We all love a good Mitzvah montage, but I’ve seen a few duds in my day. How do you make sure that yours is a winner? First, do a great job of sorting your photos. Then sort even more. Below is very specific advice about what type of photos make a winning montage from a photographer and montage pro.
1. Prioritize big moments and milestones for your child
Their Bar or Bat Mitzvah is certainly a big milestone for your child, but there have been so many others along the way! Newborn, first birthday cake, preschool graduation, first lost tooth, Disney, ring bearer in favorite uncle’s wedding, etc. Remember those big moments and include a photo that will bring up that nostalgia.
2. Include as many loved ones as you can
Especially if they are there in person to enjoy seeing themselves in years past, make sure to include all extended family. Cute photos of the cousins as toddlers? In. Grandpa, Dad and Bar Mitzvah boy/three generations of men at his bris? In. If a relative or family friend is important enough to be honored with an Aaliyah or candle in the candle lighting? In.
Also, remember if there are any beloved relatives who have passed? Great-grandparents who died when the child was one, for instance. Those photos are meaningful and emotional for the “audience”- your nearest and dearest.
3. Include the full range of your child’s interests/talents
Start with the youngest photos of your child’s interest or talent and bring it to the present day. Got an actor? You need adorable shots as the alligator in Peter Pan AND as the lead in Annie in 6th grade. Swimming, Disney, summer camp, lacrosse, Caps games. If they love it and have loved it for a long time, show it.
4. When it doubt include more people
Got a nice shot at the beach of just your child but also one with siblings? Go with siblings. Him and his best friend getting dropped off at camp in their matching shirts or the whole bunk at color wars? Whole bunk. People will pay more attention if they see themselves and photos of groups help pack more friends and family into the montage. However, the caveat here is that photos with the same people in them over and over are not necessary, so choose your favorites and remove the rest.
5. Include your family’s Jewish life
Even if you only practice casually or identify culturally, you are celebrating an important Jewish moment in your child’s life. Make sure there’s a connection to this amazing coming-of-age tradition. Kiddo stole the show at the purim shpiel? Lighting Hanukkah candles? Victorious afikomen finding moment? In.
6. Include the friends
The kids pay attention, stay off their phones or high five/hug the guest of honor when they see themselves in the t-ball uniforms with trophies, the cute preschool pic, the bunk photo, the post recital photo with flowers. Try not to leave anyone out. Include a few class photos so there isn’t a group of less “popular” kids feeling like they weren’t cool enough to make the final cut, if you can.
7. Throw a bone to the Petty Betties
Yes, Nana and Bubbe are grown women who should get over themselves and not sit there counting how many photos each side of the family was in. But- you do not want to spend even a minute soothing your spouse because your MIL was crying in that ladies room that the other grandma was in 25 photos while they were in only 17. You also don’t want to hear about it at every major holiday including at your child’s wedding in 20 years. Nope nope nope. Just… be mindful of equality.
Make a list of family members – grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, special friends. Then decide on a number of how many times you want them in the slide show. 3? 4? Finally, track how many times they are in the slide show and eliminate the extras. People get bored seeing the same groupings too many times.
8. Remember that less is more
After five songs, people tune out and there are so many it all runs together and the really special moments get lost in the tide. Be ruthless in sorting your photos. If you get stuck, have a neutral party help. They are not as emotionally invested in the photos as you and can be more discerning in cutting photos. Remember, no one watching the montage will know all the amazing photos you did not include.
9. Chronological-ish order is perfect
No need to stress over making sure that the photo taken March 11, 2009 is before the one taken on March 13, 2009 in the montage, but keep the ones from age 4 around the same time in the montage and then 5 and… The only exception to this is if you want to do a quick trip down memory lane–close with a photo of your child at birth, at age 1, at age 2 and so on, ending with the most recent photo.
10. Respect your kid’s no
If they hate the awkward, terrible endearingly dorky third-grade school photo? Keep it out. They should feel proud as they watch, not cringe. The goal is to make them happy, not embarrass them on their special day.
11. Make ‘em laugh
Covered in spaghetti is better than the Pinterest perfect studio shot with the trendiest Etsy props.
12. Make ‘em cry
The music is key here. Forrest Gump Suite for newborn pics. Beautiful Boy or Isn’t she lovely? for childhood. Ben Folds songs are tearjerkers: Gracie for girls; Still Fighting It for boys. In my Life by the Beatles. Don’t you ever grow up by Taylor Swift-WEEP, fam. Weep. Picture Book by the Kinks as a palate cleanser from the crying. End on a high note- Story of my life by One Direction.
13. Choose technically good photos
Horizontal rather than vertical photos work better in most editing software. You’ll get a bigger image without blank space along the sides. Make sure photos are clear without any blur and are in focus. Remember you can always put two images on a montage slide. However, while showing many photos per slide lets you get more in, it is more difficult for your guests to view. Use this technique sparingly.
Be brutal and remember your audience. You’re telling the story of your child growing up, so ask yourself does the picture tell a story? Not for you (you have so many beautiful memories with each one!) but for the viewer. You don’t need all the good photos you have (you will always have those!), think of the story you are creating. And you can always use the extra photos to make a special memory book for your child.
The montage, as stressful as making them can be, should be a moment at the party when you really reflect on how much your child has grown, treasure the memories of their first 13 years and get excited about everything to come. You got this!
Angie Gaul is a New York/Connecticut/New Jersey-area bar and bat mitzvah photographer at Milestone Images with more than a decade of experience. She is raising two little boys in an interfaith home while doing the Hebrew school taxi run every Sunday morning.