3 reasons to use less stock photos in your presentations

Here’s what I would like to see in PowerPoint slide design in 2009 – less stock photos of people.

I’m guilty too. Last year I loved istockphoto. It saved me so much time. I loved recommending it to our course participants and showing them how quickly they could find the photo they wanted.

My New Year’s resolution is to use istockphoto less.

Why use less stock photos of people in your presentations?

younger-business-woman1. They’re not real

The models used are attractive.  But they’re too glossy. Anybody can immediately identify a stock photo of people and tell it’s not real. That takes an authentic edge away from your presentation.

2. They don’t show real emotion

Portrait of a senior executiveMost of the stock photo models don’t show any real emotion. They might show fake positive emotions. But nothing truly joyous. And certainly nothing distressing. Jan Schultink of Slides that Stick says:

Stock images can be cheesy, staged, unnatural, cliche, especially when it comes to getting a shot of “real” people with real emotions.

3.  They’re ubiquitous

They turn up everywhere. I’m getting tired of seeing the smiling businessman above. Using frequently used stock photos is like using recycled stories. Stock photos of people are the new clipart.

Also check out this simple slideshare presentation from Scott Schwertly of Ethos3 Things that make you go Hmmm about stock photography.

Where to find photos of real people for your presentation?

1. Use photos you’ve already got

Look though your own digital archives. If you find photos that you could use, ask the permission of the people in them. The photos may not be as slick or as perfectly lit as what you’ll find on the stock photo websites. But they’ll be real people with real emotions. And no-one in your audience will have seen them before. They’ll appreciate that.

2. Gather a group of people together and take photos

meeting-from-photoshoot1We did this to get authentic photos for our presentation training website Effective Speaking. We sent out an invite to our clients to a free ‘photoshoot’ seminar. The attendees signed model release forms saying that we had permission to use the photos we took of them. Take a look at our website for more photos. You could do this with colleagues at work or a group of friends.

2. Use Flickr and Compfight

You’ll find real people with real emotions on Flickr.

However, in the past I found it took me ages to find the photo I wanted. The pages took ages to load and I had to scroll through pages and pages of off-topic photos.

But now there is brilliant new site which operates as a search engine for Flickr. It’s called Compfight. Compfight will revolutionise the use of Flickr photos for use in presentations.

Look at the contrast between using Compfight’s search and Flickr’s search. My search was for “dancing”:

Compfight: Within 8 seconds it had loaded a page with 260 photos of people dancing. Here’s a screenshot of “above the fold” (what you can see without scrollling down):


flickr-dancingFlickr: It took 14 seconds to load the first page and I only got 24 photos.

And look at how much you have to scroll. On the right is a screenshot of “above the fold” on the Flickr search results.

You can already see that some of the photos are  a little random. In fact of the 24 photos, only 13  were of people dancing (the others were of animals in funny poses, flowers dancing in the wind or statues).

3. Use commercial sites other than istockphoto for people photos

Istockphoto is great. Its fast and easy to use. It’s got a great search engine with cool features. I can normally find the photo I want on the first page of results. But that’s part of the problem. It’s become so popular that some of the photos are being overused. So spread the love. Try out dreamstime or bigstockphoto for stock photos of people (though I’ve seen that smiling businessman on dreamstime too – can’t avoid him!).

4. If you use istockphoto

If you’re using istockphoto for photos of people,  avoid photos that have been downloaded many times. You can check this by clicking through to the photo’s homepage and looking under the heading “Photo details” – the smiling businessman has been downloaded 5,733 times.

So that’s my wish for 2009 – to see more photos of real people with real emotions in presentations.

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  1. Great post, Olivia–I use stock photos, too, but find that an easy way for any presenter to get great candid shots of people is to remember to take photos when you are doing a presentation. I routinely shoot crowd scenes or small groups of my audiences, and sometimes of other speakers, to augment stock photos.

  2. I agree Flickr is a much better resource for authentic and original images. We have a custom search built into SlideRocket that works similarly to compfight so that once you find an image you can just double click it and it’s on your slide. It saves all kinds of time and streamlines the workflow.

  3. I agree Olivia. The smiling business man is the reincarnation of the clipart from the 1990s.

    Stock photography can still be helpful for:
    – Images of children (often very spontaneous)
    – Images of isolated, bland things (oops, need a vacuum cleaner)
    – Images of weird characters for non-serious presentations
    – Images of textures/patterns/silhouettes
    – Images of real places (Bvd. St. Germain in Paris)
    – Images of “Zen” landscapes and nature

    • Nicely put Jan. And that’s a useful list. Thanks, Olivia

  4. I will add another. Think about the image that will help make your point and then go out and capture that image using your camera. Think of it as a photo assignment where you are the customer, editor and photographer. This has the added benefit of making you really think about the image that you need.

    Plus, it gives you an excuse to upgrade that camera!

  5. I totally agree about avoiding those pasty, over-used, lifeless images (though they are a step up from the horrid clip art). I still find iStockphoto valuable, but it’s rare that I find a single image that works for me. Instead, I construct images from a collection of images, and/or I create a story by adding text to an image (or even elements of a dialog).


  6. I guess it goes without saying (but after reading photographers’ blogs, perhaps not!) that whenever you do a Flickr search, make sure that the owner allows you to use the photo under a Creative Commons license. I noticed that’s not the default setting on compfight. You’d need to click on “Commercial” or “Only” before searching.

    I use Flickr photos all the time in presentations, and using the advanced search feature (http://www.flickr.com/search/advanced/) gives easy access to Creative Commons options. It also helps me snag the photo URL so I can give appropriate credit. This is really important if you wind up publishing the slideset publicly on something like Slideshare or Google Docs.

    • Thanks for the reminder, Carolyn. It’s an important point. Olivia

  7. Thank you Carolyn for bringing up the CC topic. The trend towards more images (which is perfectly all right in itself) is leading to “borrowing” of images on an incredibly large scale. There should always be one last slide in a PPT-deck with credits, I believe. Quite firmly.

    flickr.storm is another neat way of searching flickr for CC-images. Click advanced to see the various options.

    And you can always: Take images of signs and graffiti. Scribble. Doodle. Even those of my students who think they have nor artistic talent at all, come up with amazing results, using basic tools like Paint, or more advanced ones like Inkscape, or they simply draw the emotions/faces/situations they need on paper and scan it it. Nor problems with copyrights, no problems with people’s rights. Picture book perfect.

    And it makes the slick digital setup so much more human again.


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