Stock photography sites can be a great way to source images for your presentation slides without having to worry about potential copyright infringement. They also can give you nice high resolution pictures that show up crisp and clear on your slides (lack of proper adverbial grammar notwithstanding).
There are a lot of different sites out there. More than I have the experience to review. Just enter “Stock Photography” in your favorite search engine and you will find many to choose from. Some of the best known sites include the following (this is NOT a comprehensive list):
Some sites have photographs available for free (all or a limited subset). Some sites let you buy credits that are applied against individual downloads. Some sites let you buy a daily, weekly, monthly, or annual subscription that permits downloading multiple photos over that period of time.
It is important to read and understand purchase options and provisions for your site. It can be confusing when you start. If you buy credits, they may expire if unused over a period of time. Some sites price different photos at different levels. Some offer tiered pricing for different sizes and resolutions.
For the occasional single picture to complement a slide, credits can work out nicely. If you are trying to add graphics to many slides in one or several presentations, a subscription often gives better value. The other advantage to subscriptions is that they usually let you download the highest possible size/resolution for each image. It’s always better to have a high resolution, large picture that you can scale down on your slide.
A big difference between sites relates to the search facilities letting you find the image that is right for you. This is not a trivial concern. Many of these sites have millions of images, and it is no fun scrolling through them at random. The sites change and update their interfaces fairly often. At the time of writing, my current favorite search functionality is in Dreamstime.
As a long-time stock photo user, I can tell you of some frustrations you will encounter:
1) Models are overwhelmingly white (American/Scandinavian/European). Yes, it is possible to find models with different ethnic, regional, or cultural looks, but they are severely under-represented.
2) Models in business settings tend to be more attractive than “typical” people. That’s fine for a single photo, but when your entire presentation consists of beautiful people, it can bother some audiences. I have been called out on this, saying that my images don’t represent the “real people” listening to me.
3) Business-themed photos are overwhelmingly sexist and chauvinistic. The boss or person in authority is usually male, the underling is usually female. Female models are far too often dressed and made up provocatively, showing too much cleavage or leg or using a flirtatious pose or expression. I have had comments from audiences about this as well. You have to spend much more search time to find females represented as normal peer-level equals without sexual overtones.
4) Models are overwhelmingly posed looking straight at the camera. This is fine for website shots designed to capture attention, but it can look unnatural and posed when used as a realistic scene on a slide.
5) Keywords are unpredictable to say the least. Get a thesaurus and try synonyms for the concept you are trying to locate. You will also get lots of “false positives” that bear absolutely no relationship to the keywords you typed in.
6) Images are almost always in JPG format, which does not allow transparent backgrounds. Isolated subjects are usually placed against white backgrounds. You will need to use editing tools to make the background transparent for use on a slide.
I will extend this topic in a series of upcoming posts. I will review some of the sites I have used a lot and give some tips for working with images on PowerPoint slides. Check back for new active links as I add more posts on the subject: