Visual Methods

Meet James Craig, a lecturer in Architecture in Architecture, Planning and Landscape, and who uses creative methods to understand the relationship between subjectivity and architectural drawings.

Visual research methods are a collection of methods which use images as part of the process of generating data (Rose, 2015). Examples of visual methods include visual ethnographies, photo elicitation or participatory mapping. Visual methods use a huge range of images including maps, drawings, graphic novels, photos, film, video, selfies and diagrams, to name a few. These images are generated in a range of ways including through participatory activity, those produced by the researcher or using ‘found’ visual materials (Rose, 2015). Visual data can also be used to elicit discussion or as a focus for analysis. While visual methods sometimes overlap with both creative methods and arts-based research, they should not be used as synonyms. 

Visual research methods are effective in eliciting ideas and experiences that might otherwise be difficult to express through discussion or language and are often used in settings where there is a language barrier between the participant and the researcher. Some researchers consider visual methods as effective tools through which to demonstrate social issues and groups that would remain otherwise invisible, particularly in work which addresses issues of social exclusion and ‘hard to reach’ groups (Delgado, 2015). 

There are several ethical considerations relevant to visual methods, including around consent, ownership, and reproduction and dissemination of images. Legally, for example, a participant who is generating photographs in a participatory study owns the copyright to their photographs. However, in studies where pseudonyms are used to protect the confidentiality and anonymity of participants, it is difficult to attribute ownership. Other legal issues around consent include taking and using photos of others. Whilst this is legally viable, it would be necessary to gain written consent from those appearing in the images to meet ethical research standards, yet this is often contextually difficult. Due to such blurry and contested legal issues, many scholars have claimed a case for ‘special ethics’ when dealing with visual methods, suggesting that each project should be assessed on a case-by-case basis (Rose, 2016). 


Rose, G (2015). Visual research methods in an expanded field: what next for visual research methods?, Visual Method Culture. (Accessed 12th March 2021) Available at: <> 

Rose, G (2016). Visual Methodologies: An Introduction to Researching with Visual Materials. SAGE Publications.