funeral-slideshow-325When a loved one dies, lots of folks decide to create a funeral slideshow to remember and honor them. There is not usually a lot of time, and often the most that can be achieved is to gather the available photographs and have them thrown into some kind of semi-automatically generated funeral slideshow. And that's just fine. After all, it's about the person - it's not about the slideshow.

But what if you want to do a little better? What if you have the time and you know a bit of video editing and can hold your own in iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. How do you improve on the tried and tested (but just a bit worn out) traditional funeral slideshow? How do you create memorable tributes to loved ones which - more than just being shown at the funeral service - will be treasured for years to come. How do you create a funeral slideshow that becomes an heirloom?

Well, don't say goodbye to those photographs. The basis for any funeral slideshow will still be images. Although, a little care in restoring photographs with Photoshop - and some thought as to how you pan across them and where the virtual camera lands will repay you many times over in audience appreciation. And don't forget captions. Haven't we all attended funerals and sat through endless images wondering who it is we are looking at? We care, we are there after all, but who are all these people? Is that the granddaughter; is that the son John who never visited? you ask yourself. But without captions, there are no answers. So, the first thing to include in your knockout slideshow is captions.

1. Picture Captions

When you gather the photos, get some information about them. Find out the time, place, people and occasion of the photos. And when you do, include that as a caption. If you are unsure, look on the back! There is often a description - and some photo processing labs from the 1960s onwards helpfully printed the processing date on the back of the picture.

You can copy photos with a digital camera, but scanning is better.

Scanning? You will need to scan to get images into your editing program. And there is a bit of "black art" in scanner settings with all that confusing malarkey about dots or pixels per square inch (dpi or ppi). Luckily it is not that complicated: Print requires 300 dpi/ppi to reproduce the original at the same size. Video and digital screens are usually happy with 72 dpi/ppi. So, you should scan at 72dpi right? (We are talking about a funeral slideshow that is going to be projected, probably from a video DVD.) If you are going to all the trouble of scanning anyway, you might as well scan at 300 dpi/ppi for images 4" x 6" and larger. If the original image is smaller than 4" x6", scan at 600 dpi/ppi. And if you are scanning a small photograph negative or slide, 1200 dpi/ppi or even 2400 dpi/ppi is your number.)

2. Handwriting

Back in the day, folks had what we called a "hand" - they could really write! If you are lucky enough to find the person's fetching handwriting on the back of one of those photos you are scanning, make sure you scan that and have it included (possibly with a split screen). You should always try to include samples of the person's handwriting. It may be from that photo description - but it could just be an old (possibly last) shopping list, or it might be a letter written a long time ago or even recently. It may be a signature from a driver's license or passport.

OK. But what else can you include in the montage apart from photos - and captions? Well, the trick to going from ho-hum to oh-my is to gather as much and as varied material as you can. The goal is to capture and preserve the uniqueness of your subject.

3. Stories

A death is almost always the occasion for families to reunite - kids fly in (often from across the country - or even further afield) and family and friends' thoughts turn to the good times and all the happy memories. Some people will be composing and presenting eulogies. So you should take advantage of these unscheduled reunions and record succinct memories of the subject from those friends and family. You should find the time to do this informally before the funeral.

Some people may not be flying in or may not be able to attend the funeral for whatever reason. But your funeral slideshow can still feature them or their stories. Where you are unable to record the person directly, tape them via webcam. No webcam? Record their voice over the telephone (Skype can help with this). Once you get to assembling the slideshow, you can play the voice over an image of the person telling that story.

What else?

4. Poems and sayings:

Death, for all its pain, is a fillip to consider the big issues in life. And a collection of sayings or homilies that the person lived by or which express their hopes and beliefs helps us to focus our thoughts. Sometimes a person was known for their bon motsor their humor. Examples should certainly be included as simple text screens or as text "crawls".

5. Old video footage

Almost inevitably, there will be video footage of the deceased somewhere in a cupboard on one or another member of the family. You just have to ask around. Maybe a birthday or just a family barbecue. Nothing brings a person back into our memories better than video - ideally with audio also.

You may need to get some old 8mm, 16mm or super 8 film converted into a digital form so you can add a clip of that to your funeral slideshow. But here's a hint: don't just go for the cheapest. Some converters don't even look at what they are doing with your priceless old film and the final result can be very dark, or very light, or it may have horrible ragged black edges.

6. Cards and letters

I mentioned handwriting above, so let's now focus on cards and letters.

Grandparents - particularly - avidly collect cards and artwork from their grandchildren. Have you ever met a grandparent who throws away a single picture or letter from a grandson or daughter? Well, these items can also also be included in the funeral slideshow to demonstrate how loved and honored the person was in life.

7. Voiceover

Depending on the length and complexity of the life, it can help to tell the story by using narration.

Now, one member of the family is often designated to present an overview of the person's life at the funeral service. That same person is usually well placed to supply narration or voice over for the visual elements of the funeral slideshow. Sometimes it's enough for the person to review the images and other visual material then say a few words about some of them. (Any modern computer lets you hook up some kind of mic. to get a voice inside.)

8. Clippings and memorabilia

What, are we tailing about the President here? Actually, most people at the end of a long life have a scrapbook somewhere with some now yellowed and brittle news clippings about themselves. It might be a recipe they submitted, an announcement of their engagement, attendance at a charity ball or similar event, or it might be high school sports. Or, you may have someone seriously famous on your hands with a whole book of clippings.

Other folks keep memorabilia like athletics, football, swimming or golf trophies. Or they have traveled or led a busy business life and the house or office is full of tchotchkes. You can film or photograph these things and add them to the funeral slideshow.

9. A DVD box cover:

OK. Home stretch. Having put together a stunning funeral slideshow, you should burn it to DVD and have it boxed so that it is properly identifiable and records the significant milestones of the person's life. You add the best portrait of the deceased you can find, maybe in a collage with some images from their youth. You can also include maps right there on the box (you should include them in the slideshow too of course).

Family and friends will likely want their own copy of your funeral slideshow so it's worth making the project attractive as well as recognizable.

10. A web posting

Why not? With the vast choice of free, online web hosting available, lots of people decide to post their funeral slideshow on the internet so that it is available anywhere at any time from any computer for any friend or any family member.

Funeral slideshows can be so much more than a hum-drum cycle through the old family album. The freedom and options we now have can give the deceased a kind of immortality that was undreamed of only 10 years ago. You may have the skill and patience to create a truly epic tribute to the life now passed. If you don't - but feel that they deserve it, then there are professionals to help who have made funeral slideshows a specialty.

Death might be considered life's single greatest challenge and its single greatest tragedy. But it is only in death that we come to appreciate the true gift and miracle of a life. Funerals help us understand this. And folks should use the eruption of emotion and energy that inevitably accompanies these sad occasions to create a fitting memorial to their loved one.


Jane Lehmann co-founded Your Story Here Video Biography, a documentary production company that specializes in creating personal video biographies, life story & genealogy video, memorial videos as well as personal history documentary on DVD. Based in Orange County CA, she has delighted hundreds of customers with her private video work while her award-winning public films have been featured in festivals in the United States and Canada.