Recently, my uncle tragically passed away from pancreatic cancer. To commemorate his life, I helped prepare a slideshow for his memorial service.

It was a labor of love, and I’m forever grateful for the experience of putting it together. Going through all of the old photos and deciding how to tell his story gave me the chance to revisit his life. But it also allowed me to connect with the people who shared their photos of him, people who had wonderful stories and memories.

I’m sharing my process here to help anyone who wants to honor their own loved ones get a sense of how to get started. While putting the memorial slideshow together, I was able to relive parts of Uncle Rich’s life, and I found myself hoping that it might help the people who watched it relive his life, too. Because that is what memorial services are for: a final visit before saying goodbye. A celebration of life. For me, the process was a mixture of tears, laughter, and photos.

Step 1: Gather photos

I started by collecting photos from my uncle’s friends and family. I’d recommend creating a Dropbox account if you don’t already have one. A shared Dropbox folder is the easiest way for people to add photos. You can easily share the folder via email with friends, family, coworkers, and whoever else you think might contribute photos for the occasion. It’s simple to set up and keeps everything in one place; we were able to collect nearly 1,000 pictures this way.

Step 2: Find the best photos

I used Mylio to sort through the 1,000 pictures. This was easy because with Mylio, I could see the contents of the Dropbox and know right away when new images were added. I could then rate images insert using stars to denote which images would make the final cut. (Learn more about photo rating and sorting strategies.)

I did a first pass for the slideshow, rating photos I like best as four stars. On my second pass, I reviewed all those images and upgraded the best to five stars. That got me down to about 100 photos.

Here are my tips for making the final cut:

Look for photos that tell the best stories. Often, these turn out to be photos of people in groups. Moments in which people were interacting with each other felt like they had so much more life than those where my uncle was by himself.

Choose photos that capture honest emotion. Chances are, you’ll have quite a few pictures where people are standing together posing for the camera with plastered grins. These pictures can be nice, but the photos where people authentically engaging with each other and truly joyful were more powerful. Never underestimate the impact of a genuine smile.

Step 3: Categorize the photos

I continued to use Mylio for organizing, or moving selected pictures into folders I labeled by theme: family, travel, solo, and more.

Step 4: Think about the arc of the life story

At this point, you could simply assemble pictures in random or chronological order. But if you’re putting together a memorial slideshow, I’d encourage you to think of it as a story with a beginning, middle, and an end. It’s worth taking a few moments to consider what story you’d most like to tell.

If you’re creating a slideshow for a wedding, you’d probably tell the story of how the two people came into each other’s lives. But if you’re prepping for a memorial service, you’ll want to tell the story of who this person was and how they lived. And maybe tell about the other lives they touched. For my uncle’s story, the photos I collected seemed to break naturally into three chapters. The first was the story of him growing up in Billings, Montana. The second was the love he had for his family. And the third was all of the things he enjoyed doing — adventures, travel, and motorcycles. With these categories to guide me, I had a clear plan for putting the photos in order.

Step 5: Select music for your slideshow

With the photos selected and a plan for the story you’d like the photos to tell, it’s time to consider the music that will help express that story. The music is your opportunity to set the emotional tone for the slideshow. The song or songs you choose should be meaningful and intentional.

For my uncle Rich’s service, we asked my aunt LouAnn (his wife) what music was meaningful to him. She recalled that he’d often tell his kids he was “Proud to be Your Old Man.” This Merle Haggard song perfectly captured how proud he felt about his family and seemed like a natural complement to the photos. You may think you should choose a solemn song for a memorial slideshow, but in fact, the attendees are there to celebrate the life of the departed person. I’d recommend choosing the song as if you were choosing the person’s theme music. It doesn’t have to be somber.

Step 6: Finalize the slideshow

You’ll probably want to have the photos and music play as a video. To put all of the pieces together — the photos, the music, etc. — I recommend using iMovie by Apple. One reason: The Ken Burns Effect. This is an iMovie setting that will automatically apply a zoom in or out to your images. This saves a lot of time and adds life to static images. Plus, it’s easy to share a link to the video with anyone who wasn’t able to make the memorial service.

And that’s it. I hope that this is helpful for anyone trying to set up a memorial slideshow. Remember to keep it short and sweet — mine ended up being around 2:30 minutes. It’s better to leave those in attendance wanting more than have them looking at their watch. I ended my slideshow with a fadeout slide of Uncle Rich and Aunt LouAnn above the words “In loving memory”.

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