Stock Photography and How It Can Ruin Presentation DesignJonathan Berntsen
Look around you. You’re bound to see a picture or ten. It’s amazing how images have permeated the collective mind. But in hindsight, they have always had the power to do so. Historically, cave paintings served as the first method of documentation. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics were mostly drawn or carved. One could even say that everything you see is an image, scientifically speaking.
With that much influence, it’s no wonder that pictures have spread far and deep into the collective subconscious. So much that it became the driving force for the invention of the camera, making portraits easier to create and, after many technological advances over the decades, instant.
In that same vein, photographs became available online, including stock images. But the term has been met with both positive and negative reactions. There are arguments from both sides saying that stock photography is cheap—if not downright free—but that, legally, you’re better off using originals.
Where do you side in the argument? Presentation design-wise, you’re better off not using stock photography for your deck and instead creating your own that fit your or a presentation agency’s design—a.k.a. the perfect images for your slides. Here are reasons why.
Lack of Authenticity and Creativity
There’s no greater show of designer laziness than using stock images. Why? Because it’s already available online. You can get one with just a few clicks. Never mind using your own resources for that photoshoot (which doesn’t have to be grand to begin with).
Using stock images is the easy way out. There’s a certain lack of creativity that stock images display because all it takes is a “yes or no” choice: does it portray what I want? Instead of getting specifically what you’re looking for, you settle for another since it’s ripe for the taking. While there are alternatives, like your own shoot, it won’t be as easy as just downloading one.
It doesn’t help, too, that stock images are easily obtainable from the Internet. What are the chances that you’re the only one using a particular photo? Zero. It’s bound to show up in places you wouldn’t expect, which leads to …
You know how the first time you hear a funny joke, you can’t stop laughing? Then it gets repeated over and over, and it isn’t humorous to you anymore? It’s the same with stock images. The more your audience has seen a photo you used on your presentation design, any hope of impact you intended is gone.
It’s because they’re already familiar with—if not outright expecting—it. That they have seen the exact photo, if not the same actions, connotations, and justifications elsewhere, should always be a consideration. This is especially true when even in your search, there were dozens of images like the one you chose. “Familiarity breeds contempt,” goes the adage.
What’s an alternative then? If you must use stock images, then be unpredictable. If you’re looking for a picture of a business meeting, then don’t choose common ones, like room full of executives. Try a coffee shop meeting or a team building to show something new and fresh. If you can’t find one, then why not shoot your own or even choose one from your albums? How about that for a new take on the term “stock photography”?
Presentation design revolves around a theme, often the brand or topic. When you’re designing images, you keep said motif in mind, wanting to adhere to it and keep the whole deck consistent.
There isn’t much wiggle room for this, however, when your pool is piled with stock images. You have no control over the art direction of the image you have chosen since it’s just there, and how you use it becomes the question. This may present problems, but of course, if you’re really persistent, you can find one you can settle on. But even then, it still feels out of place.
There’s also what may be construed as “forced imagery,” wherein a picture barely symbolizes or depicts the topic at hand but is instead accompanied by lengthy justifications at how it’s really illustrating the point. Not only does this need a contrived explanation, but it also denotes poor planning on your part.
Stock images are readily available, but just because you can download them doesn’t mean you should. It’s not like there aren’t better alternatives out there; it’s merely the easiest way out. And if you think that won’t cost you anything, think again.
As a legal matter, there are many loopholes and gray areas on creative commons and copyrights. When it’s that open-ended and indefinite, you can bet that there are people who can and will make some money out of it by suing you or others for using their photos for unintended reasons, like commercial purposes.
Would you rather risk that possibility or take delight in the pleasure and satisfaction that your image is your own? You help not only yourself by minimizing complications from external parties but also your presentation design by being specific with your choice. That can make the biggest impact of all.
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