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Visual Literacy

This guide defines visual literacy, explains what visual literacy skills are, and lists resources related to this topic.

About this Page:

Mind map

 The graphic above lists some questions to consider when evaluating an image and its source. However, this is not an exhaustive list nor is it meant to be. Take a look at the information on this page to learn more about the process of the evaluation process. 

Evaluating Images and their Sources

There are several questions you will want to consider when evaluating an image and its source. Take a look at the categories and associated questions below.

Content Analysis:

  • Do you know what you are looking for?
  • Does the subject in your image represent what you are looking for?

This can sometimes be trickier than it sounds. If you are looking for a well known image, there may be many different versions of it on the internet or different appropriations of the image. An image search for the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci is a great example of the importance of content analysis. When I did a Creative Commons Image search for, "Mona Lisa" the three images below were in my search results. This can be problematic  because none of them are the actual artwork! If you don't know what the image you are looking for looks like, you will want to ask or do some research before you look for the image. 

Three appropriations of the Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci                              .            


From Left to Right:

"Unknown Italian Artist-La Gioconda or The Mona Lisa [1503-16]" by Gandali's Gallery is licensed under CC BY-NC SA 2.0.

"Mona Lisa Lolcat" by Planetrussell is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

"Britney Spears-Mona Lisa"by Britamainia is licensed under cc By-NC-SA 2.0.


Visual Analysis:

  • What do you see in the image?
  • What medium is the image in (this can be the type of photograph or the medium of the artwork that the image depicts)?
  • What colors make up the image? What shapes?
  • What is the subject of the image?

Technical Quality:                                                                                                                      A pixelated image of the Mona Lisa

  • Does the image have clear resolution?
  • Does the image show signs of being cropped or altered in anyway?
  • Is the image centered? 













"Le Louvre-Mona Lisa" by Gregory Bastien is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

If I was looking for a distanced image of the Mona Lisa, I would not use the picture above. This picture is pixelated and out of focus. It also has the

image of person viewing the painting interrupting the image frame.



Source Evaluation:

  • Is there a use statement on the website for its images?
  • Is there any information (metadata) listed for the image?
  • Is the source you are using a reliable source for images?

Contextual Analysis:

  • What metadata is given for this image?
  • Does the metadata give more background to the image? 
  • Do you have the information needed to give proper attribution for using the image?



What is Reverse Image Searching?

Reverse image searching is a tool that is used for identifying the original source of an image. This can be very useful when trying to find who created an image and how to give it attribution.

Reverse Image Searching Tools:


TinEye Reserve Image Search Example: 

There are two different ways to do a reverse image search with TinEye, you can copy and paste the URL into the search box on the homepage or you can upload the photo from your computer. For this example, I copied and pasted the URL of the image I was trying to trace into the TinEye search box, please see the screenshot below. 

screenshot of the TinEye search engine


When I typed the above URL into the search box, I got an error message that I copied and pasted below. This is important to note because TinEye doesn't always work. If this error message pops up when you do a search, try downloading the image and uploading it from your computer. If this doesn't work for you, I would try to reverse image search with Google Images instead. 

TinEye error message


When I downloaded the image I was looking for and uploaded it from my computer, I did get 130 search results. You can see my list of search results here. If I wanted to find the original creator of the image, I would go to the beginning of the search result list to find who originally posted the image. 

Google Image Reserve Search Example:

To do a reserve image search using Google, go to Google Images. Once you get there click on the small camera icon next to the search box. Once you click on that, you should get a pop-up box that asks you to upload an image from your computer or copy and paste the URL for the image. Please see screenshots below.

Google Image Search homepage


Google Reserve Image Searching Homepage

Your search results for the image will include a list of similar images and other places the image you were searching with has been used.

Screenshot of a Google Reserve Image Search