Family Photo Analysis

In this activity, students will examine and interpret the evolution of family photos.

Created by Canada’s History

Posted February 6, 2020

This classroom activity is inspired by the article “Say Cheese” in the Our Families issue of Kayak: Canada’s History Magazine for Kids.

Family photos have changed a lot over time, but all of them have a story to tell.

In this activity, students will use primary source evidence and historical perspectives to analyze continuity and change. To learn more about the six historical thinking concepts, check out the Historical Thinking Project or consider attending the Historical Thinking Institute.


This classroom activity asks students to conduct some basic photo analysis. If you have never done photo anaylsis activities with your class here are some considerations:

  • Ask students to make observations (ex. the photo is in black and white/colour, there are 5 people in this photo, there is snow on the ground).
  • Ask students to make inferences (ex. the people in this photo look happy/sad, these two people could be siblings, the plants make it look like summertime, their outfits suggest that this photo could be taken around 1950).
  • Make sure to distinguish between observations and inferences. Both can be useful, but inferences cannot be certain without doing more research.

For more in-depth photo analysis guidelines consult The Big Six Historical Thinking Concepts.


Print out or display family photo examples from this document or from your own research.

As a class or in groups, examine these family photos from different time periods.

Ask your students to write a paragraph about the evolution of family photographs and Canadian understandings of family. You can use the questions below to guide your analysis:

  1. What are the things you know for sure about the photo? How many people are in it? What colour is it?
  2. What expressions are on the people in the photo?
  3. When do you think this photo was taken?
  4. How do you think the people in the photo know each other?
  5. Where is the photo taken?
  6. Who do you think took the photo?
  7. What are the differences between modern family photos and these examples?
  8. Where do you think these photos were kept?
  9. Where do you see family photos in the present?
  10. Where do you think family photos will be kept and displayed in the future?
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