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Chart of the Month – May 2011 – Photos and Data-Driven Charts


Data-driven charts need to clearly represent data, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't look for opportunities to add a little polish. Carefully chosen and formatted photographs behind the data markers (lines, columns, bars, sprites, etc.) in a chart can do just that. There are a few guidelines that you should consider before you decide to add the photos.

  1. How many data-driven charts are in the presentation? If you have 20 data-driven charts, you may not want to spend the time selecting and formatting the photos. It can be time intensive searching for just the right photo with just the right tone. Some photos need to be recolored or "softened" so that the data markers over the photo are clearly discernible. It might be a better strategy to use photos behind data-driven charts in presentations that only have a few, high-impact charts. But if you have the time ...
  2. Will similar charts use the same photograph (creating sets of charts), or will every chart get its own photograph? The upside of using the same photograph for similar charts is that you're establishing a visual clue for the audience that they're looking at the same type of data. The downside is that it may be perceived as "lazy" by some people if the similarities in the chart/data aren't obvious.
  3. Are the chart dimensions likely to change as the presentation is revised? If the answer is no, then you should consider importing the sized and formatted photograph into the chart area. If you think that the data-driven chart might be resized (not just rescaled), then you will probably want to consider placing the sized and formatted photograph beneath the data-driven chart. That way your photo won't skew as the chart is resized.

Two ways to add photos to data-driven charts

Developing documents in a thoughtful, deliberate manner means formatting for ease of editing. It's important to be able to quickly edit presentations when close to deadline. Whenever deciding on a formatting method, always factor in what it would take to edit when deadline pressures are present.

  1. Importing photos into data-driven chart area.
    • PowerPoint 2007 and 2010
      • Size the data-driven chart so that it occupies the desired area on the slide
      • Choose the photo you wish to use and format it so that the data-markers are easy to read
      • Size the photo so that it is the same size as the plot area
      • Copy the photo so that it goes into your clipboard
      • Right click on the chart area
      • Click on "Format plot area"
      • Make sure "Fill" is highlighted on left side of menu and then select "Picture or texture fill"
      • Click on "Clipboard" option
    • PowerPoint 2003
      • Size the data-driven chart so that it occupies the desired area on the slide
      • Choose the photo you wish to use and format it so that the data-markers are easy to read
      • Size the photo so that it is the same size as the plot area
      • Save the photo as a picture and make sure it is saved a place you can find it (the desktop is always a good choice)
      • Double-click on the chart area
      • Click on "Fill Effects..."
      • Click on "Picture" menu tab
      • Click on "Select Picture..."
      • Find your photo and click on "Insert"

  1. Layering photos under the plot area (a good option if you think that the charts are likely to be resized)
    • Size the data-driven chart so that it occupies the desired area on the slide
    • Make sure that the plot area of your data-driven chart is transparent (no color added)
    • Choose the photo you wish to use and format it so that the data-markers are easy to read
    • Size the photo so that it is the same size as the plot area and place directly over the plot area
    • Send to back.

Selecting and formatting photos

You'll want to select photos that are not too busy and do not have a lot of variance between light and dark colors. See the photo used in the example: the photo clearly conveys housing construction and the tone is consistent (basically white with medium-blue lines). This is a great type of photo because the data markers are easily read.

If you have a photograph that you particularly like and you are using PowerPoint 2007 or 2010, you can recolor the photo and lighten or darken it if needed so that the data markers are easily discernible.

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