How to Set Beautiful Photo Backgrounds for Slides in PowerPoint

One of the most popular ways to build slides is to use real images as backgrounds. They help set the tone, convey your message, give the right context, and so much more. In most cases, images are much more engaging for the audience instead of plain backgrounds and text-only slides.

So let’s show you how to set images as your slide’s background. You’ll also get a few pointers on how to pick the right photos and how to follow a few basic design rules to make sure your slides look flawless.

Add a background image to your slide

This is one of the easiest ways to do it.

1. Right-click on your slide and select Format Background
2. Select the Picture or texture fill option
3. Click the Insert button and select your source
4. Find the image you want to use and upload it

Screenshot of PowerPoint

Once your image is uploaded, you can adjust it using the options below such as transparency, offset, scale, and alignment.

What we did here is we enabled the Tile picture as texture checkbox so we can adjust it using the Alignment option Center.

You have two options at the bottom of the settings:

  • Apply to All – all of your slides will have this image as a background
  • Reset Background – return back to an empty slide to find a new background

So, those are the basics for adding images as backgrounds in your PowerPoint slides. But creating a powerful slide that conveys your message and supports your story is not as easy as uploading a picture in your presentation.

Let’s discuss a few universal design principles you can also apply to your PowerPoint slides so you can build better presentations using real images.

Leave enough white space for text

Not every photo is appropriate to use as a slide background. When you’re going to add text to the slide, pick a background image that has enough white space for you to use.

Tip 1: Don’t add text on top of objects that are important for the image. Always use the negative space in the photo.

Tip 2: Pick photos with a focal point so you know where the text should go. If the main object in the photo is on the right – your text goes to the left.

You don’t want your audience left wondering where their eyes should go. When there’s a conflict between objects on your slide, your audience begins to disengage because their thought process is interrupted by a new one – “Where should I be looking?

Boris Hristov in front of a white board in a presentation training

Simple images always work better

Always go with images where the main object is the driving force behind your story. The photo shouldn’t be too crowded and your audience’s focus should go straight to the object you’re talking about without being distracted by too much clutter around them.

Tip 1: Find images where the main object is focused or looking at a point in your photo where the text is located. The human brain gets drawn to the place where the person in the photo is pointing or looking at. That’s where your text should be.

Tip 2: Often the human eye starts looking at a slide from left to right so using photos where your main focus subject is located on the left will help nail their attention on a visual element, and then move to the right where your text will describe and clarify the topic further.

Your slides shouldn’t be overwhelming the visual senses of your audience because your speaking should be the main thing they’re focused on. Avoid over cluttered images where there’s a lot going on.

Boris Hristov talking to a person from a presentation training

The right contrast makes the text pop

Think about the visual impact that your photo creates in your audience’s mind. Images that are way too bright can overwhelm people, while those that are too dark can make them lose focus. Also, it’s important to think about the color of your text and how well it pops out when you place it on the image.

Tip 1: When your photo’s contrast is a bit higher, think of ways to make your text stand out either by color corrections or some sort of additional design element to place underneath. An overlay, a shape, or simple text highlights.

Tip 2: Never place white text on top of a bright photo. If your photo is bright you should use dark-colored text, if the photo has darker tones – you can go with white text.

If your photo isn’t appropriate and you can’t find good ways to make the text stand out enough – just consider changing it. This is an important detail you shouldn’t overlook.

Boris Hristov, founder of 356labs presentation agency in a presentation training

Nothing but high-resolution images

Don’t even bother using anything less than Full HD photos for your slide background. The default resolution on your PowerPoint slides is 1920×1080 so make sure the photo quality is either equal or higher than that.

Tip 1: In case you’re using a bigger image, make sure you always keep the aspect ratio and don’t squeeze or stretch photos.

Tip 2: If you’re browsing for photos on the web, you can filter them by high-quality images by going to Google Images, clicking Tools > Size > Large.

Always remember that you’re doing a presentation. You should never present yourself or your brand in any way that might compromise the impression you want to make on your audience. You don’t want to be associated with poor quality.

A phone taking a photo of Boris Hristov

Be consistent with the image style

Stay relevant to the goals and story of your presentation when selecting photos for your slides. When you’ve already started picking images for the whole presentation, make sure you have enough of them to use until the end, don’t lose the thread.

Tip 1: Use images with the same color scheme. If you’ve started out with black and white photos – stick with that.

Tip 2: Look for images that have enough meaning behind them that supports your narrative. If you run through your presentation only using the images – would you still be able to present it clearly?

For example, we’ve only used images from a single event so we stay consistent with the theme throughout all the slides.

Boris Hristov, founder of 356labs, talking to a person

Do your images follow brand guidelines?

When your organization has a predefined brand identity that includes styles and guidelines, you’re obligated to follow them. If you’re about to use images that create a clash with the brand styles – you’re about to get in trouble.

Tip 1: Pay attention to the colors in the image and whether they have anything in common with the colors that are traditional for your brand identity.

Tip 2: If the brand guidelines are centered around minimalist design then you should stay away from images that are cluttered with objects and colors.

Always try to capture the personality of your brand through your choice of photos. Whether it’s serious and focused on business, or it’s more fun and playful – you need to put that into account when selecting the images for your presentation.

356labs branded stickers spilled on a table

You're ready to go!

Choosing the image that makes you go “Nailed it!” can make or break your entire presentation. If you manage to use photos that are as relevant and connected as possible to your main message, then they will be a huge aid in driving your story forward. Download our ebook full of presentation design resources!