Process Guide #5: Viewing Photographs

"Pictures are worth a thousand words." Indeed they are. Photos bring you closer to the subject in ways that words can't. However, it is important to remember that another person selected what to include in the photograph, what not to include, and what specific frame was to be published or displayed.

General Questions when examining a photograph

  1. Identify the image
    1. Who was the photographer?
    2. Is there a caption? Title? Anything written with the image?
    3. Where did the image come from?
    4. What is/are the subject(s) of the picture?

  2. Reason for the photograph
    1. Why was it taken? Who for?
    2. Is there a theme being represented? Specific event? What is it?
    3. What is the photographer trying to convey to the viewer?

  3. Components of the image
    1. Examine all of the subjects, colors (if a color image), and sections of the image. Is there significance for these elements? What?
    2. Is the photograph organized into parts? Does the background and foreground have different meanings?

  4. Effectiveness of the image
    1. Is there a clear message?
    2. Does the photograph tell a story? Pose new questions?
    3. Is it useful in making inferences, deductions, or generalizations about the subjects?

  5. Items to look for when examining an image
    1. Where is the location?
    2. In a landscape image, what is the terrain like? Rural or urban? Mountainous or flat? Skyscrapers or farmland?
    3. Who are the people portrayed? What are they doing? What do they look like? What is the relationship between the different people being portrayed?
    4. Man made links subjects.
    5. Architecture.

  6. Has the image been manipulated?
    1. The computer has changed the way you need to look at photographs.
    2. Does the image have the credit "photo illustration"? This is an indicated that it has been manipulated.

  7. Different types of photographs to consider
    1. Landscapes
    2. People and landscapes
    3. Portraits of people
    4. People in action
    5. Objects

This page was designed by Dan McDowell for the Triton and Patterns Projects of San Diego Unified School District.
Based upon Gerald Danzer's "Looking at Photographs" from Chicago Metro History Education Center
Last updated July 5, 1999.

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