University of Minnesota Duluth block M and wordmark
Information Technology Systems and Services

3 Tips for Writing Long Descriptions of Pictures

Describe what you see/what is visually evident. Long text alternatives for pictures verbally describe the appearance for the benefit of people who are unable to see them. They should simply answer the question, "What does the image look like?"

1. Describe From General to Specific

Be logical. In order to be easily understood, image descriptions of pictures should describe according to some logical sequence. Begin with a general overview of what the picture is or portrays, focusing first on an overview before providing details. Following the overview, various portions of the picture can be detailed, in some type of orderly fashion. One tactic is to explain the foreground, mid-ground, and background. In general, provide directions from the perspective of the viewer looking at the picture. For example, refer to the left or right side of a picture as if one was standing in front of it in a gallery. However, when describing people within a photo, it is better to use their perspective. This applies when mentioning a subject's "left hand" or "right shoulder."

2. Describe Objectively and Accurately. Don't Describe Motivations or Intentions.

Be objective. Descriptions of pictures should be straightforward and factual. They should avoid interpretations or emotional responses.

3. Be Descriptive. Try to Use Vivid, Imaginative Language.

Image descriptions should utilize vivid terminology to describe various features of the picture. For instance:

Composition (or the arrangement of elements in a picture) can be described as:
In the foreground (or background), to the left (or right), low, high, above, below, parallel, perpendicular.
Shapes can be described as:
Cylindrical, curved, rounded, square, cubed, rectangular, flat, straight, circular, spherical, triangular, conical, pyramidal, angular, irregular, jagged, sloped, diagonal, horizontal and vertical.
Size can be described as:
Large, tall, monumental, thick, thin, narrow, wide, life-size, small, tiny, short, miniature, true to size, large scale and small scale.
Texture can be described as:
Smooth, glossy, coarse, grainy, rough, worn, weathered, scratched, cracked, broken, rippled, grooved, patterned, striped, dotted and perforated.
Color can be described as:
Vivid, bright, intense, light, dark, muted, dull, pale, faint, solid or blended. Don't omit reference to color on the assumption that it will be meaningless to people who are blind. Most people who are blind were able to see in the past and are able to recall colors.
It is best to avoid jargon or specialized terminology that may be unfamiliar.