Before the internet and e-commerce sites, the world of stock photography was an intimidating and wallet-draining world of printed catalogs and rights-managed images with few suppliers— Getty Images and Corbis being the two biggest. Royalty-free imagery that could be bought outright and used in most any situation was a significant advance, although initially, it was still quite costly.
These days, there are hundreds of sources for stock photography at all price levels—even for free—so, you have few excuses for using low resolution, cheesy or outright stolen imagery.
But Wait, Why Do I Have to Pay for Imagery in Presentation Anyway?
Okay, let’s get this issue out of the way. There are many who believe that when it comes to presentation, one has the right to use any image from any source without permission or payment. Well, if you’re a 12-year old making a slideshow to convince your parents that you really deserve a dog, and those slides will never leave the confines of the family room, then I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’re probably okay using anything you can find online, much in the same way that that 12-year old could make a similar collage from cut up magazine photos. But when you start venturing out beyond the family room, things are a bit different.
The fact is that you simply do not have the automatic right to use an image just because you found it on the internet. Photography, like most artistic creations, is generally owned by someone. Yes, there are “Fair Use” cases such as parody, news reporting and educational instances where you might not need to pay to use a normally licensable image, but I’ll leave that determination to you, your lawyers and possibly the courts.
If you are engaged in business and have paid for the hardware and the software to help create a presentation slide, then you are in a position to also pay for stock imagery. And as we’ll see, it does not have to cost an arm and a leg.
Reverse Image Searches
If you find an image on a stock site, that image is for sale. But if you find an image through a Google search, things get murkier. Just because someone else has put up an image on their website, doesn’t mean they have done so legally. Just because an image has been used legally by a news site, doesn’t mean you can take it for your own different use. There are images that are truly free (such as public domain and Creative Commons imagery which we’ll discuss shortly), but most images on the web are owned by someone. The best thing to do is to research the original source or find out if the image is for sale on a stock site by using a reverse image search such as TinEye. A reverse image search will show you everywhere the image is used online, and very often, this will lead you to a place where you can legally license it.
So, how much will it cost? I’m going to categorize sources for stock imagery into three categories: Expensive, Cheap and Free.
“Expensive” is a relative term. It might seem pricey to purchase three images for $1,000, but if those images are used for a huge days-long employee conference costing well into the six figures and become a part of themed title slides, then $1,000 isn’t that much. Spending $2,400 for an annual subscription to Shutterstock may seem like a fortune until you consider that price entitles you to 750 downloads a month. $0.27/image all of a sudden seems quite the bargain.
Into this “Expensive” category, I put sites like Shutterstock, Thinkstock, and iStock. Sites such as these offer subscription plans or image packs (i.e. five downloads for $50) and some like CavanImages do offer a la carte downloads, although this model can get pricey at up to $500 per shot.
Also in this category are sites for rights-managed imagery such as Getty and Offset, but in general, I would suggest staying clear of this for presentation. Unless you really know what you’re doing, it gets complicated and expensive and is best left to more commercial ventures like advertising.
The next category down is what I call “Budget” sites. These operate similarly to the “Expensive” sites some with subscriptions, image packs, and a la carte, but at far more discounted rates. At Dreamstime, 123RF and BigStock, you can purchase images for as little as $1 each. Images are $1 at Canva as well, but here you can actually create presentation slides along with banners, posters, and other items.
What differentiates the above two categories? Mostly quality and choice of imagery. It is possible to find a beautiful professional image at one of the discount sites, but as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.
Lastly, we have sources for completely free imagery. MorgueFile is one of the biggest, but you can also find free imagery at FreeImages and FreeRangeStock. EveryStockPhoto is a search engine that helps discover free imagery around the web.
Some sites also operate on a “freemium” model, giving you access to certain content gratis, and asking payment for other. DeathToTheStockPhoto.com is one such site where you can subscribe and be sent packs of themed images a few times a month (about a dozen in each set), but access the entire historical archive costs $15/month. DeathToTheStockPhoto.com has beautiful, professional imagery that I’ve used, but the downside is that their library is very limited.
Also in the free category is public domain imagery such as the historical archives at The New York Public Library and Library of Congress. And then there is Creative Commons Imagery—content that creators have designated for public use generally with various caveats such as providing attribution. There are multiple levels of CC licenses, and it is still up to you to determine if you are allowed to use the image under the specific CC license. CC imagery can be found via an advanced search at Flickr, at Compfight and Wikimedia.
Stock Imagery Plug-ins for PowerPoint
Using stock imagery in presentation legally has become much easier in recent years. In fact, both Pickit and Shutterstock have created official add-ins for Microsoft Office that allow you to search and insert images all from within Office applications.
To see the plug-in in action, take a look at the video below.
Read more about these options here.
Where Can I Find a List of Stock Imagery Sources?
If you would like a more comprehensive list of sites and resources for stock imagery and other graphic assets, you can download a list from my site PresentYourStory.com after subscribing and getting access to the downloads page.
ABOUT NOLAN HAIMS:
With more than 20 years’ experience in the field of visual communications, Nolan helps organizations and individuals show up differently and tell better stories with fewer words. Most recently as a Vice President and Director of Presentation for Edelman, he helped the world’s largest public relations firm consistently win multi-million dollar pitches by communicating more visually. As a designer and art director, he has created high-end presentations, keynote addresses, and pitches for Fortune 500 CEOs, leading financial institutions, top foundations, and all the major television networks. Nolan trains organizations to think visually and to create and give presentations that are more effective. He speaks at national conferences and writes extensively on visual storytelling. Microsoft has recognized him as one of only 11 PowerPoint MVPs in the U.S for his contributions to the presentation community. In a past life, Nolan was an award-winning magician and juggler and performed with the Moscow Circus and Vermont’s Circus Smirkus before turning to the theater. He directed and wrote professionally, creating stories on stages in New York and around the country.