Uncovering Hidden Meanings, Values and Insights Through Photos

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Academic Publishing Limited


Faculty of Business and Law


School of Marketing, Tourism and Leisure




Ryan, M. M., & Ogilvie, M. (2010). Uncovering Hidden Meanings, Values and Insights Through Photos. Proceedings of European Conference on Research Methodology for Business and Management Studies ECRM 2010. (pp. 487-495). Madrid, Spain. Academic Publishing Limited. Conference proceedings available here.


Photographs have been used as a means of data capture for many years. Their use in recording observable phenomenon in anthropology is well documented. They also provide a valuable tool for researchers from other disciplines. This paper explores the use of photographs in qualitative business research. It demonstrates how the use of photographs can enrich the business research process through a range of techniques such as photo-elicitation, autodriving, projective prompts and phenomenological interviews. Drawing from a selection of the researchers’ past studies, a comparative review of the use of photographs and the benefits they bring to the data capture process is examined. These studies range from an analysis of visible face makeup, place attachment in a rural community using farmers and town respondents and international students’ perceptions of home. The photographs capture the outside image of what a respondent is sensing and experiencing inwardly, providing a prompt for the respondent to drive the interview with their own words, language and values. In all instances photographs were found to augment the quality and richness of the data captured and provide an extra depth of analysis that otherwise may not have been discovered. In addition, the paper highlights the dynamics involved in the process of using visual data capture methods. The photographs were used for respondents to engage in a free sorting task which is useful in uncovering respondents’ values and meanings when asked to explain choices made between their photographs. This is of particular use in difficult to articulate situations like face makeup self perceptions and personal attachment to the environment. Our findings suggest that photographs are an increasingly important tool to use in business research and that they enhance the breadth and insight of the qualitative research process. The procedures and value gained using photographs are outlined along with a discussion on the benefits and disadvantages of this process.