Stories and Tactics Behind Pictures


  • To practice “reading” pictures
  • To understand photography tactics


  • “Picture Analysis” handout (1 per participant)
  • Whiteboard/chalkboard
  • Dry erase markers/chalk
  • Popular magazines and/or newspapers
  • Paper
  • Pens or pencils
  • Scissors
  • Glue or tape
  • Flip chart paper or butcher paper
  • Post-its

Prepare Before


Warm Up

What is one issue that people your age face?  Try not to repeat answers if possible.   Write all answers on the board.


PART 1:  A Picture has Values

Everyone should pick up one magazine or other media sources and 5 post-its.  Look through your magazine. According to the pictures in this magazine, what issues do young people face? Do not read the articles or the headlines — use only the pictures to figure out what issues young people face.   You can tell this by either seeing what problem is being solved (e.g., bad breath) or what value is shown (e.g., getting an education, being fit). Give 5 minutes for everyone to find at least 5 issues that young people face, according to the pictures in this magazine.

Go around the room and have each person share 1 issue and briefly show the picture.  If other people found the same issue have them show their picture also.  Keep going around the circle until all issues are raised.

Group these issues into categories until there is a smaller list (e.g., bad breath, deodorant, body spray, tampons could all be categorized into “hygiene”). Choose one of these issues to focus on.  It is ideal if the issue can be an issue that was also listed in the Warm Up section, but sometimes that is not possible.

PART 2:  Understanding Tactics

Each person should find one picture in their magazine that shows this issue.  Examine the picture. Again, there might be words on the page, but try to focus more on the picture.

If they have some previous media analysis experience, have them brainstorm tactics that are used.  If not, introduce and explain the following:

  • Scare tactics
  • Research (although probably not in a picture)
  • Statistics/Numbers (although probably not in a picture)
  • Expert opinion
  • Testimonials (in a picture this could be a “regular person/person on the street”)
  • Special Events
  • Famous People
  • Appeal to emotions (e.g., pride, fear, love, rebelliousness)
  • Appeal to intelligence
  • Appeal to material success
  • Others? ___________________

Everyone should examine their picture and determine what tactics were used.  Share those tactics with the group. Keep a tally of how often these tactics were used.


Facilitate a discussion with the following reflection questions:

  • What tactic or tactics were the most common?
  • Were they used positively or negatively?

Now, take a look at our original list of issues. Continue the discussion with the following reflection questions:

  • How closely does this match with the youth issues from magazines?
  • Are magazines and media accurately reflecting the issues you are facing?
  • How can you explain the difference?


As a group, take one of the issues from the Warm Up that was also on the list of magazine issues.

PART 1:  Do Media Analysis

Get into pairs or trios. As a group, find a picture in a magazine that reflects this issue. Answer the questions on the “Picture Analysis” handout.

PART 2: Make Media

Now is the chance to create your own media.   Looking at this issue, what picture would you want to make that more accurately reflects your experience and your feeling about this issue? If you were taking a picture of this youth issue what would you try to capture? For this exercise, you can create a picture using colors or images cut out from the magazine, draw your own, or take a picture (if you have the technology to easily project the image). As you create your image, keep in mind the following:

  • What is the major message you want to send?
  • How do you want the viewer to feel about youth from seeing this picture?
  • How do you want the viewer to feel about the issue from seeing this picture?
  • What tactics do you want to use?

PART 3: Share Back

Share your before and after pictures with the group. You can do this either as a share circle or a gallery walk — whatever works best for people to be able to see the images.


What is a tactic we can use when using pictures for our project?