What is a picture worth? A primer for coding and interpreting photographic data

Mimi V. Chapman, Shiyou Wu, Meihua Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Society is becoming increasingly image based. As individuals regularly record moments both mundane and momentous, images potentially lose or gain power to communicate important information. Social work scholars have argued that social work should incorporate images into both interventions (Chapman and Hall, 2016; Chapman et al., 2014) and research (Marshal et al., 2009). A recent review provides an overview of visual methodologies in social work (Clark and Morriss, 2015). The most popular means of doing this has been through the incorporation of Photovoice (Wang and Burris, 1997) into the social work research repertoire. Yet, in Photovoice, although images are central, text remains the unit of analysis. This paper aims to augment the existing literature in social work by focusing on ways in which images can be data in and of themselves and how image-based data interact with text-based data. We will begin with ethical considerations, proceed to step-by-step instructions for coding and analyzing image-based data in ATLAS.ti, and finally discuss interpretation. A case example drawing on a visually based project originally conducted with in-country Chinese migrant mothers will illustrate the outlined methods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)810-824
Number of pages15
JournalQualitative Social Work
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • ATLAS.ti
  • Photovoice
  • Visual methods
  • photographic coding
  • qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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