Stock imagery is often the go-to solution for those who need to dress up corporate presentations that are text-heavy or missing visuals. When used well, stock images can help balance slides, make them more compelling and tell a story. But poor use of stock imagery can make slides look lazy and old-fashioned.

We love visual story telling, so use a lot of stock imagery from the likes of Shutterstock and iStock. However, there is certainly a right way and a wrong way to use these great resources. To avoid stock image clichés, read on for 6 dos and don’ts of using stock photos in your corporate presentations.

DON’T: Treat your corporate presentations like they are a comic-strip

One of the biggest mistakes people make when choosing stock photos is trying to find images that perfectly and specifically encapsulate everything they want to say. When your stock image is a literal representation of your text, you risk your slide looking more like a comic- strip than a sales pitch or one of your corporate presentations.

lady with shopping

DO: Use images that have emotional or narrative value

Choose photos based on the value they can bring to your slide. Whatever your content, it’s likely that you’re trying to tell your audience a story. Your images should reflect this without being too specific. It can be helpful to think in terms of emotion (how do you want your audience to feel?) and tone (what mood are you trying to create?). Once you have done this, it will be easier to find an image that speaks to your overall message.

vegetable box

DON’T: Go straight to Google Images

Finding images through a search engine might seem like the quickest and easiest option, but it isn’t the most effective solution. Most images that come up when you search the internet aren’t royalty free, meaning that you could inadvertently steal them.

Most search engine images come from all over the web and don’t have guaranteed image quality. You could end up with low resolution images that pixelate when resized, or unoriginal, overused images that have little impact on your audience.

If you are going to use a search engine, you can use the advanced search features to filter the image results by Creative Commons license. To learn more about this, read our guide to using Creative Commons.


DO: Consider using free alternatives in your corporate presentations

Premium stock websites offer millions of royalty free images upon subscription, with a range of price plans for different budgets (check out our Shutterstock vs. iStock post if you’re struggling to choose!). But if you aren’t prepared to pay, there are some free alternatives for high quality imagery. One option is Creative Commons, as mentioned earlier. Another option is to use online resources like, and, which provide free, high-resolution photos with no registration or subscription required. On websites like these, images are contributed by professional photographers and often don’t feel like your typical stock photography. They are a great option for those who want to steer clear of using comic-strip style images as mentioned above.

organic food

DON’T: Expect images to do the work for you

So, you’ve found the perfect image. It’s high quality, reflects your brand and enhances your message. But an image alone isn’t enough to make your corporate presentations shine – you can’t simply right click, insert image and expect it to do the hard work for you.

Think about how the image affects the overall look and feel of your slide.

Should it be flood fill or only cover part of the slide?

Will it clash with or complement your colour scheme?

Where do you want your text to sit?

Take a look at our Easy Design Hacks for some tips on keeping slides with images looking professional.

DO: Get creative!

You don’t have to leave your image as it is, either. There are some easy ways to edit images within PowerPoint to help achieve your desired effect, so you can avoid choosing over-edited stock images and make small changes yourself.

Blur: If you want to overlay text, or draw attention elsewhere, it can sometimes be effective to blur your image. Select the image and go to the ‘Format’ tab. Within the ‘Adjust’ tab, go to ‘Artistic Effects’. From here, select ‘Blur’. Here I’ve placed a rectangle with text on top of my blurred image, and increased its transparency to help my text stand out.

organic food with blur effect

Colour overlay: Adding a colour overlay is an easy way of making your image fit in with your colour scheme. Insert a rectangle to fit perfectly over your image and fill it with a colour from your colour palette. Right click the rectangle and select ‘Format shape’. From here select ‘Fill’ and use the slide bar to adjust the transparency level. This will create a soft hue over your chosen image.

organic food with colour overlay

Want to make more magic with beautiful images? We’ve got loads of incredible resources to help you get to grips with using images in PowerPoint:

Image cropping video resource

Image crop to zoom video resource

PowerPoint Morph Tutorial #1: The morph magnifying glass

And, if you’ve used one too many pics and your PowerPoint file is getting bloated check out our post on reducing picture size.


Leave a comment
Written by

Natty Watton-Moore

Principal consultant

View Natty Watton-Moore's profile

Related articles

  1. Image of Hecsil Martinez Pacheco Hecsil Martinez Pacheco says:

    Muy buena información, gracias.

  2. Image of Paul Paul says:

    Great tips! Thanks Natty!

Leave a Reply

Join the BrightCarbon mailing list for monthly invites and resources

Tell me more!

Great work combined with amazing service, gracias Team BrightCarbon!

Mila Johnson InComm