Children's Research Centre
Research with and by Children and Young People

Digital images – photographs and video

Championing use of photographs and video

Photographs and videos can generate information from:

  • Within the images themselves; the subject matter of the photograph or the action videoed
  • Discussion with the photographer/video maker and/or others about the significance of the images; meanings that they have for people and how they contribute to answering the research question
Drawing of an SLR camera
Drawing of a Polaroid Camera

The process of taking photographs makes us think about the research question and what we want to say about a topic. It can encourage us to link different thoughts and feelings; to recall events which help us bring our knowledge and understanding about the topic forward.

Sometimes we can relate to images and draw information from them in ways that we wouldn’t relate to the written word. We can tell whole stories from a single photograph or recall a whole set of emotions, physical sensations, sequence of events from a short video clip.

There are no clear right or wrongs about visual images; they have different meanings for different people and these can change over time depending on circumstances. However, they are meaningful to us and help us to recall what something was like or what potential there is for things to be.

Research studies using digital images

Hess and Cook (2007) report the use of digital photography in three projects with children. Each was designed to understand more about how children experience their worlds.

Challenges of the use of photographs and video

There are important ethical issues involved in using photographs and video clips as part of data collection:

  • Generally, we must gain the consent of people who might be recognisable in photographs and videos before we take them. It is therefore difficult to collect images in a public place or without careful planning.
  • Images of children must always have the children’s and a parent’s or carer’s consent before they are taken.

GO TO the resources section to find advice and examples of consent forms for use with young people and their carers which include use of photographs and video.

Drawing of approved photo on phone

Things to be mindful of when using photographs and video:

  • When including images of ourselves in research, it is good practice to review photographs and videos before allowing them to be used to be sure you don’t later regret sharing them with anyone else
  • Anyone, adults and young people, can get carried away taking far too many photographs and video clips which can make analysis difficult. We must remember we just need sufficient, relevant data to answer the research question
  • Although increasingly adults and young people will have access to digital technology to take photographs and video clips, some may not. The sharing of this sort of data with other researchers can also be complicated, for instance some video clips can be too large to email from a mobile phone
  • Interpretation of digital images as sources of information needs thoughtful planning as will be seen in the analysis section later.
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