the background, and another the foreground. You can even have the foreground change, from perhaps a colourful coral to a fish, while leaving the background static. Other techniques involve using 'holes' in things - like cave entrances, and portholes, and have the view through them change from slide to slide.

Preparing composites becomes much more complicated, as you must get your slides into good registration with each other. This either requires careful planning and lots of rolls of film dedicated to this result, or you can 'cheat' a bit, and use your slide duplicating and copying equipment to place subjects in the frame (or remove them from it) as you desire.

To see what really can be achieved, go to one of Les Kemp's slide shows, where he makes excellent use of an extra wide screen, and four projectors, of which three are often active together making a spectacular single image.

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This page was last updated on 11 August 1998
Please address any comments to Mark Mumford