Using photos of real company people in your courses

Interesting question came up this morning from an e-learning developer:

"I am creating a scenario for my first presentation, but I want to grab some attention of my sales reps. It would be great to insert the photo of my Sales VP at the start of the presentation. What's been your experience with company folks acting as the picture graphics in your presentations? Is this a very complicated under taking and a task to be wrestled with at a later more experienced time?"

Thoughts?

91 Replies
Jeanette Brooks

That slide layout looks great, Poornima! And I like the trick for extending your resources by customizing a character to actually look like a a whole separate person. In fact for anyone else who's interested in experimenting with that, Tracy recently did a couple of neat screencasts:

https://player.vimeo.com/video/148910664

https://player.vimeo.com/video/148912319

James Brown

I'm sorry guys, but personally one dimensional clip art  on a high quality image may be good to pitch a storyline, but I find them very  cheeezy when it comes to a finished production. I guess it's just a personal preference but I tend to use good stock quality photos. I guess if you are on a low budget they work me personally,  I would have to use stock images, higher an actor, or make my own images.

Anyway it's only my opinion and if the customer is happy who cares if the images are clip art of stock photography.

Steve Flowers

@James

I think it's a matter of taste. Knowing the types of things your audience will respond well to is the price of admission.

Here's my personal view on the matter. It's about establishing a trust relationship with your learners. Perception of authenticity matters. In the image you posted above, I personally am not convinced by the authenticity of the exchange. It doesn't grab me. It could have been and was likely a photo taken for another purpose that was implemented to tell another story. It's just too obvious to me. But that's me. I'm not in your audience, except for your example For me, the 2 dimensional image atop the photograph works. The photograph doesn't resonate with me as well. It's just a photo that's trying really hard to represent a combination of concepts against a PC checklist (my read into it:P).

If you look at the research / phenomena called uncanny valley, this is part of what we're talking about. Acceptance, trust, comfort. Am I convinced that this photograph is what it appears to be? Are there distracting elements (grooming, uniform, equipment)? There are many factors at play in the selection of media combination. Am I comfortable with the representation or conveyance? Does it weird me out somehow?

I personally don't find the combination of a 2 dimensional image over the top of a photograph cheesy. It's situational and in some situations it can work. The advantage is that it provides a highlight or contrast that is novel. It stands out and is strategically implemented for a reason. An image does NOT have to be a photograph to be "professional" in my opinion. It's a matter of taste and I've learned over 16 years of doing this work that my taste is not king The audience matters far more than my elite sensibilities:P

Tracy Parish

Agreed, that the 2 different types of images might not have been the best option visually, but the course was did go over well with my audience who is still fairly new to online training in the organization.

The biggest driving factor to what I did....TIME & MONEY.  I didn't have to track down waivers to use people's photos and there was no cost in using the images I did.  Also I was on a large time crunch at the time.

Joe Deegan

I think this question has been very well answered at this point but wanted to throw my 2 cents in.  I use pics of employees and work locations often and it goes over great.  It does a lot to get people talking about the course and can serve as marketing for that course....."Did you see the eLearning with so and so in it."  But there are some drawbacks that have been mentioned such as if the employee leaves the company and the work involved in taking and editing the pictures.

David Anderson

Joe Deegan said:

But there are some drawbacks that have been mentioned such as if the employee leaves the company and the work involved in taking and editing the pictures.


To Joe or anyone re: how to deal with former employees. 

Do you think this is a bigger issue for smaller or larger companies? Does it make a difference why or how they left the company?

David Anderson

Joe Deegan said:

Probably a bigger issue for smaller companies since there is a better chance that they will know that person or the gossip behind why they are no longer with the company.  There is also more of a benefit for smaller companies for the same reason that the people in the pictures will be recognized.


Maybe there's a way to reframe perceptions so that courses with former employees become (elearning) cult classics that motivate learners to re-take courses just to see former course actors a final time.

If it can work for Hollywood and the recording industry, why can't it work for training? In fact, I can (almost) envision a day when some employees fake their resignations just to increase course enrollments.

Future courses could even include glimpses of former employees doing the Alfred Hitchcock silhouette or Roger Patterson Big Foot poses, just to ignite new rumors and learning conversations. "Larry, you know L-a-r-r-y from accounting? He was spotted in Sarbanes-Oxley last quarter. Evidently he was seen in istockphoto_14689910.jpg"

Chantelle N

We have also done the same at our company, only it was for our company website that we used actual employees. One of them ended up being laid off, and it took us a while to figure out that they were in a company picture.

Ever since then, the general direction we try to go in is to not use actual employees, unless it helps bring presence to the presenter of the course or something like that, which can be easily tracked and changed if necessary. But, generally speaking, in a large company with a lot of people, permissions and tracking that kind of thing are just a pain.

Mike Enders

*Shaking Head and Laughing loudly at Mr. Anderson's reframe idea!*

Hey folks, a bit off topic but while we're discussing images, I'd like to recommend another resource you may find helpful.  While focused more upon the advertising market, Photo Knockouts by Digital Juice is a great collection.  Over 12,000 pre cut images (150 models in various poses/themes).  Everything from serious business folks to clowns.  It retails for $249, but can often be found on sale for $99.  Very hard to beat 12,500 images for that price.

http://www.digitaljuice.com/products/products.asp?pid=1114

Peace,

Mike

Robert Kennedy

I agree with Steve.  It's the application of the content more so than what "looks" professional to different people.  When the movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" came out, a lot of people didn't think that was going to work.  After all, who merges cartoons with real life actors and expects grown folk to pay for this?  Well, some people did.  It worked for what it was intended.

Bottom line, know your audience....know your client.

Marti  Stemm

I am be a little late to this disucssion, but I would like to add a couple of comments. 

I am currently working with a manager, and we are using the shadow image of her.  The black shadow would be familar without compromising the company if she were to leave, or if there was a problem.    If you know her, you will probably know it is she, if you don't it won't matter.  The employee also doesn't worry about hair being straight, picture issues etc. 

In the current environment, with layoffs and re-organiztions there can be some real "emotional" issues with using current employees.  Fear, memories, hard feeling, etc can come into play.    I suggest that you design the course so that the picture sets on top of the setting or slide, and can be replaced easily with a minimial amount of re-design.  That is where getting the background seperate, and removing the background from the person is very helpful.

Jenise Cook (RidgeViewMedia.com)

@marti   I wholeheartedly agree with your reply; well stated! Can you upload an example image so we can see the effect?

For ISDs who work in heavily-regulated industries (financial institutions and pharmaceutical companies are the most obvious), we deal with Legal, Human Resources, and Compliance Departments who keep the best interests of the organization (and stockholders, if public) in mind. When I worked with those organizations, those 3 departments insisted we use stock photos, not photos of employees.

For my colleagues who do get to use employee photos, one workaround is to use PPT's Master Slides to lay out all of your design elements in the look-and-feel of your courses. I know many of you know this, but sometimes when we're rushed, when project timelines are short, we may skip this step.

With Master Slides, if you need to change out the employee photo for a new photo, it's easier as you touch fewer slides.

Gerry Wasiluk

Marti Stemm said:

I am currently working with a manager, and we are using the shadow image of her.  The black shadow would be familar without compromising the company if she were to leave, or if there was a problem.    If you know her, you will probably know it is she, if you don't it won't matter.  The employee also doesn't worry about hair being straight, picture issues etc. 

Wasn't there a tutorial or Screenr on how to do create shadow images of people from a picture?  Anyone recall?

Katie Weinmann

Shawn Stiles said:

I've used images of colleauges and management in a number of courses. I really believe that having images of colleauges in the course can improve the perceptions of the learners, becuase they see their friends involved and figure if they felt it was worth the time to participate in the development the content may be worthwhile.  Using leadership on the other hand can be even more powerful, short video clips at the beginning discussing value/importance of what they are about to learn and even placed in strategic parts of the course to reinfoce the message I have found to be very effective.  Anytime you use an image of a colleauge/leader there should be a release signed. Personalizing the training with real people has been really effective.

Shawn - Thanks for your thoughts.  I'm the secret developer that posed the question.  This was my thought too, I think it would definitely speak volumes to my reps if the VP "participated" in the presentation.  Another question that I haven't seen addressed in the responses yet, is the difficulty of gathering the images.   Funny as this may sound, I am not a graphic designer either or professional photographer.   I have a point and shoot Olympus Stylus camera - I worked for them!   How do I easily gather and import images of my Execs?
Katie Weinmann

David Becker said:

Let's also discuss the alternative. I rely heavily on sites like istock for my people shots, but this approach has down sides:

  • Often can't find the same person in many different poses/emotional states
  • Images are sometimes too professional and feel a bit 'staged'
  • I develop in Australia and many shots just don't feel Australia (if that makes any sense)
  • Many shots are not isolated on white and so add time in cutting out in photoshop
  • At the resolution I want, it can become expensive because you often spend 5-10 credits per shot
  • Images usually need colour correction to match the lighting and vibe of the background
Hi David - You should check out eLearningBrothers.com   I hear it's great for "the same person in different emotional states" and touches upon many of your other concerns.  Sorry I'm not yet a user... mostly why I'm asking about using company employees.  Trying to spice up my course without spending the big bucks on the images! 
Katie Weinmann

Steve Flowers said:

@James

I think it's a matter of taste. Knowing the types of things your audience will respond well to is the price of admission.

Here's my personal view on the matter. It's about establishing a trust relationship with your learners. Perception of authenticity matters. In the image you posted above, I personally am not convinced by the authenticity of the exchange. It doesn't grab me. It could have been and was likely a photo taken for another purpose that was implemented to tell another story. It's just too obvious to me. But that's me. I'm not in your audience, except for your example For me, the 2 dimensional image atop the photograph works. The photograph doesn't resonate with me as well. It's just a photo that's trying really hard to represent a combination of concepts against a PC checklist (my read into it:P).

If you look at the research / phenomena called uncanny valley, this is part of what we're talking about. Acceptance, trust, comfort. Am I convinced that this photograph is what it appears to be? Are there distracting elements (grooming, uniform, equipment)? There are many factors at play in the selection of media combination. Am I comfortable with the representation or conveyance? Does it weird me out somehow?

I personally don't find the combination of a 2 dimensional image over the top of a photograph cheesy. It's situational and in some situations it can work. The advantage is that it provides a highlight or contrast that is novel. It stands out and is strategically implemented for a reason. An image does NOT have to be a photograph to be "professional" in my opinion. It's a matter of taste and I've learned over 16 years of doing this work that my taste is not king The audience matters far more than my elite sensibilities:P

Steve -  you hit the nail on the head with "Knowing the types of things your audience will respond well to is the price of admission."  Amen.
Marti  Stemm

I am currently working on an orientation video/course.  I have a videographer intern that is a senior in college.  She has taken each of the top executives and allowed them to do a "welcome" talk on film.  We made sure that we produced them as one continous item, but each part was produced and saved seperately so that if we have a change in management we can quickly replace.  The first production ended up in a DVD with just the welcome comments.  The e-learning will have seperate sections that can have each person's welcome seperated into the correct loction and content area..    This is another example of keeping things seperate so that when you have to "change out" you can do so easily. 

Also with our videographer we have done a lot of location shots for video using employees, but we also hired talent from Craigs list.  We conducted a video casing call (tryout), and we got the tallent for very low dollars compared to hiring professionals from an agency.  We shot on location using real , offices, cubicles, lobbies, etc..    The actors we used were terriffic, and they were glad to add to their resume.

Robert Kennedy

Marti, I have also gone the craigslist route for custom photo shoots and video shoots.  The actors and models you find are often decent and are glad to build up their resume as you say.  

My .02 on this whole discussion.  Personally, if there is an opportunity for the learner to connect more closely with the content via familiarity with characters, etc, I'm all for it.  I understand the idea around people leaving the company, but unless its a HORRIBLE breakup, it may not be that big of an issue.  But, you should definitely get image signoff though just in case.  Each employee, exec should understand that their likeness will/may be used even after they have gone.