The Slideshow is a Terrible Way to Show Photos

The Slideshow is a Terrible Way to Show Photos

Last week, I sat near the stage’s edge in the Paramount Theater to witness the ever-inspiring Look3 Festival in Charlottesville, VA. Hearing the presentations reminded me of the passion and conviction of the photographers who have dedicated years of their lives to specific projects. Having seen much of the work beforehand in exhibits and in online slideshows, I was struck at the inadequacy of those static presentation forms in audience engagement.

Let me give you two examples.

Joe Riis studied wildlife biology in college, but soon discovered a passion for photography that he put to use in documenting the migration paths of animals near Yellowstone National Park. His photos are incredible as they are beautiful, but it’s too easy to glance at a photo and think nothing more of it. Seeing a few pictures and reading about pronghorn migration patterns isn’t the same as Riis explaining how little we knew about their bi-annual journey, and the troubles he went through to capture a single image. He’s also unexpectedly funny without the usual trappings of showmanship.

Similarly, you might have seen Mary F. Calvert’s work on sexual assault in the military, but you might not know that the project started as a result of her losing her job at the Washington Times and a suggestion by her husband to look into the topic. Hearing the backstory behind the portraits and her passion to give these men and women a voice creates a level of gravitas that might otherwise not exist when simply viewing a slideshow on the Lens blog.


Both photographers have covered their topics for years. Both claim that the work will continue indefinitely. Both have personal interests in the causes that they have dedicated their professional lives to document.

The slideshow – that ubiquitous medium for showing a collection of images – does a piss poor job of revealing much beyond the frame. Providing a caption or audio narration helps, but getting a wider audience to interact at that level is rare. And even rarer is enticing the audience to a “call-to-action.”

This matters because our consumption of images has changed drastically since the creation of the internet and the advent of photography. In the early days of the Internet, we would eagerly anticipate the latest MSNBC Pictures of the Week. Now professional photographers continuously battle for mindshare alongside viral memes, the latest photos of Justin Bieber’s haircut, and the growing influence of Instagram and Snapchat. To make matters more challenging, we’re confronted with the ubiquity of video combined with a decreased interest in reading.

The competition.

The competition.

Thus the way we present images has to evolve.

As I’ve written before, a number of media companies have been experimenting with different presentation formats.The New York Times’ most recent foray combined video, audio, stills and overlaid captions in a piece on Syria.

Having a novel format might increase engagement, but that depends on people clicking to where the content resides in the first place. And therein lies the contemporary problem.

A slideshow is like a movie without a preview. You’re expected to be immediately immersed without understanding anything about it. Pictures increasingly do not stand on their own. Rare is the picture so unusual, so shocking that it will stop people in their tracks. Today is about storytelling, and photographers have to to use cinematic storytelling to gain their audience’s interest.

You might have seen the following piece floating around Facebook recently about Platon’s New Yorker photo.

It combines all the elements to make it successful: video, clickbait title, and a contemporary storytelling style – all to showcase a photo. Now imagine this format as a “preview” for Calvert’s sexual assault in the military story. Can you see the content going viral? Would 1 million views change the trajectory of the issue? It very well might.

It’s easy to be confounded by the rapid changes in the industry, but there are templates for success. Publishing a low resolution slideshow isn’t one of them. The slideshow is dead! Long live the slideshow (with a few modifications). 

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Andrew Molitor at 10:20 am

    I am increasingly convinced that the book is the proper medium for photographs (“book” somewhat broadly interpreted).

    The “single iconic image” is a holdover from painting, where it makes much more sense. I personally don’t like videos, where it’s all too easy to Ken-Burns a photo to death, and there tends to be too much talk and not enough pictures. but I see your point.

    Still, the Platon piece is a video that talks about a picture, as opposed to showcasing the picture. It’s a subtle distinction, I guess, but I think it matters.

    Books, like photographs, are static in content. The still allow surrounding material to support and explicate, and they give us sequences of photographs, with a natural ordering. They give us the time to dwell on whatever pictures we choose, and that seems to be vital. There’s a lot or variability in how one picture or another takes us. I might stare at page 12, and return to it, but you might find it to be meaningless. Done well, the whole book tells each of us more or less the same story anyways.

  2. Rose Naquin at 1:46 am

    When it comes to powering your photography website with Photo Shelter you have the choice between the Beam system and it’s older sister the Classic system. Beam is the standard way to go and with good reason: responsive, modern designs, easy to use. The design and content organization – are also very inexpensive. A huge market for WordPress themes has developed over the years and, while it is generally best to avoid free themes, some astonishingly well-designed themes as I mentioned earlier, are mostly free.

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