Photographers taking a picture make choices. They base these choices on different considerations in the same way writers choose their words. While analyzing the photo, consider what choices the photographer made and why. Write your visual analysis essay after examining elements of the image; this essay demonstrates your understanding of its message.

Visual Elements

Writing a photo analysis essay entails developing visual literacy of the elements that go into its composition. First, learn the specific vocabulary expected when talking about photography. For example, if a photographer takes a straightforward picture with no unusual elements, this is called the direct approach. Likewise the word "value" carries a content-specific meaning: the range of light to dark tones. You also need to be comfortable discussing specific elements of composition such as balance, or the distribution of visual elements in a picture.


When writing a visual analysis essay, you are giving your reading of the photograph, meaning your understanding of how the image works. Take time studying the image, viewing it according to individual visual elements. Once you have a feel for the piece, start noticing if specific elements stand out. For example, you might observe that a photo shows the direct approach with asymmetrical balance. Ask yourself what purpose the photographer might have had for this approach. Just like with writing, photos are meant to convey a message, whether informative, motivational or even persuasive. While narrowing your focus, note your observations for use when writing the essay.


An essay about a photograph starts with a claim as its foundation. You have different approaches for formulating a claim. One approach is to consider how the visual elements affect the photo's message. With this approach you may evaluate the effectiveness of a composition at conveying its message. Alternatively, a photograph may require analyzing the visual elements and making a claim about what its message is; this approach is especially useful for abstract works. Ultimately you want to base your claim on what message the photo carries and how effectively it delivers it. Taking notes during observation gives you support for your claim.


A visual analysis essay contains the standard introduction, body and conclusion. The introduction announces the paper's purpose as a visual analysis, includes pertinent facts about the photo and states your claim. For a photo, spatial ordering works best. Describe the image in the order the eye naturally takes: from left to right, top to bottom. Use this organization to reveal your reading of the picture's message, supporting your claim with ample evidence from the image and your notes. That done, either state your evaluation of how the elements contribute to its meaning or how effectively the image communicates. The conclusion summarizes your analysis, introducing no new information but tying up any loose ends.