Analyzing photographs 

Tips on reading and analyzing photographs

Analyzing a photograph goes beyond “what you see” and “what you like or don’t like”. Formal
analysis focus on visual elements that include: shape, size, texture, line, space.”
The following are general descriptions of the elements and components in art. There is no
consensus in the number of elements or if “element” is an accurate word to describe them. As
a student, you should be mindful of what your teacher in specific class calls which and follow
directions. I don’t actually care how we categorize them. I list as many as I use myself so to help
you read and analyze your photograph. I write these in ways to help you think them through.

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An analysis of a photograph is composed of 3 parts:
1. Formal Analysis
a. Looking for visual elements: shape, size, texture, line, value, and space.
b. Looking at visual components: focus, light, repetition, vantage point/angle,
balance, foreground/midground/background space, contour, contrast, setting,
framing/placement.
c. Looking at the photographer’s decisions about the composition (the
arrangement of the visual elements and components) of the photograph.
2. The content (image and meaning) of the photograph, and the artist’s intention.
3. The historical and social context of the photograph as well as the time when the
photograph was made.

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