August 20, 2013

Making Better Visuals For Teaching: Resources and Tips

Free Images

Finding high-quality images that are free and legal to use can seem daunting. Here are a few sources for photos:

1. Flickr (Creative Commons)

Flickr has a community of photographers, many quite talented that release their images under a Creative Commons license. To find these images, click on ‘Advanced Search’ and check the box to search only Creative Commons images. There are different types of permissions, so if you plan to crop, edit or alter the image in any way, make sure the license includes permission to ‘Remix.’

2. MorgueFile

This can be limited, but contains basic stock photography that is free to use.

3. Stock.xchnge

Most of these images are amateur photos, but it can be a good resource for landscapes and multicultural photos, as many of the contributors are from Europe or Africa. It is also a good source for textures and simple graphic elements.

4. Wikimedia Commons

A database of 18 million photos and growing, this is a good source for archival and news-related photos, as well as topical images.

5. Getty Images Open Content

Getty Images has a collection of about 5,000 images that are free to use, with attribution. Good for images of famous art and photographs, and well as historical images. Use the Getty Search engine and enter the keywords “Open Content.”

Paid Images

There are a lot of paid image sites out there. Be sure to make sure that photos or images you choose are royalty-free. This means you do not have to pay per usage, and that there is no expiration date on your rights to use the image. My favorite (and reasonably-priced) paid image site is istockphoto.

Backgrounds, Textures and Graphical Elements

Most pre-made powerpoint templates and backgrounds are terrible. I suggest instead finding large images to use as backgrounds and cutting out photos or finding simple elements online to use to make your own themes. Fortunately for us, there are so many designers and artists who share their work for free. A Google search for whatever you want, prefaced by the word “free,” will usually turn up usable results. To filter out the results, look for compilations from design sites and magazines. I recommend:






Software & Tools

You may want to start using some photo editing or design software. There are range of options, some free, some paid.

1. Adobe Photoshop

The gold-standard. Photoshop is available on a subscription basis for $20/mo. You can also get the entire Creative Suite for $30/mo with an educational discount. However, Photoshop might be more firepower than many would want.

2. Photoshop Elements

This is Photoshop lite. Meant for image editing, this has more than enough bells and whistles for most. It can be purchased for $70. It often comes packaged free with scanners or printers, so check and see if you have bought a peripheral lately.

3. Pixlr

If you are comfortable working online, Pixlr is a free online interface that allows you to edit photos. It is fairly feature rich for a free program.

4. Prezi

Not an image editor, Prezi is intended as a replacement for PowerPoint. It uses an infinite canvas, which can be very useful for timelines and other type of visuals that PowerPoint may make difficult. However, Prezi does not have as many options as I would like, and you cannot control the speed of transitions. On the other hand, Prezis can be collaborative, which opens up the possibility for group projects and creative in-class usage.

5. Pinterest

My favorite way to collect and cite images used in presentations. Just create a board for each new presentation, and pin away.

6. Evernote

An organizing software, Evernote is free. It allows you create notes and sync them to any devices. You can also save images in those notes, and can download a web clipper app for Chrome or Firefox. It can be useful for collecting images to use later.



  1. Thank you again for your incredible session today. You are a brilliant designer, yet made the learning accessible for all of us, no matter how close we are to realizing we are all made to be creative.

    Thanks also for these resources. I’m about to dig in to your Pinterest page and look more into the tools mentioned above.

    With gratitude and admiration,


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