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Where to find TED-quality photos for your presentations

Ever go to a conference or watch a TED talk and think, "Wow! Those are some beautiful photos..." and then try to find photos to use (with all of the right permissions of course) and find disappointment in what you have in your iCloud or dropbox? Or get stuck with a landslide of Google image search results?

Sheila Robinson posted a great round up of FREE photo sharing sites, including these three:

  • Flickr - lots of options, search by license type (don't use copyrighted images without permission!), but has so many photos it can be hard to sift though.
  • Pixabay - all images are free and open to use under creative commons, less volume than Flickr; has the advantage that the images include vector icons and graphics as well as photos
  • Unsplash - all images free and open to use under creative commons, limited quantity of highly curated, beautiful images (source of many of my free photos)

My addition to her list would be Pexels, which aggregates content from across sites, simplifying your search.

My tips for searching and finding something you love:

  1. Be generic in your search terms. On sites like Unsplash, you run the risk of limiting your search results dramatically if you use highly specific terms.
  2. Think about what would be displayed in an image and search on that item, not on your overall idea or concept. For example, when I'm looking for great photos of dashboards, I typically search for "computer" since "dashboard" returns a lot of photos of cars rather than data.
  3. Use the download features on these sites for the highest resolution images, but note that you may  want to compress images if you're using them in a presentation and the images are making your slide deck an unwieldy file size.

Two additional notes of caution: with sensitive subjects (for example, HIV-related health messaging) be mindful of how you use images of faces and people who haven't directly consented to have their image used that way. Even when something is allowed by the license, it may not be ethical. 

Second, be mindful of representing diversity if you're using a lot of images of people. I've found many of the high resolution free photo sites have beautiful images, but many of the people-pictures are of white hipsters and don't give me what I need to represent the awesome work we're doing in countries across sub-Saharan Africa.

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