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Visual Literacy: Read an Image

This guide will help you to find, read, cite, edit and present images.

How do I "read" an image?

Who or what do you see?
What is/are the subject(s) of the picture?
What is happening in the photograph?
Describe what you see so clearly that a person who has not seen the picture can visualize it.
What jumps out at you about the appearance of the person(s)?
What is the person(s) wearing? What style of clothing (formal, casual, regional, etc.)?
What images surround the person (or object) that is the focus of the photograph?

When was this photograph taken?
Where was this photograph taken?
Is there a caption or title?
Anything written with or within the image or other elements that might connect the image to a time and place?

Why was the image taken? For whom?
Is the images connected to an event or activity?
Is there a theme or message being represented?
Does the photograph tell a story? Is it biased?
What does the photographer want the viewer to think?
What emotions or feelings are being depicted?
What emotions or feelings does the image evoke in you personally?

Look at how the image is composed.
Color, form, placement, proportion, resolution, cropped, etc.
Is there significance to these elements?
How do they affect the photograph's message?

Where did you find the image?
Who owns the image?
Does the source provide any context or meaning regarding your image?
Can you verify the image with other sources to help assess the reliability and accuracy of the image?

Document Analysis worksheets [from National Archive]

Try reading these images...

 The Situation Room by The White House, May 1, 2011  


By Nick Ut from The Associated Press, June 8, 1972

by Wonderlane (CC BY 2.0)

Sudan Famine UN food camp by Kevin Carter. 1994