HomePhotograph Analysis Tool

Photograph Analysis Tool

Civil War Photographers
The Civil War was one of the first military conflicts covered by journalists and photographers. Because wet-plate glass negatives required from 5 to 20 seconds exposure, there are no action photographs of the war. One of the most famous Civil War photographers was Mathew B. Brady.   While he actually may have taken only a few photographs of the war, he employed many of the other well-known photographers including Alexander Gardner during the conflict.

Since Mathew Brady had a photography studio in Washington, he and other photographers often visited Arlington to take photographs of the Union soldiers and their camps.  These historic images provide a visual legacy of Arlington’s role during the war.

Today, historians use photographs as a primary source to study the war.  They examine these images for clues about who was there, what equipment was used, what the landscape was like, and even how people behaved.  Thanks to the Library of Congress and other organizations, thousands of these images are now available online.

Analyzing a Photograph

You can learn how to analyze photographs by:

 Observing Reflecting Questioning
  • Describe what you see.
  • What do you notice first?
  • What people and objects are shown?
  • How are they arranged? 
  • What is the physical setting? 
  • What other details can you see?
  • Why do you think this image was made?
  • What’s happening in the image? 
  • Who do you think was the audience for this image?
  • What can you learn from examining this image? 
  • What’s missing from this image?
  • If someone made this today, what would be different? · What would be the same?
  • What do you wonder about?
  • Who?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How?