Picture problems in Office

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How to find your pictures to insert into an Office document.

Even a simple thing like adding a picture to an Office document or email has subtleties and annoyances. When you choose Insert | Picture in recent versions of Office, it opens, by default, in the Picture Library.

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That seems sensible, at least to Microsoft. For a long time Microsoft has been absolutely sure that people keep all these pictures in a picture folder, separate from documents.

The problem is that not everyone arranges their folders in accordance to Microsoft’s rules. In particular, it’s very common for images, videos and related files to be kept in the same folder as the main document. People tend to keep subject or project related files together rather than split them up into document, picture and image folders. This simple truth has passed Microsoft by.

It would be lovely to have a ‘current document’s folder’ link in the File Open/Save dialogs to quickly jump to that location. Failing that, what can you do?

Change default Insert | Picture location

You can change the default folder opened when you click Insert | Picture. Go to Options | Advanced | scroll down to the File Locations button then change the Images option.

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This still puts you in the same folder each time (not the current document folder) but at least you can choose the folder.

Ah Ha! I hear you cry … so I can point to a library related to a topic or project. Great idea but Office won’t let you. Try to point to a library location and you’ll get an error message.

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That’s strange because the default location is a Library (the Pictures Library). So why can Office accept a Library as the default location but not when user selected? Libraries have been around for several versions of Windows yet Microsoft Office doesn’t properly support them. There’s no reason for this aside from Microsoft’s unwillingness to spend a little development money to fix it.

The workarounds for this aren’t great but worth trying.


The Favorites section in Explorer can give you fast links to current projects. For example here’s our Favorites list, including a link to the project folder for Windows 8.1 for Microsoft Office users.

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There are various ways to make a Favorites link, one is going to the folder you want to make a favorite then right-click on the Favorites heading in the left hand pane and choose (rather obviously) ‘Add current location to Favorites’.

Recent Places

Choose Recent Places from the Insert Picture navigation pane to see recently opened folders. That might show the current document folder. See our separate article on Recent Places in Windows Explorer.

Separate Window

Keep a separate Explorer window open at the document / picture folder. Instead of using Insert Picture, drag a picture from the Explorer window into the document. It’s the same result (a picture inserted in the Office document) and probably faster when you’re inserting multiple pictures.

Insert or Embed?

When writing an email, sometimes you want to attach an image, other times you want to embed as part of the message.

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When you drag and drop a photo to an email message, Outlook assumes you want to attach it.

To embed an image you must use Insert | Pictures.

Why? It would make more sense if the place that you dropped the image determined the action taken. For example, dropping into the message body would embed the picture into the message, just like a drag and drop of an image into a Word document. Dropping the picture file anywhere else in the email window (over TO/From/CC/BCC/Subject or Attach) would attach the file to the email. A tooltip (like the Copy/Move one in Explorer) would guide customers.

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