CONDUCT A THOROUGH VISUAL ANALYSIS: Learning to Look
This lesson works best when looking at a carefully composed image with strong elements of design. It was inspired by an aesthetic scanning chart developed in 1985 by Harry Broudy and Ron Silverman at the Getty Institute for Educators on the Visual Arts in Los Angeles. It encourages an in-depth, formal analysis, and suggests teachers pick and choose the visual elements most applicable to the work being discussed. As a beginning exercise, describe the photograph briefly in a sentence or two. Looking carefully at the photograph, talk through the four categories described here. Select the properties in each category that seem most related to the photograph being discussed. Note: This exercise works best when comments and responses relate to something seen within the work.
Halibut, Sitka, Alaska
Visual Elements within the Photograph: What You See
Light and Shadow - Does the light seem to be natural or artificial? Harsh or soft? What direction is the light coming from? Describe the shadows. Are they subtle or do they create strong contrast?
Value - Is there a range of tones from light to dark? Squint your eyes. Where is the darkest value? The lightest?
Focus - 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.
Scale - Discuss the size of the objects within the work. Does the scale seem natural? Explain.
Space - Is the space shallow, deep, or both? Do overlapping objects create a sense of space?
Shape - Do you see geometric or organic shapes? Are there positive shapes, such as objects, or negative shapes representing voids?
Line - Are the lines thick, thin, curvy, jagged, or straight?
Color - What colors do you see, if any?
Texture - Do you see visual textures within the photograph? Is there an actual texture on the surface of the photograph?
Aristeo Orta, a construction
worker at Proyecto Azteca
Design of the Photograph: How Things Are Arranged
Angle - From what vantage point was the photograph taken? Imagine the photograph taken from a higher or lower angle or view. How does the angle affect the photograph?
Framing - Describe the edges of the view. What is included? What does the framing draw your attention to in the photograph? What do you imagine might have been visible beyond the edges of the picture? 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 they created? How do the focal points help move your eye throughout the photograph?
Contrast - Are there strong visual contrasts-lights and darks, textures, solids and voids, etc.?
Repetition - Repetition of visual elements can create unity-a sense of order or wholeness that holds the work together visually. What elements are repeated? Do they contribute to a sense of unity?
Variety - Variety often creates interest. Can you see a variety of visual elements such as values, shapes, textures, etc.?
Balance - Is the visual weight on one side of the photograph about the same as the other? How about top to bottom and diagonally?
How the Photograph Was Made: Method and equipment used
Instructors can discuss anything known about the photographic techniques, camera, or film that seems pertinent to the work.
What the Photograph Communicates: Feelings and mood.
Based on what you have seen, what do you think the work is about? What does it mean or communicate? What words would you use to describe it? How does the photograph contribute to a sense of place or community?What the Photograph Communicates: Feelings and mood. Based on what you have seen, what do you think the work is about? What does it mean or communicate? What words would you use to describe it? How does the photograph contribute to a sense of place or community?
This page last updated September 24, 2000. firstname.lastname@example.org