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Describing a picture in English

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Describing a picture in English

1) Introduction

The photo/picture shows ...It was taken by/in ...It's a black-and-white/coloured photo.

2) What is where?

In the foreground/background you can see ...In the foreground/background there is ...In the middle/centre there are ... At the top/At the bottom there is ...On the left/right there are ...Behind/In front of ... you can see ...Between ... there is ...

3) Who is doing what?

Here you decribe the persons in the picture or you say what is happening just now. Usethe Present Progressive.

4) What I think about the picture

It seems as if ...The lady seems to ...Maybe ...I think ...... might be a symbol of ...The atmosphere is peaceful/depressing ...I (don't) like the picture because ...It makes me think of ...

Structure and Content

It's not easy to follow a picture description if the writer jumps randomly from one pointto another. Therefore, make sure that your picture description is logically structured, for example:from left to right (or from right to left)from the background to the foreground (or from the foreground to the background)from the middle to the sides (or from the sides to the middle)from details to general impressions (or from general impressions to details)Which structure you finally choose depends on your taste and the picture you want todescribe.

Pictures in General

short description of the scene (e. g. place, event)details (who / what can you see)background information (if necessary) on place, important persons or eventPaintingsname of artist and picture, year of origin (if known)short description of the scene (e. g. place, event)


details (who / what can you see)impression on the viewer artist's intentionperspective, colours, forms, proportions etc.

Important Tenses

Simple PresentPresent Progressiveboth tenses also in Passive Voice


If you want to practise describing paintings, check out the websites of some galleriesand write down expresssions that might be useful for your descriptions. On the websiteof the National Gallery in London for example you'll find lots of interesting paintings withdescriptions.The website of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) provides a detailled descriptionof a painting with interesting background information, e. g. how to use colours, how togive the impression of movement or perspective etc. An English glossary on art can be found on the website of the Tate Gallery London.Word ListsUseful Words for Picture DescriptionsUseful Phrases for Picture Descriptions

People’s descriptionsWhat does he/she like/look like?


tall, tallish, short, shortish, medium height


frail, stocky, slim, thin, plump, fat, skinny, well-built


young, elderly, middle-aged, teenager, in 20s, 30s, 40s


HairClothesround, oval, square, with scares, wrinkles, freckles, sun-tanned, pale big round


blue eyes, large, small, bright, narrow


bald, straight, curly, spiky, wavy


casual, scruffy, shabby, smart, tidy, messy

Describing Character - What's he like? Is she nice?

careful, hard-working, worried, cheerful, broadminded, active, curious, secretiveaggressive, tough, careless, practical, sensible, independent, strong-minded,stupiddull, boring, imaginative, ambitious, crafty, sensitive, gentle, naivegenerous, loyal, self-controlled, moody, trusting, modest, tolerant, friendlyenergetic, confident, selfish, shy, stubborn, reliable, clumsy, intelligent

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