How to Choose the Right Photographs for Your Presentation

May 12, 2014

“Pics, or it didn’t happen.”

In our digital world we are increasingly immersed in photos, and we can’t get enough of them. Photo sharing is the most popular activity on Facebook and Google+. An average of 350 million photos are added to Facebook, and 60 million to Instagram each day. Through photographs we communicate our experiences and observations, capture treasured memories and evoke powerful emotions.

Of course, photos can mean business, too -- many presentations incorporate photographs of some kind -- though there’s an art to choosing and using them well. Here are 3 methods for doing so.

Method 1: Deepen Meaning

The most satisfying presentations have a powerful central idea, and photographs can be an ideal way to bring that unifying theme to life visually and vividly.

Thematic Imagery

For example, when we launched our Web App, the central idea was that we were bringing Haiku Deck to the cloud. In our Haiku Deck press release, I used images of clouds and water in various forms throughout to reinforce the message.

Contrasting Imagery

In this set of slides for a talk I gave on innovation, I used pairs of contrasting photos throughout to express visually how we break free from the confines of convention -- for example, tiny, closed windows followed by open, colorful windows to illustrate different attitudes toward customer feedback.

Similarly, to illuminate our unique approach to brand ambassadors, I contrasted a photograph of uniform, monochrome lights with an artful image of one-of-a-kind lanterns.

Pro tips:

  • Make image searching part of your creative process. Sometimes I even discover the perfect unifying creative idea while I’m searching for images.

  • Once you you land on a theme, collect a wide range of images that express it up front and weave them in as you’re developing your presentation.

Illustrating Concepts

This method also works for individual points within your presentation. For example, when I’m talking about the optimal amount of words on a slide, I like to compare it to oysters -- about a half dozen are delicious; more than that can give you a stomachache. This photograph expresses the idea perfectly.

Symbolic Communication

Here's a powerful photo I found to express the mission of a company focused on data transparency.

Pro tips:

  • This technique works best with metaphorical, or lateral, thinking: Instead of searching for something literal, like “six,” or “words,” I explored things that come in sixes.

  • Similarly, if you want to illustrate an abstract concept like teamwork, don’t search for teamwork -- think about things that require teamwork, like riding a tandem bicycle, wearing a two-part Halloween costume or paddling in a canoe.

Method 2: Make it Personal

Incorporating personal photos can be a beautiful way to add meaning and depth to your work. Sorry, this isn’t license to pepper your presentation with selfies (unless that’s your unifying creative idea, I suppose) -- but you could include photos you have taken, photos of people you know who illustrate your points well, or even photos others have taken of objects or places that have personal significance to you.

Bringing an Experience to Life

For example, when I gave a talk recently about my years at Cranium, I sprinkled in some personal photos to make the culture and creative spirit feel real.

Connecting Authentically

If you’re giving your presentation live, this is a great way to weave in personal anecdotes that can help you relax and connect with your audience more authentically. But even if you aren’t, incorporating these personal touches adds a layer of depth to your presentation that clip art can never achieve.

Pro tips:

  • You don’t have to be a professional photographer to use your own photos, but do make sure any images you’re using are clear, properly sized, and high enough resolution that your finished slides look sharp.

  • If you are incorporating, say, your own Instagram photos, try using a consistent filter or composition style to tie everything together.

Method 3: Create a Distinct Look

Even if you’re not building around a central theme or metaphor, you can use well-chosen photographs to make your presentation feel polished and cohesive.

Evoking a Mood

The types of photographs you choose can really shape the mood of your presentation. For example, if you’re doing a retrospective or addressing a historical topic, vintage photographs or even a strong sepia filter can create a nostalgic feeling.

Evoking Brand Imagery

To avoid the glazed-over feeling we often get from presentations with a corporate template packed with branding and logos, choose photographs that evoke your brand and branding messages. In my own Haiku Deck presentations, I prefer to represent our brand with beautiful images of colorful origami instead of showing our logo over and over again.

Expressing Company or Brand Colors

A related approach is to let your company or brand colors dictate the palette for the photographs you select, or to mix in abstract photographs or patterns  that evoke your brand in a more subtle way.

For example, here are some beautiful background photographs that evoke a company's brand colors.

Pro tips:

  • Abstract photos of colors and patterns can be a refreshing way to express your brand without hitting your audience over the head with a heavily branded corporate template.

  • After you’ve chosen your images, take a look at the set as a whole, looking for easy swaps that might make the overall palette feel more visually unified.

What are your favorite ways to use photographs in your presentations? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

READ MORE: Slides Got You Stuck? Start With a Moodboard

About the Author

Catherine Carr is VP of Marketing and Chief Inspiration Officer at Haiku Deck, a Seattle-based company on a mission to make presentations simple, beautiful, fun, and mobile-friendly. Create your own photo-based presentation for free--and upload directly to SlideShare--with Haiku Deck for iPad or the Haiku Deck Web App.

Photo: nito/Shutterstock