Five Ways to Create and Display Slideshows on a Mac

This article explains five ways to create and display slideshows —  sequences of images — on a Mac (Macintosh personal computer) using the software that comes with the Mac.  These ways are:

  1. Using Option Spacebar to play selected images in the Finder
  2. Opening and Playing selected image files with Preview in Finder
  3. Creating Slideshows with Apple Photos
  4. Creating Slideshows with Apple iMovie
  5. Playing the Slideshow Images in Random Order (Shuffle) using the Desktop & Screen Saver control in System Preferences

This article also discusses how to avoid interruption of the slideshow by either the Mac Screen Saver or Energy Saver/Sleep when using an external display and security and privacy issues for slideshows.

These ways of creating and displaying slideshows were tested in detail on a MacBook Air running Mac OS X version 10.12.6 (macOS Sierra), Apple Photos 2.0 (3161.4.140), Preview Version 9.0 (909.18), iMovie version 10.1.7, and System Preferences Version 14.0 (the Desktop & Screen Saver control is part of System Preferences).

Using Option Spacebar to play selected images in the Finder

Select Image Files in Finder

Then, simply press the Option and Spacebar keys on the keyboard.  This will play the selected images as a slideshow in full screen mode.

Option and Spacebar Keys on Mac Keyboard
Option and Spacebar Keys on Mac Keyboard
Floating Slideshow Control for Option Spacebar

On the floating slideshow control, the left pointing arrow goes to the previous slide, the two vertical bars icon pauses playback (solid right pointing arrow resumes playback), the right pointing arrow advances to the next slide and the four squares icon brings up the “index sheet” view of the slide show which shows thumbnails for each slide on a single page:

Index Sheet in Option Spacebar Slideshow

The Option Spacebar method of displaying a slideshow has the advantage that it is simple, quick, and easily accessible from Finder, but gives minimal control over the slideshow.

Opening and Playing selected image files with Preview in Finder

The Apple Preview utility program has a slideshow capability and can be launched from Finder by selecting images in Finder and right clicking to bring up the menu — select open to open all the selected files.  Image files will open with Preview.

Launch Preview for Multiple Files Selected in Finder

Once Preview opens with all of the selected images (left pane in Preview screenshot below), launch the slideshow by selecting View Slideshow

Launch Slideshow from Menu in Preview

The Preview slideshow has a very simple floating control.  The double arrow pointing left goes to the first slide, the two vertical bars pauses the playback, the double arrow pointing right goes to the last slide, and the X in a circle icon exits the slideshow.

Preview Slideshow Floating Control

 

Creating Slideshows with Apple Photos

Both the Option Spacebar method and the Preview method give very limited control over the slideshow.  There is no control over playback speed, transitions between slides, sound, or other options.  Apple Photos can create slideshows quickly with considerable control over these and other options.  It can also export the slideshow as an MPEG-4 video.

The first step to creating a slideshow using Photos is to select the photos for the slideshow in Photos (in some cases, the images may need to be imported into Photos first)

Selecting Photos in Apple Photos 2.0 for Slideshow

Once the photos are selected in the Apple Photos utility program, select the Create Slideshow menu item:

Create Slideshow using Menu Item in Apple Photos 2.0

Photos will create the slideshow with a default name and prompt the user for a custom name if desired:

Slideshow Creation Popup with Default Name in Apple Photos 2.0

 

Rename Slideshow to Another Scenic Walk in Apple Photos 2.0

A named slideshow icon will be added under Projects in the left side pane.  Clicking on Projects will show a view with the thumbnails for each project (slideshow):

Apple Photos Projects with Thumbnails
Apple Photos Projects with Thumbnails

The thumbnail is generated from the first slide in the slideshow unless that slide image is Hidden in photos, in which case a dummy graphic is used.  The “More Art” project in the screenshot above uses a Hidden image as the first slide.  Because the first slide of a slideshow is frequently used as a thumbnail or otherwise displayed by default, it is prudent to select an innocuous slide for the first slide.

Double click on the thumbnail to open the project (slideshow).

Open Project in Apple Photos 2.0
Open Project in Apple Photos 2.0

Play the slideshow by clicking on the right pointing solid triangle below the main slide view (Play Button Icon).

Photos Slideshow Floating Control
Photos Slideshow Floating Control

The Photos slideshow playback has a floating control.  The volume of the slideshow background music or soundtrack is controlled by an icon in this floating control (slider bar on left side).

Photos enables detailed configuration of the slideshow, unlike the Option Spacebar method or the Preview method.

Configuring Slideshow Timing and Other Options
Configuring Slideshow Timing and Other Options
Selecting Slideshow Music or Sound Track
Selecting Slideshow Music or Sound Track
Selecting Slideshow Themes
Selecting Slideshow Themes

As mentioned, Photos can export a slideshow as a fully self-contained MPEG-4 video with full audio.  Click on the export button in the upper right corner of the project.  Photos supports three video resolutions (standard definition or SD, 720p High Definition, and 1080p High Definition).  Here is a short example slideshow created by exporting an MPEG-4 SD video from Photos:

Creating Slideshows with Apple iMovie

Apple iMovie can create slideshows including a soundtrack with detailed control over the duration of each individual slide, individual transitions between slides, and many other fancy Hollywood style effects.  This is probably more than most users need to do.

Scenic Walk Slideshow Project in iMovie
Scenic Walk Slideshow Project in iMovie

Playing the Slideshow Images in Random Order (Shuffle) using the Desktop & Screen Saver control in System Preferences

Remarkably the Mac does not provide an easy way to play the slides in random (or randomized) order, often referred to as Shuffle, in contrast to Windows and other competitors.  The predecessor program to Apple Photos, iPhoto, used to provide a shuffle option, but “it just works” appears to have been deprecated at Apple.

However, in the spirit of the new improved and even more expensive than before Apple, there is an awkward way to play slides in random order (randomized or shuffle) on the Mac using the Mac screen saver.

Screen Saver with Shuffle Slide Order Checked
Screen Saver with Shuffle Slide Order Checked
Choosing Folder with Slides Show Images in Screen Saver
Choosing Folder with Slides Show Images in Screen Saver
Choosing Slideshow Images from Folder in Screen Saver
Choosing Slideshow Images from Folder in Screen Saver
Choose Slides from Apple Photos in Screen Saver
Choose Slides from Apple Photos in Screen Saver
Choose Photos Album as Slideshow in Screen Saver
Choose Photos Album as Slideshow in Screen Saver

One needs to enable the Hot Corners in the Screen Saver to enable the user to immediately launch the randomized slide show by placing the mouse cursor at one of the Hot Corners.  Doesn’t that “just work?”   🙂

Note that one can quickly launch the Desktop & Screen Saver control by using Spotlight on the Mac.  Press Command Spacebar to open spotlight.  Then enter “Desktop & Screen Saver” and just hit return if the utility comes up as the Top Hit (it usually does).

Launching Desktop and Screen Saver with Spotlight
Launching Desktop and Screen Saver with Spotlight

Security and Privacy

Slideshows, slideshow images, slideshow image file names, slideshow folder and album names can all be serious security and privacy concerns.  Apple Photos has a built in feature to hide sensitive images from casual view.

Right Click on Selected Photos to Hide in Apple Photos 2.0
Right Click on Selected Photos to Hide in Apple Photos 2.0

Apple Photos puts all hidden photos in a special Hidden album.  Hidden images are not displayed in Photos, Memories, and several other standard locations.  They are visible in All Photos.  As noted above, if a slideshow project starts with a hidden image, the thumbnail for the slideshow project will be a dummy graphic rather than a thumbnail derived from the hidden image.

By default, the Hidden Album is displayed in the Albums list.  However, it is possible to hide the Hidden Album as well.

Photos Showing Hidden Album
Photos Showing Hidden Album
Menu Item to Hide the Hidden Photo Album
Menu Item to Hide the Hidden Photo Album

Select the Hide Hidden Photo Album menu item from the pulldown View menu to hide the Hidden Photo Album in Apple Photos.

Photos with Hidden Album Hidden
Photos with Hidden Album Hidden

One might wonder about an interface where a hidden album is not hidden by default.  🙂

As mentioned previously, it is probably prudent to choose an innocuous slide for the first slide in a slideshow wherever possible since the first slide is often either directly displayed or used for the thumbnail in some views.

Folder names and album names tend to hang around in various open dialogs and other GUI components on the Mac, so it is best to select secure privacy-protecting names for folders and albums with slide show images.  Generally avoid personally identifiable information, confidential or proprietary information and other sensitive names.

Interruptions on External Displays

In principle, the various applications that display slideshows on the Mac are supposed to block the screen saver and energy saver features while the slideshow is active.  This usually works, but I have experienced a number of cases with an external display where it unpredictably failed.  Either the screen saver or the display blanking happened in the middle of the slide show after the timeout was reached.

For important slideshow presentations or similar situations it is prudent to disable the usual screen saver and energy saver timeouts or to use a third-party program that simulates activity during the slideshow to prevent the screen saver from activating or the mac going to sleep.

These controls (located in System Preferences on the Mac) can be launched directly by typing “Desktop  & Screen Saver” or “Energy Saver” in Spotlight (type Command Key Spacebar to launch spotlight).

Desktop and Screen Saver in Mac System Preferences can Interrupt Some Slideshows
Desktop and Screen Saver in Mac System Preferences can Interrupt Some Slideshows
Power Adapter Turn Display Off Timeout can Interrupt Some Slideshows on Mac
Power Adapter Turn Display Off Timeout can Interrupt Some Slideshows on Mac
Energy Saver Battery Turn Display Off Timeout can Interrupt Some Slideshows on Mac
Energy Saver Battery Turn Display Off Timeout can Interrupt Some Slideshows on Mac

Third party applications such as AntiSleep can emulate activity on the Mac to prevent the timeouts from the Screen Saver and Energy Saver features.  Note that AntiSleep is just one of many such third-party applications.

Launching AntiSleep from Spotlight on Mac OS X 10.12.6
Launching AntiSleep from Spotlight on Mac OS X 10.12.6

Conclusion

Slideshow support is a weak area on the Mac, especially compared to the built-in slideshow features in Windows Explorer.  Apple has actually downgraded its slideshow support from iPhoto to Photos by removing the built-in shuffle/randomized playback feature.

These five methods to create and display slideshows will be more than adequate for the vast majority of users, although more awkward than possible.  It would be better if one could select a group of images in Finder and then directly set playback speed, transition type, shuffle versus ordered playback, and other options from the right click menu or some other accessible method without going through Apple Photos or the Screen Saver.

(C) 2017 by John F. McGowan, Ph.D.

John F. McGowan, Ph.D. solves problems using mathematics and mathematical software, including developing gesture recognition for touch devices, video compression and speech recognition technologies. He has extensive experience developing software in C, C++, MATLAB, Python, Visual Basic and many other programming languages. He has been a Visiting Scholar at HP Labs developing computer vision algorithms and software for mobile devices. He has worked as a contractor at NASA Ames Research Center involved in the research and development of image and video processing algorithms and technology. He has published articles on the origin and evolution of life, the exploration of Mars (anticipating the discovery of methane on Mars), and cheap access to space. He has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a B.S. in physics from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

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