Use more effective photos

by Derek Featherstone

One element that a great presenter incorporates into their work is the use of photography. Certainly you can use stock photography, but it is even better if you take the photos yourself and use them to tell stories that relate well to the topic you're speaking about. Here I show you an example of two photos I took on a recent trip to Australia and how I might use them in a talk.

If you’re serious about speaking, you need to take more photos. Using your own photos means that you aren't relying on the clichéed photos that you've seen so many times. There’s only so many times people can see a stock photo or photos of teh kitteh from LOLCATS. Besides—when you use your own photos, there's almost always a good story that goes with them that adds flavour and character to your presentations.

Look for paradoxes, ironies, and contradictions. Look for things that seem out of place. Look for confusion. Look for anything that catches your eye. You really don’t know when you’re going to find the opportunity to use the photos, so just take them. You probably already have a camera with you anyway, right?

Here’s two that I took on a recent trip to Australia:

This first photo is taken at the entrance to a park and shows a warning sign for bicyclists painted on to the path. The sign is an illustration of a person on a bicycle with that very familiar red slash through it and the words underneath "Penalties Apply." Ultimately, no bicyclists allowed in the park.

Bicycle warning sign: 'Penalties Apply'

The second photo is on a post found at another entrance to the park. This one still shows a small sign telling us that there are no bicyclists allowed and that penalties apply. There's a difference here though—the sign post shows another sign that says "Families with children under 12 excepted."

Bicycle warning sign: 'No Cycling, Penalties Apply. Families with children under 12 excepted'

So its a bit confusing, isn’t it? Now the challenge is to find ways to work that into your talks.

For me, since I talk about interface design and user experience and making things easy to use and understand, this is a perfect candidate. Notice I didn’t say choice — it's just a candidate at this stage. We still need to think a bit to see where we can make it work. I might never use these in a presentation, but if I don't take them, I don't have that choice.

These two photos could be used in a talk about communication and mixed messages — about the different messages or different rules that people get depending on how they are entering the park. How can you relate that to marketing? to customer service? to retail signage design? to parenting? to education?

You should be able to rattle off at least a few different uses for that set of photos. If you can’t, well, you likely just need some practice :)

Next Action:

  1. Start taking more photos! Even if it is with the camera on your phone.
  2. Once you've taken those photos, think of 3 or 4 different ways that you can use these photos in a presentation.
  3. If you don't have interesting photos of your own, go to a stock photography site or take a spin through flickr and come up with 3 or 4 ways to use the photos.

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