How to Describe a Picture in English

Describing a picture, an image or a photo can be helpful for people with visual impairments to see it through you. Also, in many English exams (FCE, TOEIC, PTE, etc.), you may need to describe pictures in English. Finally, and most importantly, as an ESL learner, describing pictures in English can be a great way to practice and develop your general English skills.

To describe a picture in English, maintain a logical structure to keep the description naturally connecting. Start with the context & setting (time and place), then the position of the objects & the characters and their actions. While describing pictures in English, use modals and adverbials to talk about possibilities when unsure about anything.

Ask WH Questions & Answer Them to Describe a Picture

To describe a picture in English, you may ask yourself a few WH questions and then try to answer them. If you can arrange the answers in a logical structure, the full description will sound like a story. Here are some sample questions:

  • What is this picture about? (Context)
  • What is the setting of the picture? (Time & Place)
  • What are the positions of the characters or the objects in the picture? (Left/right, up/down, etc.)
  • What are the characters doing in the picture? (Standing, walking, talking, etc.)
Sample Picture for Description

Look at the above picture and observe minutely. Now, Answer the above WH questions, collect all the information, and organize it logically. Throughout the next part of the post, We’ll learn to describe a picture step by step. To do so, we’ll take the above picture as a sample. To get the full description of the above picture (Sample Picture), read the post till the end.

Describe What the Picture Is About

Imagine you are describing a picture to a person who has visual impairments. How would you start?

The best way to start describing a picture is by giving an idea of what the picture is about. Give a concise general description that you see apparently at a glance. You don’t need to go into details at the beginning of a picture description.

Here are some example sentences that can help you start the description of the picture.

  • The picture shows some people buying clothes from a clothes shop.
  • In the picture, four people are standing in a clothing store, one is a salesperson, and three are customers.     
  • The picture is about a cloth shop. Some customers are checking different items.
  • This is a picture of a clothing store with three customers and one salesperson.
  • The picture tells us it’s a clothing store, and a salesperson is talking to a customer. And some other customers are checking different items.
  • There are four people in the picture. One of them is a salesperson, and the other three are customers.

Describe the Setting of the Picture

Setting refers to the time and place of a picture. However, you may not always understand the time. But it’s pretty obvious that you can have an idea of a place.

While describing a place, you first give a general idea and then point out every minute detail. Let’s describe the setting of the sample picture above. Generally, you can say this is a clothing store.

But, you can also give some specific information about the store by using descriptive adjectives to give someone a clear idea. For example, you can say “a small clothing store” or “a well-decorated boutique.”

To describe the setting, especially the place, you should try to draw the same picture with words so that one can clearly see the picture through your eyes with the help of your comments.

By using vivid visual imagery, your description of the place in the picture can be recognized or understood even if someone has never seen it before.  

Describe the Positions of the Subjects in the picture

To describe a picture, you must talk about the positions of different characters and objects. Use specific words/phrases, such as left, right, up, down, top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right, center/middle, etc., to give a precise, detailed position of something in the picture.

Remember! There are uses of prepositions before those words. The following photo shows how to use correct prepositions while giving detail about a picture.

Words/Phrases to Describe Positions

Now, let’s see some example sentences using the preposition.

  • In the center of the picture is a counter where a salesperson is talking to a customer.
  • At the top, there are some scarves on the hangers.
  • On the left is a collection of dresses, and a customer is checking them.
  • On the right is a collection of dresses, and a lady thinks about what she can pick.

Describe the Objects in the Picture

While describing a picture, there can be so many objects. You are expected to describe just the most important things. You don’t need to go for detailed descriptions for every object you see.

Suppose in the sample picture, there are a collection of dresses. Instead of talking about every dress, you can say that dresses are kept on hangers on the left.

Yet, you can talk about the category of the dresses as a whole, but it’s not necessary to talk about the color and type of each dress.

Describe the Characters in the Picture

Like objects, you may need to describe the characters. Characters can be of different types: a person or other animals. To describe a person in the picture, you may talk about their sex and appearance.

While talking about their appearance, mention the dresses and some notable physical features like height, overall build, hair, etc. You can also talk about their age.     

Now, look at the sample picture. What can you see about the characters? Here are some example sentences.

  • One of the customers is a blonde. She is wearing white pants and a blue top.
  • The salesperson is wearing glasses.
  • The other customer is wearing a t-shirt.

Describe What the Characters Are Doing

Describing the actions of the characters is one of the most significant things. It would be best if you talked about what is happening in the picture and what the characters are doing in the picture. All these must be in the present continuous tense.

Let’s see some examples.

  • In the picture, a salesperson is talking to a customer.
  • The other customer is probably looking for a suitable dress.
  • A customer is maybe trying to negotiate the price.

7 More Tips to Make Your Description More Comprehensive

  • If you are unsure about anything in the picture, describe them with modal auxiliary verbs. Example:
    1. It could be a picture of a shopping center.
    2. It is maybe a paddy field.
  • You can also use some probability adverbials when you are unsure about anything. Adverbials of probability include probably, possibly, perhaps, etc.
  • Rather than being subjective while describing a picture, you should do it objectively.
  • You can talk about your association with the picture to make it sound natural. For example, if you clicked a photo by yourself, you could share the story of how you took this photo and then describe it. You can also say what this photo reminds you of.
  • If you can’t recognize anything in the photo or lack the vocabulary to express and describe what you see, you can bring some analogies with everyday things to help express yourself well.
  • Make comparisons when necessary. Suppose there are two boys in the picture. One is wearing a shirt, and another a Punjabi. You can draw a comparison. Example:
    1. The boy on the left is wearing a white shirt, whereas the other boy is wearing a blue Punjabi.
  • You can speculate about the picture to make the description more interesting. For example, suppose a photograph shows green countryside. You can speculate that it’s a Bangladeshi village. Or if there is a snowy hill, you can speculate it is Switzerland.

Sample Full Description of a Picture in English

We have already learned the ways to describe a picture in English. Now, let’s try to describe the following picture.

Picture to Describe in English

The photo shows a place covered with green grasses and a hill in the background. It seems to be a sunny day. In the center of the picture is a complete office desk with a chair, table, computer, file cabinet, etc. There is a safe beside the table, and on top of that, there is a tub. On the right, there are some green tees. In the top left corner, there are some trees, but they are not green because they don’t have leaves. We can see green grass on the ground that gives a very fresh vibe. Probably someone has become frustrated with the urban industrial life and thus shifted the office desk to the green.

In Conclusion

Describing a picture requires detailed observation. The more you observe, the more you’ll be able to find important things in the picture. As a result, your description will be enriched with minute details.

Try to draw the same picture with your words that someone has clicked or painted.

Thanks for reading!

Happy learning!

Niaj A A Khan is an ESL Instructor with over 7 years of experience in teaching & developing resources at different universities and institutes. Mr. Khan is also a passionate writer working on his first book, "Learn English at Ease."

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