Observation of a Photograph
Observation is a valuable and rich source for gathering data for a qualitative study. It offers the researcher firsthand insight into a phenomenon by personally experiencing the same through his/her five senses (Creswell, 2013). It not only provides an inquirer with the opportunity to document participants, activities, settings, behaviors, and other aspects by directly observing them, but also permits him/her “to better understand and capture the context within which people interact” (Patton, 2002, p. 262). In addition to gaining direct access, observing subjects may enable the researcher to uncover (potential) efforts of deception such as impression management or discover aspects individuals/groups would be unwilling to share (Creswell, 2013; Patton, 2002). Likewise, one could argue that the many forms of observation, ranging from informal and unstructured to structured approaches, provide for diversity, flexibility, and applicability in many situations (US, n.d.). Patton (2002) further maintains that “firsthand experience with a setting and the people in the setting allows an inquirer to be open, discovery oriented, and inductive because, by being on-site, the observer has less need to rely on prior conception of the settings” (p. 262). This, in fact, may permit the researcher to observe and record transient aspects of human behavior and interaction, which may otherwise be missed (US, n.d.). Finally, observation offers “the opportunity to move beyond the selective perceptions of others” through direct experience and the application of personal knowledge to draw inferences (Patton, 2002, p. 264).
Unfortunately, observation requires training, detailed note taking, and experience in sorting through/recording information (Creswell, 2013). Indeed, the amount of data or information provided by a site may overwhelm a researcher (Creswell, 2013). Additionally, the researchers needs to select site, time, and determine the need for transitioning (Creswell, 2013). With regard to time, not only the timing but also the time required may be a concern, as observation “can be very time consuming and resource intensive” (US, n.d.). Furthermore, a subjective bias of the observer may challenge and/or undermine data reliability and validity (US, n.d.). On top of recording what the observer expected or perceived seeing (rather than what actually happened), the researcher’s presence may alter and/or influence the behaviors of participants (observer effect; US, n.d.).