Any good sources on catching psychological clues from photographs?

Hi, guys. I thought I’d ask, maybe somebody has come across an E-book or some other online source concerning an aspect of non-verbal communication that I’ve recently been interested more and more about.

I’ve got some basic and by now mostly intutive formation (as I’ve had ample time to forget whatever exactly I did learn) regarding moods legible in faces and the reasons why people adopt certain positions of the body in various situations. Well, this is all cool if you get to interpret natural behaviours that unfold in front of you in a natural way, especially if you’ve had some opportunity to observe the subjects before. Things are different, though, with static photographs, especially ones commissioned by the models themselves.

So in that latter connection, as right now I’m mostly interested in picking up clues from pictures that people elect to have taken and elect a pose or facial expression or a choice of clothing or some other elective or habitual factors out of a million. I figured it would be good to get in touch with a bit of theory or the practical experience of a noted expert, as opposed to relying on intuitive application of knowledge that’s more appropriate in different situations,

So, has anybody come across any good sources on reading people from photographs? This presuming that the specific photograph is not taken by surprise by a stranger or dictated totally by a photographer (I guess professionals can put a lot of personality that’s their own and not their models’ in the pictures) but at least selected by the model for social use (“authorised”, so to say) or actually co-authored, possibly even deliberately intended the way it came out (though I’d expect this to be semi-random anyway).

Are you thinking of something like:


Thank you for the link. Yes, something along those lines, though I’m more interested in the, shall we say, more social, “soft science” kinds of things like a piece of theory on what drives people to take what poses, what they are sending by electing to stand here or there or use a particular perspective or light or using a photograph of themselves either from holidays or from work, either from the hot seaside or the snowy mountains, and so on and so forth. I’m pretty sure there must be some people who are getting paid to pull this type of thing on politicians and their campaign pictures.

Oh, I see now. As a photographer myself, there is discussion in photography clubs about that. So perhaps these two are closer:


Have you read the work of Paul Ekman, particularly his “Emotions Revealed”?

Thank you. Looks like interesting stuff to delve in. The specific context of the situation that got me thinking about this was profiles on dating websites. I’ve had a good many years of interest in body language previously, as I was interested in it as a student in highschool and at university. It started from, shall we say, semi-science, but eventually I got some stuff ordered by a former criminal investigator (I’m a criminal trial lawyer myself, though not a criminologist) who categorised certain types of indicators making sure that they don’t get interpreted out of context. This clicked well with the previous caveats by psychologists that sometimes the same things happen for different reasons in body language, so one shouldn’t be too quick to conclude.

After looking through thousands of profiles, and I’m generally an analytical/synthetical person with some transferrable skills here (worked with text, played a lot of RPG games with “character sheets”, so I was prepared to deal with such), I noticed myself making uneducated guesses that tended to come out right. However, I didn’t want to judge books by the cover. Even if I was getting things right, it seemed absurd to estimate the probable answers to questions about contraception/premarital sex/divorce basing on someone’s facial expression. A more flirtacious or a more secular look tended to result in “no opinion” or “everybody has a right to his opinion” or “I accept” but there was more to it. For the record, it’s not like facial expression and choice of clothing can’t suggest a couple of hints on political and social views. And obviously the scenery. The choice of this or that background. Is it a library or is it a lab, or is it a city home or a city abroad or is it an elaborate posed photo or an amateur posed one or a totally random picture.

This isn’t exactly bogus, as intuition basically processes the same things the same way as conscious reasoning, only faster and outside our control. But this lack of control and the potential of being biased or just simply clueless is what makes me think that one should give some conscious thought to these indicators and the conclusions from them, order them up a bit. Get some more reliability in my guesses as to what exactly somebody wanted to say or didn’t consciously want to but still managed to say anyway, operating from the presumption that a photograph and the choice of a photograph tends to be an expression of self, thus all sorts of stuff that’s in the picture says something about our values, moods, personalities, desires etc. As I’m going to pick it up anyway (I suppose everybody does unless he trains himself to ignore it), I better make sure I pick it up right.

Does this help you figure out what I’m after?

I do try to look for those same things, though in the context of social media (which is where I’m doing research at the moment). In general, poses, appearance, facial expression, and image quality all reflect on the personality of the person. For example, there are broad categories of image quality: professional quality versus Instagram/cellphone quality. They aren’t perfect correlates, of course, since some professionals will use Instagram, and some people will have a friend who happens to take a professional(-looking) photo despite no desire of the enportraited individual to ever seek out that level of quality on their own. Professional models and photographers both work to convey certain emotions, moods, and so forth in a photograph, so reversing the process should work, too.

The general premise is sound as you say, since humans are inclined to make “snap judgments” as a survival mechanism just as people will inadvertently convey their views through how they present themselves. Investigating the process behind it is worthwhile.

Anyhow, I think I have a better idea of what you’re after now.

I think these might be helpful (and interesting):

(I don’t have much to offer in the way of image-interpretation, though, since my research focus is pattern-mining. The references in each of the linked articles will be of use.)

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