Media Theory


Photographs are everywhere in today's society. From news articles to advertisements, we see photographs used in many forms of media. It can be argued that a photograph isn't simply a moment captured in time, but that it also has an intended meaning and hopes of an effect on its audience. 

When most of us look at a photograph, we simply see the meaning on the surface. But photographs can have deeper meanings. Photographers, just like writers and other artists, use a set of rules to convey meaning in their work. They use the tricks of their trade to mean one thing on the surface, and mean something completely different upon closer examination. As the saying goes, a photograph says a thousand words.

Below are some things to consider when analyzing a photograph.

1. What does the camera angle tell us about the photograph? A low angle might make the subject seem larger than reality, while a high angle makes the subject look very small.

2. What does the framing tell us about the photograph? What is the main focal point of the photograph? How is the subject framed within the photo? A close-up might convey more power than a wide shot might. What is in the background of the photograph, and does that background add to the photo's overall message?

3. What does the lighting tell us about the photograph? Is the subject lit very brightly, giving the impression of clarity and openness, or is the subject darkly lit, giving the impression of something mischievous or devious going on? Is the lighting soft with barely any shadows, or hard with sharp shadows.

4. What does the subject and its positioning tell us about the photograph? If there is more than one subject in the photo, how do the subjects relate to each other? Do we see the entire subject, or only a portion of it? If the subject is a person, is he/she looking at the camera or looking away? Is he/she serious, happy, sad, or mischievous?

Here are some examples of photographs that might be worth analyzing.

Note: You can learn a lot more about this topic by buying our book, Practical Media Literacy: An essential guide to the critical thinking skills for our digital world. You would be supporting our work so that we can bring you more great resources.

Is there a difference in how Arnold is portrayed in these two photos? What's different? Lighting? Background? Pose? Clothing?

What is the image that each artist wants to portray through these photographs?

How is the American flag used in each photograph? What does the flag represent in each photograph?

Photographs are copyright to their respective owners and used for educational purposes only.

Want more ideas on how to analyze photographs? Visit our forums and join the discussion.

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Media Literacy: 3rd Edition

media literacy 3rd edition

Media Literacy is a critical skill students must learn to succeed in today's tech-driven, media-saturated society. This book helps students understand media literacy, and how to implement and share that knowledge with others. As an experienced media literacy expert and professor, Nick Pernisco provides a well-researched guide for learning this important critical thinking skill and using it in everyday life. This is a must-read for anyone interested in learning how to interpret the enormous amounts of information we are exposed to every day, both in traditional media and online. Buy it now!