Syllabus bites: Visual literacy



Reading photographs is a key to understanding how images communicate meaning to the audience.

A bitumen road in the foreground with a dirt road leading to a gate. The text 'detour?' appears subtly in the sky.

Many photographs are combined with words and design features in visual texts such as posters, online magazines, newsletters and websites.

Graphic title: Analysing photographs

Each tab in this guide contains key questions to consider when analysing photographs. Use it to complete the activities in the Task tab.

What is your reaction to the photograph?

  • What is the purpose or message of the image?

  • What do you see?

  • Who is the audience?

  • What is the ‘story’ of the text?

  • What is the context? (personal, social, historical, cultural)

  • What is the source? (e.g. magazine, newspaper, digital text)

What is the composition of the photograph?

Composition is the combination and integration of the various visual elements of an image into a whole text, including:

What is your evaluation of the text?

  • Is it effective?

  • Does it reach the targeted or intended audience?

  • What contextual factors influence your decision? These may be contextual issues, cultural representation or personal situations.

Photograph tasks

Activity icon

Find five examples of photographs that come from different contexts.

Analyse and annotate each example to show their features, techniques and your evaluation of the text.

Activity icon

Using a digital camera, take three shots of the same subject using a variety of composition and framing approaches.

You will need to produce the shots for different purposes, audiences and sources. For example:

  • shot of a section of town / road

  • road safety advertisement

  • tourist information brochure

  • entry for photographic competition

Activity icon

Many photographs and images are created for visual texts that combine words and design features. These include brochures, pamphlets, advertisements, websites and online publications.

Find three examples of magazine covers from either print or online sources.

Work through tabs 1–3 of this Analysing photographs guide and annotate each to show how the photograph/images, text and design are used to convey meaning.


Visual literacy-reading images Read, understand, evaluate, create (Scootle Resource 10719).

What is Information Literacy

Visual Literacy = Reading Pictures

Flickr – Explore / Creative Commons

Pictures of the Year International – a collection of award winning photographs

Getty Images Year in Focus – view photographs online or view the free eBook of events of the past year with commentary.