Analyzing Photos In History Class: A Quick Guide

Analyzing Photos In History

Art and photography are fantastic sources of information about history and they offer rich and engaging information.

Images are a great primary source that all levels of students can access. And they offer deep levels of insight into an event or a time period.

Analyzing photos in history can be a daunting task but, once you know how to do it, you will find the photos you are analyzing a rich and rewarding experience. 

Why Are Photos A Great Primary Source? 

Photos are fantastic primary sources in history. These photos are very accessible once you know how to analyze them and can bring about a greater level of understanding of the event you’re studying.

Photos in history are also rich in information and engaging, making them great additions to your research.

When they are used in History lessons, these primary sources offer information to students at all levels with some guidance. 

How To Analyze Photos In History?

Whether you are a teacher looking to impart your knowledge of how to analyze photos in history, or you are a student who is looking for some guidance on how to master the art of photo analysis, follow this guide below to set you ahead. 

Choose The Best Photos 

As a teacher, it is your responsibility to ensure that the material that you are choosing for your students is accessible and penetrable.

You should always have a look at the textbooks that are available to your students for some suitable photos.

In these books, there will be photos, artwork and images that are relevant and accessible to your students.

These textbooks will always have a caption that allows you to find digital copies of the images that are in the textbooks. 

If you choose to find the sources yourself, ensure that they have a clear point and are easy to access or for your students to understand.

If you have a photo in mind that you are trying to source, ensure that you find it through reliable means to ensure that you are showing your students true work.

Make Copies For Annotation

It is very important to make sure that you’re not just showing these photos to your students on a screen or in a textbook. You need to ensure that you make copies that have space around them to annotate.

This will allow your students to think deeply about the source, and note down their thoughts while looking at it.

Ensure you copy these in color if the color is important in these pictures, or if they contain color in the first place. 

Students, you should make sure that you are making a detailed analysis of the sources.

QUICK TIP: Laminate your pictures and you can use them over and over!

Analyze It Yourself First 

It is a good idea to spend some time analyzing the sources before you take them to your class. Instead of analyzing them for their wealth of information, think about what questions your students might have sparked by the photos.

You should have helpful and insightful answers to these questions ready and waiting so that you are not taken aback.

You should also think about the misconceptions that your students may encounter when they are studying the source, and have some explanations ready as to why these are not true.

You may feel like you need to do some research around the source when you are anticipating their questions in order to ensure that you will be able to answer them. 

Give Your Students Time

Give Your Students Time

If I’m anything to go by, when I was a student it took me a while to soak in information. I needed a little bit of time to digest the information I was being shown and form an opinion.

Allow your students to develop their own understanding of the source and don’t put words in their mouths. This is a very important skill, and your students will need to be given time in order to develop it.

This time should be silent, allowing them to create their own, individual opinions. After this, it is a good idea to allow your students to talk in groups to share their ideas about the source. 

Remember, this is a time for them to learn and develop their skills, don’t spoon-feed them. This skill is a very important one that they will continue to use within history and outside of history. 


So, like all tasks you give to your students, it is important to break down the way that they should analyze these photos.

This will give them some guidance on where to start when they first see the source. A good way to encourage your students to analyze these sources is PIC. Purpose, Included Details, Context.


First, you should encourage your students to think about the reason that the photo was taken or the image was created. This will help to create an understanding of the purpose of the image. 

Included Details 

You should then encourage students to think about the specific details that are included and the role that they play. The details in these sources are very important to look at as they were all put there for a reason. 


Next, you should encourage your students to think about the bigger picture surrounding the image.

You should encourage them to connect this image to what they have learned already and form opinions and insights about the information surrounding the image.

Often with these primary sources, there is so much more information in the context surrounding the image than the image itself.

Final Thoughts 

So, photos and images in history are a fantastic type of source, and they provide a wealth of information and insights into certain events.

As a teacher, you should encourage your students to ask questions about the sources and question the information they are being shown.

You should allow your students plenty of time to analyze these sources and encourage them to draw their own conclusions rather than prompting them too much. 

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