122 Photography Essay Topics

🏆 best essay topics on photography, 👍 good photography research topics & essay examples, 🎓 most interesting photography research titles, 💡 simple photography essay ideas, ❓ photography essay questions.

  • Photography as a Cultural History The photographer considered, that the main aim of a photographer is to demonstrate how our eyes percept world.
  • Public Relations and Photography Public relations are usually related to broadcasting, publicizing, photography, and promoting. The experts require time and talent to advance relations with mass media.
  • Photography Exhibition “Charles Harbutt, Departures and Arrivals” The exhibition “Charles Harbutt, Departures and Arrivals” reexamines photographic work and encourages the audience to appreciate photography and relate it to modern printing.
  • Hines and Riis’ Photographs Analysis The photographs by Riis and Hine present the poor working conditions, including child labor cases during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
  • Antikythera Mechanism: Photography and Radiography This paper studies the Antikythera mechanism. It uses recent evidence obtained from photography and radiography assessment of the device.
  • “Humans of New York” Photographs by Brandon Stanton In his work “Humans of New York”, Brandon Stanton presented the public with the collection of photographs depicting New Yorkers telling their elaborate stories.
  • Africa’s Visual Representation in Photography The article, written by Landau, discusses photography as a source that provides the visual representation of Africa and explains its connection with the colonial administration.
  • Art: “Attitudes Towards Photography” by Gisele Freund The massive social and cultural changes of the previous century challenged many of the established traditions, including the perception of art.
  • “Pepper No. 30” Photograph by Edward Weston Pepper No. 30 by Edward Weston is a black and white photograph that depicts a close-up of a “bell pepper on the concave surface” against a dark background.
  • Photography and Paintings: Depicting the Truth Photography captures the beautiful moments of our lives that can be cherished by us and our children for years to come.
  • Photography as Kind of Art Photography is an art and a science. Reflectively, the process is more than just capturing images. Proportionality, and introduction of effects determine the quality of an outcome.
  • Photography: Hobby of Millions Unique for Everyone Millions of people take photos on a daily basis in all parts of the world. However, probably only thousands of them manage to capture something purely touching the soul.
  • “Close” the Photography by Martin Stranka The present works of well-known photographers inspire other people to create pieces of art to show their perception of the original idea.
  • Art Appreciation: Alfred Stieglitz’s Photography Alfred Stieglitz tried to explain the relationship between photography and art by a movement known as Pictorialism.
  • Steve McCurry’s Photography “Afghanistan Girl” The Photography “Afghanistan Girl” reveals Steve Mc Curry’s perception of the world through the special inimitable and unguarded moments, which he captured.
  • Annie Lebovitz – Famous Photographer Annie Leibovitz is one of the best portrait photographers in today’s era. She focuses her works on a variety of subjects but mostly among celebrity portraits.
  • Paul Politis’ Black and White Photography This paper shall be discussing the works and the inspirations of renowned photographer Paul Politis who specializes in black and white photography.
  • Photography’s Effects on Modern Art Photography has been hailed by the masses as one of the best means of bringing the rest of the world to the public, affording them views of far-away places and peoples.
  • Procurement Management: Selecting Your Wedding Photographer This paper will provide a briefing of the factors that should be taken care of in the process of soliciting, selecting, negotiating with, and launching the wedding photographer.
  • San Francisco Photograph by George R. Lawrence The discussed photograph is a daguerreotype of San Francisco taken right after the 1906 earthquake and fire. George R. Lawrence used kites to get photos of San Francisco.
  • The Power of Photography: Photography’s Reality Effect The photograph’s evidential worth is held through a transformative method that is being put into play by a dynamic engagement, a stride into the image, on the reader’s part.
  • Analysis of Lee Friedlander’s Photographs Friedlander is famous primarily for his street photography – raw, real, brazen. Lee Friedlander’s photos are like music, and that music is jazz.
  • Reflection on Photography: An Art Piece or Mass Entertainment? It is important to define whether sphere of photography is only for professionals or, on the contrary, for the users of Instagram, travelers, and amateurs.
  • The Birth of Photography: Early Artists and Their Works The popularization of photography coincided with a revolution in art as such. An illustrative example can be found in the works of Alexander Rodchenko.
  • The Works of Photographer Steve McCurry: Consequences of the War In his works Steve McCurry aims at portraying the imprudent moment, experiences imprinted on people’s faces, and a soul escaping.
  • Photography Impacts on Cultural Identity of Native Americans in America The photos of Native Americans often turn out to be disadvantageous to the appearance of the indigenous Americans, especially in this era of photography.
  • The Role of Photography and Views on War Photography changed the attitude to war by demonstrating its horrors, and it triggered public debates about the value of human life and the need to stop military conflicts.
  • Photography Art: A Girl on a Bridge on Lake Garda Photographs give information on what real-life scenarios look like away from human influence. A photo of a girl on a bridge on Lake Garda is compared to that taken in real life.
  • Attitude to Photography. Art and Design It is paramount noting that art and design are all about the artist’s perspective and what they intend to impart to the audience’s mind.
  • Who Should Be Given Credit for Inventing Photography? As a valuable method of visual communication and expression, photography has a broad spectrum of aesthetic capabilities.
  • The Influence of Henri Cartier-Bresson on Street Photography Cartier-Bresson aimed for capturing a decisive moment as it was in real life, with no staging and no interference on the photographers part whatsoever.
  • Painting as a Translation of Photography in Two Ivans and Oksana The painting uses line, pattern, texture, depth, shortening, cropping, and light to relate more to photography than painting, thus making the picture a photograph translation.
  • “The Starving Boy in Uganda” Photograph by Mike Wells The current essay attempts to analyze the context of the picture, details of the image, and the message that the photograph “the Starving boy in Uganda” conveys.
  • The Photographs “Untitled Film Stills” by Sherman and “Early Colors Interiors” by Simmons The photos “Untitled Film Stills” by Sherman and “Early Colors Interiors” by Simmons belong to the wave of feminist art of the 70-80s, representing the deconstructionist approach.
  • The Photography Atelier 21 Exhibition The photographs presented at Atelier 21 are truly outstanding, and the mixed styles and types add to the uniqueness of the exhibition.
  • Cultural Expressions: Photography, Religion, Films The selected cultural expressions reflect my values, which prioritize wellness and mental health, avoidance of excessive consumption, and focus on the joy of experience.
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson’s and Martine Franck’s Photography of Each Other Photography as an art has generated many masters who have revolutionized this sphere and contributed their passion and talent to its development.
  • Violence in Joseph Rodriguez’s Photographs Joseph Rodriguez’s photography is considered a meditation on the different types of violence in poor communities in East Los Angeles.
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson’s and Martine Franck’s Photography The expertise, originality, and professionalism of the author of the book serve as the basis for the reference’s credibility.
  • Pornography vs. Artistic Nude Photographs This essay compares pornography and artistic nude photographs, given the thin line which exists between the two.
  • Writing and Photography Overview The two different fields, photography and writing, adopt similar elements vital for their interpretation by the audience.
  • Homai Vyarawalla’s Photography Career Homai Vyarawalla had a unique talent for penetrating the fabric of time with her camera. One looks at the photos, and the long-gone days magically return to life.
  • Henri Cartier-Bresson: Seville Photograph The image of Seville, Spain, 1933, is linked to the Cartier-Bresson work of photography, particularly those connected to war.
  • Photographic Essay: The Key Advantages A photographic essay is a powerful tool to deliver information in a succinct and comprehensive manner without any loss of depth of the context or narrative.
  • The Brook Ship Photograph Analysis In 1781, the English Brook was launched for the first time. The first diagram of the ship did not appear until a few years later and was written by William Elford.
  • Photography as a Contemporary Art Form In this era, photography, in addition to establishing itself as an art form, and developing its own aesthetic value, has turned into a full-fledged material for other art forms.
  • The Photographic Industry: Historical Background The photographic industry has grown and changed at a breakneck pace. There is an interaction with high-resolution paintings, 3D animations, and videos.
  • Digital and Film Photography at a Glance in the 21st Century
  • Are Photography and Printmaking Art?
  • Crime Scene Photography: Importance and Strategies
  • Alfred Stieglitz Revolutionizing the Art of Photography
  • Communication, Photography and Social Media Class
  • Fashion Photography and the Effects of New Image Technology
  • Photography Boundaries and Uses
  • Diane Arbus and the Revolutionary Arena of Artistic Photography
  • Photography: Society’s Views Through the Ages
  • Capturing Great Landscape Photography
  • How Has Photography Changed Our View of the World?
  • Barbara Rowe and the Art of Photography
  • The Recent and Current Trends and Influences in Portrait Photography
  • Photography Through the Modernist Movements
  • Comparing Traditional Photography and Digital Imaging
  • Photography Laws Surrounding Images of Children
  • Color Photography and Its History
  • ‘War Photography’ Carol Ann Duffy
  • Darkroom vs. Digital Photography
  • Aerial Photography: Capturing Spectacular Images up in the Air
  • Photography and Its Omnipresent Nature in the World
  • Calotype Negative and Early Photography
  • Artistic and Creative Uses of Photography
  • Civil War Life Captured in the Photography of Mathew Brady
  • Brand New Images? Implications of Instagram Photography for Place Branding
  • 20th Century Photography: Documentary Art
  • Photography Books and the Photographers Who Created Them
  • How Photography Helped Change People’s Opinions of the Civil War?
  • Photography During Colonial Afric an Indispensable Tool
  • Capturing the Personal Aspect of Portrait Photography
  • Photography Limits Our Understanding of the World
  • Black and White Photography in Australia
  • Did Photography Destroy Painting Practice?
  • World View and the Changes Brought About by Photography
  • Photography and Graphic Design at Rinko Kawauchi
  • Cultural Understanding and the Reflections of Photography
  • Alfred Stieglitz and His Influence on Photography
  • The Relationship Between Painting and Photography in the Work of David Hockney
  • Beginners Digital Photography Equipment Tips
  • How Photography Has Changed Our Lives?
  • Ansel Adams: Discovering His Life and Photography
  • Trevor Paglen’s Photography Work as a Bridge to Discovery About the Hidden World
  • Wildlife Photography Catching the Animals by Surprise
  • Photography Doesn’t Always Show the Reality of a Painter’s View
  • Cecil Beaton’s Surprising Photography Experiences
  • The Reasons for Preference of Photography Over Paintings in Occasions
  • Photography: Impact Upon Western Civilization Over the Past Fifty Years
  • Will Camera Phones Destroy Photography?
  • Camera Technology and How It Changed Photography
  • Understanding Water Through Photography: Edward Burtynsky
  • Are Photography and Printmaking Really Art?
  • Does Photography Have Significant Political Impact?
  • Has Television Taken Over Photography?
  • How Did Photography Shape Public Reactions to the American Civil War?
  • How Did Photography Influenced the History and the Politics?
  • How Does Sebastiao Salgardo’s Activist Photography Reflect Against Media Journalism?
  • How Joseph Nicephore Contributed to the Early Development of Photography?
  • How Photography Affects the Social and Political Arena?
  • What Factors Determine the Popularity of Photography in KSA?
  • What Are the Historical and Cultural Differences in Photography in the East and West?
  • What Are the Seven Elements of Photography?
  • How Moholy-Nagy Made Photography Manifestly Modern?
  • How Photography and Photojournalism Has Been Transformed?
  • Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before?
  • What Are the Paradoxes of Digital Photography?
  • What Is the Evaluation of Image Appeal in Consumer Photography?
  • What Are the Pitfalls of Nonstandardized Photography?
  • What Is a Computational Approach for Obstruction-Free Photography?
  • What Is the Performative Force of Photography?
  • What Is the Use of Photography as a Qualitative Research Tool?
  • Who Are Three Most Famous Inventors and What Are Their Contributions to Photography?
  • What Are the Parallels Between Photography and New Media?
  • What Is Paparazzi Photography and Why It’s So Exciting?
  • What Is Mathew Brady’s Photography Role in Creating the American Empire?
  • How Did Louis Daguerre Make First Practical Process of Photography?
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TOP-5 Photography Essay Topics

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These essay examples and topics on Photography were carefully selected by the StudyCorgi editorial team. They meet our highest standards in terms of grammar, punctuation, style, and fact accuracy. Please ensure you properly reference the materials if you’re using them to write your assignment.

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A list of the most interesting dissertation topics on photography.

Developing a dissertation on a photography topic can be intriguing. There are many aspects of photography to consider based on what interests you the most. There are example papers to consider written on similar topics you can read for inspiration. You should also keep project guidelines close by to ensure your topic idea is suitable for what you need to produce. Here is some advice on developing topic ideas on photography along with writing prompts to encourage your own creativity.

Start with What You Know and Research

Writing a dissertation may include completing quite a bit or research. This may include looking at other works related to your topic. In doing so you may wonder if you could do something different that hasn’t been done before. When learning more about your idea this is when it becomes clear on whether you can present something different and fresh. The best place to start looking for a topic is you and what you know.

Think about what you have learned so far and how to take it and make it into something unique. This can give leads on where to look for further insight on your idea. This could also help in brainstorming or when you need further perspective or different angle of the idea. Be open to review what you come up with to you instructor. They can also give insight on how to make your idea into a solid topic.

10 Interesting Ideas for a Potential Dissertation Topic

The aspect of photography itself can be broken up into different subjects. Thinking about how photography is used can give a number of ideas to consider quickly. As you understand more about how photography is used in daily life or through career interests it offers more insight to consider for a good topic. Think about what is trending and controversial topics related to this subject. Here are 10 possible writing prompts for developing a good photography topic for your project.

  • Using an iPhone to take pictures.
  • The art of Selfies.
  • Popular places to take pictures.
  • Most important features of a good camera.
  • Technology advances in picture taking.
  • High definition technology and its role in movies.
  • How did scrapbooking get started?
  • The inventor of the camera or aspect of photography.
  • Photography as a hobby.
  • Elements that make a photo ugly.

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Photography Research Paper Topics

Gale thompson.

Large camera in studio.

Students taking art history or studio art courses may be required to write a research paper on a number of topics regarding photography. Photography is a broad discipline that offers a variety of subjects to explore. Your paper may include both historical and stylistic analysis. You can choose to write about the historical significance of a photographer or movement, discuss types of photos or move out further into the social or cultural significance of photography.

Explore this article

  • History of Photography
  • Famous Photographers
  • Types of Photographs
  • Photography, Culture and Society

1 History of Photography

Papers on the history of photography can explore the extensive technical and conceptual developments of the medium of photography since its invention in 1839. You can detail the origin of a particular innovation or process and focus on its historical significance, or analyze the views and uses of photography during a certain time period. Your paper might explore the origin and use of the camera obscura, an ancient optical device that anticipates the modern camera. You might focus on their significance in creating the first photographs. You also may wish to discuss the dramatic stylistic changes in photographs from Realism in the 19th century to Modernism in the 20th century.

2 Famous Photographers

Research papers critically analyzing the background and work of a particular photographer often can become fascinating projects. Influential photographers, such as Diane Arbus or Ansel Adams, have made huge contributions to the medium of photography. Some photographers you may research may have had a vast impact on society and culture, while others may have influenced the practices of photography itself. Your paper might focus on the technical innovations of George Eastman and the Kodak "Brownie" camera, which was the first camera to use film instead of plates. Alternately, you may be interested in detailing the influence of Dorothea Lange's photographs of unconventional historical subjects such as the migrant farmers of the Great Depression or of Japanese internment camps.

3 Types of Photographs

Each type or genre of photograph involves a different technique and set of skills in order to produce an effective photo. Exploring the various types of photographs, detailing the technique, procedures or stylistic effect, can give you a large number of topics for your paper. You may wish to write a paper discussing the genre of portraiture, and the effects of varying the direction or intensity of light on the subject. You also may wish to write a paper on the particular techniques of contemporary fashion photography and its use in advertising.

4 Photography, Culture and Society

Since its beginnings, photography has incited debates over its use and misuse in society. The camera often assists in the construction and communication of cultural memory, history and identity. Research papers analyzing the photograph's ability to document and witness would have a great deal of resource materials, and would involve thinking critically about philosophy and ethics as well. A paper might be written on the impact on society of photographs of concentration camp victims or the atomic bomb aftermath during World War II, or a discussion of the ethics behind the voyeuristic photojournalism of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

  • 1 The History Place: Dorothea Lange
  • 2 Encyclopedia Britannica: History of Photography
  • 3 Encyclopedia Britannica: Camera Obscura

About the Author

Gale Marie Thompson's work has been published in "Denver Quarterly," "Los Angeles Review" and "Best New Poets 2012." Thompson holds a BA in English and creative writing from the College of Charleston, a MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and is working on a PhD at the University of Georgia.

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Photography Dissertation Topics

Photography is an art form worthy of critical attention, so it’s no surprise that many Arts and Culture students choose to write a photography dissertation. In particular, the technological innovation of photography coupled with its varying sociocultural impacts has encouraged many students to want to write a dissertation on photography. But how you should you go about choosing a topic for your photography dissertation? The following sub-sections provide suggestions on the most recent trends and innovations in photography, particularly concerning technological developments, ethics, and the evolution of photography trends.

Digital Photography

Photojournalism and communications, photography, ethical, cultural, and societal perspectives, the evolution of photography, photography and global politics, photojournalism during the covid-19 pandemic.

Digital photography emerged as a technological innovation during the 1990s, and since then, it has developed into a computer mediated approach to photography. The old methods of taking pictures have, therefore, been improved and enhanced by digital technologies. Also, it has not only replaced the silicon chips and old photography methods, but it has also introduced more advanced methods, as photography has now adopted the use of information technology. This could be an interesting subject area to examine if searching for topics related to technological trends and developments in photography. Examples of topics in this area are listed below:

  • How has digitalisation modified the position of photography in society?
  • The evolution to Digital Photography and its impact on photography methods.
  • A review of the current technologies, cultural methods, and the social practices of snapshot photography.
  • How has visual reporting transformed the landscape of news reporting and journalism?
  • An analysis of Visual Storytelling during the current era of Post-Industrialist Journalism.

Photojournalism refers to the process of reporting using either still or changing images. The development of photojournalism has been closely aligned with evolving technological trends, and photojournalists have adopted more enhanced approaches for reporting events. Nonetheless, the major core value of photojournalism remains significant, as photojournalists continuously search for the opportunity to witness significant events and share the evidence of such events. Photojournalism also focuses on highlighting important social topics and encourages discussions about public response. Therefore, this is an interesting research area if you are fascinated with journalism and photography. Some relevant topics in this area are listed below:

  • The impact of Mobile Technology on the significance and role of Photojournalism in the Society.
  • The challenges of Photojournalism: Realism, the nature of news and the philanthropic narrative.
  • How has the current era of network media and social media websites impacted on the Photojournalism?
  • Is Digitalisation destroying Photojournalism?
  • Exploring the relationship between the professional values of photojournalism and the process of digital photo editing and the generation of online news videos.
  • Reconsidering Photojournalism: Investigating the constantly shifting work routines and professionalism of Photojournalists in the Digital Era.

Since its early days, photography has prompted several debates with regards to its ethical application and misappropriation in society. Nonetheless, the creation of images has aided in the creation and communication of cultural identity and history. The current ethical, cultural, and societal perspectives about photography would be an interesting research area. Below are some suggestions of topics related to this area of photography:

  • Digital age and mass surveillance: The ethical perspective of visual photography.
  • The Integrity of digital images: The current principles and practices of image manipulation in document photography and photojournalism.
  • A study on visual photography, particularly the relationship between images, objects, and general photographic representations within the cultural and social contexts.
  • A critique of Visual Ethnography and Cultural Representation in Photography.
  • Compassion, integrity, and the media: Examining current issues in cultural photography.
  • Image ethics: The ethical privileges of the subjects in pictures, movies, and television.
  • Truth or Fiction? The impact of ethical and societal perspectives on media imagery during the digital era.
  • Professional photography and privacy: Are the personal ethics of a professional photographer adequate?

The field of photography has evolved over the past decade, with vast technical and theoretical developments to the standards of photography since it was created in 1839. Therefore, this is an interesting research area, as it gives you the opportunity to investigate the source of a specific innovation or method and examine any historical implications. The suggested research topics in this area are listed below:

  • The evolution from camera obscura photography and the era of photographic illusions to the current use of modern, digital, cameras for photography.
  • The effect of photography on historical events, including the Civil War.
  • The transformation of photography: How has the development of photography impacted Law and Culture?
  • An examination of the realism of Landscape Photography.
  • How has the use of modern photographic trends transformed news reports and the recording of significant social events?
  • What is the impact of photography on the evolution of social media websites and communication systems?
  • Closing the gap between Research and Practice: The Interrelationship between Photography and Hyper-realistic Art

Considering the current visual and digital era, it is apparent that images shape worldwide events and the society’s perspectives about them. Also, factors such as television programs and photographs impact on global politics as different phenomena are viewed, including wars, economic downturns, election advertisements, and humanitarian catastrophes. Therefore, visual politics have become the norm, with the use of digital platforms across the political spectrum, from extremist recruitment campaigns to social justice movements. Thus, this is an interesting research area, with a wide range of topics. Some of these topics are listed below:

  • A discourse analysis of how photography can be used to support political propaganda in the United Kingdom.
  • How does images and photographic representations of political activities impact global politics?
  • An exploratory review of the discourse and subjectivity of photographs within the political landscape.
  • What are the political functions of images and visual artefacts?
  • Photography and Politics: The impact of photography in the Political world.

The current Covid-19 pandemic has become one of the most severe pandemics of this era, with significant economic, societal, and political impacts. Therefore, this would be an interesting area of research, with a wide range of topics that can be investigated. Some of these topics are suggested below:

  • How are leading Photojournalists worldwide documenting the resulting impact of Covid-19 on societies?
  • Photojournalism: What are the ethical issues of reporting the impact of Covid-19?
  • What are the roles and responsibilities of photojournalists during the current pandemic?
  • A review of the approach to news reporting by photojournalists during Covid-19 pandemic.

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Photography Essay Topics

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Hunters and Gatherers of Pictures: Why Photography Has Become a Human Universal

Leopold kislinger.

1 Independent Researcher, Leonding, Austria

Kurt Kotrschal

2 Department of Behavioral Biology and Konrad Lorenz Forschungsstelle, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

3 Domestication Lab at the Konrad-Lorenz Institute of Ethology, Wolf Science Center, University of Veterinary Medicine, Ernstbrunn, Austria

Associated Data

The original contributions presented in the analysis are included in the article, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding author.

Photography is ubiquitous worldwide. We analyzed why people take, share, and use personal photographs, independent of their specific cultural background. These behaviors are still poorly understood. Experimental research on them is scarce. Smartphone technology and social media have pushed the success of photography, but cannot explain it, as not all smartphone features are widely used just because they are available. We analyzed properties of human nature that have made taking and using photographs functional behaviors. We did this based on the four levels, which Nikolaas Tinbergen suggested for analyzing why animals behave in a particular way. Including findings from multiple disciplines, we developed a novel conceptual framework—the “Mental Utilization Hypothesis of Photography.” It suggests that people adopt photography because it matches with core human mental mechanisms mainly from the social domain, and people use photography as a cognitive, primarily social coping strategy. Our framework comprises a range of testable predictions, provides a new theoretical basis for future empirical investigations into photography, and has practical implications. We conclude that photography has become a human universal, which is based on context-sensitive mental predispositions and differentiates itself in the social and societal environment.

Introduction

Photography is ubiquitous around the world, with the number of people taking and using personal photographs steadily increasing (Lee and Stewart, 2016 ; Canon, 2018 ). More than 90 percent of all photographs (henceforth photos ) are taken with smartphones (Carrington, 2020 ), and more than half of the world's population uses smartphones or mobile phones to take, view, and share photos (Statista, 2019 ; Kemp, 2021 ). Smartphones integrate photography with many other functions, notably with access to the internet and social media (Smith, 2011 ; GSMA and NTT DOCOMO, 2014 ). This has rapidly shifted photography from an exclusive activity of socio-economically capable minorities toward engaging a majority of the world's 7.8 billion people.

We examined the question why people take, view, own, share, and use personal photos, and why photos are important to them. We consider the distribution of smartphone technology and social media a precondition for the sweeping success of photography, but insufficient to explain it, as not all smartphone features or technologies are widely used just because they are available. The technology to make audio-recordings, for example, has not been adopted by many people (Milgram, 1976 ). Although smartphones are capable of easily recording the voices of loved ones, conversations, the sounds of a birthday party, or of a strange city, people rarely use this function (GSMA and NTT DOCOMO, 2014 ; Lutter et al., 2017 ).

There is extensive research on the psychological bases of pictorial representation and art (e.g., Deacon, 2006 ; Donald, 2006 ; Dutton, 2009 ). No theory, however, has suggested an integrated psychological basis of the wide range of photography-related behaviors. Photography differs significantly from other visual representation techniques. The invention and further technical developments in photography have conveyed images with characteristics that drawings, paintings, maps, or plans do not have: (a) photos are realistic in a special way; (b) photos are produced by technical devices; (c) part of the information in photos is there by chance; (d) people tend to believe that what they see in photos really happened that way; and (e) photos can be created easily, quickly and effortlessly. We will describe these properties in more detail at the beginning of the following section.

Milgram ( 1976 ) assumed that taking and using photos conveys specific abilities, which can be best understood if cameras and photos are regarded as “evolutionary developments” (p. 7). We followed this approach and hypothesized that the urge to take, view, share, and use photos is based on human nature (Wilson, 2012 ; Kotrschal, 2019 ), i.e., on evolved context-sensitive predispositions and mechanisms, mainly rooted in the social domain. We examined this hypothesis on the basis of the four levels of Tinbergen ( 1963 ) to analyze and explain “natural” traits, i.e., those which evolved via the Darwinian processes. These levels relate to (1) the physiological mechanisms underlying a certain behavior, (2) it's ontogeny, (3) evolutionary history, and (4) adaptative value. This frame guided half a century of behavioral research and may be considered the research program of organismic biology in general (Bateson and Laland, 2013 ; Nesse, 2013 ).

We place photography in the context of the coherent theory of the evolution of life (Darwin, 1859 , 1879/2004 ; Jablonka and Lamb, 2014 ) and human nature as an outcome of this evolution. The four levels proposed by Tinbergen are the theoretical and practical formulation of this context. Since there is only a single Darwinian theory of evolution, and culture is part of human nature (Jablonka and Lamb, 2014 ), the biological context should allow us to develop a unified explanation, coherent with contemporary knowledge particularly on the proximate mechanisms (i.e., current physiological mechanisms and their ontogeny). According to the four levels of Tinbergen, our central research questions are: What are the cognitive and physiological mechanisms underlying taking and using photos? How does taking and using photos develop ontogenetically?—which is important for understanding the development of inter-individual variation. What is the phylogenetic basis for photographic behavior? What may the functions and adaptative value of taking and using photos be? In this respect, a contribution of taking or using photos for survival and individual reproductive success may not be obvious in modern humans, but to qualify as an evolutionary function, the proof of a direct effect would not be needed. Rather, it would be sufficient to find a plausible positive effect on a person's social and mental well-being, which, in turn, on a population level, would entail a positive, supportive effect on societal and biological fitness.

Our aim was to create a theoretical framework, which describes why and in what way taking, viewing, sharing, and using personal photos are functional behaviors in terms of what is presently known about human nature. The development of this framework was based on the integration of available empirical findings on photography from multiple research areas with findings from biology, psychology, and neuroscience. We consider cultural and biological traits as closely interconnected and interacting in driving evolution and individual behavior (e.g., Jablonka and Lamb, 2014 ; Kotrschal, 2019 ). To the best of our knowledge, a similarly comprehensive integration of findings into a coherent theoretical framework has not been attempted before. Our framework generates a number of predictions about the specific characteristics of personal photos and photography-related behaviors, which can be tested through empirical investigations.

Based on our framework and data on the global availability of smartphones and social media, we intended to show that photography qualifies as a human universal (Murdock, 1945 ; Brown, 1991 ; Antweiler, 2016 ; Christakis, 2019 ; Kotrschal, 2019 ). The concept human universal is traditionally associated with traits, activities, characteristics, or institutions, which are observed in all cultures and societies worldwide, like social organization, cooking, language, music, or weapons (Brown, 1991 ). According to this view, photography would not be a human universal. Historically, photography is a new development and did not exist in the traditional societies described by ethnology. For traits or behaviors, which have only recently become universal, Brown ( 1991 ) introduced the term “‘new’ universals” (p. 50). He cited dogs, tobacco, metal tools, and plastic containers as likely examples. Hence, according to Brown's classification, photography is a “new universal.” We describe photography as a human universal, which is based on context-sensitive predispositions, which differentiates itself over ontogeny in the societal environment. Our evolutionary approach does not suggest categorizing photography as a stereotypic behavior based on “innate” dispositions. In line with the present concepts of human social behavior and human universals, we emphasize context-sensitivity, inter-individual variability and individual uniqueness of photography-related behaviors within the frame of the human reaction norm (Woltereck, 1909 ), as comparable, for example, with language or music.

Materials and Methods

Specific characteristics of photographs and photography.

Our focus is on personal photography , that is, on photography-related behaviors, including taking, viewing, sharing, and using photos, which are performed for personal reasons and without commercial intent (Chalfen, 1987 ; Kindberg et al., 2005 ). In particular, we refer to photography-related behaviors, which people perform immediately and voluntarily (spontaneously), without intentional preparation or planning beforehand. We specifically referred to characteristics of photos and behaviors related to photos, which other representational pictures and behaviors associated with them do not have:

Photos Are Realistic Images

An object depicted in a photo can share a large number of visual features with the object that was seen in the environment at a specific point in time from a specific location (Bradley and Lang, 2007 ). Because of this characteristic, photos are called realistic images (DeLoache et al., 1998 ). When individuals see a photo, a retinal image can be formed, which is similar to the image that would be formed if they saw the represented event or object in the environment in real life (Perrett et al., 1991 ). When investigating the neural bases of recognizing or categorizing objects (e.g., faces, bodies, sites, or objects), neuroscientists and cognition researchers often assumed that there is an equivalence between the photographic representation and the perceptible object in the environment and presented photos of objects as stimuli instead of the real objects in question. Important psychophysiological mechanisms underlying photography-related behaviors are related to the fact that photos of objects elicit reactions in certain areas of the brain similar to events, which are effectively seen in the environmeint.

Photos Are Produced by Technical Devices

Drawings and paintings can also be realistic images. In contrast to photos, the creation of drawings and paintings involves the hands of the artists who created them, and important visual characteristics resulted from the dispositions, ideas and decisions of these artists. Photos are created by technical devices, and viewers know this fact.

Part of the Information Came Into the Photo by Chance

The people who use cameras choose a certain perspective, a certain frame and a certain moment when they press the shutter button. Photographers use this selection to control the characteristics and meanings of photos. In complex natural scenes, photographers cannot control all of the information that gets into the photos. Some information comes into the pictures by chance (Talbot, 1844/2011 ). This is hardly the case with representative drawings or paintings.

People Assume They See Reality in Photos

People tend to believe that what they see in photos really happened that way—even if photos are posed, manipulated or forged (Wade et al., 2002 ; Nightingale et al., 2017 ). This phenomenon is still poorly understood. It is possibly related to the knowledge of the viewers that they see a picture that was produced by a technical apparatus. This knowledge could be linked to the assumption that the picture is little affected by the personal attitudes and intentions of the person who made it (Miller, 1973 ; Gu and Han, 2007 ).

Photos Can Be Created and Understood Easily, Quickly, and Effortlessly

Unlike drawings, paintings, maps, or plans, photos can be created easily, quickly and effortlessly. Three-year-old children can take informative and expressive photos (Magnusson, 2018 ). Without complex knowledge or skills, people can take photos that they and other people find excellent (De Looper, 2016 ). Complex events represented by photos are quickly and easily understood. A single quick glance is enough for viewers to understand, for example, an interaction between two individuals (Hafri et al., 2013 ).

Taking, sharing, and using photos are not behaviors, which have all of a sudden appeared as something completely new and an emergent property of culture. We hypothesized that they are deeply rooted in organismic and cultural evolution. The basic cognitive and physiological factors underlying photography-related behaviors are common to all people. Some of these factors may vary relatively little between individuals, but others, for example, related to individual personality structure may show great inter-individual variability. But even such a pronounced inter-individual variability is far from random, as much of ontogeny seems to depend on context-sensitive human dispositions (e.g., Jablonka and Lamb, 2014 ; Kotrschal, 2019 ). Such dispositions are the result of non-random interactions between genes, epigenetics, and the social and societal environments during ontogeny. They frame the way people tend to take, view, share, and use photos.

Empirical Data and Findings on Photography-Related Behaviors

Empirical data and findings on taking, viewing, recognizing, sharing, and using photos come from a variety of disciplines, such as psychology, neuroscience, human-computer interaction, and anthropology. In analyzing the questions on the level of the cognitive and physiological mechanisms underlying photography-related behaviors, we referred to studies that examined the following questions: Which cognitive processes in the brain play a special role in photographing (Barasch et al., 2017 ; Blitch, 2017 )? How do people's brain responses to photos they have taken themselves differ from their responses to photos taken by others (Sellen et al., 2007 ; St. Jacques et al., 2011 ; Diefenbach and Christoforakos, 2017 )? Which brain responses do photos elicit in which viewers see a person with whom they are connected through a close emotional relationship (Bartels and Zeki, 2004 ; Gobbini et al., 2004 ; Leibenluft et al., 2004 ; Master et al., 2009 ; Eisenberger et al., 2011 )? Which brain responses do photos evoke in which viewers see themselves (Devue et al., 2007 ; Butler et al., 2012 )? Which neural processes form the basis for viewers to find a picture beautiful or ugly (Kawabata and Zeki, 2004 ; Jacobs et al., 2012 )?

To describe the ontogenesis of photography-related behaviors, we refer to studies that examined the development of the ability to recognize the representational properties of photos (DeLoache et al., 1998 ; for review, see Bovet and Vauclair, 2000 ), as well as to studies, which examined the age at which children start taking photos and for what purposes they use cameras (Mäkelä et al., 2000 ; Sharples et al., 2003 ; GSMA and NTT DOCOMO, 2014 ).

In analyzing the evolutionary roots of photography-related behaviors, we refer to studies of the ability of non-human primates and other animals to recognize objects depicted in photos (Bovet and Vauclair, 2000 ; Kano and Tomonaga, 2009 ; Aust and Huber, 2010 ). Information was also provided by investigations into the question how people develop the ability to recognize objects pictured in photographs (Deregowski et al., 1972 ; Miller, 1973 ; Bovet and Vauclair, 2000 ).

Table 1 briefly summarizes some of the research that will be used to analyze the level related to the adaptative value of photography-related behaviors. Every single referenced study provides a number of answers that are not always consistent with the answers from the other studies. The answers given are therefore rather examples of content to which we refer in the article than representative information.

Questions and studies used to analyze the adaptative value of photography-related behaviors.

Results: the Four Levels of Tinbergen ( 1963 ) As a Theory Frame

Psychophysiological mechanisms underlying photography-related behaviors.

Researchers have used photos as stimuli. Thus, quite some knowledge on the psychophysiological mechanisms involved in recognizing and viewing photos has accumulated, but experimental research on the mechanisms involved in taking photos is essentially lacking (except for Blitch, 2017 ). The success of photography, however, is primarily related to features of taking photos (Krämer and Winter, 2008 ; Hu et al., 2014 ; Lee et al., 2015 ; De Looper, 2016 ; Malik et al., 2016 ; Carrington, 2020 ). These include various activities and outcomes. These activities are, for example, associated with relating to individuals or objects as well as creating and appropriating images of them and their desirable properties. Outcomes may be associated with a sense of control and efficacy. The rapid global spread of photography was not driven by new opportunities to get, acquire, or exchange photos taken by other people, but mainly by the increased availability of inexpensive cameras, particularly smartphones, and opportunities to share one's own photos electronically. For this reason, we address in this section the specific mechanisms that form the neural basis of taking personal photos. The following description of the processing steps in taking pictures corresponds to hypothetical predictions. We mainly employ findings on processes in primates including humans from various contexts, which can be related to the psychophysiological mechanisms involved in taking photos. Figure 1 shows a hypothetical model including the major steps of taking a photo.

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Hypothetical process model including the major processes and activities that occur in an individual who engages in taking a personal photo. The place within the sequence where the processes and activities are located indicates either when they occur or when they first occur. In order to keep the presentation clear, possible feedback effects of activities on the antecedent steps are not shown. Downward arrows mean “then occurs”; a horizontal arrow means “interacts with”.

Initial Steps in Taking Photos

The first steps in taking a photo do not involve conscious awareness (Custers and Aarts, 2010 ). A mother, for example, responds spontaneously to the happy expression on the face of her 6-year-old son at his birthday party, or a hiker responds to the overwhelming panorama at a mountain top. In these examples, the perceptual input activates a fast, low-level system of subcortical structures related to affective processing (Baxter and Murray, 2002 ; Pourtois et al., 2013 ), including neurons responding to the visual information and others responding to relevance and information related to primary (evolutionarily developed) or individually acquired reward value. Some of these structures project to the midbrain dopaminergic system (Dommett et al., 2005 ; Schultz, 2006 ). In turn, dopaminergic projections from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in the midbrain reach the ventral striatum, including the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), amygdala, hippocampus and other areas of the mesolimbic system (Berridge and Robinson, 1998 ; Alcaro et al., 2007 ), which functions as the central neural basis for approach and motivation. This mesolimbic system overlaps with the social behavior network in the brain, responsible for the control of social behavior (Goodson, 2005 ; O'Connell and Hofmann, 2011 ).

The activity of the dopaminergic neurons in the brain of the mother who sees her happy son corresponds to a “wanting” reaction (Berridge and Robinson, 1998 ). It makes her son's excited face salient and attractive. The fact that the mother likes what she perceives may be related to the release and processing of endogenous opioids (Panksepp, 1998 ; Kringelbach and Berridge, 2009 ; Hsu et al., 2013 ). Whereas dopamine conveys motivational incentives, endogenous opioids convey “liking,” but also have a calming effect and reduce neural responses to pain, stress and anxiety (Carter, 1998 ; De Kloet et al., 2005 ).

In everyday life, people usually take photos of pleasant events (Chalfen, 1987 ; Sharples et al., 2003 ; Hu et al., 2014 ). We assume, however, that the motivation to take a picture is often also related to the activation of a mental representation of a negative context, which is processed non-consciously. In our example, this negative context would be that the mother knows that her son celebrates his last birthday party before entering school. As her own mental representations of school are ambivalent, she develops an anticipatory concern regarding the situation of her son, which is threatening and creates mental stress (Ulrich-Lai and Herman, 2009 ). Representations of such threats correlate particularly with activities in the amygdala (Baxter and Murray, 2002 ; Pourtois et al., 2013 ), triggering a cascade of adaptive neural and neuroendocrine reactions (De Kloet et al., 2005 ; Schiller et al., 2008 ; Ulrich-Lai and Herman, 2009 ; Hostinar et al., 2014 ). They include the activation of the stress systems leading to an increase in excitement and alertness.

Hence, we suggest that two conflicting representations are activated in the mother's brain, each associated with a different behavioral response than the other. The mother needs to mobilize cognitive and behavioral resources to be able to balance the two possible meanings and reactions, which in essence employ different parts of her brain. The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) plays an important role in this. The ACC lies inside the frontal cortex, where it extends around the dorsal side of the corpus callosum, the nerve tract that connects the two cerebral hemispheres. It integrates and organizes emotional and cognitive information related to coping with pain, fear, anxiety, and stress, and potential motor responses, and is a major neural basis of cognitive control (Bush et al., 2000 ; Shenhav et al., 2013 ). Cognitive control is defined as regulating reactions to pieces of information that are in conflict with one another and in which automated processing may lead to errors (Miller and Cohen, 2001 ). The goal of cognitive control is to integrate conflicting information into representations that support appropriate behavioral decisions.

The mother's medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) signals that there is something out there that offers the opportunity to collect or appropriate something valuable—mPFC is a central part of the neural basis of appropriating or collecting something (Anderson et al., 2005 ; Turk et al., 2011 ). Based on the dopaminergic processes involved, the motivation for appropriating something can be very strong: mPF and ACC have the greatest densities of dopaminergic projections from the midbrain of all areas in the cortex (Williams and Goldman-Rakic, 1993 ; Cohen et al., 2002 ).

Based on her photography-related knowledge, the mother categorizes what she perceives as “something that is photographed.” What is going on out there, could enable her to create a valuable picture. According to the assumptions of Event Cognition (Newtson, 1973 ; Zacks et al., 2001 ), “a children's birthday party” is not represented in the mother as a continuous, uniform event, but in the form of a few interconnected discrete units or steps, such as welcoming the guests, eating the birthday cake, blowing out the candles, and so on. The mother has detected that such a discrete step of the party has occurred. A photo of it could represent much of her son's birthday party. Activation patterns in prefrontal and hippocampal areas switch on photography-related memory contents that are connected to one another and retained in various locations widely spread over the cerebral cortex (Tonegawa et al., 2015 ). Context and scene are associated with possible outcomes of taking a photo with a smartphone camera, including a coarse anticipatory representation of the possible photo and its use.

Still without the involvement of conscious processes, the representation of the goal to take a photo is activated in structures of the mother's anterior prefrontal Cortex (PFC) (Soon et al., 2008 ; Custers and Aarts, 2010 ). Processes in OFC, mPFC, ACC, and ventral striatum analyze whether the goal to take a photo can be achieved in the given situation, and whether it is worth the effort. The result is the decision that the photo is worth the effort.

Steps Accompanied by Conscious Awareness

For taking the photo, representations from different explicit and implicit memory and processing systems must be integrated. Our mother is now consciously recognizing (Dehaene and Naccache, 2001 ; Damasio, 2010 ) that she is perceiving something that might be worth photographing. She takes her smartphone and points the camera at her son, who is surrounded by friends. She controls what will be seen in the picture. OFC, ACC, amygdala, and the anterior insula build the neural bases of various valuation, filtering, ordering and decision processes (Hsu et al., 2005 ). The mother's working memory (Baddeley and Hitch, 1974 ; Miller and Cohen, 2001 ) processes, maintains and integrates different pieces of information of internal and external origin.

The mother takes a photo of her son, a person with whom she is connected through a close positive emotional relationship. Seeing him activates areas in the mother's brain that have a high density of the peptide hormones oxytocin and vasopressin (Bartels and Zeki, 2004 ). Oxytocin and vasopressin are produced in the hypothalamic Nucleus preopticus (NPO), stored in pituitary, and are involved in the development and maintenance of close selective social relationships (Carter, 1998 ; Panksepp, 1998 ; Scheele et al., 2013 ; Hostinar et al., 2014 ). They also support the control and suppression of threat-related information (Nelson and Panksepp, 1998 ; Donaldson and Young, 2008 ; Scheele et al., 2013 ). Particularly oxytocin is involved in the development and maintenance of close selective social relationships or attachment and conveys the feeling of social connectedness (Carter, 1998 ; Panksepp, 1998 ; Scheele et al., 2013 ; Hostinar et al., 2014 ). Both hormones are associated with activating the mesolimbic reward system (Donaldson and Young, 2008 ). Oxytocin release correlates with opioid activities, reduces stress and thereby causes a calming effect (Nelson and Panksepp, 1998 ). In fact, there is a strong antagonism between oxytocin release and glucocorticoids synthesis, i.e., metabolic hormones that are produced and released in response to stressors (Carter, 1998 ; Hostinar et al., 2014 ; Preckel et al., 2015 ).

The mother's vmPFC assigns a positive value to the neural representations of the situation, photographing in general, and the intended photo in particular. On a non-conscious processing level, however, the anticipatory representation of the threat of her son's potentially negative experiences at school is still effective. This threat is primarily processed in the amygdala, but the mother's vmPFC projects into the amygdala and, thereby, inhibits its activity, which reduces fear and anxiety (Andolina et al., 2013 ; Hostinar et al., 2014 ). In addition, vmPFC, OFC and ACC project to the hypothalamus and reduce the activity of the mother's stress systems (Ulrich-Lai and Herman, 2009 ; Hostinar et al., 2014 ). Her implicit processing mechanisms suggest that she can now safely ignore the threat (Schiller et al., 2008 ).

When she recognizes a sufficient correspondence between the characteristics of the picture on the smartphone display and the mental representation of the desired photo, she presses the shutter button. She creates a permanent external picture of her son in a particular context, a representational digital object, which she possesses and can share with others. An important part of the value the picture has for her is related to the fact that she has created it herself. Actually, people can reliably distinguish between photos that they have taken themselves and photos taken by others (Sellen et al., 2007 ; St. Jacques et al., 2011 ).

A mountain hiker who discovers something she wants to photograph may have a different experience than a mother at her son's birthday party. She likes to hike alone and enjoys nature and silence. When looking at the mountain landscape, the anticipation of a longer period of non-self-chosen solitude has been activated. The hiker can take a picture, which will allow her to share her experience with her friends. Unlike our example mother, the hiker has more time for taking the picture, because the landscape does not change as quickly as social situations at a party. The hiker can use this time for creatively composing a photo, which will be different from ordinary photos depicting similar landscapes and which the viewers will find beautiful, useful, or important (Thagard and Stewart, 2011 ; Ellamil et al., 2012 ). She associates and integrates the incoming visual information with certain conceptual and emotional categories as well as with internal representations of existing extraordinary landscape pictures. The neural bases of these operations include structures of two cortical networks that are usually not active at the same time. One of these networks is activated when people focus their attention on external stimuli, the other network when attention is focused on thoughts, memories or imagery (De Pisapia et al., 2016 ).

Ontogeny of Recognizing, Taking, and Using Photos

Human babies recognize certain photos at an age of 3 months or even earlier (for review, see Bovet and Vauclair, 2000 ). In a cross-cultural study, DeLoache et al. ( 1998 ) showed that 9 months old babies treated pictured objects as if they were real objects, explored them with their hands, tried to touch them, or to take them out of the picture. At the age of 19 months, human children understood that pictures are both concrete real objects, but also representations of other objects. From about 1-year of age, children begin to create traces on two-dimensional surfaces with suitable materials (Thomas and Silk, 1990 ; Wright, 2010 ). At the age of two, children begin to name the meanings of their drawings or paintings. They also know that pictures are made with specific intentions to represent objects or events (Preissler and Bloom, 2008 ). Children aged 3- to 4-years know what properties of pictures are helpful if they are used to convey ideas of objects to other people, and that there are better and worse pictures for this purpose (Allen et al., 2010 ). They know that pictures containing a lot of visual details are best used to tell others what objects look like.

Many children like to draw. As much as they develop joy and zeal in drawing, they usually have little interest in owning the pictures as soon as they are done (Thomas and Silk, 1990 ; Cox, 2005 ; Cherney et al., 2006 ; Wright, 2010 ). If they have mastered a special pictorial challenge, they proudly show their picture and look at it together with others, but they do not go for drawings they made the week or the month before to look at them again. The fascination lies in the activity of drawing itself, in experiencing the ability to create a picture with a certain meaning—and to use this to relate to others (Cox, 2005 ; Wright, 2010 ). The early ontogenetic development of competences related to producing and using representational pictures happens in the social environment, usually the family. The family is also one of the most productive places of personal photography (Chalfen, 1987 ; Petrelli and Whittaker, 2010 ). The most successful photography exhibition of all time even had “family” in its title: The Family of Man ( 1955 ).

Children see the photos their parents keep in photo albums, photo books, boxes or computer folders. The photos of the ancestors—and their actions, experiences, relationships, occupations, and possessions—that a family owns can give children a sense of social belonging, societal significance, and security (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton, 1981 ; Chalfen, 1987 ; Petrelli and Whittaker, 2010 ). These photos are heritable assets of knowledge. They are usually linked to oral or written information, which shows and tells to whom the children belong and whom they can trust. Through mechanisms of social learning, family traditions of photography emerge (Mäkelä et al., 2000 ; Sharples et al., 2003 ; Petrelli and Whittaker, 2010 ). Children get to know certain ways of using cameras and photos early on (Mäkelä et al., 2000 ; Sharples et al., 2003 ). They experience how their mother or father reacts to certain events by taking photos—usually positive, which supports this behavior via positive reinforcement learning. Children also realize that taking, viewing, and sharing photos is repeatedly done in certain social contexts, for example at a birthday party, graduation, or wedding. They learn that photographers keep some pictures and discard others and may shape their own taste along this.

Many children start taking photos themselves at preschool age (Sharples et al., 2003 ; Magnusson, 2018 ). Seven- to 15-year-olds take and use photos in connection with the playful and explorative use of electronic devices (Mäkelä et al., 2000 ; Sharples et al., 2003 ). They use cameras and photos for joking, like making faces or adopting funny poses, for expressing feelings, or telling stories. According to an international survey, 81% of the 8- to 18-year-olds in Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia used a mobile phone in 2013 (GSMA and NTT DOCOMO, 2014 ). Most of the children got their own mobile phone between 10- and 12-years of age and 55% had access to the internet. The features most used by children and adolescents were cameras (91%), followed by music players and video players. Many young people in their teens and early twenties take and use photos to create a sense of self and an identity (Schiano et al., 2002 ; RSPH and YHM, 2017 ). Social media provides them with a platform where they can use photos to express different characteristics of themselves and to experience other people's reactions (Krämer and Winter, 2008 ; Hu et al., 2014 ; Lee et al., 2015 ). Photos of family members and pals are especially important for people (Mäkelä et al., 2000 ; Sharples et al., 2003 ), and the value of these photos increases with the age of their owners (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton, 1981 ).

Evolutionary Roots of Taking and Using Photos

Why do photos have the characteristics they have? Why are they important for people all over the world? Which meanings can almost only be represented and communicated through photos Kislinger, 2021 ), and which cannot? In this section, we will refer to cognitive and social building blocks, which are part of the evolved nature of modern humans and suggest answers to these questions. Figure 2 presents an overview of the evolutionary building blocks that underlie the success of photography to which we refer.

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Schematic illustration of the building blocks that are part of the evolved nature of modern humans and form the basis of the importance of photos for people. The arrows show the order in which we describe the building blocks in our model.

Vision as a Central Element of Human Cognition

People take and use photos to represent important events in the environment. Representing features of the environment with survival value is one of the core functions of central nervous systems (CNSs) since they exist. Organisms developed sensory organs, which react to relevant physical and chemical events in the environment, as well as neurons, that is, cells capable of receiving, generating, and transducing signals for internal communication and for relating to the environment (Butler and Hodos, 2005 ; Gregory, 2008 ). By means of neural activation patterns, organisms have used “images” for hundreds of millions of years (Damasio, 2010 )—as representations of the environment enhancing predictability in interaction with this environment and, thus, survival. Although it is hard to imagine how a jellyfish with its dispersed nervous system should be able to form an image-like mental representation, the fact that its body responds to stimuli in a coordinated and adaptive way at least hints at such a possibility.

Mammals evolved out of mainly visually oriented reptiles (Northcutt, 2011 ; Striedter, 2020 ). During their first 100 million years of evolution, however, the reign of dinosaurs forced them underground or into a nocturnal lifestyle. This led to a reduction in visual orientation, while olfaction and hearing were optimized. Within the modern mammals we see a full reinstatement of trichromatic vision only in the primates, while most other mammals remain bi-chromatic as an adaptation to being active at dusk and dawn and at night. Due to specific properties of their central nervous systems, including retinae, primates can extract a broad range of information from the properties of light and its reflections in the physical world (Felleman and Van Essen, 1991 ; Gollisch and Meister, 2010 ). Vision is a central component of human cognition. Visual content dominates, for example, perception, memory, imagining, and dreaming (Posner et al., 1976 ; Zimmermann, 1989 ).

Living Together in Groups and Social Attachment

People primarily take photos of other people, especially people to whom they are emotionally connected (Chalfen, 1987 ; Hu et al., 2014 ; Lee et al., 2015 ). Processing stimuli with social significance has a long evolutionary history (Wilson, 1984 , 2012 ). The tegmental and diencephalic parts of the brains of birds, bony fish, and mammals feature an evolutionary extremely conservative—hence homologous—social behavior network (Goodson, 2005 ). This regulates social recognizing, mating, parental behavior, persistent bonding, expressive behavior, aggression, and responses to social stressors. Primates inherited this network virtually unchanged in structure and function from their ancestors. The primate ancestors of humans established close relationships with other individuals in their groups who were not reproductive partners or relatives (De Waal and Brosnan, 2006 ; Wilson, 2012 ). Social cohesion improved the ability of individuals and groups to adapt to variable environments, to survive and to reproduce. Living together in groups affected both behavior and cognition. In primates, the social domain hosts a substantial part of the motivation to orient to and perceive stimuli, and to carry out certain behaviors and actions. Important and mutually linked social behavior systems are attachment and care , that is, a close selective emotional connection with another individual—the caregiving attachment figure, or the other way round, the attached dependent (Bowlby, 1974 ; Carter, 1998 ; Panksepp, 1998 ). There is a strong antagonistic interaction between the feelings of safe attachment and distress (Panksepp, 1998 ). Threatening or stressful situations elicit the desire for social closeness, and societal cohesion increases in times of crisis. Support by an attachment figure provides a sense of security and calmness. Conversely, being isolated from attachment figures or other socially supportive individuals is perceived as a potential threat. This antagonistic interaction is relevant in terms of photography-related behaviors. Photos of attachment figures or of the attached dependents convey important potentials. In experiments, for example, merely seeing the photo of an attachment figure reduced physical pain as effectively as the actual closeness to that person (Master et al., 2009 ; Eisenberger et al., 2011 ).

Social Learning, Cultural Evolution, and Symbol Systems

An important ability of animals living in groups is profiting from experiences or interactions with other individuals, called social learning (Richerson et al., 2010 ; Jablonka and Lamb, 2014 ). A system of characteristic behavior patterns and preferences, which are socially passed on through generations, is referred to as culture and its gradual change as cultural evolution (Jablonka and Lamb, 2014 ). Cultural phenomena have probably played a greater role in human evolution than in any of the other animals showing cultural diversification (for example wolves or orcas) ever since the common ancestors of humans and chimpanzees (Richerson et al., 2010 ; Whiten, 2011 ).

Social learning is the base for tradition forming and transferring information via culture. The ancestors of humans used gestures, vocalizations, and found objects as signs for something that was not currently present in the environment to communicate with others (Seyfarth et al., 2005 ; Deacon, 2006 ; Arbib et al., 2008 ). Over many generations, groups gradually developed a complex system of gestural and vocal signs, as well as rules specifying how these signs were to be combined into larger units of meaning (Seyfarth et al., 2005 ; Arbib et al., 2008 ). As a crucial step in human evolution, humans began to use symbols , this is, signs that represent meanings based on rules and conventions. Symbols are part of an evolved cultural system, which regulates the relationships between individual signs and indicates how they are combined to represent units of meaning (Jablonka and Lamb, 2014 ). The use of symbols for organizing and conveying information was a crucial step in human evolution. Human symbols are considered as discrete dimensions of inheritance and evolution which interact with genetic evolution. People developed systems of symbols to represent and communicate knowledge, rules and ideas (Jablonka and Lamb, 2014 ; Tomasello, 2014 ). Language became the most important symbol system, likely also pushing brain development. Cultural evolution and genetic evolution interacted and led to a positive feedback selection between cognitive mechanisms, language, and social skills (Deacon, 1997 ; Jablonka and Lamb, 2014 ).

Cooperation, Property, Status, Reputation, Courtship, and Mating

Among the evolutionary mechanisms, which favored cooperation in groups, direct and indirect reciprocity appear to be particularly relevant (Nowak, 2006 ). These mechanisms are also relevant in terms of taking and using photos. Direct reciprocity is effective when two individuals encounter each other repeatedly: one cooperates assuming that the other one will reciprocate later. Cooperation, hence, benefits both. The mechanism of indirect reciprocity explains cooperation in situations where one individual helps another individual whom the individual may not meet again or from whom no help is expected. This can still pay off, if the helpful behavior is observed by other group members. Indirect reciprocity describes the benefit of an altruistic act for the helping individual, which spreads via gossip or other information. In this detour, the helping individual acquires the reputation of being “generous,” i.e., able and willing to cooperate. This reputation supports access to resources and reproductive success (Nowak and Sigmund, 2005 ; Nowak, 2006 ). With the evolution of complex language—and later with the distribution of photos—the subset of a population that could receive information about the cooperative potential of an individual tremendously increases as compared to the number of people able to directly observe an individual's behavior. Photography and social networking services on the internet have increased the potential audience enormously.

In human societies, it is generally advantageous to regulate resource use and ownership through rules or conventions in order to avoid costly redundant conflicts (Stake, 2004 ). Depending on socio-economic background, people have developed specific rules about the appropriation of things as well as about the retention and distribution of property (Stake, 2004 ). Many animals appropriate things and retain them (Stake, 2004 ). Property-related experiences and behaviors are based on specific neural substrates, especially in the frontal cortex (Anderson et al., 2005 ; Turk et al., 2011 ). The brain structures involved are particularly rich in dopamine receptors. The acquisition of property is accordingly associated with strong motivation. When individuals acquire and possess valuable resources, it may also be beneficial to their status within their groups, or may even be to the benefit and status of these groups (Brown, 1991 ; Van Vugt and Tybur, 2016 ). Much of human social complexity is about status and prestige. This modulates, in turn, individual access to resources in a social dynamic between cooperation and competition (Nowak and Sigmund, 2005 ; Van Vugt and Tybur, 2016 ). Individuals can display their property and signal that they have a certain status within the social and cultural hierarchies of their group or society. To communicate this status, individuals may use symbols of their possessions. Individuals can also share their resources with others, be generous or even wasteful with their possessions to increase their prestige and, ultimately, their reproductive success (Buss and Schmitt, 1993 ). In women and men, the acquisition, retention, and use of resources or possession have specific characteristics (Brown, 1991 ; Buss and Schmitt, 1993 ).

Photography has provided people with effective means to signal their social status to a large audience (Krämer and Winter, 2008 ; Piazza and Bering, 2009 ). Distributing selfies with famous people or in front of famous sights, for example, is motivated by telling others about one's own potential to meet these famous people or to travel, and to communicate one's own interests and attitudes (Krämer and Winter, 2008 ; Diefenbach and Christoforakos, 2017 ). Many people also take and share status-relevant photos of themselves with their “belongings,” such as house, car, boat, their beautiful partner, or children (De Looper, 2016 ; Jain and Mavani, 2017 ). Empirical data suggest that people also use photos for enhancing their mate value in the minds of potential romantic or sexual partners (Piazza and Bering, 2009 ; Smith, 2016 ; Hobbs et al., 2017 ; Sedgewick et al., 2017 ; Gale and Lewis, 2020 ; Kemp, 2021 ; Morris, 2021 ). We will discuss this in more detail in the section on the functions of photography.

Memory and the Urge to Create Coherent Explanations for Events and Conditions

Humans improved their ability to use language to categorize behaviors, events, objects and states. They developed a special system of comprehensive memory for experiences, including social, called episodic memory (Tulving, 2005 ). Thereby, experiences of “what,” “with whom,” “when,” and “how it felt” are integrated in a way that individuals can consciously access their stored representations and have a comprehensive awareness of their own life as related to others. With the ability to represent, process, and communicate past and future, as well as possible or imagined events through language, came the urge to explain what happens in the world, to interpret the past and to predict the future (Pettitt, 2011 ). Humans developed an awareness of mortality, thinking about death, and the desire to overcome mortality. The earliest burial sites found with material traces of ritual practices are around 100,000-years old (Pettitt, 2011 ; Wilson, 2012 ). The desire for extending one's effectiveness beyond lifespan could also play a role in taking pictures (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton, 1981 ; Chalfen, 1987 ). Many people retain photos of ancestors in a respectful way, in the implicit understanding that their descendants will do the same. This is reminiscent of animistic cultures, where identity and existence of people are deeply rooted in cults around ancestors (Frazer, 1911 ; Bird-David, 1999 ).

When taking a photo of another person, the photographer not just appropriates a picture of the light reflections from this person, but also of the visual, behaviorally relevant signals that this person emits at that particular moment. This may be part of the reason why many people consider appropriating a picture of a person to have “magical” (Frazer, 1911 ; Kittredge, 1929 ) or “animistic” (Bird-David, 1999 ; Harvey, 2005 ) properties. The term “animistic” refers to the belief that not only humans, but also animals, plants, lakes, mountains, etc. have souls and are animated (Harvey, 2005 ). With taking a picture of a certain person her or his personality and even “soul” may be captured, and the owner of this picture can change the condition of the pictured person—with potentially negative consequences (Hetherwick, 1902 ; Frazer, 1911 ; Hocart, 1922 ). Image magic has a long tradition going back far into human prehistory (Kittredge, 1929 ). Today, there is an ongoing struggle for legal regulation of the protection of one's image as part of personal rights and property rights, indicating that personal images still retain their special private status. Even on a rational base, the power that is conveyed by taking, owning, and using photos [e.g., Regulation (EU), 2016 ], is still a delicate topic in modern Western societies.

Language enables humans to integrate a huge amount of information into meaningful contexts and to create explanations of events in which these events appear ordered and understandable toward a goal, rather than meaningless, accidental and pointless (Kahneman, 2011 ). In addition to language, an evolutionarily older cognitive system remained (Evans, 2008 ; Kahneman, 2011 ), providing quick reactions to relevant events in the environment on the basis of minimal sensory information, for example, via faces with emotional expressions or expressive body poses (Kislinger, 2021 ). Certain events depicted in photos cause activations of evolutionarily old brain structures, like superior colliculus, pulvinar, and amygdala (Morris et al., 1999 ; Van Le et al., 2013 ; Almeida et al., 2015 ). Objects and events pictured in photos are not only recognized by humans, but by many other species (Bovet and Vauclair, 2000 ; Kano and Tomonaga, 2009 ). In some cases, the last common ancestor of humans and a species in question lived long ago, e.g., 220 million years in the case of pigeons (Aust and Huber, 2010 ). This either hints at an ancient ability shared via phylogenetic inheritance (homology) or at parallel evolution (analogy).

Functions and Adaptative Value of Photography

A “function” of a behavior describes a specific contribution of the individual expression of this behavior to survival and reproductive success (Jablonka and Lamb, 2014 ). Photography-related behaviors touch the evolutionary functional domains of well-being and social connectedness, which are at the core of human nature. These behaviors will therefore, directly or indirectly, relate to potential individual societal and—ultimately—reproductive success. We suggest that taking, owning, viewing, sharing, and using photos provide a specific and effective strategy for coping with complex environments fraught with uncertainty. Photography as a coping-strategy comprises four core domains: (1) making sense, (2) appropriating an image, (3) establishing and supporting social connectedness, and (4) courtship and mating. These four domains can be involved in different photography-related behaviors to different degrees.

Making Sense

“Making sense” plays a role in many photography-related behaviors (Harrison, 2002 ; Frohlich et al., 2013 ); it is particularly evident in the taking of photos (Chalfen, 1987 ; Gillet et al., 2016 ). Thereby, people assign a certain cause to an event—that is, they create an explanation for why this event occurs—or a certain meaningful order, which is consistent with a goal. The 6-year-old birthday boy from our example above laughs because he gets along well with other children, and other people want him to be happy. The photo of the hiker shows that being alone on a mountain top is great, because it gives one a deep personal feeling for nature, which still can be shared with friends via a picture. According to our framework, people build mental representations, which make an event understandable. As a consequence, the future course of the event appears predictable and controllable. Taking photos allows making sense immediately and intuitively, without the involvement of complex reasoning.

Sharing and viewing photos can also be used for making sense of events. The photo of a family reunion can show a group of laughing people who relate to each other in a friendly and nice way, even if a heated argument broke out at this meeting, which may have led to long-term insults and resentments. Particularly, people who were at this meeting can look at this photo to reassure themselves that, despite certain controversy, things are fine and people like each other. This is supported by the propensity of viewers to assume that what they see in photos reflects reality. Understanding photos does not require the mastery of a particular language, complex cultural knowledge, or elaborate thinking. A single photo can give a fairly comprehensive idea of an event—possibly better than any verbal description: “a picture is worth a thousand words” (The Post-Standard, 1911 ).

Appropriating an Image

The domain “appropriating an image” is related to the fact that people gain permanent access to valuable information by taking, sharing, or getting a photo—most frequently related to social relationships. Photographers relate to an event or object through the camera, select certain properties of this object and the scene in which it is contained, and create a focus. From the flow of the object's appearances, which they perceive over a certain period of time, they extract a single picture and fix it. It represents only a small fraction of the sensory information that is available in that situation. By selecting and organizing the information, which they include in the picture, they interpret the object or event. If they have managed to create the picture with the intended meaning, this success conveys the experience of effectiveness and competence (Krämer and Winter, 2008 ). This experience reduces emotional arousal and physiological stress responses to potential threats and supports coping with them (Bandura, 1997 ). A man looking out the window of the plane that is taking off, for example, may take a number of photos, thereby potentially also coping with his fear of flying. Taking photos may help to maintain control in a potentially stressful situation.

Establishing and Supporting Social Connectedness

Seeing an important person in a photo allows the viewer to relate emotionally to this person, although she or he is absent or may have passed away. Photos of their own children, parents, or romantic partners are particularly important to people (Bartels and Zeki, 2004 ; Gobbini et al., 2004 ; Leibenluft et al., 2004 ; Petrelli and Whittaker, 2010 ; Hu et al., 2014 ). Photos of loved ones enable people to feel close to them, provide a sense of security and calmness and reduce the sensation of pain (Master et al., 2009 ; Eisenberger et al., 2011 ). Photos, to some extent, can substitute for physical closeness. Viewing, owning, or sharing photos of family members or ancestors support developing cultural and genealogical roots (Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton, 1981 ; Petrelli and Whittaker, 2010 ). Hence, taking and using photos relates to establishing, maintaining and strengthening social connections (Kindberg et al., 2005 ; Barasch et al., 2014 ; Lee et al., 2015 ; Pittman and Reich, 2016 ).

Many people share their photos, and if a photo is liked and appreciated by others, the photographer experiences self-efficacy (Krämer and Winter, 2008 ) and self-esteem (Burrow and Rainone, 2017 ). This is exploited by the “like buttons,” an enormously popular feature of social media platforms (Kemp, 2021 ). Sharing photos contributes to a common understanding of the world. Sharing photos also enables people to convey others views that they enjoy, e.g., photos of hilarious events or natural sceneries. Photos of natural scenes (as opposed to human artifacts or urban environments) have a positive influence on the well-being of viewers (Berto, 2005 ; Valtchanov and Ellard, 2015 ) as “Biophilia” is a human universal (Appleton, 1975 ; Ulrich, 1983 ; Wilson, 1984 ; Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989 ). Viewing such photos relaxes, reduces emotional stress, and thereby regenerates depleted cognitive resources.

People often use photos to show others who they are and what role they play in society. Issues of identity, reputation, prestige, or status often play a role in personal photography (Chalfen, 1987 ; Barasch et al., 2014 ; RSPH and YHM, 2017 ). If one person photographs another person, this can be of value only for the photographer, or for both (Milgram, 1976 ). People can use photos to influence how other people perceive the pictured individuals, objects, or events and thus exert social control (Sharples et al., 2003 ; Diefenbach and Christoforakos, 2017 ). People being photographed, however, may also use this circumstance for their own goals, like for influencing how others perceive them (Harrison, 2002 ; Krämer and Winter, 2008 ; Jain and Mavani, 2017 ). Being photographed can immensely increase the size of the “audience.”

As humans are radically social in their nature, observing or monitoring the behavior of other people plays a central role in the motivation to use social media on the internet and to post photos (Joinson, 2008 ; Lee et al., 2015 ; Malik et al., 2016 ). People are usually aware of the presence of cameras. This may produce “audience effects,” i.e., the feeling of being watched influences behavior and makes people behave in a socially agreeable way (Bateson et al., 2006 ; Oda et al., 2015 ), by showing, for example, “photo faces.” Through this tendency, photography supports cooperative coexistence in complex societies and has an adaptative value both, on the individual and on the societal level.

We are well aware that people also distribute photos of atrocities. The impact of such photos can be used to boost the importance of the photographer or distributor, or even to hurt other people, to violate the rights of others, or to deceive (Smith et al., 2008 ; Kowalski et al., 2014 ). Manipulative to harmful photo use is facilitated by the fact that photographic forgeries are becoming increasingly difficult to detect, both in social and in journalistic media (Campbell, 2014 ; Nightingale et al., 2017 ). Various detrimental outcomes of taking and using photos have required legal regulation of photography-related behaviors [e.g., Regulation (EU), 2016 ]. The ubiquity of taking photos has massively reduced possibilities of intimacy and privacy. A vast dark side of photography exists outside of personal experience. The large social media providers use the shared personal photos as a data source. The acquisition of these data, their possession, the algorithms of their management and the extraction of information from them give the companies enormous power, which has not been put under democratic control until now (Zuboff, 2015 ).

Courtship and Mating

Courtship and mating are certainly part of the domain of establishing and strengthening social connections and attachment (Hazan and Shaver, 1987 ; Fisher et al., 2002 ). But they are directly relevant in terms of evolutionary function and as such encompass a range of distinct strategies and conflicts (Fisher et al., 2002 ; Buss and Duntley, 2011 ). The global prevalence of intimate partner homicide reflects the high value of the activities and resources that are at stake, as well as the severity of the conflicts in question (Stöckl et al., 2013 ). Sexual or reproductive behaviors shaped all living beings and played a central role in the evolution of human cognition (Miller, 2001 ; Nowak, 2006 ). Sexual themes and symbols are featured in some of the oldest preserved artifacts (Conard, 2009 ). With photos, a new type of visual cueing was developed that fulfills special functions in attracting potential partners, mate selection, and sexual behavior. The potentials of photography range from tender romantics to hardcore pornography.

“Beauty” plays a special role in this context. Many people want to take and use beautiful photos (Bakhshi et al., 2015 ; De Looper, 2016 ). Darwin ( 1879/2004 ) associated the “sense of beauty” (p. 114) with the context of sexual selection: the function of beauty is that the choosing female or male individuals are “excited” by it. Individuals considered to be beautiful manage to “excite attention” (p. 467). In this sense, beauty is a sensory signal that it could be advantageous to pay attention to, and approach, the sender of this signal. Among the hashtags (terms assigned to posted photos) that were most frequently used on Instagram in 2020, “Love” came first, “Art” fifth, and “Beautiful” sixth (Kemp, 2021 ). Instagram is the most photography-related social platform and was the fifth most visited website worldwide in 2020 (Kemp, 2021 ).

The invention of photography and its further technological developments, including digital communication, allowed people to create a new type of sensory cues relevant to courtship activities, mate selection, sexual intercourse, and (ultimately) reproduction. Photography has been used almost from the start to satisfy cravings for pictures of naked people and for erotic images. Retinal images of naked potential partners expressing interest in sexual activity has meant observers had access to reproduction for hundreds of thousands of years. Photos of sexual acts are among those images that are most emotionally arousing (Bradley and Lang, 2007 ; Wehrum et al., 2013 ) and pornography is one of the most prominent domains of internet use.

People also use photos to influence choices of potential romantic or sexual partners. The success of dating applications on the Internet has greatly increased the importance of photos in connection with courtship and mating (Piazza and Bering, 2009 ; Smith, 2016 ; Hobbs et al., 2017 ). Social media platforms and dating apps enable users to form relationships with people they have never seen before. Mobile dating applications are used by more and more people (Smith, 2016 ; Morris, 2021 ). People looking for partners create profiles on these apps that they use to present themselves. Photos of oneself play a central role in this. People show photos of themselves—often also taken by themselves—in which they are represented as they would like to be seen by potential romantic partners (Sedgewick et al., 2017 ; Gale and Lewis, 2020 ). The use of such photos enables people to reveal actual traits of themselves, but also to make themselves appear more attractive than they potentially are (Sedgewick et al., 2017 ; Gale and Lewis, 2020 ). People can also use symbolic self-made photos to create a desirable impression of themselves in potential romantic partners, for example photos of groups of nice, laughing people, pets, flowers, a beautiful garden, an elegant apartment, tourist attractions, dangerous environments, sporting events, or full bookshelves (Krämer and Winter, 2008 ; Piazza and Bering, 2009 ). Online dating is not only increasing rapidly among young adults, but also among the older population (Smith, 2016 ; Morris, 2021 ). Through dating apps, photos play an increasingly important role in mate selection, which played a central role in the evolution of human cognition (Miller, 2001 ). When photos are used in dating and courtship, there is also the characteristic connection between emotionally positive information and the processing of uncertainty (Berger and Calabrese, 1975 ; Knobloch and Solomon, 1999 ), addressed above. In this context, the positive information concerns one's own attractive properties. Uncertainty is associated with one's search, and potential negative outcomes of establishing relationships with people one does not know from face-to-face encounters.

The Mental Utilization Hypothesis of Photography

We propose that the success of smartphones as well as photography is based on core human mental mechanisms which are primarily related to the social domain. Photography exploits evolved cognitive and social predispositions. In this sense, our framework is a mental exploitation hypothesis, analogous to the Sensory Exploitation Hypothesis in evolutionary biology (e.g., Ryan, 1990 ). This hypothesis states that new preferences evolve along established pre-existing sensory biases and response tendencies, such as primates owing their social and/or sexual preference for red to their old predilection for this color, which usually indicates ripe fruits (Ghazanfar and Santos, 2004 ).

Sensory biases and preferences also play an important role in photography-related behaviors. The visual channel provides information, which is converted into, or affects, mental representations. In our framework, however, the focus is on a higher, more integrated level of processing, on which those mechanisms and functions are organized that control the mental representation of the world and flexibly adapt social behavior. In connection with photography, the term exploitation may have a negative connotation, such as photographers exploiting the people in front of the camera (e.g., Sontag, 1978 ). For this reason, we refer to our framework as the mental utilization hypothesis of photography. It suggests that photography fits the nature of human perception and mental processing like a key fits its lock.

Photography as a Coping Strategy

Along to the four levels of Tinbergen, our analysis of photography-related behaviors suggests that people take and use photos to cope with certain stressful and threatening events in specific ways. The conceptualization of photography as a coping strategy is counterintuitive against the background that people usually like to take photos and generally take, share and own photos of events associated with happiness, pleasure, love, or success (Chalfen, 1987 ; Sharples et al., 2003 ; Hu et al., 2014 ). Individuals who take or use such photos, we propose, experience a pleasant situation, but are also—non-consciously—exposed to threatening information or uncertainty. As examples, we mentioned the mother who photographs her 6-year-old son, the lonely hiker, and the man who is afraid of flying. Taking and using photos allows people to search for, and engage, in emotionally positive information. Successful coping through photography-related behaviors reduces complexity, uncertainty, and anxiety. Coping, or the exercise of cognitive control, does not have to be exclusively reactive, but can also be carried out proactively (Bandura, 1997 ). Coping through taking and using photos has features that can be described on a continuous scale, with reactive coping at one end and proactive coping at the other.

People use photography not only to cope with events with generally positive emotional value, but also in coping with negative events. For example, traffic accidents, high-rise fires or other disasters tend to lure in bystanders and onlookers taking smartphone photos of the scene or of the victims (Vollmuth, 2017 ; Newton, 2019 ). There is no research on the motives which drive such photography-related behaviors. They may be similar to the motives which make people watch horror or crime films (Bartsch and Mares, 2014 ). What people see confronts them with something extremely meaningful—threats that exist in the world, their own mortality and vulnerability (Arndt et al., 1997 ). Most of these bystanding photographers immediately share their products. Taking and sharing the photos, we suggest, enable people to make sense of threatening events to get along with them, but also use them to push their own importance and prestige within their networks.

Has Photography Become a Human Universal?

Several researchers discussed the creation and use of representational pictures as human universal (Deacon, 2006 ; Donald, 2006 ; Dutton, 2009 ). The creation of realistic visual pictures appeared more than 30,000-years ago and some of them have been preserved on cave walls (Guthrie, 2005 ; White et al., 2018 ). Photography, in connection with digital technology and smartphones, has made it possible for everyone to create, own, and share realistic pictures easily and effortlessly and to integrate such pictures in everyday life. Based on our analysis and statistical data (Statista, 2019 ; Carrington, 2020 ; Kemp, 2021 ), we conclude that taking, viewing, and sharing photos through the use of smartphones has become a human universal—a “new” universal, according to Brown's ( 1991 ) classification—that is based on context-sensitive predispositions, particularly connected with the radically social human nature, and differentiates itself in the societal domain (Kotrschal, 2019 ). Photography not only classifies as a human universal, but also as a unique human feature not shared with any other animal species—not only because other species lack the technical means of photography, but before all, they seem to lack the motivation and mental mechanisms behind the typical human urge to capture the world in images. We conclude that photography is closely matching the unique construction of the human mind and qualifies as a feature of human nature, i.e., the Conditio humana (Arendt, 1958 ; Kotrschal, 2019 ).

Figure 3 summarizes the conditions, components, and abilities that have made photography a human universal as proposed by the mental utilization hypothesis of photography. One element of Figure 3 relates to the specific social contexts and environmental features that generate photography-related behaviors, as suggested by the evolutionary building blocks of photography. They are (1) coexistence in large, complexly structured societies; (2) frequent encounters with strangers, the outcome of which is often difficult to predict; (3) strong mutual observation of behavior; (4) individuals' well-being and prosperity depend on judgments by strangers; (5) requirement to display one's own status symbolically in public; (6) continuous confrontation with the news of success or profit, as well as disaster, illness, or death; (7) large number of potential sexual or reproductive partners among strangers; (8) individuals have to make far-reaching decisions about their future lives; (9) requirement of communication with absent or distant people; and (10) requirement of quick communication with strangers across cultural or linguistic boundaries.

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The Mental Utilization Hypothesis of Photography. The schematic illustration shows the proposed conditions, components, and abilities that made photography a human universal. An arrow means “provides the basis for” or “leads to”.

Limitations

The analysis of a particular behavior on the basis of the four levels of Tinbergen requires the integration of findings from a range of disciplines. Despite the referenced mechanisms and functions of taking photos, which represent the present state of knowledge, our conclusions remain necessarily speculative—because of the preliminary nature of all scientific results, because of the inherent pitfalls of attempting to integrate such diverse results into a comprehensive synthesis, and due to the space constraints of a journal article. In addition, there are very few empirical findings on taking photos, and they come only from the Western world. Thus, we may underestimate the cultural diversity in photography, although we are quite confident that the behavioral core is based on human nature, and therefore, should in principle, apply to all people. Within our conceptual frame we describe taking and using photos as functional outcomes of cognitive and social adaptations. It could certainly be argued that the success of photography is ultimately a byproduct of the accessibility, affordability and success of smartphones and social media, which results from marketing activities of powerful companies. But this is a different level argument not contradicting our utilization hypothesis. Our analysis of photography-related behaviors as coping strategies creates a picture of photography in which the benefits are generally greater than the cognitive and social costs, which also explains why photography became such a sweeping worldwide success once the smartphone technology became available.

The goal of producing an image that supports memory only plays a subordinate role in our description of photography-related behaviors. In this respect, our framework differs from explanations that describe the production of memory pictures as a central function of photography (Milgram, 1976 ; Kahneman, 2011 ; Frohlich et al., 2013 ; Henkel, 2014 ). These explanations are consistent with the fact that many people stated the retention of memories, when asked about the purpose of photographing (Chalfen, 1987 ; Kindberg et al., 2005 ; Broekhuijsen et al., 2017 ; Lee, 2018 ). Empirical findings, however, show that people lose many photos they have taken or never look at them again (Kirk et al., 2006 ; Whittaker et al., 2010 ). Furthermore, the experimental studies on the question of whether taking or seeing photos improves people's ability to remember past events produced a multitude of different and sometimes contradicting results (for review, see Foley, 2020 ). This was one of the incentives for us to attempt a new synthesis within an evolutionary theory frame.

Testable Predictions for Future Research

As shown in Table 2 , the mental utilization theory of photography allows generating a number of testable predictions. Ideally, these would be tackled by experimental and behavioral field studies in natural environments, in both everyday and lab situations. Rapidly developing mobile techniques (such as EEG headsets, eye-tracking devices, etc.) open up new possibilities for the investigation of the attention structures and specific cognitive mechanisms involved in taking and using photos.

A sample of testable predictions along the 4 levels of Tinbergen based on the mental utilization hypothesis of photography.

We position viewing, sharing, and using personal photos within the coherent theory of the evolution of life and human nature. On the basis of the four levels of Tinbergen ( 1963 ), we developed a theoretical framework that describes the characteristics of photos and photography-related behaviors, including potential adaptative values related to the evolutionary functional domains of coping, well-being, social connectedness, courtship, and mating. We hypothesized that people take or use photos in contexts in which a pleasant event is coupled with uncertainty or with the processing of threatening information, and that people generally use photography as a coping strategy. Based on our analysis, we propose the Mental Utilization Hypothesis that explains the success of photography by its match with core human mental mechanisms, which characterize human nature.

The proposed hypothesis provides a novel conceptual framework, potentially useful in devising future experimental studies of photography. Despite the global ubiquity of photos, there is still almost no research into the cognitive mechanisms underlying photo taking. Investigations into the courtship or mating functions of photography are still limited to the explicit use of photos in online dating, but these functions are more fundamental and embracing. Studies regarding evolutionary functions of photography are particularly desirable. Important findings could be gained through comparisons between cultures, subcultures and sociological strata, gender and age classes. Important questions in such comparisons could be whether social prestige and social, occupational, or reproductive success can be linked with photography. Is photography an addition to existing social and sexual behavior or is it part of a socio-sexual change which compensates for or replaces previous behaviors or customs? Does it have “emergent properties” not found in its constituent elements? Last but not least, our description of taking and using photos as a coping strategy provides a comprehensive theoretical basis for new experimental research into the application of photography in psychotherapeutic contexts. With photography, people developed a new means of representing experiences and ideas through pictures with special characteristics, the understanding of which requires a minimum of effort and cultural knowledge. We are creatures in an increasingly complex social world for whom and in which these pictures open up powerful possibilities for action, but also for feeling at home and safe.

Data Availability Statement

Author contributions.

All authors listed have made a substantial, direct and intellectual contribution to the work, and approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Acknowledgments

The authors thank the reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions. They also thank Jenna Hicken for personal assistance in translating the manuscript.

Funding. This project was supported by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF): W1262-B29.

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PrepScholar

Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 113 great research paper topics.

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General Education

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One of the hardest parts of writing a research paper can be just finding a good topic to write about. Fortunately we've done the hard work for you and have compiled a list of 113 interesting research paper topics. They've been organized into ten categories and cover a wide range of subjects so you can easily find the best topic for you.

In addition to the list of good research topics, we've included advice on what makes a good research paper topic and how you can use your topic to start writing a great paper.

What Makes a Good Research Paper Topic?

Not all research paper topics are created equal, and you want to make sure you choose a great topic before you start writing. Below are the three most important factors to consider to make sure you choose the best research paper topics.

#1: It's Something You're Interested In

A paper is always easier to write if you're interested in the topic, and you'll be more motivated to do in-depth research and write a paper that really covers the entire subject. Even if a certain research paper topic is getting a lot of buzz right now or other people seem interested in writing about it, don't feel tempted to make it your topic unless you genuinely have some sort of interest in it as well.

#2: There's Enough Information to Write a Paper

Even if you come up with the absolute best research paper topic and you're so excited to write about it, you won't be able to produce a good paper if there isn't enough research about the topic. This can happen for very specific or specialized topics, as well as topics that are too new to have enough research done on them at the moment. Easy research paper topics will always be topics with enough information to write a full-length paper.

Trying to write a research paper on a topic that doesn't have much research on it is incredibly hard, so before you decide on a topic, do a bit of preliminary searching and make sure you'll have all the information you need to write your paper.

#3: It Fits Your Teacher's Guidelines

Don't get so carried away looking at lists of research paper topics that you forget any requirements or restrictions your teacher may have put on research topic ideas. If you're writing a research paper on a health-related topic, deciding to write about the impact of rap on the music scene probably won't be allowed, but there may be some sort of leeway. For example, if you're really interested in current events but your teacher wants you to write a research paper on a history topic, you may be able to choose a topic that fits both categories, like exploring the relationship between the US and North Korea. No matter what, always get your research paper topic approved by your teacher first before you begin writing.

113 Good Research Paper Topics

Below are 113 good research topics to help you get you started on your paper. We've organized them into ten categories to make it easier to find the type of research paper topics you're looking for.

Arts/Culture

  • Discuss the main differences in art from the Italian Renaissance and the Northern Renaissance .
  • Analyze the impact a famous artist had on the world.
  • How is sexism portrayed in different types of media (music, film, video games, etc.)? Has the amount/type of sexism changed over the years?
  • How has the music of slaves brought over from Africa shaped modern American music?
  • How has rap music evolved in the past decade?
  • How has the portrayal of minorities in the media changed?

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Current Events

  • What have been the impacts of China's one child policy?
  • How have the goals of feminists changed over the decades?
  • How has the Trump presidency changed international relations?
  • Analyze the history of the relationship between the United States and North Korea.
  • What factors contributed to the current decline in the rate of unemployment?
  • What have been the impacts of states which have increased their minimum wage?
  • How do US immigration laws compare to immigration laws of other countries?
  • How have the US's immigration laws changed in the past few years/decades?
  • How has the Black Lives Matter movement affected discussions and view about racism in the US?
  • What impact has the Affordable Care Act had on healthcare in the US?
  • What factors contributed to the UK deciding to leave the EU (Brexit)?
  • What factors contributed to China becoming an economic power?
  • Discuss the history of Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies  (some of which tokenize the S&P 500 Index on the blockchain) .
  • Do students in schools that eliminate grades do better in college and their careers?
  • Do students from wealthier backgrounds score higher on standardized tests?
  • Do students who receive free meals at school get higher grades compared to when they weren't receiving a free meal?
  • Do students who attend charter schools score higher on standardized tests than students in public schools?
  • Do students learn better in same-sex classrooms?
  • How does giving each student access to an iPad or laptop affect their studies?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks of the Montessori Method ?
  • Do children who attend preschool do better in school later on?
  • What was the impact of the No Child Left Behind act?
  • How does the US education system compare to education systems in other countries?
  • What impact does mandatory physical education classes have on students' health?
  • Which methods are most effective at reducing bullying in schools?
  • Do homeschoolers who attend college do as well as students who attended traditional schools?
  • Does offering tenure increase or decrease quality of teaching?
  • How does college debt affect future life choices of students?
  • Should graduate students be able to form unions?

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  • What are different ways to lower gun-related deaths in the US?
  • How and why have divorce rates changed over time?
  • Is affirmative action still necessary in education and/or the workplace?
  • Should physician-assisted suicide be legal?
  • How has stem cell research impacted the medical field?
  • How can human trafficking be reduced in the United States/world?
  • Should people be able to donate organs in exchange for money?
  • Which types of juvenile punishment have proven most effective at preventing future crimes?
  • Has the increase in US airport security made passengers safer?
  • Analyze the immigration policies of certain countries and how they are similar and different from one another.
  • Several states have legalized recreational marijuana. What positive and negative impacts have they experienced as a result?
  • Do tariffs increase the number of domestic jobs?
  • Which prison reforms have proven most effective?
  • Should governments be able to censor certain information on the internet?
  • Which methods/programs have been most effective at reducing teen pregnancy?
  • What are the benefits and drawbacks of the Keto diet?
  • How effective are different exercise regimes for losing weight and maintaining weight loss?
  • How do the healthcare plans of various countries differ from each other?
  • What are the most effective ways to treat depression ?
  • What are the pros and cons of genetically modified foods?
  • Which methods are most effective for improving memory?
  • What can be done to lower healthcare costs in the US?
  • What factors contributed to the current opioid crisis?
  • Analyze the history and impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic .
  • Are low-carbohydrate or low-fat diets more effective for weight loss?
  • How much exercise should the average adult be getting each week?
  • Which methods are most effective to get parents to vaccinate their children?
  • What are the pros and cons of clean needle programs?
  • How does stress affect the body?
  • Discuss the history of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
  • What were the causes and effects of the Salem Witch Trials?
  • Who was responsible for the Iran-Contra situation?
  • How has New Orleans and the government's response to natural disasters changed since Hurricane Katrina?
  • What events led to the fall of the Roman Empire?
  • What were the impacts of British rule in India ?
  • Was the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki necessary?
  • What were the successes and failures of the women's suffrage movement in the United States?
  • What were the causes of the Civil War?
  • How did Abraham Lincoln's assassination impact the country and reconstruction after the Civil War?
  • Which factors contributed to the colonies winning the American Revolution?
  • What caused Hitler's rise to power?
  • Discuss how a specific invention impacted history.
  • What led to Cleopatra's fall as ruler of Egypt?
  • How has Japan changed and evolved over the centuries?
  • What were the causes of the Rwandan genocide ?

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  • Why did Martin Luther decide to split with the Catholic Church?
  • Analyze the history and impact of a well-known cult (Jonestown, Manson family, etc.)
  • How did the sexual abuse scandal impact how people view the Catholic Church?
  • How has the Catholic church's power changed over the past decades/centuries?
  • What are the causes behind the rise in atheism/ agnosticism in the United States?
  • What were the influences in Siddhartha's life resulted in him becoming the Buddha?
  • How has media portrayal of Islam/Muslims changed since September 11th?

Science/Environment

  • How has the earth's climate changed in the past few decades?
  • How has the use and elimination of DDT affected bird populations in the US?
  • Analyze how the number and severity of natural disasters have increased in the past few decades.
  • Analyze deforestation rates in a certain area or globally over a period of time.
  • How have past oil spills changed regulations and cleanup methods?
  • How has the Flint water crisis changed water regulation safety?
  • What are the pros and cons of fracking?
  • What impact has the Paris Climate Agreement had so far?
  • What have NASA's biggest successes and failures been?
  • How can we improve access to clean water around the world?
  • Does ecotourism actually have a positive impact on the environment?
  • Should the US rely on nuclear energy more?
  • What can be done to save amphibian species currently at risk of extinction?
  • What impact has climate change had on coral reefs?
  • How are black holes created?
  • Are teens who spend more time on social media more likely to suffer anxiety and/or depression?
  • How will the loss of net neutrality affect internet users?
  • Analyze the history and progress of self-driving vehicles.
  • How has the use of drones changed surveillance and warfare methods?
  • Has social media made people more or less connected?
  • What progress has currently been made with artificial intelligence ?
  • Do smartphones increase or decrease workplace productivity?
  • What are the most effective ways to use technology in the classroom?
  • How is Google search affecting our intelligence?
  • When is the best age for a child to begin owning a smartphone?
  • Has frequent texting reduced teen literacy rates?

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How to Write a Great Research Paper

Even great research paper topics won't give you a great research paper if you don't hone your topic before and during the writing process. Follow these three tips to turn good research paper topics into great papers.

#1: Figure Out Your Thesis Early

Before you start writing a single word of your paper, you first need to know what your thesis will be. Your thesis is a statement that explains what you intend to prove/show in your paper. Every sentence in your research paper will relate back to your thesis, so you don't want to start writing without it!

As some examples, if you're writing a research paper on if students learn better in same-sex classrooms, your thesis might be "Research has shown that elementary-age students in same-sex classrooms score higher on standardized tests and report feeling more comfortable in the classroom."

If you're writing a paper on the causes of the Civil War, your thesis might be "While the dispute between the North and South over slavery is the most well-known cause of the Civil War, other key causes include differences in the economies of the North and South, states' rights, and territorial expansion."

#2: Back Every Statement Up With Research

Remember, this is a research paper you're writing, so you'll need to use lots of research to make your points. Every statement you give must be backed up with research, properly cited the way your teacher requested. You're allowed to include opinions of your own, but they must also be supported by the research you give.

#3: Do Your Research Before You Begin Writing

You don't want to start writing your research paper and then learn that there isn't enough research to back up the points you're making, or, even worse, that the research contradicts the points you're trying to make!

Get most of your research on your good research topics done before you begin writing. Then use the research you've collected to create a rough outline of what your paper will cover and the key points you're going to make. This will help keep your paper clear and organized, and it'll ensure you have enough research to produce a strong paper.

What's Next?

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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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The Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research

19 Photography as a Research Method

Gunilla Holm, Institute of Behavioural Sciences, University of Helsinki

  • Published: 04 August 2014
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This chapter discusses the development of photography as a research method in social sciences. It describes the different types of photographs used, such as archival photographs and photographs taken by the researcher, and it focuses especially on photographs taken by participants. The uses of different approaches to obtain photographs and issues of interest concerning each approach are presented. The most common approaches to analyze photographs, such as content analysis, discourse analysis, and ethnographic analysis are described. Interesting and challenging questions about the interpretation and presentation of photographs are raised, such as the impact of the researcher’s and participants’ habitus on the interpretation of photographs. Finally, ethical issues in research using photographs are considered, especially the meaning of informed consent and confidentiality in photographic research is emphasized.

We encounter numerous photographs or visual pictures many times every day. They might range from photos on billboards to mug shots in a newspaper or photos of family members on a person’s work desk. We notice and process most of them on a superficial level, but some have more of an impact on us. They affect us more profoundly, emotionally or intellectually. Overall, our culture is becoming more and more visual, with images saturating our environment not only through the more traditional modes like TV, newspapers, and magazines, but also through smartphones with cameras and social media like Facebook. Despite living in a visual age ( Gombrich, 1996 ) and the visual saturation of our culture, photographs are underutilized in social science research.

This chapter explores how photography has been used in social science research and what the current developments are. Commonly, we refer to visual methods and visual research, but here we can distinguish between two major kinds, namely, film/video research and research using photography. Within both fields are many different ways of using videos and still photos. For example, with regard to video, the researcher can do the videotaping, but in recent research family members also act as co-researchers, videotaping another family member at home in the absence of the researcher ( Sahlström, Pörn, & Slotte-Lüttge, 2008 ). Likewise, for photography, photos can be taken by the researcher or the research participants or existing photographs can be used. Videos and photographs require different kinds of analyses and are reported in different ways. Although there is a considerable variety and complexity of work arising from the two methods, in this chapter I give an in-depth discussion only of the use of photographs in social science research.

Even though some thought that digital photography might be the end of photography, it simply changed photography and made it even more popular. Mirzoeff (2009 , pp. 2–3) estimates that there are “more than 3 billion photos on the file-sharing site Flickr, and over 4 billion on the social networking site Facebook... Media estimates of the number of advertisements seen per day range from hundreds to the now widely used figure of 3,000”; furthermore, Mirzoeff estimates that in 2008, people took 478 billion photos using their mobile phones (p. 250).

The emphasis on visual images and on visual culture is also evident in the numerous textbooks on visual culture produced in the last fifteen years. A classic text in social sciences first published in 1999 is Evans and Hall’s Visual Culture: The Reader ( Evans & Hall, 2010 ). The book theorizes photography and provides theoretical perspectives on it, as well as providing a gender and race perspective on photographs. The difference between a visual and a textual research culture is well expressed by Kress and van Leeuwen (2006 , p. 2) in their statement “(b)ut even when we can express what seem to be the same meanings in either image—form or writing or speech, they will be realized differently. For instance, what is expressed in language through the choice between different word classes and clause structures, may, in visual communication, be expressed through the choice between different uses of colour or different compositional structures. And this will affect meaning. Expressing something verbally or visually makes a difference.” This difference is important in visual research. Different data and different results are obtained through different ways of doing the research. The search for a better understanding has led to a rapid increase in the use of photography in social science research. The visual culture research includes many different kinds of visuals, such as art pictures, graphs, and maps (for a comprehensive overview of different kinds of visuals, see Margolis & Pauwels, 2011 ; Reavey, 2011 ).

There has been a proliferation of books on general visual research methods including those by Emmison and Smith (2007) , Margolis and Pauwels (2011) , Mitchell (2011) , Reavey (2011) , Spencer (2011) , and Stanczak (2007) , as well as methodology books such those by as Pink (2007) and Rose (2012) . Likewise, much has been published on specific aspects of visual research, such as visual ethnography ( Pink, 2012 ) and the analysis of visual data ( Ball & Smith, 1992 ; Banks, 2007 ). We also see the increasing popularity of visual research methods in social sciences; in addition to journals like Visual Anthropology, Visual Anthropology Review, Visual communication, and Visual Studies , many other journals now also publish photographs. In addition, the Society for Visual Anthropology and the International Visual Sociology Association provide avenues and conferences for presenting visual research.

Across the social sciences, photography as a research method has a long history in fields such as anthropology and sociology, but it is fairly new to psychology and education. However, in sociology, photography continues to hold a marginal position, mainly because it is considered too subjective. In anthropology, film has been more important. Harper (2004) describes gathering information as a function for photography in social sciences. Here he uses Bateson and Mead’s book Balinese Character, A Photographic Essay (1942) as an example; these researchers “used 759 photographs (selected from more than 25 000 taken during their fieldwork) to support and develop their ethnographic analysis” ( Harper, 2004 , p. 232). In his discussion of photography in sociology, Harper describes photography as being used mostly with the researcher as the photographer. A similar tendency can be seen in anthropology. Although earlier anthropologists and sociologists like Collier and Collier (1986) , Prosser (1996) , and Grady (1996) wanted to make photography fit into a “scientific” framework by providing exact methods for how to use photographs in research, contemporary ethnographers like Pink (2007) reject this approach. Pink argues for developing the way photography is used in research based on the questions and context of the study. The method can develop in the field, and she does not see the text as superior to the photographs, but as complementary and working together.

The field of psychology has engaged with photographs throughout its history, starting with Darwin’s use of photographs in his work. “A historical analysis of the role of the visual within psychology can reveal its instrumental effects in providing the context for ‘the psychological’ to become observable and therefore, measurable and more ‘scientific’” ( Reavey, 2011 , p. 2). As Reavey (2011) points out in her book Visual Methods in Psychology , qualitative research in psychology is a marginal field. The use of visual methods is thus at the margins of a marginal field of study. Contributing to this marginality, according to Reavey (p. xxvii), is the notion that photography as a method has been considered more appropriate for “use with children and those deemed less ‘able’ to communicate thoughts and feelings... In this sense, the ‘visual’ has traditionally been given the status of a naïve or more simplistic form of communication.” Overall, qualitative research in psychology has focused on language- and text-based materials. In experimental psychology, photos are sometimes used as material for memorization or evaluation tasks ( Mavica & Barenholtz, 2012 ; Mandal, Bryden, & Bulman-Fleming, 1996 ). In psychology related to health, education, and similar fields, there is some research using photography as a method (e.g., Brazg, Bekemeier, Spigner, & Huebner, 2011 ; Clements, 2012 ), but a search of psychology databases gives very few studies using photography.

In education, photos have been used in archival research related to, for example, school and space ( Grosvenor, Lawn, Nóvoa, Rousmaniere, & Smaller, 2004 ) and schooling and the marginalized ( Devlieger, Grosvenor, Simon, Van Hove, & Vanobbergen, 2008 ; Grosvenor, 2007 a ; 2007b ). Photography has also been used with preschool children to obtain an understanding of the children’s perceptions of their own surroundings and communities ( Clark & Moss, 2001 ; Einarsdottir, 2005 ; Serriere, 2010 ). The photographs are helpful especially if the children’s language is not yet well developed ( Clark, 2004 ; Prosser & Burke, 2008 ). Other examples of research in education using photography as a research method are studies focusing on elementary school students’ views on school and gender issues ( Newman, Woodcock, & Dunham, 2006 ) and on high school students’ views on quality teachers ( Marquez-Zenkov, Harmon, van Lier, & Marquez-Zenkov, 2007 ) as well as on themselves as high school students ( Holm, 1995 ; 1997 ). Lodge (2009) argues that children and youth are often not heard in research on schools, but that photography offers possibilities for engaging young people in the research. She sees photography as especially useful for engaging those usually silenced or marginalized in the school community (See also Wilson et al., 2007 , on the empowerment of students). Joanou (2009) points out that there are increased ethical considerations when working with marginalized groups of children, using as an example her study on children living and working on the streets in Lima.

Using photography in research with children is the fastest growing application of its kind. Most of this research is done in relation to the school setting, but research is also done on children’s perspectives on, for example, their outdoor environment ( Clark, 2007 ) and their city ( Ho, Rochelle, & Yuen, 2011 ). Others discuss more generally the topic of using photography with children ranging from two years old to teenagers and children’s photographic behavior ( Sharples, Davison, Thomas, & Rudman, 2003 ; Stephenson, 2009 ; Warming, 2011 ).

In this chapter, I discuss photography as a research method, review the different types of photographs used in research (e.g., archival photographs, photographs taken by the researcher), and focus especially on photographs taken by participants. The uses of different approaches to obtain photographs and issues of interest concerning each approach will be presented. The most common approaches used to analyze photographs are briefly described, and interesting and challenging questions about the interpretation and presentation of photographs are raised. Finally, ethical issues in research using photographs are considered.

Photography as a Research Method in Qualitative Research

In this chapter, a distinction is made between images and photographs. As stated earlier with regard to visual culture, images can also include such things as artwork, cartoons, drawings, and maps. In research studies, children are often asked to draw pictures on which interviews are then based ( Ganesh, 2011 ). Drawings in combination with texts focused on schooling were also the focus of Holm’s (1994) analysis of the teen magazine Seventeen (1966–89). In this study, the text and drawings placing an emphasis on how girls should behave and look made a strong counternarrative with regard to the importance of education for girls. The emphasis was on conforming to norms, on being stylish and pleasing, and on not challenging or upsetting male students. Skorapa (1994) analyzes how cartoons about schooling can either challenge or perpetuate stereotypes and the dominant ideology of schooling. Cartoons are not only amusing, but also often deal with cultural tensions, changes, and conflicts ( Provenzo & Beonde, 1994 ).

In 1997, Jipson and Paley (1997 a ) published an unusual book called Daredevil Research: Re-creating Analytic Practice in which several of the chapters on postmodern research challenge our notions of how research should be reported. Many of the chapters incorporate or build on visual images. In Paley’s (1997) chapter “Neither Literal nor Conceptual,” the text blends with abstract black-and-white images. In another chapter by Jipson and Paley (1994 b ), text blocks are imposed in the middle of the pages, which in turn are a map of the space. In yet another chapter, the text itself constitutes an image by being written in one to four interweaving curving columns ( Jipson & Wilson, 1997 ). Although we rarely see this kind of experimenting with the use of visual images, these examples and other more arts-based visual research (see e.g., Knowles & Cole, 2008 ; Jipson & Paley, 1997 c ) provide a sense of the endless possibilities of using images. Furthermore, photography itself provides a lot of options; the kinds and uses of photographs are numerous. Due to the myriad of possibilities and the increasingly common use of photography, this chapter is limited to the use of photography in social science research.

One of the difficulties in using photography as a research method is the ambiguity that exists in photographs. Although photographs traditionally were thought of as portraying reality—the simple truth—this is no longer the case among researchers, even though many viewers still consider photographs as showing the truth. We acknowledge that photographs are constructed; they are made. Harper (2004) argues that this construction and subjectivity can be seen very clearly in photographs by early British anthropologists because they are all taken from the colonizers’ perspective. Interestingly, Chaplin (1996) argues that photographs are both taken and made as opposed to just made or constructed. They are taken in the sense that they give researchers the information and details they need, more like a record or a document, but the researcher also makes decisions on what to photograph and how to set it up and process it.

The photographer always has a reason for taking the photograph. There is an intention behind the photograph. The photographer wants to see something in particular or wants to send us a “message.” If the photographer is also a participant in the research, then the intended communication is connected to the researcher’s intentions as well. The researcher also influences the process by having selected a particular photo to be viewed by others. Consequently, there is also the intended audience; for whom is the photo taken? And, finally, there are the individual viewers. Photographers and researchers have their aims and intentions, but they cannot influence or control how the viewer interprets the photo. Sometimes the intended audience is only the researcher, and most of the photos will be seen and analyzed only by the researcher. These photographs are taken exclusively for the research and the researcher.

Whatever the case, without an accompanying text, many photographs can carry multiple meanings for the viewer ( Evans & Hall, 2010 ; see also Grosvenor & Hall, 2012 ). The possibility for multiple meanings and the ambiguity attached to photographs has made many, especially positivist, researchers uncomfortable with using or accepting photographs in books and articles. A good example of this is the disappearance of photos from the American Journal of Sociology under the direction of positivist editor Albion Small, even though the journal earlier had published numerous articles with photographs ( Stasz, 1979 ).

Photographs as Illustrations or for Documentary Purposes

Photography can be considered a data collection method, but not all photographs are used as data to be analyzed. The most common uses for photographs in social science research have been as illustrations and documentation. Documentary photography has a long history in fields like anthropology and sociology, as discussed earlier, but also in fields like history, where archival photographs are often used. In cultural studies, a good example of historical analysis of documentary photographs is Steet’s (2000) study of the construction of the Arab world in the magazine National Geographic . She analyzes one hundred years of photographs in the magazine, visually (and textually) constructing men and women as well as patriarchy and Orientalism in the Arab world. In contrast to Steet’s extensive material, Magno and Kirk (2008) analyzed only three photographs when examining how development agencies use photos of girls to promote their agencies’ work concerning the education of girls. However, they used an elaborate analysis template with seven categories: surface meaning, narrative, intended meaning, ideological meaning, oppositional reading, and coherency (coherency meaning in this case whether the photographs and the text argued for the same thing). Banks (2007 , p. 11) explains the difference between using photographs as illustrations and as anthropological visual research in that photographs as illustrations “are not subject to any particular analysis in the written text, nor does the author claim to have gained any particular insights as a result of taking or viewing the images.”

Wang (1999) describes a nontraditional approach to documentary photography as underpinning the photo-voice method. She sees photo-voice as theoretically grounded in critical consciousness and feminist theory and as an effort by “community photographers and participatory educators to challenge assumptions about representation and documentary authorship” (p. 185). Photo-voice is an approach to using photography as a method for collecting data that is merged with social activism and political change, and particularly with community involvement. The main goals of photo-voice are, according to Wang, Cash and Powers (2000 , p. 82) “(a) to enable people to record and reflect their community’s strengths and concerns, (b) to promote critical dialogue and knowledge about important community issues through large and small group discussion of photographs, and (c) to reach policy makers and people who can be mobilized for change.” Wang has used this approach mostly for health-related research. Other researchers, like Duits (2010) , claim to use photo-voice but without the community improvement goal; these kind of studies more closely resemble participatory photography research.

Archival Photos

Many archival photos were originally taken for documentary or illustrative purposes. The most frequent use of archival photos is in some form of historical research. Today, digital archives are becoming common, making it easier to search for particular kinds of photos. However, it is also very demanding to work with thousands of photos on a particular topic ( Park, Mitchell, & de Lange, 2007 ). Photos are commonly of interest in newspaper or magazine research because they often are perceived as documenting or illustrating “objective” reality or providing evidence of historical events. For example, Martins (2009) includes a couple of photographs in her study of deaf pupils in a boarding school, illustrating and providing “proof” of the kinds of exercises the pupils had to do. A similar use of photos can be seen in Amsing and de Beer’s (2009) article on the intelligence testing of children with mental disabilities. Photos of the test and a testing situation show the reader “how things were done” in the testing of these children. However, in contemporary historical research, photos are critically examined with regard to how they construct an argument in interaction with the text in a particular context. Grosvenor and Hall (2012 , p. 26) emphasize the importance of examining archival photos in relation to the text when creating meaning because “(w)ords when used with images can anchor meanings; change the words and the original meaning can be displaced, even though the image that it captures remain the same.” A common problem with archival photos is that they are anonymous, in the sense that nothing is known about them; neither the photographer’s intentions nor the context in which they are taken ( Martin & Martin, 2004 ). Hence, the use of these kinds of photos for research is limited.

Photo albums are also a form of private or family archives. Because family albums and photos are very familiar to us as researchers, it is important to be aware of one’s own notions and constructions of families, of what one sees as a “normal family.” A reflexive approach is necessary so that the researcher does not impose his or her own views of families on the interpretation of albums. These kind of albums also bring forth an ethical issue, since photos often contain images of family members and other people who have not given permission for their photos to be part of a research project ( Allnutt, Mitchell, & Stuart, 2007 ).

Collier and Collier (1986) describe documentary photographs as “precise records of material reality.” Photographs document the world for further analysis at a later stage. However, Collier and Collier argue that many anthropologists have used photographs as illustrations but not as documentary data for research. Most anthropology and sociology researchers have themselves been photographers and often these photographs have been taken as illustrations or for documentary purposes.

Photographs Taken by Researchers

Traditionally, photographic surveys (see Collier & Collier, 1986 ) of, for example, visual aspects of workplaces or institutions were used as a way to systematically document and produce material to analyze so that the researcher could draw conclusions about working conditions, types of work, and the like. As Pink (2007) points out, the photos taken in these kinds of surveys do not say anything about whether the objects or physical surroundings are meaningful to participants or what meaning they hold for participants. In this case, the researchers decide on what they find interesting or potentially important enough to photograph. Photographs taken by researchers can also be used in photo-elicitation interviews, but, even so, it is still the researcher who sets the tone for what is important to discuss. It becomes the researcher’s interpretation of “reality” that is considered important and analyzed. In a well-known context, the researcher can provide both descriptive meaning as well as stories about each object (see Riggins, 1994 ), and this can make researcher-produced photographs very valuable for understanding processes. For example, Mitchell and Allnutt (2008 , p. 267) describe how it is possible in photo documentary research to follow “social transitions or change by identifying shifts in material objects, dress, and so on.” Rieger (2011) calls the study of social change “rephotography” and suggests it for studying social change with regard to places, participants, processes, or activities. Hence, in this way, detailed photographic surveys produce data to be analyzed rather than photographs for documentary and illustrative purposes.

There is no agreement on what the best approach is for researchers to take photos in the research setting. Some argue that by taking photographs immediately, at the beginning of the study when entering the scene, the camera can function as an opening device to create contact with the participants. Others argue that it is necessary for participants to get to know the researcher first, in order for them to feel comfortable with the camera and with being photographed.

Photographs Taken by Participants

Having participants take photographs, also called participatory photography , is the most frequently used photography method in social sciences today. Photographs taken by the participants for the purpose of, for example, photo-elicitation interviews encourage the participants to take a more active role in the research by indicating what is meaningful for them to discuss in the interview. It also gives participants more control over the interview ( Clark-Ibáñez, 2004 ; Majumdar, 2011 ). Some researchers prefer to call this type of photography, in which participants construct and take the photos, photo production ( Majumdar, 2011 ; Reavey, 2011 ). Radley (2011) points out that photos produced by participants also allow for interviewing about the circumstances of the production, which will give a more comprehensive insight into the participants’ intentions. However, even if the participants produce the photographs, the researcher’s presence is evident because the participants take the photos for the purpose of the research. In this chapter, I am not making a distinction between photographic interviews and photo-elicitation interviews. Most researchers less familiar with participatory photography tend to use the term photo-elicitation interviews as covering all kinds of participatory photography. The focus here is instead on the issues surfacing in participatory photography.

Clear instructions about the purpose of the research and the photographs need to be given to participating photographers. Even so, participants often deviate from the instructions. In a study in England on young people’s constructions of self and the connection to consumer goods, they were supposed to photograph goods they considered important. Instead, they all photographed mostly their friends. Hence, the participants redefined their task ( Croghan, Griffin, Hunter, & Phoenix, 2008 ). Commonly, participants are asked to take photos during the study, but frequently they contribute photos that were taken previously, but which they think exemplify the topic. For example, in a study of language minority ninth graders’ perceptions of their identifications and belonging to the Swedish language minority group in Finland, we ( Holm, Londen, & Mansikka, 2014 ) found this to be common. Because the study was done in the fall, they found it difficult to photograph some things they thought were important for their identification. Therefore, they brought in many photos of, for example, flowers and parties taken in the summer that they believed exemplified being part of the language minority group (Figures 19.1 and 19.2 ).

 The flowers portray the beautiful Swedish language.

The flowers portray the beautiful Swedish language.

 Crayfish is something we eat with our friends. We always do it with Swedish-speaking Finns.

Crayfish is something we eat with our friends. We always do it with Swedish-speaking Finns.

Likewise, participants most often are asked to be the photographers themselves, but it is quite common for participants to ask others to take photos of them as well. In a study with doctoral students about what it means to be a doctoral student, several students asked others to photograph them instead, or they used previously taken photos in which they themselves were included ( Holm, 2008 a ). The photo in Figure 19.3 is taken by a friend of a student who is a participating doctoral student.

The time of the year influences the study in other ways as well. Especially in countries with dark, gloomy winter weather, wintertime photo projects will produce more indoor photos and dark, gray outdoor photos. In a study on elementary students’ perceptions of what community means to them and what their community consists of, the children took many outdoor photos of friends, their homes, and family cars, but the days when they happened to have a camera were overcast winter days. The indoor photos of their classrooms, schoolmates, and teachers are also quite gloomy despite the smiling faces. Hence, looked on out of context, there is a somewhat downcast mood over the photos even though their neighborhood is a very lush, green one with a vibrant street and porch life in the summer. Consequently, photos taken in summertime would have looked much more upbeat and cheery (Figures 19.4 and 19.5 ).

 Photo of a doctoral student taken by a friend.

Photo of a doctoral student taken by a friend.

 The time of year affects how photographs may look; this classroom photo was taken during the wintertime, which gives it a gloomy look.

The time of year affects how photographs may look; this classroom photo was taken during the wintertime, which gives it a gloomy look.

The importance of clearly communicating to the participants in multiple ways the purpose of the research and the participants’ task cannot be overemphasized. The study of students’ perceptions of the meaning of community and their own community was originally a comparative study between a school in the United States and a school in Finland. The students in Finland were Finnish speakers attending an English-language school, and the researcher was American. The students understood that their task was to photograph their school community instead of their community in general, which resulted in photographs mostly of their friends at school.

 Outdoor wintertime scenes may hide the true nature of an environment.

Outdoor wintertime scenes may hide the true nature of an environment.

A weak common verbal language can also be overcome if participants express themselves through photographs. Veintie and Holm (2010) did a study of how Indigenous teacher education students from three different tribes thought of knowledge and learning in an intercultural bilingual teacher education institute in Ecuadorian Amazonia. Spanish was the common language, but it was also the second or third language for everybody. To ease the limitations for the students to express Indigenous thinking about these concepts in Spanish, the students took photographs that were then used as the basis for interviews. As researchers, we assumed that many photos about learning and knowledge would be related to schools and the teacher education institute because they were very prominent in the small community. Instead, the photographs portraying learning always involved people and actions and were mostly taken in the community (see Figure 19.6 ). In interviews, students also explained that learning is not given, but that learners are given the opportunities to observe and practice what is to be learned. Students also expressed knowledge as lived knowledge. Therefore, many students could not participate in the study because their families and homes were too far away to be photographed. Knowledge was grounded in their communities and their ancestors. The school-based photographs were only a small part of the pictures showing learning and knowledge. Instead, learning and knowledge were based on social interaction. Images like books, newspapers, internet, and television were completely absent because they held no meaning and were not present in the students’ lives. These aspects of knowing and learning would have most likely not emerged if the students would have only been interviewed.

Ethical Issues in Participatory Photography

Access to research sites for qualitative and especially ethnographic research can be difficult. Many institutional review boards (IRBs) and sites like workplaces, schools, and organizations are cautious about providing access, particularly to vulnerable populations like children and the ill. The very openness of the qualitative, ethnographic design may raise concerns. It is impossible to know in advance exactly what questions will be asked or what situations will be observed. Likewise, the analysis may be perceived as being too open and imprecise. These issues are often amplified with regard to including photography as a research method. The cautiousness is justified because the risks are higher when participants can be identified. There is no confidentiality if a photograph includes a person’s face. If the researcher is also the photographer, there is of course more control over what will be photographed, and the researcher can use his or her ethical judgment in each situation and refrain from taking photographs that could potentially harm or compromise participants or the research site. Conversely, if the participants are the photographers very clear instructions can be given about what should be photographed, but there is no guarantee that participant photographers will keep to the topic or particular settings. It then becomes the responsibility of the researcher to exclude potentially harmful or compromising photographs from being published or publically presented.

 An Ecuadorian student’s photo of an object that represents community knowledge and learning.

An Ecuadorian student’s photo of an object that represents community knowledge and learning.

Getting official permission and access is a first step, but securing informed consent from participants or the people who participants include in their photographs can be complicated. It is difficult to know if participants fully understand how their own photographs or the photographs of others might be used later. Publishing photographs in a book is easier to grasp, but the lack of control over photos on websites or explaining that they might be shown and discussed in conferences across the world is more complicated. Institutional review boards seem to perceive the risks for taking advantage of children as lower if the children themselves take the pictures ( Holm, 2008b ), which means that it is somewhat easier to get IRB approval for these kinds of studies. However, children taking photographs requires informed consent from guardians, beyond the informed assent of the children themselves. Involving children means more difficulties in gathering guardians’ consent and children’s assent forms. In most studies, some guardians will not give their consent despite their children wanting to participate; conversely, some guardians will give their consent but their children will not want to participate. One way to avoid having to exclude children who want to participate is to make the photography assignment part of a school or organization project in which all children participate, but only those with their guardian’s permission participate in the actual research.

Guardians are a form of gatekeepers, but more unpredictable gatekeepers are institutions such as schools, day care facilities, hospitals, and businesses or organizations. For example, in an ethnographic study of a school for pregnant and parenting teenage girls, the girls were going to photograph their lives as pregnant and/or parenting teenagers. However, after the study was set up, the school principal suddenly decided that the girls could not take photos of any males or of their children in diapers or taking baths. This restricted the girls so much that, in the end, they mostly took photos of each other posing at school. The restrictions were understandable, because there were several fights in school about the fathers of the babies (e.g., one man had fathered three children with three different girls) or the girls’ boyfriends who sometimes switched from one girl to another. Likewise, the restriction about not taking nude pictures of babies was understandable because the principal wanted to protect the babies from potential abuse, especially in light of the fact that several girls had themselves been abused in different ways. However, the restrictions were imposed on the girls without an explanation of why the rules had suddenly changed. These kinds of rules imposed from above reinforced the general management and control attitude of the school with regard to the girls’ schooling ( Holm, 1995 ).

Certain studies are difficult to do without the participants acting as co-researchers/photographers. Janhonen-Abruquah (2010) studied the daily transnational lives of immigrant women. The women kept photographic diaries of their everyday mundane activities, revealing the importance of cross-border communication between women in extended families living in different parts of the world. The women decided on what and who they photographed. Due to the often fairly private family situations portrayed, Janhonen-Abruquah decided to blur the faces in the photographs to protect the participants’ identities (Figure 19.7 ). This allowed photos of people to be used without obtaining permissions from everybody included, which would have been difficult for the women to do. However, if someone familiar with the women reads the study, it might be possible for him or her to recognize people in the photos based on surroundings or other features. Although this is a feasible way to deal with a difficult situation, it also objectifies the people in the photographs ( Wiles, Prosser, Bagnoli, Clark, Davies, Holland & Renold 2008 ) and makes them more remote and less interesting. Conversely, the alternative is not to use any photos, but merely describe them. In Newman, Woodcock, and Dunham’s (2006) study on bullying it was also essential to blur or box out faces to protect the children, but the photographs still give a sense of the bullying that gives additional information and understanding compared to a mere written description.

A similar situation emerged in the study of elementary school students’ sense of community. They had to take their own photos because much of their community was located at home, centered around their families, pets, toys, and bedrooms—places not accessible to the researcher.

 Researcher (right) discussing with a research participant (left).

Researcher (right) discussing with a research participant (left).

Preparations for Participatory Ethnography

Even though many people have some experience with cameras and photography, it is useful to have a session before the project to talk about the basics of photography. Even taking photographs for a research purpose requires some planning. For example, it might be useful to talk about how light and colors influence how a photograph is perceived (see Holm, 2008a ). Likewise, it is useful to talk about literal and metaphorical photos. How does one take photographs of abstract or missing things? Can the photographers manipulate their photos, now that it is fairly easily done if they have access to computers? Can the photographers bring an unlimited number of photographs, or do they have to pick a certain number of the most important ones? How will the participants deliver their photos to the researcher?

The issue of manipulation is no more important when using photography as a data collection method than in using other methods in qualitative research. Unethical researchers can always manipulate data. Interview and observation sections can be left out as easily as photographs are left unanalyzed. However, all manipulation is not the same. If it is the participants who manipulate/edit their own photographs, it could also be considered part of the data. Unedited and edited photographs could, for example, be compared to study differences between the current and desired situations. The difference between posing for a photo where clothing, pose, expression, and surroundings are arranged and editing a photograph can be marginal. They are both ways of arranging the photo to convey an intended message. The researcher manipulating photos for the purpose of misrepresentation is a very different issue. With digital photography, the total number of photos can become unmanageable. In a study in four countries on consumer behaviors of poor people, the group of researchers took 10,400 photos but analyzed only 612. In these kinds of cases, the question arises of why exactly these 612 were selected for analysis ( Lindeman et al., 2010 ). A detailed description of the elimination process would help dispel thoughts of manipulation due to the selection of certain photos.

If a group of people are to take photographs, a brainstorming session is useful at the beginning of the project in which participants generate ideas about what kinds of things might be possible to photograph. This is not about telling participants what to photograph but rather to encourage them to explore as a group possibilities for constructing and producing photos related to the research theme ( Holm et al., 2014 ). In the study on doctoral students’ perceptions of their studies mentioned earlier, we did not have a brainstorming session. When students as a group viewed everybody’s photos, there was real disappointment that they had not thought about photographing certain themes they considered very important. They also discovered that, as a group, they had forgotten certain themes altogether, such as the importance of fellow doctoral students, seminars, and professors. In other words, they were so overwhelmed by the life outside the university that, in most cases, they forgot to photograph the actual university scene ( Holm, 2008 a ).

Photography works well as a method for research and advocacy using the kind of concrete portrayal/documentation of problems used in photo-voice. Many researchers argue that young people are especially comfortable with and knowledgeable about photography. Many also argue that it is easier for young people and children to photograph and then discuss difficult and complicated issues. Especially when dealing with less verbal students or students with another first language, photography might be a good method ( Cremin, Mason, & Busher, 2011 ; Lodge, 2009 ; Sensoy, 2011 ; Wilson et al., 2007 ).

Habitus and Metaphorical Photographs

Bourdieu (1990 a ; 1990b ) and Sweetman (2009) also argue that photography can be used for exploring abstract and difficult-to-grasp concepts like habitus. Following their claims that photography is a possible way to explore habitus, we ( Holm et al., 2014 ) set out to study the habitus of Swedish-language minority speaking teenagers in Finland. How do these teenagers see themselves as being a member of a language minority group, and how do they perceive the entire group? The photos they took can be divided into two kinds. One kind was of literal depictions of Swedish-speaking theaters, newspapers, street signs, and the like (Figure 19.8 ).

The other kind was metaphorical photos showing, for example, being a minority group member, community, togetherness, feeling threatened, and being worried about the future of the language group (Figures 19.9–11 ).

Interestingly, in interviews, students had difficulty explaining what it means to belong to a language minority group. They had focused mostly on the language, whereas with the photos, they brought forth a variety of different aspects. In the photos, the language was just one aspect among many. The students also tended to use photographs of nature for their metaphorical visual statements. They often said in interviews that language minority members stick together and that they have a sense of belonging. In the photos, this was expressed through nature, as in Figures 19.12 and 19.13 .

The students photographed more deep-seated thoughts about the group’s future and stereotypes about the group, as well as their attachment to nature and the archipelago where many of their families originated. Likewise, Croghan, Griffin, Hunter, and Phoenix (2008) found that young people took photographs of sensitive issues related to their identity positions such as religion and race, issues that were not brought forth in interviews.

 A literal photograph. One can understand both languages; street signs are in both Finnish and Swedish.

A literal photograph. One can understand both languages; street signs are in both Finnish and Swedish.

 A metaphorical photograph showing the proportion of Swedes to Finns in Finland.

A metaphorical photograph showing the proportion of Swedes to Finns in Finland.

This kind of literal and metaphorical division can also be seen in photos taken by Palestinian children and youth living in refugee camps in Lebanon ( Mikander, 2010 ). They took photos to show what their lives are like. In this case, too, the children and the researcher had no common language. Here, too, there were many photos portraying their thinking, habits, and ways of being. An example of a literal photo isone of a living room wall. Interestingly, in this case, the viewer’s eye is drawn to the picture of Yasser Arafat, but the child who took the photo took it to show the hole in the wall. She wanted to show how they continue to live without permanent wiring, as if their housing was temporary (Figure 19.14 ).

 A metaphorical photograph; Finland-Swedes are melting away slowly in Finland.

A metaphorical photograph; Finland-Swedes are melting away slowly in Finland.

 Finland-Swedes are like trees in a storm. Often we just bend, but if it is storming too hard we will break.

Finland-Swedes are like trees in a storm. Often we just bend, but if it is storming too hard we will break.

 I think this little path is like the Finland-Swedes, all the rest around are the others in Finland.

I think this little path is like the Finland-Swedes, all the rest around are the others in Finland.

 A lone swan in the big sea like a Finland-Swede.

A lone swan in the big sea like a Finland-Swede.

In Palestine, young people’s ways of thinking about their future can best be told through a series of photographs of a burning cigarette (Figure 19.15 ). They start out with full lives, with seemingly a lot of possibilities and hope. Their lives shrink with age and in a metaphorical way stop when they finish school because they do not have opportunities for further education. Dreams about future families are also hampered by the severe housing shortage. Hence, their life prospects are very limited.

Other abstract aspects of life, like absence, seem to be more difficult to photograph. In a study in which doctoral students photographed their lives as doctoral students, four photos of four different students’ families were very similar, but depicted different things. One was a Chinese wedding picture; another of a Korean mother, father, and child; a third one of a Ugandan mother with four children; and the fourth one of an American father with two children. In all photos, the people looked happy. Without an accompanying text, it was impossible to know how different their intended messages were. The American photo indicated that, for this doctoral student, her husband and children were her first priority even if the doctoral studies require much of her time. However, all the other photos indicated that the international students were studying alone in the United States and were missing their families, which had remained in their home countries. Hence, the question for them had been “How do you photograph the absence of someone?”Many of the issues, like ethical questions and habitus, brought up here in relation to participatory photography are also important for other kinds of photography in social sciences. However, they are often brought to the forefront in participatory photography because the participants are in charge of taking the photographs.

Analysis and Interpretation

No one “best” specific method exists for analyzing or interpreting photographs. In social science studies, most researchers use the same methods for photographs as for text. Early books on visual research methods (see, e.g., Collier & Collier, 1986 ) tended to give fairly precise instructions on how to organize, categorize, and compare photos in order to be able to conduct a good analysis. All researchers have to organize and group their photographs in some way, especially when we talk about hundreds and thousands of digital photos. However, researchers develop their own styles, often in connection with how they analyze their textual data. Many researchers use various software programs to organize photos; others group them by hand. However, categorizing or grouping photos is just a beginning, as with textual data. According to Harper (2003 , p. 195), taking and analyzing photographs is aided by theory, just as when collecting and analyzing any other kind of material. He also sees photographs as helping to build theory by forcing us to look at specific things in the field or to confirm theory. “Indeed, the power of the photo lies in its ability to unlock the subjectivity of those who see the image differently from the researcher.” Theory, the researcher’s own and the participants’ previous knowledge and experiences, previous research, and the participants’ descriptions of the photographs all contribute to an understanding of the photographs.

 A Palestinian child’s photograph of a wall in her home; although the eye is drawn to the picture of Yasser Arafat, the child’s focus is on the hole in the wall.

A Palestinian child’s photograph of a wall in her home; although the eye is drawn to the picture of Yasser Arafat, the child’s focus is on the hole in the wall.

How the analysis of photographs is done is not discussed much, if at all, in most research reports and visual research books, even though Ball and Smith wrote about analyzing visual data already in 1992. However, there is literature on various kinds of content analysis, iconography, semiotic analyses, and interpretive and other methods (see, e.g., Margolis & Pawels, 2011 ; Rose, 2012) . As Spencer (2011) points out, how a research study is designed, data collected, and results understood depends on the underlying paradigm. Therefore some researchers simply state that a study was analyzed based on a particular paradigm.

Content Analysis

A mostly quantitative content analysis is used for large numbers of photographs because it gives basic information about the frequencies of certain types of photos, on the basis of which various comparisons can be made. Rose (2012) gives fairly detailed steps to be followed to conduct a reliable content analysis. She emphasizes a careful selection of images and rigorous coding. However, Rose cautions that a high frequency count does not mean that the occurrence is necessarily important. In addition, frequencies neither indicate how strongly a photo exemplifies a category nor anything about the mood of photos. The intentions of the photographer are also excluded from a content analysis. Even though the analysis is quantitative, there is also a qualitative element in the interpretation of the frequencies and the presentation of the results.

Margolis and Rowe (2011) describe their use of a grounded theory approach to content analysis, which differs substantially from the one discussed by Rose. In their approach, the coding is theoretically based, which also allows them to pay attention to absent categories. Their categories overlapped, as opposed to the usual requirement of mutually exclusivity, and they also expanded the number of categories, as well as merged categories during the analysis.

 The life opportunities of a youth in Palestine are metaphorically depicted as a burning cigarette.

The life opportunities of a youth in Palestine are metaphorically depicted as a burning cigarette.

Discourse Analysis

In popular culture studies, as well as in other social science research, various forms of discourse analyses are used in the analysis of photographs in relation to text. There is no specific visual discourse analysis, but Spencer analyzes specific images as examples of the use of discourse analysis. Rose (2012 , p. 195) makes a distinction between discourse analysis (DA) I and (DA) II, describing DA I as paying “rather more attention to the notion of discourse as articulated through various kinds of visual images and verbal texts than it does to the practices entailed by specific discourses.” Discourse analysis II she describes as working “with similar sorts of material, but is much more concerned with their production by, and their reiteration of, particular institutions and their practices, and their production of particular human subjects” (p. 227). Rose gives highly detailed and in-depth descriptions, with examples of how to conduct these kinds of discourse analyses. However, here it can be useful to remember that there are many different ways of doing discourse analysis (e.g., see Laclau & Mouffe, 1985 ).

Ethnographic Analysis

Many researchers use some kind of interpretivist analysis without being specific about it. Pink (2007 , p. 117) summarizes the ethnographic approach very well:

The academic meanings that ethnographers give to visual images are also arbitrary and are constructed in relation to particular methodological and theoretical agendas. Individual researchers classify and give meanings to ethnographic images in relation to the academic culture or discipline with which they identify their work. Moreover, ethnographers are themselves subjective readers of ethnographic images and their personal experiences and aspirations also inform the meanings they invest in photographs and videos. A reflexive approach to classifying, analyzing and interpreting visual research materials recognizes both the constructedness of social science categories and the politics of researchers’ personal and academic agendas.

Hence, an ethnographic approach entails using one’s already established or newly developed ways of organizing data. This organization and categorizing or beginning analysis might be quite intuitive and begin in the field. In many cases, the field and academic work intersect on a weekly basis, which influences how the researcher sees the data. In the academic setting, photographs are interpreted more closely from particular paradigms and theoretical frameworks and thus receive different meanings than in the field. In this kind of ethnographic approach, text and photographs are equally important and interact and inform the understanding of each other, as well as the relations between the two. The categorization in this approach differs from earlier approaches (see Collier & Collier, 1986 ) in that photos might be grouped in several different ways. They can, for example, be grouped according to the content, symbolic meaning, or origins of the photographers. Neither is the sequential order in which the photographs are taken necessarily important for the analysis because the photographers’ or participants’ thinking might not be linear. Rather, the way participants think about the way the photographs connect to themselves and their worlds might be more important.

At times, text and photographs might produce different but connected stories. Harper (2004 , p. 232) describes, with regard to Agee and Evan’s work on sharecroppers during the Depression, how the text and photos are juxtaposed and where “neither form repeats or replaces each other. Rather they develop in tandem.” In my research on the schooling of teenage mothers, the photos told the story of happy, playful girls posing alone or with other girls, but always without children. This was the story they wanted to show to outsiders. The text, on the other hand, told the story of the girls’ more private thoughts about their unhappy childhoods of abuse and abandonment, as well as their worries about being young mothers, often without any support network. Together, the two stories give a much fuller view of the girls than either one separately ( Holm, 1995 ).

Issues in Interpretation

The context of the production of the photos can be important. In our study of minority language teenagers’ perceptions of their own identifications, the geographical region in which they lived and produced their photos was closely tied to their identifications. Likewise, the larger societal context with regard to the general standing of the language minority group turned out to influence how worried the teenagers were about the future of the entire group. The academic context in which the photos are interpreted produces interpretations different from the ones in the field.

The interpretation of the photos will always vary somewhat from person to person depending on previous experiences. An interesting question arising here is how much the researcher needs to know and understand of the context in which the photo is taken. How much of the historical context do we need to understand in order to interpret archival photos? On one level, we can of course make some sense of photos of people living in difficult circumstances (as, for instance, during the Depression), but without the knowledge of this historical context our interpretation will be very superficial. Likewise, how much of the context do we need to know and understand of the participants who have taken photographs?

As researchers, we found in our study of the Swedish-speaking students’ photographs (see earlier description of the study; Holm et al., 2014 ) that having a habitus similar to the participating photographers facilitated the understanding of their photographs. Metaphorical photographs were especially easier to interpret. For example, photographs of the feeling of being harassed or that the future is somewhat insecure for the minority group immediately rang a bell in us. We had all had that feeling or experience at one point, although in different settings. Figure 19.16 shows the sun disappearing like the Swedish language is doing according to the student, and this feeling of doom is familiar to all Finland-Swedes, like the participants and the researchers in this case, who live in areas where the Finnish language is dominant. Without the text (or without an interview about the photos), this photo would simply be a photo of a beautiful sunset. Outsiders would get some sense of the situation from the text, but for the researchers living in the same societal context, the photo immediately brings to mind the larger debates about abolishing compulsory Swedish-language instruction from schools, hostile comments by members of an anti-Swedish (and anti-immigration) party, personal comments that Swedish speakers should emigrate to Sweden, and the like. Hence, knowing the societal context helps the researchers to more fully understand the deep thinking of the student taking the photo.

 Swedish is disappearing from Finland (photo taken by Eva, a student participant).

Swedish is disappearing from Finland (photo taken by Eva, a student participant).

In analyzing and interpreting photographs taken by participants, it is important to pay attention to photographs not taken as well, since they can be important. They can be missing because it is too difficult or painful to find ways of showing one’s thoughts, as Frith (2011) found in her study of women in chemotherapy who did not have enough energy to take photographs when they were feeling most ill. Other issues might be too intimate or sensitive. Missing photos can also be due to restrictions placed on the participating photographers by gatekeepers ( Holm, 1997 ).

There are numerous books about different kinds of analyses of photographs and visual data in general. However, most researchers do not recount in their articles what kind of analysis has been used. In the methods section of articles, researchers discuss what kind of data was collected and how it was collected, but few proceed to discuss what was done with the data after it was collected. Mostly, the data were “analyzed.” Some use phrases like photographs “can be read,” “in line with the social constructionist paradigm,” “we looked for salient patterns/images/issues,” and the like. The reason for this lack of discussion about the actual analysis might be that there is not one specific approach and that the field is relatively new for many researchers. Many researchers treat photos in the same way as verbal texts, but often not even basic information is provided about how this was done. Some researchers mention that photographs were categorized, but usually there is nothing more explicitly said about the analysis or interpretation.

Presentation of Research Using Photography as a Research Method

In social science studies, the most common way to present research using photography is still to translate most of the photographs into text, although more journals are willing to publish a few photographs as part of an article. However, only journals like Visual Studies, Critique of Anthropology , and Visual Communication will publish photo-essays in which most of the article consists of photos accompanied by short texts or captions and with the participants’ story ( Banks, 2007 ). There also tend to be more photos in books and book chapters than in journals. Pink (2007) discusses the possibilities of hypermedia presentations both in the form of CD ROM, DVD, and internet-based formats. Hypermedia holds a lot of potential for presenting multimodal data, but, as Pink also points out, has increased risk for manipulation of data that might change the importance and meaning of photographs, even though CD ROM and DVD provide limited access. E-journals are ideal venues because some of them, like Forum: Qualitative Social Research , are open-access journals and publish photography-based articles. Hypermedia online journal articles, like a special issue of Sociological Research Online , edited by Halford and Knowles, go a step further than regular online publishing by including, for example, live video clips. Although some researchers publish their work using photographs on websites, this is not a realistic option—at least not as the only venue—because most researchers today work in institutions requiring publishing in refereed journals.

Ethical Issues in Photography as a Method

Ethical issues have emerged throughout the chapter with regard to gaining access, securing informed consent, and promising confidentiality. Of foremost concern in photographic research is whether participants understand what informed consent means and for what purposes the photographs can be used. Institutional review boards are especially strict with regard to protecting participants from harmful or compromising photographs. However, many argue that it is not possible to foresee all possible situations in advance but that giving consent should be ongoing during the entire study ( Pauwels, 2008 ; Wiles et al., 2012 ). It is possible to produce consent forms in which participants specify what kind of uses they give consent to. For example, some participants may allow their photographs to be used for analysis but not for publication. Other participants might not want anonymity but instead want the viewers to know who they are and/or that they have taken a particular photograph ( Grinyer, 2002 ; Wiles et al., 2008 ), although this is not always possible if others are involved in the study. Conversely, there can be difficulties with photo release forms if someone is suspicious of signing forms ( Banks, 2007 ) or cannot understand the language or meaning of the form.

Ultimately, the researcher must make judgments about ethical issues surfacing during the course of the study. Respecting participants’ rights to refuse to be photographed or to photograph certain things has to be respected at all times. Likewise, it has to be possible to withdraw from the study at any time. In describing the difficulties of taking photos of very poor consumers in four different countries, Lindeman et al. (2010 , p. 9) describe how the fieldworkers were torn about doing what the study required in just a couple of weeks fieldwork or respecting people’s right not to want to be photographed or have their poor homes photographed. “The issue of interfering in peoples’ lives was also present when we wanted to take photos and videos. In principle we always asked for permission before filming or taking pictures, but in some instances we also had to take sneak picture of things of high importance to the research.” In the pressure to collect data quickly, they made poor ethical decisions.

Researchers using previously taken photos as well researchers working with new photos face questions of ownership and copyright ( Pink, 2007 ; Rose, 2012 ). With regard to new photos, some researchers try to prevent potential problems by stating the ownership on the forms for permission to conduct research. This might be a good idea, especially if the participants take the photos and think of them as their own.

Overall, collaborative research in which the photographs are more of a co-production might be a more ethical approach to visual research. Giving copies to and discussing them with the participants whenever possible is also a way to give the participants a better sense of which photos will be used and how they will be used. In using photography as a research method, the one aspect present in all studies and throughout the studies from the beginning to the end is the responsibility of the researcher to make good ethical judgments to produce research that does not harm participants in any way.

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Provenzo, E. F. Jr. , & Beonde, A. ( 1994 ). Educational cartoons as popular culture: The case of the Kappan . In P. Farber , E. F. Provenzo, Jr. , & G. Holm , Schooling in the light of popular culture (pp. 231–247). Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

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Photography Dissertation Topics

Published by Carmen Troy at January 4th, 2023 , Revised On August 11, 2023

If you are an avid photographer and wish to spend your life doing something that you love, which is obviously photography, you must be thinking about pursuing it further. To become an expert and professional photographer, you will need to study it formally. While many people claim that they can become experts without admission to an institution, you must remember that the basic things you learn from an expert teacher and practice it under his guidance will help you understand and explore photography more than your imagination.

Anyhow, if you have made the right decision of being admitted into a photography course, you must be anxious to graduate and practice it professionally. Hold up! You will need to go through one final phase of writing a dissertation.

If you are supposed to write a photography dissertation but do not really know where to start, you can have a look at some of the most exciting and debatable photography topics suggested by experts.

You may also want to start your dissertation by requesting a  brief research proposal  from our writers on any of these topics, which includes an  introduction  to the problem,  research question , aim and objectives,  literature review , along with the proposed  methodology  of research to be conducted. Let us know if you need any help in getting started.

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2022 Photography Dissertation Topics

Topic 1: an evaluation of the impact of digitalisation on the altering conceptions and communication of contemporary photography..

Research Aim: The research aims to evaluate the impact of digitalisation on the altering conceptions and communication of contemporary photography.

Objectives:

  • To analyse the concept of contemporary photography.
  • To evaluate the influence of digitalisation photographic conceptions and communication.
  • To evaluate the impact of digitalisation on the altering conceptions and communication of contemporary photography.

Topic 2: Investigating the influence of digital photography evolution on the photography methods and affinity towards the profession.

Research Aim: The research aims to investigate the influence of digital photography evolution on the photography methods and affinity towards the profession.

  • To analyse the impact of digital tools and technologies on photography as a profession.
  • To identify the evolution in photographic methods and the perceptions towards photography as a profession.
  • To investigate the influence of digital photography evolution on the photography methods and affinity towards the profession.

Topic 3: An evaluation of the present technologies and cultural methods associated with snapshot photography.

Research Aim: The research aims to evaluate the present technologies and cultural methods associated with snapshot photography.

  • To analyse the concept of snapshot photography and identify the available technologies.
  • To evaluate the cultural and social contributions to snapshot photography.
  • To investigate the impact of present technologies and cultural methods on snapshot photography

Topic 4: Evaluating the impact of visual storytelling on the changing landscape of mass media and society.

Research Aim: The research aims to evaluate the impact of visual storytelling on the changing landscape of mass media and society.

  • To analyse the concept of applications of visual storytelling.
  • To examine the alterations in the mass media and societal landscape due to the new forms of photography and presentation.
  • To investigate the impact of visual storytelling on the changing landscape of mass media and society.

Topic 5: An investigation into the impact of mobile technology on the choices of photojournalism and its associated professional values in society.

Research Aim: The research aims to investigate the impact of mobile technology on the choices of photojournalism and its associated professional values in society.

  • To analyse the impact of mobile technology on the scope and extent of photography.
  • To investigate the photojournalism choices of invidious and the accepted professional societal values.
  • To critically evaluate the impact of mobile technology on the choices of photojournalism and its associated professional values in society.

Topic no.1: photojournalism during Arab spring

Research Aim: Arab spring was a series of anti-govt protests that spread all around the Arab countries in the 2010s. The role of photographers was exceptionally crucial at that point when they were continuously informing the world about the ground realities of the conflict. The aim of the research is to study the role of photojournalists in disseminating accurate information during the Arab spring.

Topic no.2: Scope of photography in the age of social media

Research Aim: Photography was a supplementary hobby and interest, but today it is a full-fledged profession that many aspire to pursue. Photography has gained immense importance, especially in the age of the internet, given that it provides many channels for sharing. The main aim of the research would be to examine and evaluate the scope of photography in the age of social media.

Topic no.3: Photography and ethics

Research Aim: No matter what you take as a subject of photography, you must never avoid the basic ethical norms suggested for photography. The aim of the research will be to study different cases in which the photographers followed and violated the ethics to understand the consequences of each regard.

Topic no.4: Photography and the reflection of culture

Research Aim: Each photographer has his own style, which is usually influenced by many things. This research will study culture as one of the determining factors that affect the style of photography. The research will thoroughly explain the reflection of the photographer’s culture in his photography.

Topic no.5: Photography and advanced editing trend

Research Aim: There are many tools that help us make an image more appealing by making significant modifications. The research aims to explore and identify the impact of advanced editing software and tools on the essence of photography.

Topic no.6: Impact of photo manipulation and self-image

Research Aim: Artificial intelligence has gone so far ahead in advancement that it is able to do anything, merely anything. The prompt changes in the physical features while taking photos are exciting, but on the other hand, they are very harmful. People make themselves look appealing through filters, but when they look at themselves, in reality, they lose their self-esteem. The research will aim to study photo manipulation and its impacts on self-image.

Topic no.7: Art of photography in the 1800s

Research Aim: The main aim of the research would be to discover, understand, and evaluate the art of photography in the 1800s. It is evident that photography would be completely different back in those times, but how much different is a question that the research will address.

Also Read: How to Write Dissertation Aims and Objectives?

Topic no.8: Role of director of photography in a movie

Research Aim: When we watch a movie, we heap praises on the actors, story, and songs, but we do not realize the leading individual behind the lens who makes it look the way it does and connect to the audience. If the audience feels emotional, it is the art of camera work that makes a scene emotional, and it goes for all scenes such as dramatic, happy, and anxious.  The main aim of the research is to vastly study the role of the director of photography in a movie.

Topic no.9: Photojournalism during the pandemic

Research Aim: The current pandemic posed severe threats to humans economically, politically, and societaly. People were circumscribed to their homes due to the surging infected toll. The main aim of the research would be to find out how photojournalists documented covid-19.

Topic no.10: Instagram; a photo-sharing medium

Research Aim: The broad aim of the research would be to study and evaluate Instagram as one of the most popular photo-sharing mediums. It will explore and analyze the thriving trends and the nature of images that are considered instagrammable by photographers.

Topic no.11: Photography and storytelling

Research Aim: Photographs are not merely images but are capable of telling stories if they are being taken rightly. The researcher will take a sample of a few images and critically analyze how they are capable of delivering impactful stories. 

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Research Prospect writers can send several custom topic ideas to your email address. Once you have chosen a topic that suits your needs and interests, you can order for our dissertation outline service which will include a brief introduction to the topic, research questions , literature review , methodology , expected results , and conclusion . The dissertation outline will enable you to review the quality of our work before placing the order for our full dissertation writing service !

Topic no.12: Risks of wildlife photography:

Research Aim: While wildlife photography is one of the fascinating types of photography, it requires lots of guts and passion for pursuing. The research will identify the most common problems wildlife photographers face and what security services are offered to the photographers working for an organization.

Topic no.13: Photography vs. painting

Research Aim: The main aim of the research is to compare and contrast photography and painting and figure- out the similarities and differences. It will also determine the best one amongst them with respect to different variables such as depth, story, flexibility, etc.

Topic no.14: Trends in wedding photography

Research Aim: Wedding photography has improved and has become creatively advanced in the last few years. The aim of the research would be to identify and analyze the current trends in wedding photography and forecast the ones for the upcoming years.

Topic no.15: Nature photography:

Research Aim: Nature photography is a vast field that incorporates multiple types. The aim of the research is to study nature photography in detail and explore the features and techniques of each type. 

Topic no.16: Evolution of camera

Research Aim: Nowadays, we use our smartphone cameras; some years back,  digital cameras were commonly used, and in that way, it goes way back to giant cameras. The main of the research would be to critically analyze and evaluate the evolution of the camera over the period of time. 

Topic no.17: Photography lenses and specialties

Research Aim: Lenses are the hearts of cameras, and therefore, cameras are unuseful without lenses. The research will aim to check and evaluate the different types of lenses and offer true insights into their capabilities.

Topic no.18: Improvements required in photography

Research Aim: The research will aim to identify and discuss the major problems in photography that need to be addressed. The researcher can survey different photographers and figure out the improvements that they spire to see in the field of photography.

Topic no.19: Photo manipulation and their repercussions:

Research Aim: Photo alterations and manipulations have become very easy with the different tools and software. They,  on the high levels, are used for political gains and propaganda. The aim of the research would be to explain the repercussions of photo manipulations and alterations. The researcher can conduct case studies to find the most accurate results.

Topic no.20: War photography:

Research Aim: War photography is not less intimidating than wildlife photography; in fact, it is more dangerous. The aim of the research would be to explain photographs taken in war situations. The researcher can pick a couple of different wars from the recent timeline and provide critical analysis.

Conducting photography research can be one of the most exciting things, but when it comes to writing, students become dreadful. But do not worry, we have got your back. Whether you want a section of the dissertation to be written impeccably or the whole of it, we are here. Don’t wait; click here.

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  • Choose a unique and feasible research area.

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Tips And Tricks For Writing A Research Paper On Photography

Tips And Tricks For Writing A Research Paper On Photography

Introduction

Photography is a form of art that is subjective and has a technical side to it as well. It is well known that what pleases the eye for one might fail to make an impression on another. In the same way, the meaning that photography brings to different individuals can be different. If you are about to write a research paper on this topic, you might want to explore the different technical and artistic sides of this profession. Here we take a look at the different approaches you can take or aspects of this subject that you can focus upon in your essay.

Talk about the Focus Topic in the Introduction

As in most essay writing assignments, you would need to gather considerable data on the topic or the focus area you wish to write on. When it comes to photography as a topic, it is best to disclose which sub-topic or angle of the subject you would be writing on. It would be ideal to explain the same in the introduction. That will set the tone for further exploration of the topic in the sections below.

Tips And Tricks For Writing A Research Paper On Photography

Topics can be numerous when it comes to writing on this subject. For instance:

  • Art of taking selfies.
  • Important features of a camera.
  • Latest technology upgrades in cameras.
  • How to take the best pictures with your iPhone.
  • Lightning techniques in photography.
  • How to take up photography as a hobby?

No matter which subject you choose to research and write about, ensure that you do adequate research and have a relevant matter ready. If you are writing on the technical aspects of this profession, you need to cover topics such as the composition of light and its effects on photographs. Also, you need to cover topics such as angles, and use of colors, and how images can evoke different emotions. In each case, you need to supplement with the right examples and appropriate pictures.

Gather Data on Your Chosen Focus Area

If you are writing an essay on a subject such as the history of photography, there are different angles you can choose from. Here we talk about possible angles that could be your subject matter and how you should gather data and compose your essay on the same.

If you are writing on the history of this art form, you would need to get information on the way the technology was invented back in 1839 and follow it down the path of evolution. Indeed, this technology has many changes and advances over time. That is true for the camera and its accessories as well as the style and treatment of the art or a photograph. You could choose to talk about the evolution of lighting angles and artistry in this profession or how styles varied from the era of Realism in the 19th century to Modernism that defines changes in ideas in this art form in the 20th century.

Tips And Tricks For Writing A Research Paper On Photography

Plan Your Approach

When you are writing a research paper, you need to provide a certain perspective or view on the subject matter and support the same with adequate data and findings. For instance, your essay might be on professionals who have made a mark in this art form.

Depending on the depth of the topic and how long your essay needs to be, you can analyze the backgrounds and works of different photographers. For instance, Ansel Adams or Diane Arbus have contributed much to this art and medium. You could also focus on innovators such as George Eastman who is credited with the invention of the Kodak camera, the first model that used films instead of plates for printing photos. Alternatively, you could also look at the influence that the works of some journalists had on historical topics. For instance, how Dorothea Lange produced images of migrant farmers in the times of the Great Depression.

Delving Into Types and Techniques

There are different types of genres in this art form. These include different techniques as well as skill sets. Indeed, you could explore areas such as procedures followed in certain styles and techniques or camera lenses that are used. It could also span across sub-topics such as treatment of light, techniques in the fashion world. You could also explore the styles of this art and how its uses are in advertising.

In case you are looking to help write my research paper you can find many professional essay writing services online for the task. Basic techniques can be explored in such a writing assignment and then move on explaining each sub-topic with depth. For instance, how portrait shots are done or candid shots. Also, the importance of shutter speed, aperture settings, and how the changes can reflect in each shot can be explored as well. In such a subject matter you would need to present images to bring out the differences or show clarity in what is being discussed.

Tips And Tricks For Writing A Research Paper On Photography

Support Your Conclusions with the Right Data

Once you have discussed or explored your chosen subject matter in the beginning and middle part of your essay, you need to provide angles or point out findings that support your perspective. For instance, you might argue that this is more of an art form than a science. Those who study the subject in-depth or take up classes for the profession are also taught about the creative aspects of it. These span across topics such as composition, color, symbolism in different styles and genres.

Alternately, your essay could also explore the use, as well as misuse of the camera by professionals such as journalists, and in both cases, images have shocked and provoked debate, discussions, and so forth. Indeed, images have acted as historical records and evidence over time. This profession in particular has helped document events and produce research materials for diverse fields of education and research.

In such topics, you need to take a stand or support a certain point of view. Accordingly, after presenting both sides, provide stronger evidence that supports the side you wish to uphold. Ensure that you provide adequate evidence through historic data, preferably with the right images. This will help bring your research paper essay to its natural conclusion, which supports your point of view.

Like the treatment of any subject on which you need to write a research paper, this particular subject has many angles or subtopics to consider. It is best that you pick a certain sub-topic and research it. This will then open up different angles around the topic which you can then arrange and represent in your essay. In case you require professional assistance, there are many online essay writing services that you can reach out to.

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Photography as a Medium Research Paper

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Sample Photography as a Medium Research Paper. Browse other  research paper examples and check the list of research paper topics for more inspiration. If you need a research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Feel free to contact our research paper writing service for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.

For over a century and a half, photography has been the most popular and widespread means of making images. The first and primary tool of photography is the camera, and changes in the medium and its applications are often attributed to technical developments in making, reproducing, and distributing photographs. Equally if not more significant, however, have been changes in the ways people think about photography, including ideas about what and how photographs represent, and the roles they have played in social, political, and economic life. This research paper examines developments and conflicts in the idea of photography within a historical framework of changing cultural practice.

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Get 10% off with fall23 discount code, 1. photography’s origins.

The invention of perspective in the fifteenth century laid the foundation for the system of visual representation that became photographic. The camera obscura, used by scientists, artists, and magicians since the Renaissance, is the most important precursor to the camera. By the eighteenth century this device had evolved from a large clumsy apparatus for projecting an image onto a plane surface, to a more portable instrument, used for the curiosity and pleasure of looking at images of all sorts of objects and scenes projected by the lens.

A knowledge of light-sensitive materials was popularly available in Europe by the 1720s, and one of the riddles of photography is why nearly a hundred years passed before this knowledge was applied to fixing the camera obscura’s image. Despite a broad fascination with display forms, such as the diorama, that created illusions of realistic representations of nature, the idea of the photograph as a permanent copy apparently did not exist. Suddenly, in the 1820s a range of experimenters began simultaneously to compete to be the first to successfully fix the photographic image; the desire to photograph had emerged.

Photography’s invention is generally dated to 1839, when breakthroughs were announced nearly simultaneously in France and England. Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre’s induplicable monochrome on a silver-coated copper plate, and William Henry Fox Talbot’s reversed image—the negative—were the first successfully publicized and patented processes. The daguerreotype enjoyed an immediate popularity, setting off a craze which by the end of the year the French press had named ‘daguerreotypomanie.’ Talbot’s calotype system, on the other hand, based on a negative image that could be used to print a potentially infinite number of positives in as many different sizes, laid the foundation for all subsequent developments in photography. The refinement and diffusion of these two systems, alongside many competitors, had an immediate impact on European social life and spread quickly to North America and colonial outposts.

Photographs appeared in many display forms, as cartes-de-visites and stereographs, in albums and as lantern slides, and photography surfaced as a theme in popular music, on the stage, and in artifacts ranging from home furnishings to fashion accessories. Photography as an idea permeated mid-century European popular culture.

2. Early Applications Of The Medium

At the same time that photographic tools and processes were being simplified, an agenda was being established for how the new medium was to be used. This included the people, places, and events represented in photographs and, equally important, who was taking the pictures and who were the intended viewers.

2.1 Photographs Of People

Within months of Daguerre’s announcement, professional portrait studios had sprung up in Paris, and soon studios were established in other major European cities, in New York, and in Washington. From 1860 onward, portraiture expanded to provincial towns, to less industrialized European countries, and to Australia, China, Japan, Mexico, and South America.

The photographic portrait represented a democratization of the painted portrait, and was commissioned first for private use within a family. The rising status of certain photographers led to commissions from men in public life whose positions required an official portrait. Most portraits of individuals followed the strict visual conventions of the painted portrait, a head-and-shoulders composition, with the sitter’s head slightly turned to avoid a direct gaze into the camera. Portraits of family groups were common, and a custom quickly developed of photographically commemorating important events such as weddings and graduations. Photographs of deceased relatives, lying peacefully in their caskets, were also highly valued.

In the 1860s, studios began to turn out millions of inexpensive carte-de-visites, full- or bust-length portraits of workers, tradespeople, members of the bourgeoisie and aristocracy, native people of the colonies. These mass-produced images were often instrumental in establishing the status of a politician or celebrity, and both the French and British royal families permitted the sales of their images as cartes. Through its broad distribution, the carte-de-visite also contributed to forming Western ideals of feminine beauty and fashion, as well as ideas about people from the nonindustrialized parts of the world as exotic and other. The carte craze further generated a surrounding industry of albums and holders for cataloguing and exhibiting the growing image collections.

In 1888 George Eastman launched the first Kodak camera, with the slogan ‘You push the button, we do the rest,’ and immediately opened the practice of photography to a much broader segment of the population. Studio portraiture declined as amateurs began to photograph family and friends. The repertoire of photographic events was also expanded as picture-taking became associated with holidays, family celebrations, and vacation trips. Photographic practice had entered the domestic domain, forming a bridge between personal memory and public history. A hundred years after the first Kodak camera, photography was fully integrated into family social life. In the mid-1980s, for example, over 90 percent of US families owned a still camera and amateurs were taking more than 11 billion photographs a year (Chalfen 1987). The majority of these pictures were of family members and friends and were rarely seen outside that social group. Nonprofessionals’ private photography today accounts for the largest single application of the medium. Studies have shown that people attach enormous value to these images, and losing photographs of family and friends, for example, through fire or war, is often experienced as a greater tragedy than the loss of other material possessions.

2.2 Distant Worlds

The early years of photography coincided with the period of colonial expansion and exploration of newly won territory for the industrializing nations of Europe and North America. Wonders of nature, the dynamic new cityscape and its architecture, and the exotic cultures of distant lands held a fascination and attraction for many. The camera was an ideal tool for showing what was new or previously unknown to an audience eager to marvel over sights they could not see with their own eyes. Photography also opened up new territories for tourism by people who, having seen a place in pictures, now had the desire and means to experience it themselves. A new aesthetic of the landscape also stimulated tourism, as for example when photographs of the rocky Scandinavian coasts brought British and German tourists north in the 1870s (Rosenblum 1984, p. 112).

Photographs of popular European tourist sites, such as the city of Rome and its ruins, were marketed as stereographs. Distant lands of North Africa and the Near East became accessible to the armchair tourists of Europe as early as the 1850s through Francis Frith’s photographs. Frith’s Egypt and Palestine Photo-graphed and Described (1858) was the first of 11 volumes and three sets of stereographs (Rosenblum 1984, p. 122). His work was motivated in part by a concern over growing French influence in the region, and must be seen in the broader context of British expansionist goals of the period. Local Egyptian photographers also opened studios and marketed their work to the growing European fascination with views of the ruins and landscape of the Near East. Similar patterns developed in India and parts of the Far East. By 1884, for example, several thousand native photographers were in business in China, serving both local clients and the Western trade.

In North America, photography was linked to Western expansion. Photographers accompanied survey teams in order to document areas for future mineral exploitation, rail routes, and civilian settlement, at the same time that they were contributing to the visual discourse of the American frontier and its native peoples. The natural wonders of the wilderness, including Niagara Falls, were immensely popular stereographic themes, used in lantern slide shows and collected in albums. This iconography and the photographers who produced it, such as Carleton Watkins and William Henry Jackson, established the grandeur of the mountain landscape as a symbol of transcendent idealism. Their work also contributed to lobbying efforts to establish a national park system in order to save the pristine wilderness from commercial exploitation by private interests.

Nor did the city escape the camera’s gaze. In contrast to images of untouched wilderness and ancient unchanging ways of life, here the focus was on physical transformation. New transport systems, bridges, and buildings made possible by new technologies and materials were transforming the city into a modern metropolis. Urban expansion was a source of national pride, and both governments and private interests supported photographic documentation of the major cities of Europe and North America. Cityscapes in panorama format were especially popular, a parallel to the painted panoramas and dioramas that had emerged as mid-nineteenth century forms of entertainment.

Photography’s prominent and various positions in the emergent discourse of modernity was never more evident than in the world expositions, the late nineteenth century spectacles of science and marketing, combining knowledge and entertainment. Beginning with the Crystal Palace in London in 1851 and followed every few years in Britain, France, and the United States, these major events both symbolized and displayed industrial expansion, made possible by new technologies and materials. Displayed side by side with the symbols of modernity were the exotic products and peoples of the underdeveloped nations, the colonies. At this point in the medium’s development, photography provided an unproblematized means of expanding knowledge of the visible world, and served ‘the general urge in all industrialized societies to measure, describe, and picture the physical substances of all things on earth and in the heavens’ (Rosenblum 1984, p. 140).

3. Concepts Of The Image

Photography’s popularity as a democratic form of self-documentation, intertwined with colonial interests and industrial expansion, point to the camera as a tool that linked seeing and knowledge in new ways. Within the sciences, in the arts, and in social reform movements, distinct and often conflicting visual discourses have developed around the photograph as a source of insight and knowledge. We turn now to the ways of seeing with the camera that were generated within each of these broad fields.

3.1 Photography And Science

Within the discourses of science, photography was to be a witness to scientific observation with greater accuracy than the human eye was capable of. In medicine, photography provided close visual description of the human body, and was an aid in documentation and diagnosis of medical problems and also psychological reactions and mental aberrations. Examples are portrait photographer Professor John William Draper’s book Human Physiology (1856), illustrated with woodcuts based on photographs and Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, also known for his pictorial art photography, who documented women inmates of the Surrey County Asylum. Charles Darwin’s The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals (1872) was illustrated with photographs from a variety of sources. Microscope lenses were developed and the discovery of X-rays by Conrad Wilhelm Roentgen (the 1901 Nobel Prize recipient) led to their immediate use as camera images in medical diagnosis. Motion studies and stop-motion experimentation depended heavily on photographic documentation. Eadward Muybridge’s 100,000 images analyzing movements involved in animal locomotion and a range of human activities (including walking, curtseying, and bricklaying) provided a new if contested way of seeing that also influenced the arts, in particular Cubist and Futurist painters.

Taxonomy was a unifying concept of the nineteenth century scientific paradigm, and studies of the human species were formed by the delineation and elaboration of physical and cultural distinctions. Anthropology became a dominant discourse of explanation, based on historical and biological notions of culture, and relying heavily on comparative taxonomic methods in order to systematically catalogue the world’s peoples (Edwards 1997). Photography was central to the anthropometric systems developed to produce comparable data for analysis and classification. The system used by the distinguished British biologist Thomas H. Huxley for the Colonial Office, for example, involved posing individuals naked with a measuring rod in order to produce ‘a systematic series of photographs of the various races of men comprehended within the British Empire’ (cited in Edwards 1997, p. 56). These studies of human physiogomy, used to expand evolutionary theory, contained a strong moral dimension, concerned with both creating and sustaining the complex system of social knowledge in which the images operated. Variations on the method were applied in hospitals, prisons, and other institutions where photographs of inmates were used to establish and classify social types.

The 1870s and 1880s also brought about an awareness of the contributions photography could make to anthropological fieldwork, by Edward B. Tylor and others. Yet there are few examples of systematic photographic documentation in ethnographic field studies. Early photography of the ways of life of diverse folk groups was most often carried out by missionaries and educators or by artists working in the pictorial tradition. Edward Curtis, Adam Clark Vroman, Robert Flaherty, and Frances Flaherty documented native American tribal life in its positive aspects, romanticizing in particular the close relationship to nature. Nor was it uncommon for ethnographic photographs from the turn of the century of peasant customs made in a pictorialist style to be used to advance the cause of nationalism, as in several Eastern European countries. The most common reference to an ethnographic photography worth emulating is the classic study of Balinese Character (1942) by Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, as the ‘first saturated photographic research in another culture’ (Collier and Collier 1986, p. 12). Visual anthropology at midcentury was more closely associated with documentary film than with photography. Ethnographic photography survived as an ideal, however, despite the general absence of large-scale systematic studies. The British ‘Mass-Observation’ project in the mill towns of northern England in the 1930s, for example, was designed as an ‘objective documentation’ of working class life, in the manner of an anthropological study.

The archive has worked hand in hand with the scientific endeavors of accumulating and systematizing evidence. Seen as a repository of visual knowledge, the archive is related to the ideal of a comprehensive collection of images that together represent the whole (other examples being the family album or collection of carte-deisites). The structure of the archive and its classification system was intended to mirror the physical and social world that the collection represented. Following Michel Foucault’s groundbreaking archeology of the human sciences (1970), museums of natural and cultural history, as well as police, medical, and other archives, can no longer be seen as disinterested institutions that sustain and perpetuate value-free systems of knowledge, but reflect instead the structures of political and economic interests that gave rise to them. The photograph’s evidentiary authority is thus inseparable from the archive as a repository of knowledge and power.

3.2 Photography And Art

Contrary to the idea of the photograph as an objective visual record, it has been argued that photography is inseparable from the Western pictorial tradition. Particularly in its relationship to landscape and nature, photography employed a set of conventions and aesthetic standards theorized by the European concept of the ‘picturesque.’ Emulating themes from the fine arts, many early photographers developed techniques that undermined the sharp literalness of the lens in their aspirations to make images that were at once truthful, beautiful, and inspirational. Exhibiting esthetic photographs in an appropriate context was a paramount goal of the turn-of-the-century Secessionist movements in Europe and the United States, and was important to establishing photography’s status as art. Pictorialism in photography was a synthesis of the realism of the camera image, with frequently formulaic romantic compositions of peasant or working class life.

A complex and uneasy relationship between photography and the fine arts has continued, even as the repertoire of art photography has expanded. This is generally beyond the scope of this research paper, apart from several developments relevant to photography’s relationship to the social sciences. On the one hand, themes drawn from peasant and working class life as well as of non-Western people integrated scientific inquiry with romantic images of an exotic or primitive Other as legitimate subjects of photographic art. On the other hand, attempts in the 1920s to define and explore the characteristics which distinguish photography from other visual arts laid the foundation for a more radical ‘straight’ photography, called New Realism or Neue Sachlichkeit in Europe and North America. The nonmanipulated or spontaneous photograph became a means of exploring and exposing familiar subjects in new ways. These different schools and genres of art photography became more or less systematized as museums began to add photographs to their collections. The Museum of Modern Art in New York is a noteworthy example of a leading museum where a series of influential curators established a vocabulary of photographic practice based on the premises of modernism. By the 1940s, a photographic canon was in place, including a history of art photography with specific artists, works, and genres represented in the museum’s collections (Newhall 1949). Of particular importance to the social sciences was the respect this canon established for the genre of documentary photography as a legitimate form of esthetic practice.

3.3 The Photographer As Engaged Observer

Parallel to their idealized representations of European peasants, from the 1850s onward artists began to be concerned with the social and ethical consequences of industrialization, preparing the way for documentary photography’s role in social reform campaigns. ‘Before’ and ‘after’ images became a staple of reform photography in the 1890s, as evidence of the positive effect the reform school or institution had on its residents. Photographs from the slums of New York (by Jacob Riis) and of child labor conditions (by Lewis Hine) were used to raise the fears and sway the consciences of politicians and a middle-class public. The photography of social reform was closely linked to new means of dissemination: the half-tone process for mass-producing photographs had been developed in the 1890s and a range of new periodicals arose in its wake.

Alongside the popular press’ increased use of photographs after the turn of the century, social reform journals were among the first to recognize photography’s ability to advocate a cause. Here the American Charities and the Commons is noteworthy. The American Journal of Sociology was also using photographs to illustrate articles, for example, on housing conditions. This visual material, often by women who held administrative positions in social action agencies, later declined under Albion Small’s editorship, as the journal aligned itself with sociology’s move to establish itself as a scientific discipline (Stasz 1979).

By the 1920s, documentary photography, as the genre came to be known, was recognized as an effective means of drawing attention to social issues. The best known example of such an effort was the photographers who worked for the US Farm Security Administration (FSA) under the leadership of Roy E. Stryker in the late 1930s, documenting the effects of the depression on rural Americans and the need for government aid. In other cases, photographers used the documentary form to draw attention to marginalized social groups, occasionally drawing on their own experience as members of the culture they documented. One of the clearest ideological expressions of photographers’ identity was the Worker Photography movement, most active in Germany between World Wars I and II. The International Communist Party, convinced that photographs unavoidably reflect the class of the person holding the camera, mobilized workers in a variety of documentary projects and publications. In direct contradiction to a claim of impartiality, this photography based its authority on the photographer’s membership in the group. It can thus be seen as a precursor to anthropology’s interest in indigenous photographers’ images as expressions of their specific cultural perspectives.

The authenticity of the documentary style was based on a complex set of factors. Seldom was the work based on a single photograph, but instead was built up through a series of images witnessing the photographer’s proximity to the subject over an extended time. Despite many exceptions, the images also tend to follow a specific visual code. Straightforward photo- graphs of people, taken in their everyday environment under available light conditions, are the most typical. If the subject appears to be aware of the camera, he or she is usually gazing directly into the lens. The photograph’s claim to truth is based therefore on the seemingly contradictory appeals of the photographer’s simultaneous engagement with and objective distance from the subject.

4. Photography And Mass Society

Closely related to the ways photography has portrayed its subjects is the effect of images on those who see them, the audience. Photography was a mass medium almost from its inception, as the idea of the photograph and the ways it was marketed had a broad and immediate social and cultural impact. The ‘very insatiability of the photographing eye’ and the ‘omnipresence of photographed images’ position the medium in a vortex of complex moral, ethical, political, and esthetic issues. Sontag’s influential book of essays On Photography (1973) brought many of these issues up for debate. Yet the exact nature of the photograph’s appeal and its effect on its viewers has remained elusive. Despite extensive research on photography’s impact on attitudes and behavior, results have been either inconclusive or too context-specific (regarding the viewer’s age and background or the viewing context) to support any general conclusions. What is evident, instead, is a widespread belief in the photograph’s influence which has in turn led to specific applications of the medium based on conceptions of the nature of photographic communication as a highly unstable synthesis of factual information and seductive attraction.

From the 1850s photographs began to be used alongside other illustrations in some magazines, and the widespread application of the half-tone process in the 1890s coincided with the emergence of new audiences in Europe and the United States. Photography was thought to appeal in particular to people who were either nonliterate or had not yet mastered the language of their new country. A new inexpensive illustrated press arose that used photography in often sensational ways, and photographs began to appear in advertising. Political campaigns made extensive use of photography from the 1920s onward, in documentary forms described above, but also in photomontage and posters. The reticence of many newspapers to make extensive use of photography (for example, the morning newspapers ‘of record’ in New York and London) is an exception which nevertheless rests on the same notion of the photograph’s communicative power. The photograph, if seen as an unmediated copy of nature, does not require language or reason to be understood, but appeals instead directly to the emotions. Newspapers and other media that wished to base their appeal on rationality excluded photographs from their pages. Even if an image were manipulated through technical or other means, the message that the audience saw or ‘received’ was accepted as representing reality.

The model of mass communication that emerged first in the United States and dominated research for several decades was based on the notion of communication as a successful ‘transmission’ of a message from an active and powerful source to a passive receiver. The origins of the model and the research it generated can also be traced to growing concern over the power of the media, particularly in the service of political propaganda and the rise of fascism in Europe after World War I. Although only sporadically applied in research on photography, the transmission model of communication served as the underlying framework of explanation of photography’s influence on its audience. The power of images is assumed to be greater, for example on the relatively unformed psyches of children and youth. ‘Moral panics’ continue to pursue the image and its influences, giving rise to research on Hollywood films in the 1930s, on comic books in the 1940s, on television’s effects on children in the 1950s and 1960s, and video games at the turn of the century.

Countering the transmission model of photography’s influence on its audience is the perspective that considers photography as a cultural practice and phenomenon which participates in the construction of power and meaning through the mutual and intertextual establishment of social and political institutions and forms of visual expression. The cultural perspective views the audience not as passive receivers, but as members of a (sub)culture who employ cultural knowledge as they produce, consume, and interpret photographs. The cultural perspective does not deny the power of the media, but rather sets it in a historical, social, or political context, and examines how the media use photographs to address or position the viewer in specific relationships to media content. The perspective shifts the emphasis from an inquiry into photography’s impact on individual or group attitudes and behavior to an examination of the ways photography is used in the construction of meaning, often focusing on social values and the use of stereotypes. The medium has been decisive, for example, in the production of visual representations of gender and gender relations, as revealed in Erving Goffman’s study of advertising (1979). Other studies have demonstrated how media images of women not only establish standards of feminine beauty, but also link the image of the female body to products and services in a process of commodification that objectifies all women (cf. Williamson 1978, Irigaray 1985, Bordo 1993, Solomon-Godeau 1991). Other analyses have provided insights into the formation and perpetuation of stereotypes of race, in advertising but also in the news media, with groundbreaking work carried out at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in Britain in the 1970s.

Issues of media power and influence are also linked to photography through a growing concern over the image’s role in surveillance. Cameras, in addition to their continually expanding position in private life, are used increasingly in both public and commercial spaces for the ostensible purpose of increasing security and preventing crime. Yet the images taken by these cameras also raise issues of the photograph’s potential for restricting, documenting, and controlling individual behavior. As technology extends the capacity to send images over global networks, the specter is raised of expanding spheres of media influence and control that transcend the nation state. At the same time, the interactive aspects of many contemporary media raise the possibility of individual and group autonomy from transnational media content, and the ability of the individual to form and reform images that are sent and received. The cultural impact of these relatively new image technologies is a current topic of debate, particularly with regard to the moral and ethical implications of their distribution and use.

5. Technology And Revisions Of Photographic Meaning

A central question throughout photography’s history is whether the meaning of the photograph is a function of the medium per se and its technical, chemical, and optical relationship to the subject in front of the camera, or is formed instead through the culture which surrounds it. Benjamin described how photographic reproduction and mass distribution irrevocably altered the individual’s encounter with the original, following a more general argument developed within the Frankfort School over the hegemonic power of cultural production in mass society. Yet it was not until the 1970s that a number of theorists began to address the specific problem of photographic meaning, particularly issues related to what and how the photograph represents. Roland Barthes (1977) used a semiotic analysis to unlock the problem of ‘the photographic paradox’: that is, the photograph represents an analogic reproduction of reality or a message without a code, and simultaneously a connotation or coded message, representing what society thinks about the subject. The major task of the denotative aspect of the image, according to Barthes, is to naturalize the cultural, that is, to transform cultural values into a message that can be ‘read’ as self-evident, as nature.

The deconstruction of the camera as a cultural artifact and of photography as deeply informed by culture continued on several parallel fronts. The model of the observer that dominates Western science, defined by the Cartesian perspectivalism and the direct gaze, is encoded in the optical system of the camera. The model thus defines a particular relationship between seeing and knowledge that privileges the authority of this gaze and its representations. This ‘way of seeing’ was critiqued most forcefully in relation to documentary photography for its dehistoricized view of marginalized social groups, a view that in turn established a visual code for representing the Other (Bolton 1989). Because photography has been constructed as a predominantly male practice, reinforced by the observer’s gaze as male, female also becomes Other. Extensions of this critique to the uses of photography in the social sciences have implicated anthropology in particular for constructing its subjects as visually exotic. Related to this phenomenon, as mentioned above, is the institutional gaze, embodied and perpetuated through the archive, the museum, or the press (Tagg 1988).

In the 1970s, anthropologists also began to criticize the use of film and photography in fieldwork. Instead of being informed by anthropological concepts, the Western anthropologist’s visual records reflected ‘his’ own culture, coded through the practices of family photography. Within the subfields of visual anthropology and sociology in the United States and Britain and their influential journals, this insight was variously developed into a broader perspective on photography, film, and media in general as sources for studying the cultural values and perspectives of those who create the images. This in turn supported a shift from image analysis to the study of the social and cultural practices in which photography is embedded. This complemented the critique being directed at the field of anthropology as a whole for perpetuating its colonial heritage through techniques of ‘writing culture’ that represented its subjects as Other (Ruby 1982). Anthropology’s continuing interest in the photography of indigenous peoples and other subcultural groups reflects on the one hand a recognition of photography as a significant source for cultural analysis and on the other, attempts by the field to integrate the anthropological subject’s own understandings into research and reports. Current ethnographic studies of media practices frequently include investigations of how images are interpreted and used by ordinary people. The photographic practices of professionals has been largely neglected, however, apart from the many biographies of well-known photographers and analyses of their work.

Digital techniques of making, reproducing, and transmitting photographs have contributed to undermining the authority of the photograph as analog or direct copy of reality. In the mid-1980s, the digitized image was seen by many, particularly within the press, as a direct challenge to established beliefs about how the photograph represents. Gradually the technique has been integrated into professional and private practices of making and distributing images, stimulating the rise of new media networks. The immediacy of image transfer and the portability of the technology have vastly increased the number of photographs in circulation, including those depicting war and human suffering. Some analysts argue that this phenomenon results in ‘compassion fatigue,’ reducing the moral impact of the image (Moeller 1999). In the meantime, new applications of interactive image technologies are emerging in the arts, in youth culture, and in diasporic communities. The digital transfer of images globally has given rise in some quarters to a utopian vision with the photograph as a cornerstone of a global visual culture. More realistic analyses point to the diversities of culture worldwide and the continued vast inequalities in access to these technologies as critical impediments to a hegemonic visual culture.

Bibliography:

  • Barthes R 1977 Image Music Text. Hill and Wang, New York
  • Bateson G, Mead M 1942 Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis. Special Publications of the New York Academy of Sciences 2, New York
  • Benjamin W 1968 The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. In: Arendt H (ed.) Illuminations. Walter Benjamin. Schocken, New York
  • Bolton R (ed.) 1989 The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA
  • Bordo S 1993 Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA
  • Chalfen R 1987 Snapshot Versions of Life. Bowling Green State University Popular Press, Bowling Green, OH
  • Collier J Jr, Collier M 1986 Visual Anthropology. Photography as a Research Method. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, NM
  • Edwards E (ed.) 1992 Anthropology and Photography, 1860–1920. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT
  • Edwards E 1997 Ordering others: photography, anthropologies and taxonomies. In: Roberts R (ed.) In Visible Light. Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, UK
  • Goffman E 1979 Gender Advertisements. Harper & Row, New York
  • Irigaray L 1985 This Sex which is not One. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY
  • Moeller S 1999 Compassion Fatigue. How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death. Routledge, London
  • Newhall B 1949 1982 The History of Photography: from 1839 to the Present. Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • Rosenblum N 1984 A World History of Photography. Abbeville Press, New York
  • Ruby J (ed.) 1982 A Crack in the Mirror. Reflexive Perspectives in Anthropology. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, PA
  • Solomon-Godeau S 1991 Photography at the Dock: Essays on Photographic History, Institutions, and Practices. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN
  • Sontag S 1973 On Photography. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, London
  • Stasz C 1979 The Early History of Visual Sociology. In: Wagner J (ed.) Images of Information. Sage, Beverly Hills
  • Tagg J 1988 The Burden of Representation. Essays on Photographies and Histories. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA
  • Williamson J 1978 Decoding Advertisements: Ideology and Meaning in Advertising. Marion Boyars, London

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Photography Essay Examples That Will Boost Your Knowledge

Emily Walker

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What an Essay About Photography Should Include

Assignments about photography are great for gauging your writing skills and for the professor to see whether or not you have understood the material taught in class. Unlike other academic projects such as a thesis or dissertation that requires extensive research, an essay about photography involves analyzing a specific image or a collection of photos and coming up with meaningful content. However, just like any other homework, your task must follow the standard structure containing an introduction, body, and conclusion. Remember, a single image can evoke emotion and create a meaningful narrative.

A well-written photo essay will contain the following crucial details:

  • A topic or a theme

Many types of photography can motivate scholars to enroll in such a course. You can be passionate about fashion, street, portrait, or fine art photography. Regardless of where your interest is when it comes to composing top-notch content that will improve your academic performance, you need to base your composition on a specific topic. You can opt to go with a narrative perspective as it helps the writer to focus on storytelling. On the other hand, you can choose a thematic essay that centers on a specific theme or subject.

  • Discern what the artist is conveying

What is great about the power of photography essay is that just like any other form of art, photos are subjective which means, there are so many different angles you can choose to use to defend your argument. By observing the photograph, you can be able to get a lot of information. The trick is to look at compositions, emotions, use of light, angles, and colors used to gather data points that will defend your claims.

  • Support your main points

Use the information you have gathered from the photo as well as visual evidence to prove to your professor why the specific interpretation you have chosen is the correct one. The introduction should capture attention by providing a brief background story of the photographs from which your essay is based on. The body of your paper should defend your main points by pointing out to the specifics of the pictures such as movement, amount of light or lack of it, the use of color, and how the photographer frames the image. The conclusion should reiterate the key issues and summarize the way they prove your claims.

Photography Essay Ideas That Evoke Emotion or Tell a Story

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Good Photography Essay Topics That You Can Use

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Photography as a career Research Paper

The art, science and practice of creating photographs has been one of the most interesting occupations in all history since it plays a pivotal role in preserving priceless memories that have touched people.

The career of photography is often sought after because of its prestige, the love of creating photographs, and the opportunity to immortalize exciting, captivating, or thought provoking events in life. Thus, I chose photography as a profession because of its reputation and my love for taking pictures to represent memorable moments in life.

It is of essence to note that a number of variations exist in the field of photography, for example, self-employment and commercial photographing are just some of the ways one can successfully earn a living as a photographer. Photography is an interesting profession.

In summary, the work of photographers involve generating and saving images which paint a picture, illustrate a tale, or document an occasion, through either using traditional cameras or a digital cameras to record the memorable images.

Traditional cameras store the pictures on silver halide film, which is later reproduced on paper (Ingledew, 194). And, digital cameras overcomes some of the problems of traditional cameras through electronically storing the images and thus enhancing the quality of the pictures to be reproduced (Warren, 215).

After taking the pictures, in most cases, the films are usually taken to the labs for processing and this ensures that the pictures produced are of the highest quality. Color photography, which forms images either as positive transparencies or as color negatives, needs costly apparatus and exacting situations for the precise processing and printing of the images produced by the process.

Other photographers, particularly those who use black and white film or who need special effects, often process the films on their own; however, they should have enough technical experience to operate a fully equipped darkroom or the required computer software for the digital production of the pictures.

Thus, my current major of visual and graphic arts is related to photography in the sense that it will equip me with relevant creative skills in the design and production of quality images. Consequently, I will be able to apply them in my future work as a photographer.

The average salary of a photographer is based on many things; nonetheless, the amount of money a photographer takes home is based on whether he or she is self-employed and the size of the company the photographer works for.

“The average annual salary for a low-class photographer is $29,440, and the lowest 10% earn less than $16,920, the middle 50% between $20,620 and $43,530 while the highest 10% earn upwards of $62,430” (“Photography salary information,” para.5).

For one to succeed as a photographer, he or she has to have strong imaginations and technical skills in photography, and, importantly, the most competent persons have degrees in photography or journalism.

It is of essence to note that both portrait and freelance photographers ought to have some technical experience that is attained by some kind of training offered by numerous colleges and training institutions that equip the learners with the essential skills required to be successful in this profession.

In New Orleans and Louisiana, individuals can successfully make a career from photography in three main ways. These are doing wedding photography, submitting pictures to various stock libraries, and submitting images to magazines and other publications in the states.

Works Cited

Ingledew, John. Photography . London : Laurence King, 2005. Print.

“Photography salary information.” Adigitaldreamer.com . A Digital Dreamer, 2011. Web. http://www.adigitaldreamer.com/articles/photography-salary.htm

Warren, Bruce. Photography: the concise guide . Clifton Park, NY: Delmar/Thomson Learning, 2003. Print.

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Using AI to optimize for rapid neural imaging

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The main image is a multicolored 3D illustration of a jellyfish. On the left is an inset showing a microscope over a bunch of small circular particles.

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Connectomics, the ambitious field of study that seeks to map the intricate network of animal brains, is undergoing a growth spurt. Within the span of a decade, it has journeyed from its nascent stages to a discipline that is poised to (hopefully) unlock the enigmas of cognition and the physical underpinning of neuropathologies such as in Alzheimer’s disease. 

At its forefront is the use of powerful electron microscopes, which researchers from the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Samuel and Lichtman Labs of Harvard University bestowed with the analytical prowess of machine learning. Unlike traditional electron microscopy, the integrated AI serves as a “brain” that learns a specimen while acquiring the images, and intelligently focuses on the relevant pixels at nanoscale resolution similar to how animals inspect their worlds. 

“ SmartEM ” assists connectomics in quickly examining and reconstructing the brain’s complex network of synapses and neurons with nanometer precision. Unlike traditional electron microscopy, its integrated AI opens new doors to understand the brain's intricate architecture.

The integration of hardware and software in the process is crucial. The team embedded a GPU into the support computer connected to their microscope. This enabled running machine-learning models on the images, helping the microscope beam be directed to areas deemed interesting by the AI. “This lets the microscope dwell longer in areas that are harder to understand until it captures what it needs,” says MIT professor and CSAIL principal investigator Nir Shavit. “This step helps in mirroring human eye control, enabling rapid understanding of the images.” 

“When we look at a human face, our eyes swiftly navigate to the focal points that deliver vital cues for effective communication and comprehension,” says the lead architect of SmartEM, Yaron Meirovitch, a visiting scientist at MIT CSAIL who is also a former postdoc and current research associate neuroscientist at Harvard. “When we immerse ourselves in a book, we don't scan all of the empty space; rather, we direct our gaze towards the words and characters with ambiguity relative to our sentence expectations. This phenomenon within the human visual system has paved the way for the birth of the novel microscope concept.” 

For the task of reconstructing a human brain segment of about 100,000 neurons, achieving this with a conventional microscope would necessitate a decade of continuous imaging and a prohibitive budget. However, with SmartEM, by investing in four of these innovative microscopes at less than $1 million each, the task could be completed in a mere three months.

Nobel Prizes and little worms  

Over a century ago, Spanish neuroscientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal was heralded as being the first to characterize the structure of the nervous system. Employing the rudimentary light microscopes of his time, he embarked on leading explorations into neuroscience, laying the foundational understanding of neurons and sketching the initial outlines of this expansive and uncharted realm — a feat that earned him a Nobel Prize. He noted, on the topics of inspiration and discovery, that “As long as our brain is a mystery, the universe, the reflection of the structure of the brain will also be a mystery.”

Progressing from these early stages, the field has advanced dramatically, evidenced by efforts in the 1980s, mapping the relatively simpler connectome of C. elegans , small worms, to today’s endeavors probing into more intricate brains of organisms like zebrafish and mice. This evolution reflects not only enormous strides, but also escalating complexities and demands: mapping the mouse brain alone means managing a staggering thousand petabytes of data , a task that vastly eclipses the storage capabilities of any university, the team says. 

Testing the waters

For their own work, Meirovitch and others from the research team studied 30-nanometer thick slices of octopus tissue that were mounted on tapes, put on wafers, and finally inserted into the electron microscopes. Each section of an octopus brain, comprising billions of pixels, was imaged, letting the scientists reconstruct the slices into a three-dimensional cube at nanometer resolution. This provided an ultra-detailed view of synapses. The chief aim? To colorize these images, identify each neuron, and understand their interrelationships, thereby creating a detailed map or “connectome” of the brain's circuitry.

“SmartEM will cut the imaging time of such projects from two weeks to 1.5 days,” says Meirovitch. “Neuroscience labs that currently can't be engaged with expensive and long EM imaging will be able to do it now,” The method should also allow synapse-level circuit analysis in samples from patients with psychiatric and neurologic disorders. 

Down the line, the team envisions a future where connectomics is both affordable and accessible. They hope that with tools like SmartEM, a wider spectrum of research institutions could contribute to neuroscience without relying on large partnerships, and that the method will soon be a standard pipeline in cases where biopsies from living patients are available. Additionally, they’re eager to apply the tech to understand pathologies, extending utility beyond just connectomics. “We are now endeavoring to introduce this to hospitals for large biopsies, utilizing electron microscopes, aiming to make pathology studies more efficient,” says Shavit. 

Two other authors on the paper have MIT CSAIL ties: lead author Lu Mi MCS ’19, PhD ’22, who is now a postdoc at the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and Shashata Sawmya, an MIT graduate student in the lab. The other lead authors are Core Francisco Park and Pavel Potocek, while Harvard professors Jeff Lichtman and Aravi Samuel are additional senior authors. Their research was supported by the NIH BRAIN Initiative and was presented at the 2023 International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML) Workshop on Computational Biology. The work was done in collaboration with scientists from Thermo Fisher Scientific.

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What Drives Booms and Busts in Value?

Value investing delivers volatile returns, with large drawdowns during both market booms and busts. This paper interprets these returns through an intertemporal CAPM, which predicts that aggregate cash flow, discount rate, and volatility news all move value returns. We document that indeed these shocks explain a large fraction of quarterly value returns over the last 60 years. We also distinguish between the intra-industry and inter-industry components of value, showing that the ICAPM explains the former better. Finally, we develop a novel methodology to perform this decomposition at the daily frequency, using it to interpret value returns during the Covid-19 pandemic.

John Campbell is a partner of Arrowstreet Capital, LP, an asset management company that invests actively in US and global equities. Stefano Giglio is a consultant to Arrowstreet Capital. The firm has not sponsored the research in this paper and has no financial interest in the results. Christopher Polk has no conflicts of interest to disclose. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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photographer research paper topics

The field of generative AI is rapidly evolving, showing remarkable potential to augment human creativity and self-expression. In 2022, we made the leap from image generation to video generation in the span of a few months. And at this year’s Meta Connect, we announced several new developments , including Emu , our first foundational model for image generation. Technology from Emu underpins many of our generative AI experiences, some AI image editing tools for Instagram that let you take a photo and change its visual style or background, and the Imagine feature within Meta AI that lets you generate photorealistic images directly in messages with that assistant or in group chats across our family of apps. Our work in this exciting field is ongoing, and today, we’re announcing new research into controlled image editing based solely on text instructions and a method for text-to-video generation based on diffusion models.

Emu Video: A simple factorized method for high-quality video generation

Whether or not you’ve personally used an AI image generation tool, you’ve likely seen the results: Visually distinct, often highly stylized and detailed, these images on their own can be quite striking—and the impact increases when you bring them to life by adding movement.

With Emu Video, which leverages our Emu model, we present a simple method for text-to-video generation based on diffusion models. This is a unified architecture for video generation tasks that can respond to a variety of inputs: text only, image only, and both text and image. We’ve split the process into two steps: first, generating images conditioned on a text prompt, and then generating video conditioned on both the text and the generated image. This “factorized” or split approach to video generation lets us train video generation models efficiently. We show that factorized video generation can be implemented via a single diffusion model. We present critical design decisions, like adjusting noise schedules for video diffusion, and multi-stage training that allows us to directly generate higher-resolution videos.

Unlike prior work that requires a deep cascade of models (e.g., five models for Make-A-Video ), our state-of-the-art approach is simple to implement and uses just two diffusion models to generate 512x512 four-second long videos at 16 frames per second. In human evaluations, our video generations are strongly preferred compared to prior work—in fact, this model was preferred over Make-A-Video by 96% of respondents based on quality and by 85% of respondents based on faithfulness to the text prompt. Finally, the same model can “animate” user-provided images based on a text prompt where it once again sets a new state-of-the-art outperforming prior work by a significant margin.

photographer research paper topics

Emu Edit: Precise image editing via recognition and generation tasks

Of course, the use of generative AI is often a process. You try a prompt, the generated image isn’t quite what you had in mind, so you continue tweaking the prompt until you get to a more desired outcome. That’s why prompt engineering has become a thing. And while instructable image generative models have made significant strides in recent years, they still face limitations when it comes to offering precise control. That’s why we’re introducing Emu Edit, a novel approach that aims to streamline various image manipulation tasks and bring enhanced capabilities and precision to image editing.

Emu Edit is capable of free-form editing through instructions, encompassing tasks such as local and global editing, removing and adding a background, color and geometry transformations, detection and segmentation, and more. Current methods often lean towards either over-modifying or under-performing on various editing tasks. We argue that the primary objective shouldn’t just be about producing a “believable” image. Instead, the model should focus on precisely altering only the pixels relevant to the edit request. Unlike many generative AI models today, Emu Edit precisely follows instructions, ensuring that pixels in the input image unrelated to the instructions remain untouched. For instance, when adding the text “Aloha!” to a baseball cap, the cap itself should remain unchanged.

Our key insight is that incorporating computer vision tasks as instructions to image generation models offers unprecedented control in image generation and editing. Through a detailed examination of both local and global editing tasks, we highlight the vast potential of Emu Edit in executing detailed edit instructions.

In order to train the model, we’ve developed a dataset that contains 10 million synthesized samples, each including an input image, a description of the task to be performed, and the targeted output image. We believe it’s the largest dataset of its kind to date. As a result, our model displays unprecedented edit results in terms of both instruction faithfulness and image quality. In our evaluations, Emu Edit demonstrates superior performance over current methods, producing new state-of-the-art results in both qualitative and quantitative evaluations for a range of image editing tasks.

The road ahead

Although this work is purely fundamental research right now, the potential use cases are clearly evident. Imagine generating your own animated stickers or clever GIFs on the fly to send in the group chat rather than having to search for the perfect media for your reply. Or editing your own photos and images, no technical skills required. Or adding some extra oomph to your Instagram posts by animating static photos. Or generating something entirely new.

While certainly no replacement for professional artists and animators, Emu Video, Emu Edit, and new technologies like them could help people express themselves in new ways—from an art director ideating on a new concept or a creator livening up their latest reel to a best friend sharing a unique birthday greeting. And we think that’s something worth celebrating.

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