In the IELTS speaking exam, you may be given the opportunity to describe a photo (or perhaps describe a picture). In this lesson, I will show you how to do that as effectively as possible.

Cue Card: Describe a Photo

In part 2 of the IELTS speaking test, you could be given this cue card:

Describe one of your favourite photographs.

You should say:

  • When the photograph was taken
  • What it looks like
  • What significant memory you have regarding this photograph

and explain why it is one of your favourite photographs.

However, as always you should be very careful to read the question and make sure that you understand it fully before saying anything. There are variations and you will not necessarily be asked the question that is included above. It could say “describe a photo that you saw when you were young” or “describe a photo of a family member” or something like that. These would all require different descriptions of photographs.

Remember to analyse the cue card carefully and think precisely about what you must describe. However, don’t waste too much time doing this. You only have one minute to prepare your ideas. Here is a video I made about giving great answers for IELTS speaking part 2:

Using Photography Vocabulary in IELTS

So how do you talk about photos? Of course, you are not expected to be an expert photographer in order to do well at IELTS. You only need a basic and non-specialist knowledge of any subject. Still, if you are asked to describe a photo then you should be prepared and that means knowing some basic vocabulary and grammar to handle a question like this.

To cover the vocabulary part, I made a helpful guide to IELTS photography vocabulary for IELTS to help you:

describe a photo for ielts

Sample Answer: Describe a Photo

So how can you use this vocabulary to answer the above question? Here’s a sample answer: 

I take a lot of photos so it’s hard for me to pick just one, but if I had to I would choose a photo of a hippo in a lake. Last year I went on holiday to South Africa for the winter, and I visited a place called St. Lucia. They have a lot of amazing wildlife in South Africa and in St. Lucia there are many crocodiles and hippos. I was overwhelmed when I saw them, and for several days I walked around taking photos of these amazing creatures.

One day, I got the courage to walk right into the middle of a sand bar and shoot some photos as the sun was setting over the lake. The result was a series of beautiful red and orange-tinged shots with a variety of wildlife dotting the landscape. In one photo, however, a huge hippo came out of the water and opened its mouth really wide! I didn’t even realize until I got home what happened, but the whole experience stuck in my mind. The photo is now printed and framed on my wall so that I never forget the feeling of being among such incredible animals in a place of such natural beauty.

Other Possible Photo Questions for IELTS Speaking

If you were asked to describe a favourite photo or a special photo for IELTS Speaking Part 2, then you might be given some of the following questions as a follow-up:

  • What do you think about ‘Photography’ as a career?
  • What makes a good photograph?
  • How often do you take photographs?
  • What are the improvements latest technologies has brought in photography

Also, if you do really enjoy photography, you might use that in Part 1 as a response to questions about hobbies or activities you do in your free time. If you get asked what you do with your friends, you might reply that you take selfies. 🙂 I’m sure the examiner will be impressed with your colloquial vocabulary.

IELTS Speaking Part 3 Photography Question

Finally, let’s look at one example question from part 3 of the IELTS speaking test. Here, we will look at a slightly abstract question:

What are the advantages of taking photos on a mobile phone instead of on a normal camera?

You can see that this is not personal, like it would be for part 1. You should thus talk about society at large rather than your own personal experiences. Still, you can talk about yourself a little and incorporate some of your views where necessary. For example:

Mobile phones are now typically equipped with quite advanced cameras, so the advantages that so-called “normal cameras” have over them are diminishing. It used to be that a phone camera would have a pretty limited capacity and so you would only use it when you have no choice, but now they are really quite intelligent. They are idiot-proof, which means you should be able to pull it out and point it in any light to get a decent-quality picture, whereas a DSLR or similar camera would require a lot skill in order to get a good photo.

You can see that I answered that without much difficult vocabulary. I used the term DSLR, but apart from that there was nothing really challenging. This is ok. Remember that it is more important to be accurate than to have a fancy vocabulary.