Monday, March 26, 2018

The Bar Mitzvah Montage: A DIY Option

Montage is a French word meaning “the technique of producing a new composite whole from fragments of photographs, text, or music.” However, if you ask anyone who has been to a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah in the past two decades, they will immediately describe it as the approximately ten-minute video of family photos highlighting the development of the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl.

It’s possible that my bar mitzvah party back in October 1989 had the first do-it-yourself (DIY) video montage. My father created a montage using printed photographs he digitized with a camcorder and then assembled using the family’s Commodore Amiga computer. He recorded the montage (we called it a “slideshow”) onto a VHS tape and had it displayed on a large movie screen following the candle lighting ceremony. My father controlled the production with the large VCR remote control from his seat in the hotel ballroom. No one had ever seen such a production before, but it certainly caught on.
Today, no mitzvah celebration is complete without the montage. Knowing a few tricks will help you assemble your own montage without much hassle. With the right software, there’s really no reason to hire a company to produce the montage (although my tech company does this service if you don’t want to bother with it).

The most important thing to remember when creating the montage is that you don’t want to bore your guests. After all, they came to celebrate; they don’t want to sit and watch hundreds of photos of your family’s cruise to Alaska. Keeping the entire montage to approximately 100-150 photos (about 4-5 songs) is an ideal goal to set. You want to feature the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl, but there shouldn’t be too many photos of them alone.

Teens and adults watching a Mitzvah Montage at a bat mitzvah party


Choosing the photos is the most difficult part of creating the montage. My advice is to start early. You’ll have a very good head start in this process if you already have your digital photo collection organized into albums or folders on your computer. When I began creating the montage for my eldest child’s bar mitzvah, I had over 100,000 photos to choose from. It seemed like it would be an insurmountable task to narrow that down to 100-150 photos, but my strategy worked. I already had the photos organized into categories and arranged by month and year. If I thought a photo qualified for the montage I copied and pasted it into a new folder called “Montage.” I then began to delete photos from that folder if I felt they were redundant or didn’t make the final cut.

It’s important to have a good variety. You want to tell a story with the montage, showing how your teen has grown from birth to this big day. While every experience – from first steps and potty training to little league and braces – is important to your immediate family, remember that the audience is going to get restless (and hungry). If the saying that a picture tells a thousand words is true, then you really don’t need an abundance of photos to tell this story. Your friends and family are also going to be watching to see if there’s a photo of them. Therefore, it was a priority of mine to try to find a photo with every family member (even the second cousin you don’t see very often) and as many friends as possible. In the year leading up to the mitzvah try to take many group photos of your teen with their friends.

With the popularity of digital cameras and smartphones, most of our photos are now in digital form so we don’t have the arduous task of scanning printed photographs anymore. If you do have to scan photographs, I advise choosing which ones you plan to use first and then scanning (this will save money and time).


The question I’m often asked is which software is best to create a montage. There are a lot of options out there and it comes down to what you’re comfortable using. I made my son’s bar mitzvah montage using Corel VideoStudio, but other popular applications include iMovie, Adobe Premier Pro, Pinnacle Studio, and Final Cut Pro. The free Windows Movie Maker (which used to come with all versions of Windows but has been discontinued) is a quick and easy way to produce a montage.
Remember when editing that it’s not only about the transitions between photos. The pan and zoom feature is important to use, especially in photos with many people. You’ll want to pan across the photo and zoom in on faces, otherwise, your guests sitting far from the screen won’t be able to see who is in the photo.

You should try to have a roadmap in place before beginning to edit the montage. Most montages begin with baby photos to show the journey from babyhood to childhood and then to the pre-teen years. Grouping your photos into themes will also be helpful in telling the story (family, friends, vacations, sports, camp, school, etc.). Some montages group several photos into the same screen, but I’m not a fan of this because there are too many photos to focus on and the audience will give up.
Displaying each photo for 4 seconds is enough time (remember, 150 photos at four seconds each will come out to ten minutes exactly). It’s up to you whether you want to randomize the transition effects or stick with one transition. I chose to randomize the effects, but I kept it to only a handful of effects. Otherwise, it will distract attention from your photos.


The choice of songs is very important to the montage as it can help tell the story. Let your teen be part of the process and recommend some of their favorite songs or artists. You want to pay attention to the lyrics of the songs to be sure they’re appropriate for the montage. There are certainly some songs that are used in most montages, so choose whether you want to go with the standards or be more creative.
If you want to include some videos in the montage, keep them short and sweet. A 10-second clip is enough and you should consider saving the videos for the end when you can fade out the music. Ultimately, you want to remember that while this montage is very special to you, many of your guests are eager to get to the party section of the event. Don’t hold them captive watching your family memories. Rather, set the tone for the celebration showing how proud your family is of your teen and how their life has been shared with so many friends and family members. Finally, be sure to test the montage ahead of time at the venue to ensure the video and audio quality is to your liking. After all the time you spent producing the montage you don’t want to endure any technical malfunctions.

Originally published in the Detroit Jewish News (Renaissance Media)

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