What images to use in PowerPoint

Imagery is a vital part of any storytelling process. So when it comes to selecting the right images for your PowerPoint presentation, where should you start? Hit up the clip art? No. Read on and we’ll reveal the best kinds of images to use in PowerPoint.

“It is better to present information in words, pictures and video.”

-Dr. Richard Maye, University of California, Santa Barbara.

That quote, from a professor of educational psychology and an expert in multimedia learning, is worth remembering. Mayer conducted experiments which found that people who were exposed to multi-sensory learning environments, where pictures and videos were used alongside traditional aural techniques, were always better at recalling to information given – even years later.

Essentially, he discovered that when our brains are allowed to build two mental representations of something, based on what we heard and also what we saw, the information sticks in there longer and is clearer to recall.

So don’t use crap images

Therefore, the images you include in your PowerPint presentation are hugely important. The vast majority of people, especially those in the business world who are used to seeing presentations, can now spot crap images and graphics a mile off. You might be able to pick a nice font, but you can’t just use any old photo you’ve pinched off Google.

Crap stock image of business people posingThe right pictures will grab your audience’s attention and focus and set the right backdrop for what you’re saying. Plus, they will stay with them – far longer than the words your speak.

If you’re no photographer, don’t worry. Usually larger organisations have image libraries of products, staff, and their offices which will most probably be of a high standard, which you can use in PowerPoint. If you’re presenting on behalf of your employer, ask your marketing team to see what they’ve got. If it’s nothing (or if they’re rubbish), or if you’re presenting for yourself and don’t have a budget to splash on iStock images, you could use a site like Unsplash.

Take stock

Unsplash is great for high quality, high-res images of fairly generic and usable things. Dropping an image into the background of a slide, or as the basis of your theme in PowerPoint, will add a professional feel. As ever with this kind of thing, if you’re not confident with the creative, design side, ask a colleague or get in touch with a presentation expert.

When you find a bunch of images you like, but realise they all quite different and feature contrasting colours, use a filter. Filters will give even the most different of photos a similar appearance, blending them all nicely together into your chosen theme. This will increase the consistency of your slide deck.

You can use software like Adobe’s Photoshop to do this really well. However, if you don’t have that you could try downloading a free smartphone photo editing app to your phone and editing them all there. Adobe do a nice little free version of Photoshop for phones which is pretty handy.

Kinds of images

There are different types of images to consider when choosing what to place where in your slideshow. Those differences should influence both your hunt for images and your decision where to finally put them in your PowerPoint presentation.

PowerPoint comes pre-loaded with a tonne of abstract images. Although we recommend you never use anything as standard as those, other abstract forms can work well. Used as texture-rich backgrounds, abstract images can lend a sense of continuity, especially to minimal decks.

These are the images that tie in nicely with your chosen theme. If you’ve gone for a retro styling to your slideshow, with 1950s fonts and layouts, then images depicting people in 1950s dress would go well.

Using funny images can be a risk. Still, the right image at the right time could lend some much needed energy or tension relief for your audience (just always run such decisions by friends and colleagues, first).

Images of real people really doing real things are very powerful. Unlike those awkward stock images, with actors smiling and shaking hands, real life pictures depict a reality that your audience will recognise; unstaged, genuine, and true. Like you.

These images are used to display concepts and only really work in conjunction with text describing something. For example, a peaceful image of a neat and tidy Japanese garden in the autumn doesn’t really convey anything, until the title ‘Finding your calm’ appears over the top of it.

Trying to change the way the audience feel about something? An evocative image lends weight to info and speech about something, such as a shot of an ill child during a presentation about hygiene. Would those kinds of emotional images suit your PowerPoint presentation?

Colourful thinking

Once you have images you like, and idea of how you want the filters to look, delve into the complicated world of colour.

For business people, your organisation should already have a colour palette they use. It should be a handy document that lists all branding guidelines, and is a must-read for PowerPoint presentation makers. It won’t just list what colours you should use, but also for things like the correct placement of logos, etc.

Find out what those colours are and stick to them, using the correct hex code to replicate them in PowerPoint (they look like this: #FF0000).

For people who don’t have branding guidelines to follow, it’s time to pick your own. Some of you might already have a preference with what colours you want to use, but it’s always important to check them to see if they ‘go’.

Online inspiration

Try the website Color Palettes. There you can get some inspiration by browsing a huge catalogue of palettes, usually with four or five in each. They take the main colours from different photographs to create varied collections, supplying the hex codes for each, allowing you to recreate it.

You can use it to see what colours would compliment the ones you’re already using. A palette of about two or three will add a lot of consistency to your PowerPoint images, running across all of the slides. Once you have them chosen, stick to them and don’t be tempted to add more as you go.

Make sure the tones that you choose compliment each other well and don’t clash with each other, distracting your audience. But also be careful to ensure that they have a good degree of contrast, so they don’t all blend in together and are lost when projected or displayed on a screen.

Colour association

Colours make us feel things depending on how we have all experienced and witnessed those colours being employed in the past. These feelings will differ from culture to culture, country to country, but in the Anglosphere, and the vast majority of Western civilisation, colours evoke these feelings:


Sophistication, strength, mystery


Passion, energy, love


Peace, tranquillity, confidence


Intellect, warmth, caution


Simplicity, hope, purity


Luxury, royalty, wisdom


Nature, life, freshness


Innovation, ideas, creativity


Maturity, authority, security

Consider the feelings your colour palette will evoke in your audience, and compare that to what it is you actually want them to feel and how you want to be perceived. Use colour filters appropriately, and don’t ‘mix messages’. A grey filter over the image of children playing might create a sense of displacement and discomfort in your audience. Test colours on friends, family, and colleagues, and ask them how they feel.

Over a coffee. And biscuits. How nice.

And, if you’d like advice about how and when to use video content in your presentations, check out this blog.

Images are very important to the success of any PowerPoint  presentation. If you’re concerned your choices might not work, or you have no clue where to begin, get in touch. Our team of expert presentation designers know what images work and to use colour for engaging impact.