Getting high-quality images for EAP presentations

Finding decent, free images for a presentation or report is a lot more complicated than it first seems. Everyone’s natural instinct when you ask them where to get pictures is ‘well, Google Images of course’.

But there are inherent issues involved there. Firstly, the quality of images varies quite considerably on Google, everything looks decent in thumbnail form on the search results page but when downloaded, they can look pretty dreadful. This is often due to the size (or resolution) of the image: if it’s anything below about 800 x 400, it’s probably not going to look great on a Powerpoint slide when blown up on a large screen in a large room. It will look blocky and grainy and just give the impression of poor quality.

You can check the resolution of the image in Google by hovering over it in thumbnail form, you’ll see the size in the bottom left-hand corner. An even better technique is to filter the images so they show only large images. At the top of the search results, find Search Tools>Size>Large or alternatively you can specify the minimum size of image displayed. I tend to go for 1024 x 768, this seems to be a decent baseline for clear, visible images in PowerPoint.

use the filters at the top of Google Images to show only large images

use the filters at the top of Google Images to show only large images

But there are other issues to consider when downloading from the web. Copyright is something our students should be aware of and few of them understand that you can’t just take any image from the internet without either seeking permission, properly acknowledging or both. Actually, it’s not just students, at most of the conferences I’ve been to in the last few years, presenters show almost no awareness of the need to attribute images and many of the ones used are clearly not intended for public reuse.

Google filters can help with that too. One of them is called Usage and you can filter the images by whether they have been labelled for commercial or non-commercial reuse or not. However, it’s still a little confusing what all these subcategories mean and whether you need to acknowledge it or not, this page gives some help but you still need to look at the page where the image comes from to find out whether attribution or acknowledgement is necessary.

However, there are other options out there apart from Google Images which are much more straightforward in terms of attribution.

Pixabay is a well known site that provide free, high quality images that require no attribution in your presentation. If you register for the site, it lets you download higher quality images and doesn’t require you to go through the irritating Captcha procedure when downloading.

Pexels is a very similar site to Pixabay, but one additional benefit of it is that it can be accessed as an add-on if you have the 2016 version of Powerpoint. This means you can search the Pexels site directly on the right-hand side of your Powerpoint presentation and insert images straight into your slide. This can be accessed both on the desktop and your tablet/mobile phone.


here you can see Pexels available from the right-hand side of your Powerpoint edit view

To access this, you just need to go to the Insert tab and click on Add-ins and from the list of the ones available, find Pexels and install. It should then be available on the right of your presentation.

If students need simple shapes/pictures of things such as people, classes etc then I’ve found the Noun Project to be a fabulous source. In terms of attribution, when you’ve found a picture you like, you get the choice either to buy it for a minimal fee – in which case you essentially own it and don’t need to attribute it – or you can download it for free and underneath the icon you’ll have the author acknowledged. This isn’t always elegant as it can distract on the slide, so instead I crop out the author acknowledgement and then put it to the end of the presentation on my reference page. According to the site, this is perfectly acceptable.

here's a search on noun project for 'teachers'

here’s a search on noun project for ‘teachers’

There are also many sources of images that have a Creative Commons license. If you’re not clear exactly what Creative Commons is, this page will give a better explanation than I ever possibly could, but essentially it’s an agreed system for licensing and attributing open source work available on the internet. The author of the work sets the level of access/attribution required on the work and then you should follow those requirements.

One excellent site for this is Simple Flickr CC Search, it doesn’t look the most attractive site but it’s got lots of pictures and, most importantly, it has a built-in tool that stamps the Creative Commons attribution at the bottom of the picture. Alternatively, it can generate an HTML code that can be embedded in your blog page if you are using it for a post. A similar site is the rather wonderful Photos for Class, this also adds a stamp to the bottom of the image.


you can see the creative commons license discreetly stamped at the bottom of the photo

Another site that does something similar with Creative Commons images – and is a little more visually appealing – is Photopin. Again, it will generate a code for you to put into your blog if you wish. The only thing to be careful with here is that when you search, the first few lines of results are sponsored ones, normally from paid stock photo sites such as Shutterstock. If you want these, you will need to pay for them, but they are quite clearly labelled and there are a huge number of free pictures below those to look at.


once you go beyond the first couple of rows of paid images, there are thousands of free ones to explore

Flickr, the famous photo sharing service owned by Yahoo, also has its own Creation Commons page and it breaks the pictures down by license type, but it doesn’t have any handy stamp or codes to copy.

Hopefully this will give you – and more importantly, your students – some options for finding appropriate images for their presentations. If anyone has any other useful links to free images, please share them in the comments below.

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About David Read

I work at the English Language Teaching Centre at the University of Sheffield as the Director of TEL (technology-enhanced learning). I've been an EFL/EAP teacher and teacher trainer for over 20 years and have worked in 14 different countries. Settling down is clearly an issue for me.

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