Using large images in PowerPoint

One technique for effective presentations is to use large images, especially photographs, with minimal or no text and use these to evoke the ideas you are talking about, or create a connection or emotional response for the audience. On his Slides that Stick blog, Jan Shultink discusses a simple technique to make sure your images have the right proportion and fill the slide which is well worth a read.

Keeping things in proportion

I shudder when I see images that have been pulled and stretched out of proportion, particularly if it is the presenter’s company logo (or worse still that of the audience’s firm, hastily borrowed from their website).
Jan’s tip about dragging by a corner is great for pictures and photos because PowerPoint will assume you want to preserver the aspect ratio, but this is not true for drawings or some vector graphics – a simple hold of the shift key while dragging the corner has the same effect for these files. Note that in both cases, this technique preserves the current aspect ratio, so to get things right in the first place you need to use the reset as pointed out by Jan.

If you are using PowerPoint 2007 or later and you insert a picture from file on a content slide, it will fit it into the content placeholder, so you would then have to expand it up to fit. A quicker way to get it full screen is to make sure to change the slide layout to blank or to title only. Then when you insert the picture it will make it as large as possible while still fitting the whole of the picture on the slide. If your picture is the same orientation (portrait or landscape) and proportion as your slide it will fill it. If it is not then it will still need to be stretched a little to fill the whole slide (this is often the case if you are designing slides for widescreen 16:9 layout and using digital camera pictures which are usually closer to a 4:3 ratio).

Note that in PowerPoint 2003 and earlier, inserting a high resolution picture on a blank slide will usually end up with the image bigger than the slide, as it will be scaled according to how many pixels it has relative to the size of the slide and the output resolution. The best bet is to use a slide layout with a content placeholder for the image, stretch that to the corners of the slide and then insert the picture in that (in many of the built-in templates there are multi-content containers which have an icon in them to go straight to the insert picture dialogue box).

If your image is not the right proportion to fit on your slide and you don’t want to crop it, consider changing the background colour of the slide to black so it at least appears in isolation. Some projectors don’t do black very well and you will get a muddy grey, so experiment with white as an alternative, especially if large parts of the picture have a light colour (typically outdoor shots might have lots of pale sky, for example).

Should you put a caption in front of the picture?

This all depends on the context, in some cases you might put a caption underneath to explain what the picture is, but often this will be unnecessary. “Iwo Jima, February 1945” would be suitable for the picture in Jan’s tutorial if you were talking about the events of the second world war as a matter of history. “Joseph John Rosenthal (1911 – 2006)” might be more appropriate if you actually wanted to talk about the photographer himself or perhaps the role of photo-journalism in modern conflicts. If the picture is just being used as a hook for a more abstract concept such as “success” or “teamwork” then either of these as a caption would be redundant (and a little cheesy).

Should you put a title on the slide?

Absolutely, yes, every single time. You just might not always want to make it visible to the audience. But that topic needs a follow-up post.

%d bloggers like this: