From icons to photos to illustrations, images turn an otherwise standard presentation into a powerful visual experience.
They can enhance your content story, elevate your aesthetic, reinforce your brand principles, even draw connections with your audience.
But elevating your slides isn’t just about adding images, it’s about adding the right images to support your story.
In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of imagery, explore some key ideas and best practices for choosing images in your presentations, and share some sources for finding the right image.
This is an entry in our Presentation 101 series, an exploration of the basic principles that you can use to give better presentations.
What is imagery in presentations?
When you hear “images” you probably think about photographs. While that’s a big part of how images are used in presentations, it’s not the whole story.
Imagery in presentations refers to any visual representation that you use on a slide. This could be a photo, or it could be an illustration, an icon, or even a decorative element.
Typically, we judge an image based on appearance – in other words, is it aesthetically pleasing? This is a useful way to think, but when you are using imagery in presentations, you need to go one step further and think about what the image conveys.
In general, we recommend using images that directly support the content story you want to tell, rather than those that just look good on the slide.
Illustration vs. photography
The choice between illustrations and photographs can really set a strong tone in a presentation. But the choice is really less about which to use, instead it’s how to use both effectively.
When to use illustrations
Illustrations are great for showing fanciful or conceptual visuals. Some scenes just can’t be captured in a photograph, and illustrations can take your audience to new places.
Illustrations can also have a retro or classic feel. Before photography was widely accessible, illustrations were everywhere, and even now they can call us back to the past.
Finally, illustrations also cover icons. Icons are simple representations of things or ideas. They are great for reinforcing content, making slides more visual, and adding a unique feel to your brand.
When to use photographs
Photos excel at accurately portraying a moment or experience. They offer an accuracy and realness that can humanize a slide.
They are also great at conveying a professional vibe. If you want to seem earnest and authentic, photos are a great tool.
And photos are best at conveying the real experience of a product. There’s no substitute for showing people what you do.
Most presentations can benefit from a mix of both. Icons and photos work well together to tell a story in a visual style.
Best practices for using images in PowerPoint
Images can be a useful addition to your slides, but using images in the wrong way can be worse than having no images at all! Here are a few of our best tips for making sure your images are adding to your presentation.
Watch out for pixelization
A blurry or pixelated image makes your slides look unprofessional. Make sure your images are high-quality before adding them to your slides. But note that pics that are too high-res might also make your file too large. If this happens, just compress the images to 150 ppi or crop out any unused parts of pictures.
Keep it clean
Too many images make it hard to scan your slide. It makes it harder for your audience to know where to focus their attention, and can distract from your message. Using one strong image rather than multiple smaller ones helps keep your slides clean and focused.
Pick the right image for your audience
If your image doesn’t resonate with your audience, you’re going to lose them. Images that are too cheesy or seeming unserious might not work for an investor audience, while more authentic and high-quality ones might spark their interest.
What makes a good image?
A good image is one that helps support the content of your presentation. While there are many ways to assess the quality of an image, in presentations the real answer is just about functionality, rather than aesthetics.
That said, you may find yourself choosing between several similar types of images to support your content. To help you choose the right one, you can look at the following categories to see which image will work best for your presentation.
Does this image make sense in the context of your presentation? Does it match the tone and brand? Is it consistent with any other images in the presentation?
The principles of composition can be complex, but you don’t need to understand any rules to pick good photos. Look for images with a clear subject and a balanced layout.
Attention to detail
This idea is about the little things that make a photo stand out. Small elements that draw the eye, focus or lighting that highlight key areas, and a composition that suits the subject can all add to the quality of an image.
Display of emotion
This doesn’t mean over the top emoting. Rather, it’s about finding authentic moments of real emotion. One of the common issues with images we see in stock images is photos that look very “posed.” It’s actually a common addition to many brand guidelines to direct creators not to use “people staring directly at a camera,” for example.
Adding an image to a slide is a big deal. It draws attention, can distract the audience, and changes the balance of your layout. So if you’re going to include one, it needs to help tell the story of your content.
For example, a picture of a bike might not tell any particular story on its own. But a picture of a person on a bike, hands raised in the air as they cross a finish line, tells a very clear story.
The lighting in an image can really set the emotional tone. A dark room has a very different vibe than the same space in a bright afternoon shot.
Icons are one of our favorite tools for simplifying slides and making them more visual.
Icons are simple visual representations of specific objects. They are simplified drawings of objects or ideas that can be easily recognized, and make for a good stand-in for words on a slide.
How are icons used?
Icons are very useful for their simple and universal appeal.
They can allow you to communicate a core action or idea with just a few lines, where otherwise it might take whole sentences of description.
Making slides more visual
Using icons instead of words helps you convey a lot of information concisely. It also adds to the tone and feel of your slides.
An icon can add context or nuance to an idea, helping you tell a richer story without overloading the audience.
Where to find icons
Thenounproject.com is a library of free, well-designed icons that cover millions of topics. It’s also a good resource for stock photos.
Creating an icon or illustration library
Building a library of brand-approved illustrations and icons can help you add consistency and clarity to slides. By establishing an illustration and icon library for your brand, you also create a unique voice and feel to your overall visual style.
A good illustration library should be:
Flexible enough for multiple channels
Easy to use and update
Customized to your brand
Consistent and clear
Where to find images
While some brands have custom photography or illustrations, most images come from stock sites. Here are some of our go-to options for all types of images.
iStock.com is a subscription-based, royalty-free stock photography provider. It has a huge range of assets for you to choose from.
Getty Images is a subscription-based service for great image assets. It’s one of the most popular choices for images.
Unsplash.com (by Getty Images) is a free resource for a wide range of images. It’s a great place to start your image search.
nappy.co is free image site that’s focused on representing black and brown people in a way that’s purposeful and authentic.
Undraw.co is a free resource for semi-customizable, open-source illustrations.
Ouch! offers free or subscription-based illustrations with a modern vibe.
Images can make the difference between a flat presentation and one that will move your audience. With so many images to choose from and ways to use them, it can be hard to know where to start.
With these resources and concepts, you should have everything you need to create better presentations with powerful images.
Learn more about the basics of presentations in our Presentation 101 series.
Looking for more information about templates and beyond? Check out our resources for expert advice and tested strategies.