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  • Images from UW Libraries
  • Open Images
  • Image Analysis
  • Citing Images
  • University of Washington Libraries
  • Library Guides
  • Images Research Guide

Images Research Guide: Image Analysis

Analyze images.

Content analysis    

  • What do you see?
  • What is the image about?
  • Are there people in the image? What are they doing? How are they presented?
  • Can the image be looked at different ways?
  • How effective is the image as a visual message?

Visual analysis  

  • How is the image composed? What is in the background, and what is in the foreground?
  • What are the most important visual elements in the image? How can you tell?
  • How is color used?
  • What meanings are conveyed by design choices?

Contextual information  

  • What information accompanies the image?
  • Does the text change how you see the image? How?
  • Is the textual information intended to be factual and inform, or is it intended to influence what and how you see?
  • What kind of context does the information provide? Does it answer the questions Where, How, Why, and For whom was the image made?

Image source  

  • Where did you find the image?
  • What information does the source provide about the origins of the image?
  • Is the source reliable and trustworthy?
  • Was the image found in an image database, or was it being used in another context to convey meaning?

Technical quality  

  • Is the image large enough to suit your purposes?
  • Are the color, light, and balance true?
  • Is the image a quality digital image, without pixelation or distortion?
  • Is the image in a file format you can use?
  • Are there copyright or other use restrictions you need to consider? 

  developed by Denise Hattwig , [email protected]

More Resources

National Archives document analysis worksheets :

  • Photographs
  • All worksheets

Visual literacy resources :

  • Visual Literacy for Libraries: A Practical, Standards-Based Guide   (book, 2016) by Brown, Bussert, Hattwig, Medaille ( UW Libraries availability )
  • 7 Things You Should Know About... Visual Literacy ( Educause , 2015 )
  • Keeping Up With... Visual Literacy  (ACRL, 2013)
  • Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (ACRL, 2011)
  • Visual Literacy White Paper  (Adobe, 2003)
  • Reading Images: an Introduction to Visual Literacy (UNC School of Education)
  • Visual Literacy Activities (Oakland Museum of California)
  • << Previous: Open Images
  • Next: Citing Images >>
  • Last Updated: Nov 15, 2023 12:45 PM
  • URL:

methodology for analysis of images

Quick Links:

Study Site Homepage

Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials

Student resources, welcome to the companion website.

Welcome to the companion website for Visual Methodologies, Fourth Edition,  by Gillian Rose. The resources on the site have been specifically designed to support your study.

For students

  • Searching for images online
  • Author video
  • Journal article
  • Audio clip  

About the book

Now in its Fourth Edition,  Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Methodologies  is a bestselling critical guide to the study and analysis of visual culture. Existing chapters have been fully updated to offer a rigorous examination and demonstration of an individual methodology in a clear and structured style. 

Reflecting changes in the way society consumes and creates its visual content, new features include:

  • Brand new chapters dealing with social media platforms, the development of digital methods and the modern circulation and audiencing of research images
  • More 'Focus' features covering interactive documentaries, digital story-telling and participant mapping
  • A Companion Website featuring links to useful further resources relating to each chapter.

A now classic text,  Visual Methodologies  appeals to undergraduates, graduates, researchers and academics across the social sciences and humanities who are looking to get to grips with the complex debates and ideas in visual analysis and interpretation.

About the author

Gillian Rose is Professor of Cultural Geography at The Open University, and her current research interests focus on contemporary visual culture in cities, and visual research methodologies. Her website, with links to many of her publications, is here:

She also blogs at

And you can follow her on Twitter @ProfGillian.


This website may contain links to both internal and external websites. All links included were active at the time the website was launched. SAGE does not operate these external websites and does not necessarily endorse the views expressed within them. SAGE cannot take responsibility for the changing content or nature of linked sites, as these sites are outside of our control and subject to change without our knowledge. If you do find an inactive link to an external website, please try to locate that website by using a search engine. SAGE will endeavour to update inactive or broken links when possible.

Introduction to Image Analysis: Understanding the Basics and Applications

Introduction to Image Analysis: Understanding the Basics and Applications

31 Jul 2023

Sandeep Kulkarni

Sandeep Kulkarni

Founder & CEO


Following are some of the basic ideas in image analysis:, image acquisition:, pre-processing:, segmentation:, feature extraction:, object recognition:, image classification:.

Read Also - The Basic Of Image Processing

Image Analysis Applications:

Security and surveillance:, robotics and automation:, agriculture:, pharmaceutical industry:, quality control and inspection:, biometrics:, how has image analysis reshaped the pharmaceutical industry.

Read Also - Image Filtering Techniques in Image Processing

How Has Image Analysis Advanced Scientific Research?

Cellular and molecular biology:, medicine and biomedical research:, neuroscience:, ecology and environmental sciences:, astronomy and astrophysics:, materials science:, social sciences:, how image analysis has made social media platforms more user-friendly, different image analysis software used:, scikit-image:, tensorflow:, cellprofiler:, deeplabcut:.

Read Also - Particle Size Analysis: Importance & Applications 

Future of Image Analysis:

Sandeep Kulkarni, Founder & CEO

Sandeep Kulkarni is the founder & CEO of ImageProVision Technology. With over 3 decades of experience behind him, he is your 'go-to' man in the image analysis sector.

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Future Of Automatic Microscopic Particle Classification

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The Oxford Handbook of Qualitative Research

A newer edition of this book is available.

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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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Basic image analysis and manipulation in ImageJ


  • 1 Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, USA.
  • PMID: 23547012
  • DOI: 10.1002/0471142727.mb1415s102

Image analysis methods have been developed to provide quantitative assessment of microscopy data. In this unit, basic aspects of image analysis are outlined, including software installation, data import, image processing functions, and analytical tools that can be used to extract information from microscopy data using ImageJ. Step-by-step protocols for analyzing objects in a fluorescence image and extracting information from two-color tissue images collected by bright-field microscopy are included.

  • Computational Biology / methods*
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Microscopy / methods*
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence / methods
  • Reproducibility of Results

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  • Published: 09 May 2024

Secondary ion mass spectrometry

  • Nicholas P. Lockyer   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Satoka Aoyagi   ORCID: 2 ,
  • John S. Fletcher 3 ,
  • Ian S. Gilmore   ORCID: 4 ,
  • Paul A. W. van der Heide   ORCID: 5 ,
  • Katie L. Moore 6 ,
  • Bonnie J. Tyler 7 &
  • Lu-Tao Weng   ORCID: 8  

Nature Reviews Methods Primers volume  4 , Article number:  32 ( 2024 ) Cite this article

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  • Mass spectrometry
  • Surface chemistry
  • Surfaces, interfaces and thin films

Secondary ion mass spectrometry (SIMS) is a technique for chemical analysis and imaging of solid materials, with applications in many areas of science and technology. It involves bombarding a sample surface under high vacuum with energetic primary ions. The ejected secondary ions undergo mass-to-charge ratio ( m / z ) analysis and are detected. The resulting mass spectrum contains detailed surface chemical information with sub-monolayer sensitivity. Different experimental configurations provide chemically resolved depth distribution and 2D or 3D images. SIMS is complementary to other surface analysis techniques, such as X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy; chemical imaging techniques, for example, vibrational microspectroscopy methods such as Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy; and other mass spectrometry imaging techniques, including desorption electrospray ionization and matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization. Features of SIMS include high spatial resolution, high depth resolution and broad chemical sensitivity to all elements, isotopes and molecules up to several thousand mass units. This Primer describes the operating principles of SIMS and outlines how the instrument geometry and operational parameters enable different modes of operation and information to be obtained. Applications, including materials science, surface science, electronic devices, geosciences and life sciences, are explored, finishing with an outlook for the technique.

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methodology for analysis of images

Research on internal quality testing method of dry longan based on terahertz imaging detection technology

  • Original Paper
  • Published: 11 May 2024

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methodology for analysis of images

  • Jun Hu   ORCID: 1 ,
  • Hao Wang 1 ,
  • Yongqi Zhou 1 ,
  • Shimin Yang 1 ,
  • Haohao Lv 1 &
  • Liang Yang 1  

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Longan is a kind of nut with rich nutritional value and homologous function of medicine and food. The quality of longan directly affects its curative effect, and its fullness is the key index to evaluate its quality. However, the internal information of longan cannot be obtained from the outside. Therefore, rapid non-destructive testing of internal quality of dry longan is of great significance. In this paper, rapid non-destructive testing of longan internal fullness based on terahertz transmission imaging technology was carried out. This study takes longan as the research object. Firstly, the terahertz transmission images of longans with different fullness were collected, and the terahertz spectral signals of different regions of interest were extracted for analysis. Then, three qualitative discriminant models, support vector machine (SVM), Random forest (RF) and linear discriminant analysis (LDA), were established to explore the optimal discriminant model and realize the distinction of different regional categories of longan. Finally, the collected longan terahertz transmission image is processed, and the number of white pixels in the connected domain is calculated by using Otsu threshold segmentation and image inversion. The fullness of longan can be achieved by calculating the ratio of core and pulp to the pixel of the shell. The LDA discriminant model had the best prediction effect. It could not only identify the spectral data of background region, shell region, core region, but also reach 98.57% accuracy for the spectral data of pulp region. The maximum error between the measured fullness and the actual fullness of the terahertz image processed by Otsu threshold segmentation is less than 3.11%. Terahertz imaging technique can realize rapid non-destructive detection of longan fullness and recognition of different regions. This study provides an effective scheme for selecting the quality of longan.

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National Youth Natural Science Foundation of China (32302261); Jiangxi Ganpo Talented Support Plan -Young science and technology talent Lift Project (2023QT04); Jiangxi Provincial Youth Science Fund Project (20224BAB215042); National Key R&D Program of China (2022YFD2001805).

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Jun Hu, Hao Wang, Yongqi Zhou, Shimin Yang, Haohao Lv & Liang Yang

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Jun Hu: Investigation, Writing-review and editing, Experimental scheme design, Formal analysis. Hao Wang: Writing-original draft, Formal analysis. Yongqi Zhou: Experiment. Shimin Yang, Haohao Lv: Review and editing. Liang Yang: Formal analysis.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jun Hu .

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We declare that we have no financial and personal relationships with other people or organizations that can inappropriately influence our work, there is no professional or other personal interest of any nature or kind in any product, service and/or company that could be construed as influencing the position presented in, or the review of, the manuscript entitled. Jun Hu, Hao Wang, Yongqi Zhou, Shimin Yang, Haohao Lv, Liang Yang declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Hu, J., Wang, H., Zhou, Y. et al. Research on internal quality testing method of dry longan based on terahertz imaging detection technology. Food Measure (2024).

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Received : 29 December 2023

Accepted : 18 April 2024

Published : 11 May 2024


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