Tag Archives: image description

Guidelines for picture descriptions

These guidelines were composed by the blind art historian Anja Winter in German. The list focuses on paintings but can also be applied to photographs. You can find more suggestions in how to describe pictures to blind people in our “Your Description” section.

1.  Facts

  • painter
  • title and genre
  • format and measurements
  • technique
  • time of origin



  • composition (fore – middle and background)
  • main object (only what draws the viewer’s attention immediately)
  • colours


2. Impression, Mood

  • detailed description of what is to see in the picture
  • avoiding personal interpretation


3. General background information

  • (If extra knowledge is needed to interpret the picture)
  • Biographical dates of painter and if existing of client
  • Style and epoch
  • Distinctive characteristics from an art historian’s perspective
  • Historical or religious background

Copyright tastkunst 06. 2012


App Review: can Image recognition Apps be Useful to Blind and Visually impaired photographers?

Nowadays the app store offers a large variety of free and paid image recognition and magnification apps. Most of them are designed to help blind and visually impaired people to identify everyday objects such as written documents and household items like cans or bottles. However, all these projects take visual impressions and convert them into text or speech output, which in a way makes them similar to our photo descriptions. Of course our descriptions are written by real people, putting their own interpretations and associations into the texts, and not by machines, using image databases to recognize objects. Still, we were wondering, if some of the apps could be useful for artistic purposes e.g. to help blind photographers to identify what’s in front of their camera or to sort photos after they were taken. I found numerous detailed tests of the various apps, but none of them focused on the artistic aspect.

Work in progress

Throughout the next weeks we are collecting apps to feature in our comparison. The aim is to get a comprehensive list of apps and to test them not on household items, but on photo motives such as landscapes, people and animals and artworks like paintings, sculptures and photographs from our blog. Therefore, we encourage you to send us names of image recognition apps and pictures of the above mentioned things as test motives. Of course you can also do tests yourself and send us your results to be published here. Are there any other apps you use to take or modify pictures? I’ll do my tests with an IPhone and IOS apps, but Android tests are also welcome. Some of the below mentioned apps work with live-recognition, so I’ll try them on potential photo motives.

I’m especially interested in how the apps deal with more complex motives such as portraits, group shots and images working with light and shadow as well as subtle colour shades. Are the live-recognition apps good enough to focus on an object before taking the actual picture? And are apps working with already taken photos good enough to help us to sort pictures or even to decide which ones are ‘good’ and ‘bad’?

Here are my initial lists of apps and thinks I want to try them out on. This is just a very general outline of the test, so feel free to add suggestions in the comments below or e-mail us at picdesc@gmail.com

Apps to test

Some of the apps are especially designed for visually impaired an blind users, others are shopping and price comparison apps.

  • Aipoly Vision (iOS, Free)
  • CamFind
  • Leavesnap
  • TapTapSee
  • ThirdEye Technologies Inc. (iOS, Free)

Test objects:

Naturally I can only test things I’ll find in my surrounding or objects we have pictures of in our blog. This is just a random list of things coming to my mind at the time of writing.

  • Different animals
  • Beach, mountains
  • reflection in water or glass
  • sky, sunset, moon
  • fire or candle
  • Portrait, only part of a body
  • group of more than 2 people
  • tree, leave of tree, flower
  • house, staircase
  • car
  • food
  • writing on a sign or wall
  • shop window
  • statue,
  • painting

Please feel free to send us items to add to the list of apps and objects. We look forward to reading your suggestions.

About being a blind photographer, by Katrin Dinges

This article is roughly based on a German post by Katrin, reflecting on her participation in our photography workshop in May 2014 and her experiences as a blind photographer in general.

Since my first project in 2012 photography is a bridge between seeing and not seeing to me. I realized that touching sculptures or roses in a park creates some kind of visual image in my mind. Reading the descriptions in our blog brings back past memories; or I think I’m actually able to see the described things in front of my inner eye. Until my teenage years I was still able to see contrasts and shapes, so looking at pictures meant something to me. During my first project it was hard to realize that I now could neither see what was in the focus of the camera nor the captured image. Fortunately, I overcame this pain and continued taking pictures. Thus, I regained access to visual memories I believed to have forgotten a long time ago.

To my own amazement I started to notice my remaining vision again a few months ago. It is really not a lot, merely light and darkness and some extremely blurred shadows. But sometimes it even distracts my concentration or orientation. Once it made me loose the rhythm while dancing tango. Another time I danced into the wrong direction, because I saw something white. As I later discovered it was not a floodlight as I thought but the white wall.

Talking about visual things not only helped me to remember, it also made it easier to explain to others what and how I see. Sometimes I’m not sure where the boundaries between my own sensual perception and the impressions I get from other people’s descriptions are. Emotionally this experience is enriching and confusing at the same time an I would like to investigate this connection further.

A while ago I recommended our German blog to a Russian friend, who is also blind. Her parents, unable to read the German descriptions, described my pictures to her and remarked they looked as if a sighted person had taken them. Actually this is a huge compliment, but I’m not sure how I feel about this, because sighted people helped me to take the photos and I don’t necessarily want to create pictures similar to those sighted people take.

Maybe I should search for some of my first pictures to scan and upload them here. They were taken with an analogue camera and in a more random fashion with less sighted help. It would be interesting to compare them with more recent digital pictures. However, I got used to the help which makes it easier to select motives and depict exactly what I want to depict. Besides, there were too many bad pictures among the analogue ones.

Can blind people read hands?

In my latest project I focus on hands – hands in different positions, engaged in various actions. As a blind person someone’s hands are often the only part of a person I touch. In contrast to that most photographers focus on faces, because they convey more emotions. I also put things I regard as beautiful into hands, to create a different sensual impression. I love touching artful objects or the art of nature – a delicate flower or the cracked bark of a massive old tree.

Hands can tell me as much about a person as their faces. I rarely touch the latter and I would never ask to do so, because touching someone’s face is a rather intimate gesture, especially if you don’t know a person vary well. I suppose most people wouldn’t refuse this request, but it has to come naturally and spontaneously, otherwise it becomes embarrassing to both partners. If a friend offers me to touch her or his face, I appreciate it as an invaluable proof of trust. For example in my new dancing group it is part of our improvised dancing to tuch each other, including our faces. Some of the other dancers also told me that they experienced it as something special and unique. For sighted people the first thing they see of each other are the faces, not the hands. One dancer said she didn’t let me feel her face only to do me a favour, but also because she wanted to know what the sensation would be like.

A friend of mine once jokingly called me a hand reader. Of course I cannot read the future in people’s hands, but I think due to my intensively trained sense of touch I gather from them more information than most sighted people do. It is a pity that smells can neither be adequately described nor captured in a picture to show them to others. Likewise sighted people sometimes find it difficult to explain visual experiences to me, which I have never seen myself. Occasionally these impressions are too abstract and I find no approach to them.

Looking closer and closer

On the other hand my detailed questions seam to change the way the narrators look at things themselves. Often narrators tell me they wouldn’t have noticed certain details, if I wouldn’t have asked specific questions. Writing visual impressions down as a coherent text brings more details to light than just glancing casually at a picture. For example in a photo of a tram one could look through the doors and windows and see people walking behind the tram on the other side of the street. They were blurred but nevertheless clearly visible. My describer said she wouldn’t have noticed this without describing the scene to me. On the other hand, a lady who I regularly meet to read texts and talk, told me since she learns more about the way I perceive things she trys to focus more on her sense of touch. Thus completely different ways of perception complement each other and fuse into an universal perception of sensory impressions. This process of mutual approximation and change of perspective in photography workshops, dancing groups or other projects is a very enriching experience to me.

Suggestions on how to describe pictures to blind people

This article is roughly based on a German text by Erich Schmid.

For a start there are several degrees of being “blind”. It is a widespread misconception that blind people live literally in the dark. In fact most of them still see something even if their vision is reduced to lights or colours and vague shapes. Many lost their sight later in life or gradually, thus they know of colours and what things look like. For how long they have been able to see constitutes another important factor. There are people who lost their sight in their early teens but still see in their dreams. Consequently, it is important to them to keep their visual imagination alive.

Furthermore, many visually impaired people would not describe themselves as completely blind or fully sighted, rather as somewhere in between the two extremes. Pictures can help them to use their remaining vision as effectively as possible. Just think of magnifying glasses, binoculars or the freeze and magnify functions on ordinary cameras and smartphones.

Even though this situation sounds rather complex don’t worry too much about your description when you first write it, because the blog gives visually impaired people the possibility to ask further questions, helping the description to grow and develop. We encourage you to mention colours and perspectives even if people who are blind since birth may have difficulties relating to these concepts.

Describing a Picture in Three Steps

Erich Schmid is an art historian who is completely blind since birth. He is frequently asked how blind people see and imagine their immediate surroundings and the world in general and how sighted people should describe visual impressions to them. Over the years he developed the following model for describing pictures in three steps. It is simply a basic guideline based on his personal experience, highlighting the most important features to be mentioned.

Secondly, a photograph or painting comprises not only what it depicts. Rather it is a medium with its own aesthetics and its own language. Two pictures taken within five seconds of each other at the same place can portray a completely different impression of a single motive.

  1. Details about the picture: Who made it? When, where and why was it made? Is there a background story attached to it? How big and in which format is it? For paintings: What techniques have been used?
  2. Iconographical and iconological description: What is depicted? What is in the middle, at the top, at the bottom, on the left and on the right? From which angle is the picture taken? Are there remarkable compositional features?
  3. What impression does the picture make on the describer? Here personal impressions should not overbalance more objective features. It should be rather easy to determine the atmosphere and sometimes also season and time of day. Finally, the describer can add things that strike her or him as remarkable and noteworthy.

A comment by Katrin Dinges

My situation is completely different: I had some vision until I was between 13 and 15. Since that time I’m only able to see lights and shadows. Thus, I have a limited but relatively good idea about visual impressions. I learn a lot about seeing through descriptions.

The following things are important to me:

  • Is it a picture in portrait or landscape format?
  • What is the general mood or atmosphere in the picture?
  • What is the most prominent object in the picture?
  • What else is there to see?
  • Personally, I would like to have as many details as possible

Please feel free to leave a comment if you have more suggestions. Picture describers too are more than welcome to share their methods and experiences.

Short image descriptions: @alt_text_bot on Twitter

We found the amazing Twitter Account @alt_text_bot and wanted to share this fantastic little programme with our readers.

The idea is similar to the concept of our blog: it creates descriptions of images. Although Alt_Text_Bot is automated and gives only basic descriptions, it provides a clever way to find out general features of a picture such as how many people or things are depicted and what they are doing or where they are. Sometimes you get the basic colours of objects. It also recognizes logos of famous brands and some celebrities.

The developer Cameron Cundiff explains how it works:

“Alt_Text_Bot uses an API from CloudSight to help describe images submitted in tweets. Users simply need to mention @alt_text_bot in a tweet with an image (the tweet must be part of the image, not in a Twitter card or via a link) and Alt Text Bot will respond with a description.“

Read more about the developer’s inspiration to set up this account here:

And here is a short review by Adrian Rosselli:

We tested it ourselves:

Cliffs Innish More
Cliffs Innish More

For this picture of the rocky cliffs of Innish More, one of the Aran Islands off the Irish West coast, we got “water waves clashing on stone cliff.” back. Absolutely amazing!

If you want a longer and more personal or artistic description of your pictures send them to us picdesc@gmail.com After all, no software can replace real people, but Alt_text_bot is a clever little tool for blind photographers to sort their pictures.

It’s great to know there are like-minded people out there!