Boring PowerPoint’s for chumps, and by now we all know that photographs can really elevate a presentation. What they can also elevate are your expenses, because royalty-free photographs can run into some money depending on how many you include.
Some people think that images they find online are free because they are, well, online. This is wrong, and in many cases it is a breach of copyright law to use photos you find online without paying for them. Unless you are given explicit permission, whether it is granted to you in writing or if you have purchased a license, you shouldn’t use photographs you’ve found on the Internet in your presentation. You have to dig deeper than a simple Google image search.
This doesn’t mean there are no free images available to you. On the contrary, there are many ways to get free photographs for your PowerPoint presentations or for personal use that won’t land you in Copyright Court.
- MorgueFile is a “public image archive by creatives for creatives” that offers thousands of free images.
- Stock.xchng has a robust search engine and the ability to create lightboxes (collections of photos) which you can share with others.
- Wikimedia Commons is a vast collection of photographs, many of which are in the public domain. This means that the copyright has expired and you can use the photos freely. Other images are offered under the Creative Commons license, which means that you must “attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor.” This is usually as simple as putting the phrase “Image © 2012 Joe Smith via Wikimedia Commons” on or near the image in your presentation. Scroll down the screen to determine what the copyright situation is for each image you find.
- Use your own pictures. How many of us have a smartphone that can take pictures? OK, you can put your hands down; I can’t see you anyway. If your smartphone takes high-resolution photos then why not use some of these in your presentations? Or you could use your digital camera for better resolution. Images of clouds, grass, city streets, traffic signs, and any number of subjects are just a click away. And you can submit your own photos to MorgueFile or Stock.xchng if you want to share the wealth.
One big caveat
You knew that the other shoe had to drop sometime, right?
Photographs of people require special consideration. If it’s impossible to tell who the people are, such as in a blurred image of a crowd, a hand holding an object, or a foot kicking a ball, then you don’t have to worry. But photographs of identifiable people require a model release — written permission from the subject of the photograph to use the image for commercial purposes (e.g., your PowerPoint presentation). You can get into legal trouble for using a person’s photograph without their explicit permission, especially if your use implies their endorsement of your product or idea.
Stock photography companies take care of obtaining model releases, but there’s not much governance on the free photo sites. If you’re using your own photographs, the same rule applies: get a model release or don’t use pictures of identifiable people.