Is A Picture Really Worth 1,000 Words?

Posted on Oct 9 2013 - 10:25am by John Murphy


You’ve probably heard the phrase before – a picture is worth a thousand words. But do you know where it came from originally? The origin of the exact phrase is uncertain, but we have some information you should find interesting.

An Idea is Born

Russian author Ivan Turgenev wrote in Fathers and Sons (published in 1862), “A picture shows me at a glance what it takes dozens of pages of a book to expound.” This idea slowly evolved over the years to become easier to say.

A newspaper in 1911 used the phrase “Use a picture. It’s worth a thousand words.” which is really close to the one we know today. This goes to show that the idea has been around a long time. “One Look Is Worth A Thousand Words” was used in an Ohio newspaper in 1913.

The Specific Phrase

One of the earliest examples of the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” is a 1918 newspaper advertisement for the San Antonio Light. The exact phrasing used for the ad was, “One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words,” which is one of the earliest mentions of the specific phrase. Throughout the next few decades, the phrase was further refined.

Why is a Picture so Valuable?

Here’s a look at some of the reasons photographs are so popular.

  • Summary – One of the reasons a photograph is so useful is that it sums up a lot of information in a single image that is easily processed by the human brain. Unlike reading a lot of text which takes time, you can usually look at a picture and know what it’s about immediately.
  • Emotions – Good photographs can also help evoke emotions in people who see them. These emotions may need a thousand words or more to explain what is seen with just one look in a photo. This is very true when it comes to skilled photographers that know what they’re doing.
  • Sharable – Photographs are also a lot easier to share with other people, which makes them an easy way to help spread a message or further a particular cause. Text is sharable too, of course, but many find sharing a photo causes it to go further than if just words were used.

The next time you take a look at a photo, stop a moment and think about how you would explain the photograph and how many words it would take you to do so. This might not be as easy as you think, especially if you choose a complex image or photograph. For extra fun, next time you read a thousand words or more, think about how you would be able to get the same information across by using a single image.

While there are tons of technological advancements made today such as the photobooths for sale online and digital cameras among many others, taking pictures still has a strong pull in the market because of how expressive a photo can be.

Is there anything that you’d like to share?

I’d love to hear from you! Are you an avid photographer or are downright amazed at how artistic these photos can be? Do share your ideas in the comments section below.

I hope to hear from you soon. Cheers!

Photo Credit: Flickr/Matt

About the Author

John is a blogger who loves to write about new and different topics. He is always willing to write a new guest post and nothing can stop him from providing new ideas to spread knowledge.