Strategies in Reading Photographs  

Photographers use a set of rules to convey meaning in their work. In order to enhance your ability in reading photographs, it is important that you develop your skills to make the careful visual analysis. Visual arts are the main focus of formal analysis. Shape, size, texture, line space etc.are included under visual arts. Photographer has to keep in the mind the composition as well as content when taking photographs.  These strategies develop observation skills, interpretive skills, critical thinking skills and also increase your learning power.


Every photo is like a mystery or story. Use your visual literacy skills or observation power to find out the story of each photograph. Look closely at the photograph and describe what you see. If you do your own study of the images and practice daily then you can analyze images easily. If you practicing visual thinking skills then it will help in researching photographs effectively.

Haythem Lafhaj describes the general vocabulary, visual elements, and composition in this article that is used in photography. The main purpose of this article is to learn different strategies that help you in reading a photograph. These strategy help beginner in a close analysis of an image.


There are following steps in the image analysis procedure.

  1. Select an image that reflects a particular opinion or perspective. Image with visual art, political cartoons, etc. are good examples.

  2. Deeply or closely look at the picture for a long time. Observe the shapes, colors, textures, the location of people and objects in an image and so on.

  3. Write down your observation, interpretation, ask queries, discuss the picture details.

  4. Consider the historical context in which the photograph was made.

  5. Share your experience about this process of reading photographs. By practicing, you can respond more thoughtfully to the image you see every day.


Basic vocabulary used in describing photographs

  1. Abstract - It emphasizes formal elements n photographs such as line, shape, etc.

  2. Content - subject or information capture in the photo.

  3. Direct approach - without using any angles you are confronting the scene in a straightforward manner.

  4. Documentary photography - To record an event, place, person in the form of photographs.


Visual elements in Photograph

  1. Angle -  The point where the photograph was taken.

  2. Balance - Symmetrical balance evenly distribute the visual elements in an image and Asymmetrical balance in which visual elements are not evenly distributed.

  3. Focus  - Object is clearly focused in a photograph by adjusting focus in the camera.

  4. Composition - Arrangement of formal elements that make a photograph.

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Preetika Sharma