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Social Work 604: Social Systems and Social Work Practice: Presentations & Visuals

Course guide for students enrolled in SW604.

Unsure where your Image Came from?

Using Images Effectively

The first thing to consider when selecting an image is Rights.

Rights - the ability to legally display an image without facing repercussions due to ownership over the image. Unless explicitly stated that an image is in public domain or available under a Creative Commons (CC) license, assume that the image has rights and at the very minimum requires attribution.

You also need to consider the appropriateness of the image.

Do not settle for an image that does not work for the intended purpose.

Use the images available from the links provided with the resources provided here to help you find the right images for your purposes if you feel that you must include an image.

Furthermore, do not choose images that are out of focus, crooked, poorly lit, or appear to be poorly aged--though a good vintage photograph or illustration can have a great impact.

If you use an image, remember that it will likely be the emphasis of the work. Use composition and other elements and principles of design to create a hierarchy, balance, and harmony to your design.

Using Photographs in Graphic Design
A Guide to Using Photography as a Metaphor in Graphic Design

Do you want to use your own image or just crop something else a bit?

Editing an image is an easy way to make design different, and it will help you use images more effectively.

Most graphic design programs are not good for editing photos, so it is strongly advised to use a separate photo editing program before adding it to a design.

Two good free tools for image editing are Pixlr and Gimp.

Great Tricks for better editing:

  • Adjust levels - This will balance out the lighting, contrast, and brightness of your pictures. Auto editing is helpful
  • Crop with Composition in Mind - Remember The Rule of Thirds? That's a good way to think about cropping too. Cropping can guarantee the photo is a well-composed.
    • Try to stick to standard ratios and sizes--square, 4x6, 5x7, 8x10--when cropping.
    • Don't crop in fancy shapes unless necessary--like a circle for a button.
  • Rotation - slight rotations to adjust a picture can help an image and design feel more balanced.

No need to do anything too fancy with a photo--adding text to an image in this process can prohibit readability and accessibility, save that for the design process.

Pixlr Editing Basics from the Elmhurst, IL public Library.

GIMP Quickies from GIMP Tutorials
GIMP Basics from GIMP Tutorials


  • Be Eye-Catching - This comes back to emphasis and choice. Choose images that draw people in tastefully. Images can draw people in for the wrong reasons too.
  • Consider Collage - You can get creative with cropping to layer images and create a collage for a design, this form of rhythm and repetition is a good way to turn several images into one unified piece. this technique is a bit more advanced, but still accomplishable. You can also use a template that might auto crop your designs into a collage.
  • Consider Illustrations - There are lots of great stock illustrations available out there to use. Sometimes using an illustration or more abstract representation works better for the idea you're trying to communicate. it's often less complicated and makes for a cleaner design.
  • Focus on Color - Do the colors in the image work with the colors of the design? if not, consider using a different image that matches the color palette you're using.
  • Think about metaphor and meaning - Not every image for a library needs to be a book or a bookcase. We can conceive of our services more abstractly. For instance, a mountain means something difficult to master, like a thesis or dissertation.


  • Overcomplicate - Sometimes less is more, so adding more elements might distract from what you're trying to accomplish.
  • Be Predictable - Not to harp on libraries and bookcases, but that is a very predictable way to go. Disrupt this by thinking about the kinds of images people are used to seeing or expect to see and then make something completely different.
  • Forget to attribute the creator if necessary - Always credit the creator unless the license specifies otherwise.

From 6 Do's and Don't's for using Images in Projects