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Easy steps to improve background images for PowerPoint

By Jeremy Steele

Every Sunday, you put song lyrics, passages of Scripture and sermon notes on the screen. It is a great way to convey information you used to print, but have you considered also using visual metaphors that reinforce and extend the on-screen text with title and background images?

When you purchase these images, you miss the opportunity to customize them to your topic or theme, and it's not that hard to make them yourself. This article will walk you through editing your images and making them rock as backgrounds!

1. Get the tools.

To use these ideas, you will need two things: an image and an image editor.  Creating your own image is great, and we have some articles to help you take pictures of your church and capture them with your smartphone. If you aren't a good photographer, you can find many sources of free stock images that you can use legally.  

Once you have the image, you will need software to edit it. The gold standard is Photoshop ($9.99/month), but most people do just as well with the free photoshop express online. Also check out GIMP, which is hailed as the only free Photoshop alternative. may be a good option for beginners. It's simple to use but limited if you need advanced features.

2. Crop the photo.

Start by cropping the photo to roughly the same shape as your screen. When you do that, see if there is a large, relatively blank area. If so, when you crop the photo, try to center that area in the image.

3. Analyze the image.

Now, take a good look at your photo. How will it appear on the screen with text over it? If images are very complex with a good bit of detail and hard edges, it will be difficult to read text placed over the image. It works the same way with color. If your image has a lot of color, the eye will be distracted by that instead of focusing on the text. Once you can see where the trouble areas are in the image, go to the next steps.

4. Blur complex images.

Soften a complex image by using the blur filter or tool in your image editor. Unfortunately photoshop express online allows limited use of this feature. The Gaussian blur is available in many apps and a good place to start. Simply select it as your filter or tool and tweak the settings until you can still discern the image while making it very soft.  

5. Desaturate colorful images.

For very colorful images, desaturation is the fix. This is located in different places in different apps, from "image attributes" to "basic" to "adjustments." Once you locate the setting, knock the saturation down a couple of increments until the image has some color but is not the vibrant rainbow it once was.

6. Superimpose a text box.

If the methods above don't work and you must use that "busy" image, place a text box over the image. Text boxes are typically white or black, but they can be any color. Next add text to the box. Now drop the text box's opacity down to expose the underlying image. Adjust the opacity to strike a balance between seeing the background image and being able to read the text clearly.

7. Move the image.

Using blur and desaturation makes some images lose their luster.  The solution could be using it as a "lower-third" image rather than full screen.  Simply place the image on the slide and crop/move it until it occupies the lower third of the space. In this setup, you keep your text in the upper third.  For a more vertical image, use the same idea to create a left- or right-third image.

Once you crop, blur, desaturate, and use lower-third images, sit back and enjoy custom backgrounds that communicate your message visually.

More Resources

Video tutorial: How to Create Stunning Images with the Free Photoshop Alternative GIMP