"The unexamined life is not worth living." Socrates

Article Index: [Shooting] [Storage] [Projection Equipment] [Set Up] [Editing] [Special Effects] [Music-Sync] [Conclusion]

The post-vacation/expedition slide show is a venerable tradition. It proves that you were there, and allows others to vicariously experience the pleasure (and pain) you experienced. A good slide show is both artistic and educational: it provides an armchair mountaineer a chance to see places they may never visit, and it gives an active climber information to plan future trips.

Slide shows are still better than video, or computer presentations, for large audiences. The vivid colors, and sharp details of a good 35 mm slide put even the best video or computer image to shame. Point and shoot cameras have improved in quality and ease of use. I use my Yashica T4 for most of my technical climbing, saving my Olympus system for non-technical work. Snaping a few still shots is much quicker and easier than shooting video.

The mark of a successful presentation comes when the last slide fades, the lights come on, and the audience still wants more. Sad to say, many climbing slide shows fail to meet this criteria. The techniques outlined in this article can help alleviate some of the problems, and illustrate some hints which can make your presentation outstanding.

Shoot for the Show

As a slide-show producer I shoot differently than I do when taking snaps for a photo albumn. Over the years I've learned to shoot dupes "in camera." When I know I've got a good shot I often shoot 3 or 4 of the same thing: one for my partner, one for slide show use, and a couple to save for publishing etc. Not only are these originals always better quality than dupes, but they are half the price!

For a zoom special effect I will sometimes set the camera up on a tripod and start with my widest lens (21 mm) then switch to my 28-70 for a couple shots, and finishing with my 70-210 tele. When these are dissolved through rapidly in a show it gives a "zooming in or out effect." These shots must be very carefully mounted in glass mounts to stay in registration. The set of pictures below was shot in a cathedral in St. Petersburg.

A time-lapse effect can also be achieved with a tripod mounted series of shots. A rapid sequence of a climber moving can "animate" your show. Sunsets and sunrises are easy if you set-up in time, and take the time to shoot it all. Fading the last shot in a sunset to a black slide makes a great transition to another aspect of your show. This sunrise shows the east face of Mt. Rainer in Washington state.

I try to shoot lots of "human interest" shots, so that I have a flow of images to tell a story from start to finish. This shot, through the window of my favorite patisserie in Chamonix France, shows a slice of life in this famous European resort town.

People find other people interesting. You can't go wrong with a number of good portraits of your friends, and local people. I met these boys in the Ak-Su valley of the Pamir Alai.

Humor adds tremendous appeal if you can pull it off. This shot of a greasy hair contest we had in base camp after 9 days contiously wearing stocking caps on a mountain in the Tien Shan range has gotten many chuckles.

Most professional shows fit into a horizontal format, squeezing verticals into half a horizontal with reduced size duplicates. Knowing this I normally shoot a horizontal for slide show use, even if the shot lends itself to a vertical orientation.

Slide Storage

I use a three tiered storage system for my slides.

After a trip I do a first rought edit: throwing out any technical flaws, and putting aside the very best shots for publication.

I keep the bulk of my slides in Logan brand metal file boxes which hold 650 cardboard-mounted slides in groups of twenty, making them easy to access and sort. I have a number of these boxes for "work in progress". One would be for new slides just out of the box, another for slides that I am labeling for publication, and another for slide show work (glass mounting etc.). When a set of slides has gone through this process the extras (not used in show, or stored archivally) are stored in labeled Logan boxes.

I store my best originals in archival plastic slide pages and dust proof box ring binders (Adorama mail order). I dupe these originals if I don't have another "in camera" dupe because repeated projection fades slides.

I glass mount (Gepe brand) all my shows to protect the slides, and keep them flat for edge to edge focus (requires flat field lenses). This also makes it easy to apply masks for special effects.

Once I go to the trouble of glass mounting, and putting together a show, I keep it in the trays for permant storage. This is expensive, and bulky (I have an entire wall of a walk in closet filled) but worth it in time saved filling and emptying trays.

Projection Equipment

To create a high quality "multi-media" (music and slides) show, you need:

All this gear is expensive, but you can borrow some of it, especially the projectors. Kodak projectors are the standard. I use Ektagraphic III AM (~$400.00 mail order).

Zoom lenses are indispensable for use in various size rooms and screens. I have Schneider Prolux 70-120 2.8 lenses ($113 from B&H), which work fine for most of my shows in smaller rooms. For large halls or gyms, where the projectors are set-up further from the screen longer format lenses would be nice, you'll pay dearly for fast long lenses.

You are normally stuck with the screen available on location. A white matt screen is best in most situations where the audience is sitting to the sides of the screen. Fancy silver, lenticular screens are brighter, but do not work well for those at angles to them.

Lap dissolves are less common, so you'll probably have to buy one. They can be ordered from ads in the back of photography magazines for less than $200. The dissolve unit plugs into the remote control sockets of the projectors (Kodak being the industry standard). With the turn of a nob, one projector fades out while the other comes up, a gradual transition and momentary overlap of images replacing the eye straining black out between slides.

Most dissolves can be patched into a tape deck to record the slide changes, or "cues," which can then be played back to automatically run the projectors. This is especially important when synchronizing with music. I use a cheap little monorail tape deck for the projector cues and a large stereo "boom box" for the sound track.

A projector table is not a necessity, but is very convenient, and brings the projectors up to a better level, so they are not pointed up at the screen at an acute angle. I use a Da-Lite 425 stand with an accessory shelf ($150 mail order).

I always bring an extra long extension cord, and multi-plug strip in case the projection spot is a long way from an outlet. Wide duct tape to tape the cord to the floor, if it is in an aisle where it might get tripped over (unplugging everything in the middle of the show), is a nice last touch.

Set Up

I always get to the room where the show will take place at least an hour before hand, so that I can set-up in peace, before the audience starts trickling in. Even though I have my equipment set-up down pat it still takes time to find the best outlet, tape down the cords if necessary, and line up the projectors so the images overlap correctly. Once it is all set I like to go through the first few minutes of the show to make sure it all works right. You should also find the light switches, and have someone ready to turn them off when the show starts, and back on at the end.


The first step to make a good show is to target your audience, and edit accordingly. Sitting around drinking beer with your cronies after a trip, you might show some technically flawed pictures that have personal significance. For a wider audience, strict editing should eliminate glaring mistakes in exposure or focus. Boring, repetitive shots (the infamous butt shot looking up at the leader) should be minimized. For a group of climbers, I spend more time on technical climbing, lingering on photos showing routes or interesting peaks. The narrative will also contain more climbing jargon, detailing equipment used, and grades. For a general audience, a quicker pace, with a more "human interest" shots are appropriate. In any event, edit rigorously. If you're not left with enough good photos, don't bother to produce a full-blown show. Keep it tight, no longer than 45 minutes.

Good photographs are only the first step in a high-quality presentation. You can't make one without them, but they are no guarantee if not used properly. Once I've got enough good shots for an effective show, I begin by duplicating any shots which I didn't dupe in camera, and want to preserve for printing or publication. Sequencing, special effects, music, and story telling will each add spice to make your show unforgettable.

Using a light table I sequence the slides into a logical order or story line, all the while looking for shots with similar elements of design that flow smoothly into each other. In these examples the similar color of the rock, and mist in the upper right frame would go nicely together (I would have to reduce dupe these verticals into half a horizontal to keep within a horizontal format). A smooth flow of images is more important than exact time-flow sequence. If it isn't important, for example a nature abstract (not a person or mountain's face), I will even take liberty flipping the slide to help it flow into the next.

Don't constrain yourself to a boring pitch-by-pitch description unless your hard-core audience demands it.

If you don't go with a horizontal format try to avoid too many changes from vertical to horizontal. If you do have a few make sure the transition between them is a cut.

Special Effects Page

Don't over do it (or the effects can overpower the content) but these techniques add a "professional" touch, and the extra punch to keep your audience riveted. The link above takes you to a page with illustrations demonstrating some of the easier two projector masking and duping techniques.

Music Sync

Over the course of a number of evenings (to avoid burn out), I run through the show, getting a feel for pacing and dissolve rates. I like to vary the pace, moving quickly through a series of similar slides at one point, then slowing down for a few especially beautiful or detailed shots. An average of two to five seconds on each slide is good; rarely should a single image be left on the screen for more than ten seconds. The dissolve rate also varies. Two shots that flow together especially well may demand an eight-second dissolve, while a time-lapse sequence with a moving object (climber) needs rapid changes to achieve the "movie" effect.

Once I have a good feel for the show, I time the various sequences, then find appropriate music to fit these time frames. Instrumental pieces tend to work best, not intruding on the narrative (which I am also practicing while going over the show time and again). I generally prefer jazz/rock fusion, but have used classical and new wave with success, depending on the mood conveyed. Once you've laid down a sound track (copying from CD to tape), play it back while running through the show, synchronizing the slide pacing and dissolves with the ebb and flow of the music. With the dissolve plugged into a tape deck, the cues are recorded so that when you finally get a good "take," you can reproduce it with the flip of a switch. To play back music and slides synchronized, I begin recording on both at the exact end of the tape leader, then wind to the same point for play-back. Releasing the pause buttons on both decks simultaneously begins the show Now all you've got to do is change trays, narrate, or just sit back and enjoy. For profesional shows, where you are charging admission, you cannot use copyrighted music without permission.

In Conclusion

The whole process of multi-media slide show production takes a lot of time, money, and effort. There isn't a large $ market for slide shows, unless you're very famous, and have a high profile climb to present (even then travel costs, etc. cut into profits). If you're just an "regular" climber, presenting to local clubs, schools, etc., make your show for love, not $.

After producing my first full-blown show, I found myself getting into photography as much as climbing. At first that bothered me because it took away from the total concentration necessary for difficult routes. I now see it as a new focus of intensity; a synthesis of climbing and photography, demanding a high level of skill and involvement in both. I always carry my camera in the mountains, and find that my roving photographer's eye opens me up to a wider, more acute appreciation for the esthetics of my surroundings. It adds a new creative dimension to my climbing, helps me evaluate and savor my trips, and allows me to share some of the joy and beauty I've been fortunate enough to experience.