This lesson demonstrates and practices analysis of visual composition in photography and art. Discussion and implementation focuses on reinforcing the analogy between visual composition and written composition. When possible, students are encouraged to use art & design terminology as well as rhetorical terminology to discuss and analyze visual media.


This lesson presumes students have been exposed to rhetorical analysis terminology, art criticism basics, and vocabulary related to elements of art & design. Students have either notes from brief lecture or handouts from the teacher.

Wikipedia's Design Elements & Principles and Elements of Art provide simple overviews of each.

Added to this is a brief explanation of how to write about photographs.:

Exploring Photographs - Khan Academy 

Day One

Students view and discuss Margaret Bourke-White's photograph "Louisville Flood Victims." The photograph should be projected or displayed for the entirety of the lesson.

Teacher prompts students 

"Use your 'Art Criticism' and 'Elements of Art and Design' notes as a guide as you make observe the following photograph. After you have written down your observations, formulate a thesis that clearly explains the photo’s argumentative intent. Support your thesis with specific details from your description and analysis notes."

During independent observation time, students should be encouraged to suggest a potential claim the argument makes and cite specific evidence for the claim.

Students then share and discuss their observations in groups of up to 5. Groups then choose one thesis from each group to share with the class as a whole.

Download: Bourke-White Analysis.pdf

Day Two

Have them read (after downloading) the following PowerPoint that gives and example of a written analysis:

Download: Example_-_Analyzing_Photos_UDibTf9.pptx

The one above is an example for an AP class. The next one is close to what assignment will be. 

Download: Student Art Evaluation.pdf

Day Three

The students are going to pick one Pulitzer Prize Winning Photography from this web site:

Pulitzer Prize Winning Photos

Warning - there are some disturbing photos here so be forewarned, you pick the one you can write about.


1. Pick one picture from the site.

2. Write about 2 elements of design (2 paragraphs - like the Student Art Evaluation)

3. Print out the picture.

4. Print out your 2 paragraph evaluation and put the picture on the wall in the room with your evaluation under it.  (like the follow-up)

Follow-up day

Each student submits a typed copy of his or her analysis in large font. Students include their full names at the bottom of their analysis. The last step of the assignment is affixing the student analysis with scotch tape to the frame or glass of the piece being analyzed. The analysis is left up for at least a week for other members of the school community to read.

Depending on the students' need, the analysis may be submitted as a draft before the final submission.

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