Kelly Vandever - Communications for Everyone

Picture This

In PowerPoint Slides on March 3, 2011 at 5:33 pm

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Say It with a Picture

“Where did you get the picture of those hospital beds?”  That was the question Marty asked me when we were reviewing the slides for one of his presentations.

I’ve discussed in an early post about the power of using slides with pictures and one or two words rather than bullet points and tons of words.  But I never mentioned where you can find great pictures.  Sure you can Google for images.  But sometimes those photos don’t have the quality that you’re looking for.  Or they’re too small.  And if you’re a business using photos to promote yourself, you surely don’t want to violate copyright law.

The good news is that there are a ton of websites that give you the ability to download photographs legally without violating copyright law.  They’re called royalty free photos because you don’t have to give credit to the photographer who took the picture.  Each website has different restrictions on their use so always read the fine print before using the photos, particularly for commercial use.  But here are some of the sources I’ve found helpful.

Royalty Free Pictures – Paid Sites

Sample from iStockphoto - istock_000007751536small – This is my favorite site for paid photographs. They have beautiful pictures.  Their search engine in awesome – you can put one or multiple words in the search engine and it seems to know the concept you’re going for.  There are times where I might be stuck with how to graphically represent a concept and I plug my key words into the search and BAM, iStockphoto serves up a great idea on how to represent the concept.  Each search result brings back 50 photos per page and as you hover over the pictures, they enlarge to give you a closer look.  Most photos are reasonably priced (but look out because some of the photos can be crazy expensive).  You have to either subscribe to the service or buy credits to download the pictures.  The more credits you buy in a block, the cheaper the cost per credit.  I usually get the photos with at least 300 dpi because I know the photo quality will work for both slides and for printed material.  Photos can be used for internal and commercial purposes (but remember to read the fine print).

Fotolia Sample - fotolia_3415003_m – This is my backup site for paid photographs.  It shares most of the  characteristics of iStockphoto.  The search engine isn’t as good with concepts as the iStockphoto search engine.  But the photos are beautiful and reasonably priced.  You have to either subscribe or buy credits.  Photos can also be used for internal or commercial purposes (ditto the fine print).

Royalty Free Photographs – Free Sites

sxc Photo - 90373_5557 (called Stock.XCHNG on the site)- This is my favorite site for free photos.   Like iStockphoto and fotolia, Stock.XCHNG brings up multiple options per page and hovering over the photo gives you an enlarged version.  Most of the photos are excellent, though some are not.  The search engine isn’t as good as iStockphoto.  I’ve found that trying multiple variations of a word can get you some different results so I recommending trying synonyms in your searches.  Two little cautions.  Some of the photos carry a non-standard restriction and you must first contact the person who owns the photo.  I’ve not tried to see how difficult it is to meet their requirements.   When I see the phrase “…and XYZ must be notified when using the photo for any public work,” I just move on to the next photo or go pay for a picture on iStockphoto.  Which brings up another point.  Stock.XCHNG is owned by iStockphoto.  At the top and bottom of the page, sandwiching the free photos, are iStockphoto’s paid photos.  You know it’s an iStockphoto when you hover over it and you can see the iStockphoto watermark.  Sometimes you get excited thinking you found a great free photo when in fact, it’s a paid iStockphoto.  But for the quality of photos you can find on Stock.XCHNG, it’s worth the small inconveniences.

morgeFile Photo - hide_face – I’m told that “morgue file” comes from an old newspaper term.  It refers to old photographs that have gone to the morgue file because the editors no longer use them.  The photos on morgueFile are not as good as those on Stock.XCHNG.  Some are really excellent.  Some are down right lousy.  Some do not have a high enough resolution to use in print work or to expand on a slide.  The photos that display from the search do not enlarge when you hover over them.  You have to click on the photo and load a new screen to get a closer look and the page loading is fairly slow.  I’ve found with the search engine that you can only plug in one word, otherwise you’ll get a NO RESULTS message.  However there are no additional restrictions like there are on sxc so if you find a photo you like, you can download it right away.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Your Photographs

Kelly Vandever Phot0 - Funny Picture are Everywhere

Family photos can be a great source to add fun and personality to your presentations.  They add a personal touch when used well to complement the points you’re trying to make.  Additionally, I’m on the lookout for fun and interesting sights.  If I’ve got my camera on me, great.  If not, I love that my cell phone also has a camera.  That way when I come across a pithy scene, I can take a picture and use it in a presentation as well.   Look through your own library of photos.  See what will make an entertaining slide to engage your audience.

Now It’s Your Turn

I’ve shared my favorite places to get photos for my presentation slides.  I know there are a gazillon more sites out there.  What are your favorites and why?  Please share in the comment section below!!

  1. Thanks Kelly. You can also look through Flickr for Creative Commons licensed content. Be sure to read and comply with the CC licenses –

  2. Kelly, you nailed the biggies, but you missed one really good source for free photos… the clip art service on You can choose to search only photos. It’s well organized, and the search engine allows you to find many photos that are similar to any shot you choose (though sometimes the algorithm for selecting similar shots does some very odd things!). All in all I highly recommend it. I actually now find more pix here than on Try it!

  3. […] “Seconds Count” when dealing with a customer.  You look for pictures to represent this idea (see this post for my favorite place to find photos) and you settle on an egg timer.  If you follow the default format in PowerPoint, you’ll end up […]

  4. These are great tips, Kelly. I’m so glad you brought this up! Many government sites also have searchable databases of free photos. Examples:

    USDA’s NRCS Photo Gallery:
    CDC’s PHIL:

  5. A great way to search through Flickr for only particular CC (commercial/non-commercial) types is

  6. […] The point is – find a picture that will relates to the concept you want to convey on the slide.  For sources for pictures, see my earlier post Picture This. […]

  7. […] The point is – find a picture that will relates to the concept you want to convey on the slide.  For sources for pictures, see my earlier post Picture This. […]

  8. […] “Seconds Count” when dealing with a customer.  You look for pictures to represent this idea (see this post for my favorite place to find photos) and you settle on an egg timer.  If you follow the default format in PowerPoint, you’ll end up […]

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