A format for looking at and talking about photographs.
As Professor of Art Education Terry Barrett says, "Describing is a logical place to start when viewing an exhibition or particular photograph because it is a means of gathering basic information on which understanding is built." Carefully looking at and describing a work of art is crucial in the understanding of the work. This format introduces you and your students to questions that will help you carefully view and describe photographs on the Picture This Web site, and therefore, gain better understanding of them.
Length of Activity varies, depending on how many images are viewed and described. Plan to spend 15–20 minutes for each image viewed.
Materials: Images printed from the Picture This Web site, or have students view images directly from a computer monitor.
Use Take a Good Look! format to guide your students in careful observation and description of images in the Picture This Web site. Guide a discussion by asking your students questions from the following list. It is not necessary to discuss every question below in every photograph - address the questions in each category below that pertain to the photograph you are viewing.
- What is the main subject of this photograph?
- What is going on in this photograph?
- What do you see that makes you say that?
- What do you think interested the photographer about this subject?
- When do you think this picture was taken?
- What do you think happened just after the photograph was taken?
- What happened right before the photograph was taken?
Light is an essential element in the making of any photograph.
- Does the light seem to be natural or artificial?
- Harsh or soft?
- From what direction is the light coming?
- What parts of the image are clearly in focus?
- Are some parts out of focus?
Note: The range between the nearest and farthest things that appear in focus define the photograph's depth of field.
- What colors do you see, if any?
- Do you see visual textures within the photograph?
Composition of the Photograph: How Things Are Arranged
- How would the picture change if you moved the camera to the right or left, or up or down?
- What has the photographer left out of the picture?
- Where do you think the photographer was standing when he/she took this picture?
- How far was the photographer from what you see in the picture?
- How could you change the vantage point to make the picture look different?
- Close your eyes. When you open them and look at the photograph what is the first thing you notice?
- Why is your attention drawn there?
- Are there other centers of interest?
- How are the centers of interest created?
- Is there strong visual contrast - lights and darks,
- varying textures, etc.?
- Is the visual weight on one side of the photograph about the same as the other?
- How about from top to bottom? Diagonally?
Historical and Cultural Context
- Where do you think it was made?
- Who do you think the people in the picture are?
- What does it look like they are doing?
- Does this tell you anything about when, where, and what was going on when the photograph was made?
- What was happening in history during the time this photograph was taken?
- How was the photograph first seen or used?
- How is the photograph seen today?
- What biographical information do you know about the photographer?
- Does this information tell you anything about why the photographer may have created the photograph?
- What do you think the photographer was trying to express through the image?
- What do you see that makes you say that?
- Subject: The main thing depicted in a photograph. The subject may be people, objects, shapes, places, events, etc.
- Framing: What the photographer has placed within the boundaries of the photograph.
- Vantage Point: Where the photographer positioned the camera to take the picture.
- Dominance: What is most influential or important in the image. In a work of art, the dominant point is where your eye is drawn first.
- Contrast: Opposition or juxtaposition of different forms, lines, or colors in a work of art to intensify each other's properties and produce a more dynamic expression.
- Balance: To arrange or adjust parts in a symmetrical way.
Questions written by Tomoko Maruyama, Curator of Education, Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego, and Cass Fey, Curator of Education, Center for Creative Photography, The University of Arizona.