Visual research methods offer ways to collect, analyze, and present information about congregations by treating materials such as photographs, film, video, print media, digital media, maps, and drawings as data. The visual materials may be created by the researcher, a research participant, or a third party such as a professional photographer.

Sometimes the images are used as part of interview to initiate conversations, to explore experiences and emotions, and/or to elicit participants’ stories (see photo elicitation). Transcripts from these interviews, in turn, may be analyzed for salient themes relevant to the research, as is done in qualitative data analysis. Others have used photography or videography to explore and tell the story of a congregation, its architecture, or the broader context in which it is located. A content analysis of images may be undertaken in which the researcher creates quantitative data by counting features of photographs to explore the meanings present in the images. These numerical data may be represented as visualizations through which the data are further explored by the researcher. And images themselves offer an important way to help others ‘see’ what is going on in, through, and beyond congregations.

Download a bibliography of sources for visual research methods.

Related Articles: Congregational Snapshots: Understanding and Engaging Congregations through Cell Phone PhotographsBringing Programs into Focus: Photo Elicitation as a Tool for Program Evaluation

Written and compiled by Roman R. Williams; Calvin College, Department of Sociology and Social Work