How to Read a Photo

Historic photograph of the Hale o Keawe Platform circa late 60s Historic photograph of the Hale o Keawe Platform circa late 60s

Left image
Historic photograph of the Hale o Keawe platform before temple restoration (circa late 1960s)
Credit: NPS Photo

Right image
Hale o Keawe today with fully restored platform and temple
Credit: NPS Photo

How to Read a Photograph Activity

A printable PDF verison of this activity can be downloaded here: Pu'uhonua o Hōnaunau NHP How to Read a Photograph Activity (PDF 239 KB)

Historic photographs can tell a complex story, if you know how to read them! Take a closer look by following these simple steps.

  1. Find a photo to use for the activity. Visit Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau NHP's Collections page for more images.
  2. Examine the photograph for 10 seconds, describe what you see.
  3. Divide the image into quadrants and examine each one closely. Did you notice anything that you didn't notice before? Write down your additional observations.
  4. Break down what you see in the photograph. What can you deduce or infer from your observations? Analyze the following elements and ask yourself these example questions:

  1. People
    • How many people are there? Are they all part of the same group?
    • What is their gender, age, or relationship to each other?
    • What are they wearing?
    • Can you identify any of the people?
  2. Time
    • What is the time of day, season, year, period, or century?
  3. Activities or Events
    • What are the people doing?
    • What event is taking place?
  4. Objects, Plants or Animals
    • Can you identify any plant or animal species?
    • Are the animals wild or domestic?
    • Do you recognize any objects? What are they used for?
  5. Place
    • Is it rural or urban?
    • Indoors or outdoors?
    • Describe the buildings, landscape and other features.
    • Can you identify where the photograph was taken?
  6. Photo Title and Caption
    • Is there a title or a caption? What does it tell you about the photograph?


Historic vs. Modern Photograph Comparison
Do this activity twice. Once with a historic photograph and once with a modern photograph of the same area. What is different about the two photographs? What is the same?

Tell a Story
Use your observations, deductions, and inferences to tell a story about the photograph.


This activity was adapted by the National Park Service, Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau NHP, from the How to Read a Photograph Worksheet developed by the National Park Service, Museum Management Program, Teaching with Museum Collections

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park

Last updated: April 19, 2020