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Education Home Search Lesson Plans All Curricula About Life: The Photographs of Dorothea Lange Curriculum Guidelines for Discussing Photography

Looking at Photographs Takes Time
It takes time and effort to react deeply to a photograph. Encourage students to keep studying an image even after they have formed an initial opinion about it.

The Elements a Photographer Considers
Discuss the different factors a photographer works with, including subject matter, place, time, background, focus, framing, composition, lighting, and his or her personal goal in creating the picture. Look for how the photographer incorporated these elements in each image.

Defining the Successful Photograph
There are many different criteria for what constitutes a good or successful photograph. One can value different photographs for different reasons—perhaps one photograph is beautiful, while another is persuasive, or exciting, or reveals something previously unknown. Help students to develop and articulate their own standards. Note that judging a photograph to be "successful" is not the same thing as saying that one personally likes that photograph.


  • What do you notice right away about this picture?
  • What is going on in this picture? What do you see that makes you say that? What else do you see?
  • Who is in this picture?
  • If there is more than one person, how are they related?
  • Look closely at each person's facial expression, posture, and hands. How do you think the people in this picture are feeling?
  • Look at how the image is cropped or "framed." What is included in the picture? Can you tell if anything was left out?
  • Are any parts of this picture out of focus? How does this affect the mood or meaning?
  • Where do you think the photographer stood while she took this photograph? Why do you think she or he chose that point of view?
  • Where is the source of light in this picture? How can you tell?
  • How does the lighting contribute to the picture's overall effect?
  • How do you feel when you look at this picture?
  • How do you think the photographer wanted you to feel looking at this picture?
  • Is this photograph an "objective," neutral document of its subject? Is it ever possible to take a completely objective picture?
  • Is this photograph a "candid" shot, or was it staged by the photographer? How can you tell the difference? If the picture looks candid, might it nonetheless have been staged?
  • Is there anything you noticed only after studying the photograph for several minutes?
  • Does this picture remind you of anything you have seen or experienced in your own life?
  • Who should see this photograph?
  • Why do you think the photographer took this picture? What was his or her goal?
  • How would you title this picture? Does it need a title?
  • Would you call this a "successful" photograph? Explain your answer.