Find great images and photos for your presentation!

by Oliver Adria on 11/03/2009

Picture this! The big stock photo web site review.Images are important for presentation slides, they invoke emotions, they are excellent visual aids and there are plenty of them on the internet. But using Google Image search or just downloading some photos from Flickr might get you into trouble because they have different licenses and for most of them you will probably have to ask the owner for permission (and hope that they write back).

So where can you go find pictures for slides? The answer is stock photo sites, web sites where you can purchase rights to use the pictures on your slides (and on many other things). There are a lot of stock photo sites, but which one is the best for this purpose? This is the question I’ve asked myself as well. I haven’t found in-depth stock photo reviews that are written with the presenter in mind, so I’ve decided to do it myself. At the end of this post you will find some links to some other reviews as well if you want to get a second (or third) opinion.

The review

It took me quite a few hours to go through the many stock photo sites. The things that mattered to me most were: How many pictures do they have, can I just download them and use them without technical difficulty and how much will it cost me. So, with this in mind, I set up a few indicators and went through site by site and filled in the blanks. At the end of this post you will see what the detailed meaning of every criteria is.

This review is of course very subjective to my views, but I think it serves the purpose well. I went through it with the eyes of a presenter: “I need decent/good quality pictures that are reasonably priced and I don’t want any headaches in regard to copyrights and licensing. ” And I’ll assume you won’t be downloading 10 pictures every day for a whole year, but rather that every few weeks you will need to download 5 or 10 or even 15 pictures.

So without further ado, here is the review table, click on it to view a bigger, readable version of it (opens in new window):



So what which one of the stock photo web sites would I use? Though there are some close competitors, iStockphoto comes out on top for me. I’ve been using it for quite a while now, so I’m a bit biased. But I went into the review wanting to prove myself wrong and find a better place to find stock photos. But in the end, it was the winner. Remember, this is not a photograph of the year contest, but rather finding the most suitable stock photo resource for presentations. And iStockphoto’s standardized prices and good search functions make it a breeze to use and awesome for presentations.

Stockxpert is also something I would recommend, but iStockphoto has a bigger library and those little extras (e.g. free image of the week) are the icing on the cake that make it come out ahead. Fotolia was a good contender, but the different prices made it a bit confusing and frustrating (a very small image can cost 1 USD or 20 USD, depending on the picture) so the excitement of finding a picture (“yes, this picture’s perfect for my slide”) might be dampened by the high price when you open the image page.

Free images                                          

If you need to find free images, it will be a bit harder to find and often enough the images have a lesser quality (by that I don’t mean the resolution quality, but rather the image content). But if you are willing to devote some time to searching and can sometimes settle with a compromise, everystockphoto is a good place to go, it searches through several free stock exchange photo sites. The licensing might be a bit confusing at first (because you often have to go to the source website to read it), but after a while you’ll get the hang of it. Sometimes you’ll even get lucky on Wikimedia Commons, but check out the varying licensing agreements as well.

The Criteria that I used

Website usability and buying - Is it easy to browse through the website? Is it easy to buy the images? E.g. in the case of iStockphoto you just buy some credit with your credit card, and then you can purchase the photos and images with a couple of clicks. With Getty Images and Corbis you would need to fill out the exact purpose of the image, for which time period you want to use it, on what type of media you will use it, etc. .

Pricing models and costs - Is the price structure simple to understand? Are the pictures reasonable priced? Can you get far with 50 USD?

Selection and quality - Are the images suitable for my presentations? Don’t get me wrong, Getty Images and Corbis will probably get a lot of points if this were a normal photo web site review, but I was looking for images that would suit a presenter. Getty Images and Corbis do have professional photographs, but they are only partially suitable for presentation slides. E.g. there are no object images isolated on white, something I use a lot on my slides.

The others

The others that I didn’t mention in the text above but were included in the table have some big drawback or several smaller ones making them unsuitable for use in presentations (at least for me). I use a lot of images in presentation slides so I can’t regularly buy images at 10 or more dollars each. And some sites have big restrictions, e.g. the license is valid only for a limited time. While some others have a relatively small library, making it rather unusable.


I hope this review was useful to you. This is by no means a complete list of stock photo web sites (there’re tons of them!) but I hope this will be a very good place to start your photo searching. I will be updating it on a regular basis as the stock photo web sites get updated (or are taken down) and as I receive new information. So, leave a comment or write me an email at if you want to add something or if you just want to share your thoughts (either on the stock photo web sites or this review).

Some other reviews

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