Don’t Sweat Slideshows in Flash

The software universe is teeming with programs for creating slideshows from digital images. Many of these applications fulfill their appointed task very well. But one snag for me when creating slideshows has been their file size.

Although some programs claim they’ll create slideshows suitable for posting on the Web or sending through e-mail, I’ve found those claims often disappointing. To get a slideshow file small enough for those purposes most often produces severely degraded results.

Part of the problem with these applications is their file formats. A typical AVI or QuickTime file doesn’t take kindly to severe compression.

Help in Flash

There is a format designed to make smaller files. That’s Macromedia’s Flash, or SMF, format. But for most duffers, Flash is beyond their ken.

That’s what makes Flash Photo Animation, by Amara Software, a refreshing alternative to the typical slideshow package. It lets you create shows in Flash format without investing the considerable amount of sweat equity needed to learn the Macromedia application.

Nevertheless, the Amara program, which sells for US$49.95, does demand some cerebral exercise. And its documentation, which requires some a priori knowledge on the user’s part, doesn’t do anything to reduce those demands.

Even trial and error artists, like myself, will find the program frustrating because there’s no way to preview effects applied to individual slides.

Quick Construction

The mechanics of putting together a slideshow are simple when you get the hang of it.

First, you choose the size of you photos. About 200-by-200 pixels is a good size. It helps if you resize your snapshots in a photo editing program before you bring them into the Amara’s software. You’ll also find it quicker to put together a show if you create a folder and stash in it copies of the pix you’ll be using.

Next, you choose some general settings — border colors and background properties — then you add your slides. You can choose slide one at a time or select a batch of files with the shift-click function in Windows.

Panning and Zooming

Once in the program, thumbnails of images are displayed in a table format. You can change a picture’s position in the table with the up and down arrows beside it.

To add effects to a slide, you select it, then click a tab labeled “key points.” A key point defines what will appear on the screen when your show is running.

By creating more than one key point, you can move an imaginary camera around your image. You can pan across the faces in a group photo, for instance, or zoom in and out on objects in a shot.

To add a key point to an image, you click on a plus sign, then move your cursor over the photo to the spot where you want the point and click. A colored box appears on the screen. You can size that box by changing the value in the scale field below the photo. A value of 100 will create a box that encompasses the whole photo. The higher the number, the smaller the box.

In the key point window, you can also control the timing of the slide, create a pause at the key point, add text to the slide and attach a hyperlink to it.

Family Chronicler’s Friend

When you’re finished with your slides, you can add music to your show from your MP3 collection.

After previewing your slide show, you can do a number of things with it.

You save it as a Flash file. The program automatically creates the HTML code needed to embed the show into a Web page.

You can also view the show in your browser. Once in the browser, you can save that page to disk and open it up in an HTML editor, which can save you a little time in preparing the show for the Web.

Admittedly, the creations of this application lack the pizazz of many slideshow programs in the market, but as a quick way to turn photos into Flash presentations, it can be a handy addition to the library of a family chronicler.

John Mello is a freelance business and technology writer who can be reached at [email protected].

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