Preaching with Images

A round-up of some of the more useful image libraries for sourcing material for on-screen presentations.

Making good use of presentation technology when speaking can significantly enhance listeners’ engagement with what you’re saying. Having words on screen makes a very substantial difference to what people remember, and it helps those for whom English is not their first language. However, it is still focused on words. Supplementing our words, whether spoken or on screen, with images stimulates different areas of the brain and helps people to engage with the message in a different way. Diagrams can help to communicate complex information more simply, perhaps through diagrams and charts. This is particularly helpful when you’re talking about numbers, statistics, processes, etc. Images can be used as illustrations and examples of what you are saying. They can function as icons and symbols, pointing to something other than what the picture actually shows. And they can help to convey emotions. Some people struggle with words and find that they engage with sermons in completely new ways when there is well-thought-through visual content.

There are three key, but overlapping, issues for the preacher, however. First, it takes significant time and effort to think about how to use images (and visual presentation of text) during a sermon. After preparing the content of what needs to be said about the passage, and then preparing how you will communicate it verbally, you then need to prepare how to present it on screen.

Second, having thought about what kinds of images would help, you face the challenge of sourcing actual images. In the case of diagrams, it may be simplest to produce them yourself using the built-in functions of Powerpoint or whatever software you use. But we need to aim to produce good diagrams, not shoddy ones. You may not feel capable of producing them, so why not find someone with some graphic design ability who you could spend some time with talking through what you want so that they can produce it for you? With images, avoid clip art at all costs, unless it is very high quality and really communicates what you need. The vast majority of clip art is so poor that it detracts from the presentation rather than adding to it. Usually you will want photographs. Again, you can produce them yourself or find someone else who can do so, but very often we will need to find them online. Make sure images are good quality: overstretched, low resolution and distorted pictures can draw attention to their shortcomings rather than allow people to focus on what the image shows.

Third, we need to use images with integrity. Any image that has been produced by someone else is their intellectual property. To use it without permission is an infringement of copyright law. It is a moral issue. We should only ever use images which we have permission to use, which makes using Google image search a very unsatisfactory way or sourcing pictures. If you use Google or another search engine, you will need to investigate the copyright situation for each photograph you find and many of them will be restricted. Note that being unable to find the information doesn’t give you the right to use the image. A better way of finding pictures is using image libraries (some useful ones are listed below). Some libraries charge you to download the image, which is then royalty free and you may reuse it in any context allowed by the library’s usage licence terms. Sites like Getty Images (where you will find many news images) can charge hundreds of dollars, but many are quite reasonable. Some libraries are free, with images donated by people who believe that creative work should be freely available. Some function as a sharing exchange: uploading images earns credits enabling you to download others. In general, paid-for images are better than free ones, though there are some great exceptions, particularly images made available under a Creative Commons licence (see below). Museums and other public bodies often allow images to be used in non-commercial contexts, but you must confirm this before using them. The key is to act with integrity, treating others’ property rights as you would like them to treat yours. If in doubt, don’t use the image.

Another complication with using copyrighted images is the requirement not to make those images available to others. This creates an issue with uploading Powerpoint presentations to the church website. Since they open in editing mode, it is very easy for someone to copy images. There are two solutions to this. One is to save the presentation as a Powerpoint Show (.pps), preferably with password protection to prevent someone editing it. A Powerpoint Show opens in presentation mode, which is what you want to happen anyway. Unless the file is password protected, there is nothing to prevent someone switching to edit mode and taking an image, but it is generally considered by image libraries that this entails a deliberate intention to circumvent a reasonable step which you have taken to protect the copyright material. A second, preferable, solution is to convert the Powerpoint presentation into a PDF file. The easiest way to do this for most people is to use a PDF converter such as PrimoPDF (free download from This solution is better as it more secure and virtually all computer users have software which can open PDFs (Adobe Reader) whereas not everyone can open Powerpoint files.

Using images well is not easy. You may need to increase preparation time by 50% or more, but the reward is engaging more people more effectively, helping them to hear and respond to God’s word more fully.

Image sources

Stock.xpert (

A paid-for royalty-free stock library with some high-quality images. It’s royalty-free because you simply pay a small fee when you first licence the image, but not for each time you use it. You need to create an account and buy credits to download images. It costs around $1 a credit if you buy in small quantities; there are discounts for buying in bulk. Unfortunately, the available image sizes don’t correspond to the size of a projected image. The standard projected image is 1024 x 768 pixels, but the closest Stock.xpert image sizes are 849 x 566 pixels (2 credits) and 1697 x 1131 pixels (3 credits).

Stock.xchng (

The free side of Stock.xpert, but you need to register first. It’s a good source of semi-professional images, especially of specific objects. When you search for a subject, you will get results for both Stock.xchng and Stock.xpert, so make sure you know which you’re clicking on. Stock.xchng images come in one size, generally much larger than you need for projecting, but some are smaller. Note carefully what the terms of the licence are for each photograph you’re interested in – look at the links under Availability below the image. Most Stock.xchng photographers expect to be notified if you use the image publicly.

crestock (

An excellent image library with a large number of great images. Prices are fairly pricey if you buy images one at a time ($5 for the smallest size), but the packages and subscription plans can be good value - as long as you know you will use the images. I took out a month's subscription to start with, which allowed me to download 20 images a day, but that meant visiting the site every day to make it worth while. Many images on this site are supplied by Crestcok through the Freebie Images plug-in for WordPress.

iStockphoto (

A great image library with many very high quality images. It’s another paid-for royalty-free site. Unfortunately, their prices have risen sharply in the last couple of years and it now works out at over £3 to buy a small image (typically 849 x 565 pixels, smaller than the standard projection size of 1024 x 768) or £5 for a medium (typically 1698 x 1131).

Photocase (

A German paid-for royalty-free site with some high-quality images. You need to create an account and buy credits to download images. Unless you buy large numbers, the credits are over $1 each, and you need 2 credits to download an 800 pixel wide image, which is a little on the small side for projection.

Dreamstime (

A paid-for royalty-free stock library with some high-quality images. You need to create an account and buy credits to download images. It’s quite an expensive site if you buy credits in small quantities: around $1 a credit in small quantities, but you need 4 credits to download an image which is a little smaller than a standard projected image (typically 800 x 533 instead of 1024 x 768 pixels).

Flickr (

A social photography site to which individuals upload their own photographs. Many of these are not available for general use, but many users publish theirs under a Creative Commons licence. Use the advanced search ( facility and scroll down to tick the option to ‘Only search within Creative Commons-licensed content’. But note that, although some users’ photographs will appear in the search results, you still can’t use them. Look for the ‘All sizes’ link above the image you’re interested in: if it’s not there, you can’t save the image at a size which is suitable for projecting. Assuming the All Sizes link is there, click on it and you can then choose what size image to download. Remember that the projected image is 1024 x 768 pixels, so you don’t want anything much smaller than that.

The Creative Commons licence requires you to attribute the image, so when you save the image, you need to keep a record of the Flickr user. Click on the user-name link and then on profile to find the user’s name. Not all users give their real name, or even a name at all, in which case take note of the user-name itself. The easiest way to keep the image creator’s name attached to the image is to include it in the filename when saving the image. When using the image, you must state that the image is copyright, with the owner’s name, and that you are using the image under a Creative Commons licence (e.g. © Fred Bloggs, used under a Creative Commons licence). You can use an image editor to put this in the image itself, or you can use a text box in Powerpoint to display the attribution. Note that, despite the CC licence, some users ask you to explicitly request permission to use their images, or to notify them of how you are using them. There are times when you may suspect that you are about to use an image in a context with which the image owner would not be happy, so it’s courteous to drop them a line to check first.

For more information on Creative Commons licences, see and

morgueFile (

A decent-sized site of good free images which can be used in presentations without restriction. You need to register to use the site.

Image After (

A good-sized free site with some useful images. You don’t need to register to download images, and you can use them in presentations without restriction.

Studio.25 (

A Romanian site, but is available in English. You need to create an account to use these photographs. The number of images is limited, but there are some good quality ones and they may be used in presentations without restriction. (

A small site (around 3,000 photographs). The images can be used in presentations without restriction.

NASA ( and

A fantastic resource of space-related images. Also very useful is NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - Both agencies make their photographs available completely free. (

As you might expect, this is a useful source of Bible maps.

Other image sources

There are many more image libraries. You will find some listed at:

You will also find sites of professional and semi-professional photographers, some of whom are occasionally willing to allow an image to be used in a one-off presentation in a non-commercial context. If you find an ideal image from someone like this, drop them a line to ask, but don’t be surprised if they say no.

News images are extremely difficult to get permission to use without going through one of the major stock libraries (Getty images is one of the leaders) and you can then expect to pay significant amounts of money. But you can always try contacting the site asking permission for a one-off usage, explaining the context. You may not receive a reply at all, but occasionally you may succeed.

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© Tony Watkins, 2020
The Tony and Jane Watkins Trust oversees and supports the ministries of Tony and Jane Watkins in Christian training, education, and communication. It is a charity registered in England and Wales, no. 1062254.
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