Visual Analysis Qualitative Research – Survey

This post is a review and reflection of the survey created in MS Forms for use with my Visual Analysis Contextual work on Atmosphere in photography.


The survey was a quick six question survey set out primarily to gauge people’s opinions about atmosphere being created by a photograph. The main two questions I was concerned with are questions 2 and 3, five words about each of the two pictures I include in my visual analysis work.

As part of my writing already I have used several words that I think are used for atmospheric photos and I wanted to see if these cropped up in the responses to the two images.

Those words I have written before the survey: moody, spooky, eery, bright, happy, jovial, uplifting, depressing.

To introduce respondents I created a post on Facebook that was seen by a number of my “friends”. It introduced them to the reason behind my questions and assured them that it was not a fake, spam post. I purposefully included the titles of the photos as they don’t mean much to anyone that doesn’t know the photographers or the reason for the photos being taken.

The facebook post inviting people to respond.

Question Time

Following on from this link, the survey opens with a welcome screen explaining that I’m interested in words that are inspired by the two photos.

First question is to ask if the respondent is interested in any of the aforementioned art types, to gauge if people completing the survey were photography biased or whether there might be a link to some words used based on consumption of movies and tv shows.

Question 1

Question two was to take a look at Power’s photograph and come up with the first five words. An easy task or so I thought. I chose a free text field here as if I’d provided answers with check boxes it wouldn’t have allowed freedom of expression.

Question 2

The same was true of question three that showed Wong’s image. I was interested to see if the same words might come from both photos.

Question 3

Question four was to figure out whether I could ask questions five and six, there would be no point asking those questions if the person didn’t think a photo could create the feeling of an atmosphere. A branch in the MS Forms here would have meant a No answer would lead you to the end, whilst Yes, Maybe or Other led you to questions five and six.

Question 4

Questions five and six were additional questions at the last moment to see if there were any common threads on photos that other people might consider in this manner, and also if there was any other media that did the same thing for the person answering my questions.

Questions 5 & 6


The results to the survey were anonymous and can be downloaded at the following link. There is no personally identifiable information contained within.

As you can see from the chart pertaining to question one, the majority of people (41 from 47) chose photography as an art that they have an interest in. Music was a close second which I was surprised about and lowest on the list was TV programmes. I’m not sure there is much relevance from this question apart from it shows that photographers are interested enough to answer the questions.

Question two was about Power’s photograph, the word cloud shows more used words in larger and darker text, so the main word was Light, with a smattering of other words that can be seen below.

The full list of responses to this question show the feelings created by this image. Light is used a lot, hospital, medical, clinical, apocalyptic, sterile and death feature too along with other words that play to my notes in early drafts of my visual analysis that it is similar to a scene from Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later where the protagonist is walking through the hospital.

There are more fearful words in the list too, like fear, foreboding, suspense, intrigue, wariness, ominous, confusing, scary, haunted, and disturbing than there are hopeful words. The positive words like hope, freedom, clean, safety, joy, and happy are few and far between.

The one word that surprised me particularly was Light, and that it featured so highly, possibly because I’d looked at the image a lot that I was starting to look too deeply. Even more interesting was that the antonym Dark featured on question three as the highest frequency word used.

  • “Mysterious, Inviting, Secret, Awakening, Exploring “
  • “Suspense, intrigue, wariness, blood, ominous “
  • “Plain, confusing, doors, light, irrelevant “
  • “Light, hope, freedom, reflection, change”
  • “Sinister clinical stark cold scary”
  • ” Curious, foreboding, light, colour symmetry”
  • “Light, smooth, beam, shaft, white”
  • “Abandoned. Light. Unfinished. Left. Rays”
  • “Unknown shiny corridor light sterile”
  • “Paint, open wire unfinished sun”
  • “Sunlight Reflection Doors Wire Orange “
  • “Empty, cold, opening, light, hope”
  • “Abstract, lighting, two-tone, stable door, cube”
  • “Open doors what’s the point “
  • “What is behind the doors”
  • “Haunted. Death. Hospital. Abandoned. Defaced “
  • “Light, reflections, shining, gore, geometry “
  • “Depressing, hospital, rundown, 80’s, light”
  • “Solid, Foreboding, Sneak, Disturbing, Kidnap”
  • “Shadows Light Reflection Moody Mirror”
  • “Derelict, hope, lonely, quiet, calm”
  • “Unease Reflections Hospital Drab Insipid “
  • “Building Forward Developing Clean Change”
  • “Empty derelict ajar doors floor”
  • “Intrigue, fear, derelict, hospital, abandoned”
  • “Wet, sunlight, red, unfinished, mystery “
  • “Abandoned apocalyptic unease unpleasant stark”
  • “Intrigue trepidation unknown freedom scared”
  • “Expectation hope safety enlightenment warmth”
  • “Wet floor shining in sun”
  • “Mystery, potential, light, dawning, awakening. “
  • “Mysterious creepy sinister abandoned empty”
  • “Empty derelict abandoned unknown silent”
  • “Doors corridor streaming light red”
  • ” hospital, official, sterile, old, derelict, “
  • “Uncertainty, hiding, alone, negative energy “
  • “Expectation. Hope. Joy. Happy. Excitement. “
  • “They’re heeeee-er! (Sorry not 5)”
  • “Empty, fear, hidden, blood, reflecting”
  • “Suspense, intrigue, fear, future, interpretation “
  • “Blood, unknown, tense, hope, horror”
  • “open seep intrigue doors abandoned”
  • “Hope, enlightenment, fear, anticipation, anxiety “
  • “Stepping into the spirit world. “
  • “Unpleasant, derelict, medical, uninteresting, dirty”
  • “Open doors and red floor “
  • “Screens. Doctor. Hospital. Corridor. Light. “

As previously mentioned, the answers received for question four show Dark in the centre of the word cloud showing frequency of use. Again, I was surprised that this was the case, but looking again at the two images, it stands out like a sore thumb, I think it was a case of not seeing the wood for the trees on my part. In the responses for this question there was only three mentions of the word blood, which I thought would feature more highly. This is due to my history of watching movies and as mentioned in my visual analysis, it reminds me of the scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, when the elevators flood a torrent of blood from within.

There are not a lot of positive words at all in this set of responses but there are more mentions of the word colour and also colours such as blue (8 occurrences), Purple (1) and the word Colour (5) compare this to Wong’s image where the word colour was mentioned once, and there were three other colours mentioned 5 times, White (1), Red (3) and Orange (10)

It would strike me from the list of responses that colour was a more important reaction to Wong’s image than it was for Power’s image. But the words used in general were specific to the photographs with only a small few crossing over the most frequent word to appear in both lists is Fear, appearing six times for Wong’s image and four for Power’s photo.

  • “Scary, Futuristic, Sci-Fi, Alien, Dark “
  • “Night-time, dark, neon, city, futuristic “
  • “Moody, interesting, dark, blue, alley”
  • “Stillness, quiet, colour, secluded, height”
  • “Atmospheric urban poverty hostile frenetic”
  • “Restricted, fearful, curious, complex, blue”
  • “Urban, grunge, underexposed, blue, danger”
  • “Morning. Industry. Mess. Dark. Unhappy”
  • “Twilight urban purple alley close “
  • “Dark, air conditioned, purple USA, blue”
  • “Purple Wires Squares Circles Blue”
  • “Blue, busy, disorganised, colours, dark”
  • “City, high-rise, density, US/Asia, industry,”
  • “Danger don’t go down there ŵ”
  • “Workshop Behind the blue door. “
  • “Futuristic, distopian, blue, slum alleyway “
  • “Fantasy, towers, moody, urban, dystopian “
  • “Interesting, overcrowded, urban, electricity, dystopian”
  • “Dystopian, Busy, Thriller, Future, Waste”
  • “Mood Low Light Height Narrow”
  • “Claustrophobic, gloomy, dystopian, grim, depressed “
  • “Dark Fearful Bladerunner Industrial Excited “
  • “Eerie Trapped Sinister Dark Industrial”
  • “Dump untidy poverty crowding seedy “
  • “Cramped, busy, dirty, noisy, hot”
  • “Overcrowded, dark, industrial, unorganised, unsafe “
  • “Industrial urban decay haunting isolation “
  • “Busy dark hot claustrophobic industrial”
  • “Fear danger smell cold vulnerable “
  • “Cold dark narrow enclosed space”
  • “Depths, darkness, fear, unknown, shadows. “
  • “Intriguing colourful haunting interesting derelict”
  • “Sinister mysterious dark haunting colouful”
  • “Control panel high rise flats”
  • “Blue, atmospheric, death, empty, spiritual”
  • “Futuristic, survival, darkness, mechanical, city”
  • “Fear. Mystery. Unnerved. Lonely. Dark.”
  • “Eerie, quiet, tranquillity, silence, peaceful”
  • “Complicated, industrial,technical,danger,mysterious”
  • “Future, sci-fi, Japan, industrial, dystopia “
  • “Attack, fear, claustrophobic, trapped, hidden”
  • “dark oppressive mad city unnatural”
  • “Futuristic, slum, caution, moody, cold “
  • “Ghostly, daunting, crime, eery, poor”
  • “Gotham, urban, industrial, colour, interesting”
  • “Looks like 3D photo “
  • “Asia. High rise Ghetto. Night. Flats. “

The next question was a breakpoint or a decision where the user of the survey would be directed to two further questions if they chose Yes, Maybe or Other, and if they selected No it would then take them to the end screen. Out of the 47 respondents 100% of people selected yes which I was really surprised about. I thought that there might be a couple of people who just didn’t think that it was possible. I wonder how large a sample size I’d need to survey before I got a No as an answer. There might be some bias in this group that were surveyed as they’re all friends, colleagues or acquaintances that I know and therefore might have similar interests to me.

There wasn’t even a Maybe in the mix, which meant that all of the survey respondents got to the last two questions. Question Five asks the respondent if they recall a photograph that ellicits a memory and there were a good mixture of respondents.

One person responded back with too many to list, another five people responded with No. There were no really clear patterns but many people used the word moody, twelve people mentioned weather and meteorology words such as sunrise, sunset, moody skies, rain, mist etc. This might be related to the memories of people that have experienced the particular weather conditions and a photograph instantly transports them back. One person specifically mentioned family photographs and I also feel this with some of my early memories and photos taken by my parents.

Question Six was an open ended text entry to allow people to leave any further comments if they wanted to, with no requirement to do so.

One comment from someone was:

“A photo can trigger an emotional response upon the viewer eg joy, love, sadness, anger, a sense of beauty or awe or trigger a memory. Responses to an image can be varied, common or individual. “

Anonymous respondent.

It was interesting that the person said it could be common or individual, indicating that it might have the same meaning for a group or might be completely subjective. I guess that the word common, might represent a set of people. If people have spent a lot of time in hospital maybe they’d see Power’s photograph a certain way, even though it is in the Airbus A380 factory. People who work in an industrial setting might also see it as an industrial photograph and be reminded of their experiences. These views proliferate the comments.

“I feel as though creating atmosphere is all about the viewers personal experiences. People with different experiences may see the photograph and it conjure different atmospheres. “

Anonymous respondent.

The above quote touches on the process of an atmosphere being subjective, based upon the viewers prior experiences, which lines up with my thoughts and conjectures in the visual analysis.

The below comment has a similar sentiment stating that different perspectives are likely probably because every person is an individual with their own lived experiences and history.

“It’s interesting how a photographer captures a moment in time but what the atmosphere is very much depends on the person because everyone will view it from a different perspective”

Anonymous respondent.

The last quote I’ll pull out of this answer is the following, which basically reaffirms the previous comment.

“as with any art, individuals will have different views, so what atmosphere one person sees, another may not, or something different”

Anonymous respondent.

There were other comments about other things that helped to create an atmosphere in a photograph, not least was the word Light. It seems that a number of people consider the light in an image as an important part of how it might help with the creation of an atmosphere. Others mentioned the word powerful a couple of times too indicating that the atmospheric output of a picture can be powerful, whether it’s a photo of a late relative or a memory of somewhere you’ve been in the past, it seems that the power of a photo can transport you back to the date and place.

My Reflection

Movies influence me a great deal and I can relate photographs that I see to match up with certain films that I may have seen. This is how I categorise images and they can also trigger the atmosphere for me, with a reminder of a time or place that an event happened. In much the same way as the olfactory system transports you to childhood with a smell that pops in, I find this occurs for me with photos.

The survey was an interesting exercise and I managed to pull a few words from it that I hadn’t formed from looking at the images myself. It was reassuring to see that my views on subjectivity were reflected but my biggest discovery was the blindingly obvious comparison of the two photos, one being Light and the other Dark. Usually this contrast equates to good and bad in these two photographs the lighter image seemed to be the best at creating an uneasy feeling amongst the viewers.

My survey skills are not properly honed either, I’m certain that there are far more efficient methods of discovering the data that I wanted to see and being able to represent them in a more straightforward manner. The word clouds are ok in the MS Forms application and if you hover a word a pop up shows how many times that word is used. It’s not brilliant for the lists of five words though as some are treated as one word or a phrase is considered instead.

The tool is very easy to use though and I think that I might be able to better use it for my Level 6 year in the collection of some primary research for the dissertation that I’ll inevitably be writing. This isn’t for another two years yet though as I still have the second half of level 5 to complete.

People who responded were very kind to give up their time and type in the five words, but I think I should have provided five separate boxes for single words and this might then have been easier to analyse on the spreadsheet using pivot tables. As it was I had to faff around to clean up the data and remove blanks etc.

I’m not sure how I will use this info in my visual analysis yet, possibly by quoting some of th words used by the respondents as primary research rather than my subjective reading fo the photos entirely. The fact that dark vs light made an appearance is interesting as is the fact that I never spotted it. Nobody mentioned that Power’s photo reminded them of The Shining but at least two people mentioned blood when looking at the photo. That is enough for me to be justified thinking about the scene from that movie when I see it.

As mentioned in the previous post, I can see a few surveys online about photography but they seem to be more technically based, i.e. what gear do you use? what photography genre do you do? rather than asking for opinions about topics. I can see a use for the tools that are available but understand also that I should refine the outcome I need to document and work backwards from there in the future. In this case though, the answers I wanted were mainly the five words per picture, so I consider it a success. Yay.

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