A critical or explanatory note or body of notes added to a text

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Annotation – a brief guide

a critical or explanatory note or body of notes added to a text” www.dictionary.com

This is just a fancy way of saying that annotation is some notes which accompany a text, or in our case, which accompany an image. The word ‘critical’ above does not necessarily mean that your annotation criticises or finds faults in the image. It simply means ‘important’, as in “it’s critical that you hand in your homework on time!”

So annotation is simply some notes beside an image or a collection of images, but what exactly do we write? Annotation involves skilful judgement about the image, deciding what are the most important (or critical) aspects of the image. It then includes the use of important or ‘critical’ terms, such as composition, lighting, exposure, highlights, tripod, tone etc.

When analysing an image and thinking about what to write, it is often helpful to consider the categories: Medium, Subject, Style, Composition, Lighting and Feelings.


Is the means by which information or meaning is conveyed. For example: oil painting, sculpture in stone, black and white photography, newspaper, radio, TV, pencil drawing on paper, colour photography, digital colour photography, etc.


What the image is OF? For example: a person, an object, an incident etc


This can seem a somewhat vague category. Think about what style means in fashion and music to give you a clue about its meaning.

In photography the Style tells us something about the WAY that the photographer produces their particular images and their particular ‘LOOK’.

First think about the Genre is the image a portrait, landscape, urban landscape, commercial, fashion, abstract etc. Then think about the techniques and processes used to produce the image(s): Was a tripod used? What sort of a camera? Film or digital? What sort of shutter speed and aperture? Deliberately under-exposed? High or low contrast? High of low saturation? What sort of composition? Digitally manipulated? Large or shallow depth of field? Abstract or representational? Was there a specific purpose to the photograph? Does the image or images remind you of the work of another photographer? Etc etc.

Composition & Lighting

You might want to comment on the composition & use of light if these are important aspects of the image.

For example, does the image use lines to direct the eye of the viewer, are there any strong diagonals, how is light used - is it soft or hard light? is the image ‘flat looking’ or very three dimensional, how is the space used? are any rules of composition being followed or broken? etc

For more information on composition and the visual elements see:

Feelings (many critics talk about ‘mood’, but ‘feelings’ is a broader concept & incorporates the idea of mood)

Do you like the image? Why? How does it make you feel? (happy, sad, excited, bored etc), Does the image or images tell a story (narrative)? Was the photographer/artist trying to get a message or particular feeling or mood across to the viewer?

OK, OK !!! …. I thought annotation was supposed to be a few notes to accompany an image or a few images, this is turning into an essay!
Here is where the real skill comes in: when you annotate an image you do NOT have to write about everything – many of the suggestions above will not be relevant. The trick is to first study the picture or pictures and then make a few notes on what you think are the most important aspects (the critical aspects).
Example 1

I really like this black & white photograph because it is so simple and yet so powerful.

It is a portrait of a man in an almost deserted street lined by trees. It has been raining and he holds an umbrella. The trees create strong implied lines which draw our eye to the man’s face. He looks quite old but is smartly dressed in a dark cape and bowler hat. Perhaps he is an important politician or civil servant – he certainly looks very self-important as he gazes directly into the camera. The image makes me feel a bit sad because he looks so alone and this feeling is encouraged by the photographer’s control of contrast, giving the image a somewhat stark feel, with the man and trees standing out against the pale sky and pavement.
The above annotation does not mention much about lighting or technical camera settings because the other aspects of the image seemed more important. For another image these factors might well be the most important and should therefore be mentioned in more detail.
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