How to work with stock photography like a pro.

You and I know that some stock photography is a little tired and worn out while other stock photography is flat out embarrassing to be seen with in public.

Before we talk about how to use stock photos well, we have to have a frank discussion on how you’re using photography in general.

Think of your slides like your wingman, or wingsistah. A wingsistah is hanging out with you to help accentuate your natural humor and awesomeness so you can get that hot date. Right?

Your slides act the same way. They’re not the star of the presentation, they’re hanging out with you to be helpful and keep you memorable. When you make your slides over-the-top with flashy imagery or cluttered up with text and data you end up looking like the uncool kid who’s trying too hard to make people like her.

I know you’re not that kid, so don’t burden your slides with insane amounts data that ooze insecurity. Be classy. Be understated.

Your audience has to be able to identify what your point is before they understand it and they can’t do that while sifting through all the stuff on your slides while still trying to listen to you. That’s an impossible task and there’s no wonder why you can see people drift off or start checking their mobile phones.

Now let’s talk about using stock photography responsibly.

First, know that you can use stock photography for good and not evil (OK, maybe not evil but certainly you can avoid choosing images out of complacency), you just need to be aware of what you’re looking for.

What am I looking for?

Good question. Let’s start there.

You want to get your point across without being screamingly obvious. There are two things insecure people do: 1) they shrink and become a wallflower or 2) they overcompensate by being loud and obnoxious.

Are you looking for a supporting image for a “Guiding Principles” slide? Don’t pick an image with an arrow at a fork in the road with the words “RIGHT DIRECTION!”

Choose related image instead that still speaks to direction but maybe not so obvious. Are you having a hard time coming up with one? Consult a thesaurus. Solicit Google’s help. Ask the guy in the cubicle next to yours. What else can symbolize “guiding?” How about a tasteful compass. Great!

How do I figure out what’s tasteful?

I’m glad you asked.

Subtlety is your friend here. You want background noise, the visual equivalent to guy in the office that you’ve seen every day for 5 years but still can’t remember his name but know he’s that guy who does that thing that you need right now.

Your presentation needs to be memorable, although not necessarily for your tacky images.

You know what I like? Those funny little blobby guys.

This is a good time to touch on what’s tacky.

I know you like those shiny, plastic-looking 3D objects. Specifically those little white amorphous people holding things or pointing at other things. These guys are easy to find, they’re everywhere and inexplicably come up in almost every photo search. But just because they’re everywhere does not mean you should use them. Ever.

Need images of people?

Look for images that are more of a documentary style (captured in the moment, not posed, or staring into the camera’s lens with a big fat fake smile). They’re a little bit hard to find but like the diamond ring lost in a giant pile of garbage, if you keep digging you’ll find your treasure.

Avoid images that have been overused within an inch of your life.

Need help identifying those?

You’ll know it when you see it. That’s pretty much any variation of: the handshake, the telemarketer, the running businessman, the super businessman, the arrows in a bullseye, that guy with that hipster beard, the generic group of business people showing unity or diversity or just that they’re random people in suits standing in a non-distinct hallway doing god knows what.

What if I have to use tacky, overused stock photography?

I hear ya. I can’t pretend I haven’t had to do that.

Here’s how you use tacky stock photography and still manage to look professional.

Buy the largest size and crop it so that it looks different. Put it on the slide in a way that doesn’t seem intuitive, seriously—it’s going to feel weird and when it feels weird that means you’re doing it right—then mess around with it.

This method can make the uncool image look kind of cool. The point here is not to stick with the conventional rules.

Prepare to be frustrated and overwhelmed. Prepare to feel like there is nothing out there but a world of photographers with strange chocolate fetishes.

All is not lost.

Like everyone says, good things take time and are well worth the effort. And when you do find that perfect image or even that acceptable image, you will be overcome with design euphoria and feel like the genius that you are.

Cindy Caughey

In Good Company Design, Barnstable, MA