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Using Stock Images in Presentations - Part 3

How to be Choosy

 In Part 1 of this series we covered search strategies. In Part 2 we talked about how to manage the process. In this final article of the series, we’ll talk about some strategies for image selection—or how to be choosy.

When I was in my early 20s, I caught the antiquing bug. I loved strolling into musty stores with creaky floors supporting glass cases with the coolest looking knick-knacks from days gone by. I would purchase an item here and there; in time, I had a small collection of antiques. Unfortunately, the collection had no continuity. I had pieces from different eras and different styles. I had opera glasses, rusty scythes and campaign buttons. I didn’t have a curator’s eye for compatibility or the curator’s sensibility to say “no” when faced with something really cool.

I’ve seen far too many presentations with a visual style similar to my hodge-podge approach to antiques.

The Most Important Takeaway: Prep for Visual Style

“Begin with the end in mind” — Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey

When you are sitting in front of your computer, ready to choose images, you need to do just that—start with the end in mind. Who is your audience? What imagery will support the emotional aspects of your message? What is the tone you want to set? Do you have a theme or a story you want to tell?

Before you begin, make sure you have a style in mind. Think it through and set up style parameters and guidelines. For example, if you’re using people-shots you’ll want to think about several things: Do you want people looking directly at the camera or interacting with other people? How should the people be dressed (casual or business attire)? Should everyone be smiling…or sad? Have you considered lighting? Do you want natural light or studio lighting? How will you represent ethnic and gender diversity? These questions, and more, should be part of your preliminary strategy before you begin your search.

Continuity Example 1 - These images share a visual technique known as motion blur which gives a sense of energy and vitality.

Continuity Example 1 - These images share a visual technique known as motion blur which gives a sense of energy and vitality.

Choose a Visual Path

To improve continuity, first choose whether you’ll use photography or illustrations. This choice is a big step toward a cohesive presentation as each offers plenty of stylistic options.

Of the two categories, photography is probably the easier path. Illustration styles can be so distinctive that it might prove difficult to find a full collection of images to carry you through to the last slide. One style of illustration that often works is iconography. Most stock sites have thousands of icons in stylistic “sets” with a variety of palettes. These sets are usually industry-specific (healthcare, financial, etc.) and are an easy way to establish visual continuity. Rule: don’t mix photos and illustrations. Exception: you can mix either with icons to help the audience visually categorize your content. The signage-like quality of icons doesn’t clash with photographic images.

CONTINUITY EXAMPLE 2 - THESE PORTRAITS FEATURE SUBJECTS LOOKING DIRECTLY AT THE CAMERA. IN ADDITION, EACH PHOTO HAS A SPACE FOR HEADLINES OR CONTENT. THE COLOR PALETTE IS LIGHT AND SPRING-LIKE.

CONTINUITY EXAMPLE 2 - THESE PORTRAITS FEATURE SUBJECTS LOOKING DIRECTLY AT THE CAMERA. IN ADDITION, EACH PHOTO HAS A SPACE FOR HEADLINES OR CONTENT. THE COLOR PALETTE IS LIGHT AND SPRING-LIKE.

Avoid Super Models and Cheesy Actors

One downside of using stock images is that they often look like stock images. You perform a search on “business people” and you get a screen full of genetically perfect specimens of the human race—row after row of pearly white smiles and high cheek bones. There is also no shortage of “cheesy” staged images. Search on a word like “anger” or “sad” and you’ll get a rogues’ gallery of over-the-top facial expressions and bad acting.

Continuity Example 3 - Geometric patterns in architecture. The color palette of this series is cool and crisp.

Continuity Example 3 - Geometric patterns in architecture. The color palette of this series is cool and crisp.

Now, unless your presentation is thematically humorous and you want to show a series of “cheesy” staged shots, by all means go for it. Just make sure you choose those shots with continuity in mind. For example, you might want all of your cheesy actors to be isolated on a white background. 

Of course my first instinct when choosing images, is to avoid the above-mentioned clichés. For a recent project, I performed a search on real people which yielded several pages of just regular folks. The resulting emotional impact on the presentation was a warmer, friendlier and more down-to-earth feeling.

Continuity Example 4 - These portraits feature an extreme high angle and a fish-eye technique. Yes, they're cheesy...but they're consistent.

Continuity Example 4 - These portraits feature an extreme high angle and a fish-eye technique. Yes, they're cheesy...but they're consistent.

It’s great to see presenters using prominent visuals in their slides. Unfortunately, many of these presentations look like clip-art samplers with no discernible style. I’ll stress again, the most important takeaway of this article: begin with the end in mind and establish style guidelines before you search for images.

Real-World Presentation Design is the blog of Radiate Presentation Design. This blog is written for anyone, and everyone, who wants to “step up” their presentation game.  This blog addresses the real world issues of creating presentations in the modern corporate environment with tips and ideas to help you thrive and survive. And if you ever need help with presentation awesomeness, you know who to contact.