ACSPRI Conferences, ACSPRI Social Science Methodology Conference 2014

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Using photo elicitation to understand customer experiences – Some lessons learned

Wei LIU, Beverley Sparks, Alexandra Coghlan

Building: Holme Building
Room: Holme Room
Date: 2014-12-08 03:30 PM – 05:00 PM
Last modified: 2014-11-26


This paper reviews photo elicitation as a method for investigating customer experience. Considered a creative and multi-sensory approach (Matteucci, 2013), it is argued that a photo elicitation method can help to trigger respondents’ memories related to specific places and events, sharpen their abilities to reflect on their experiences, and elicit stronger, more comprehensive responses when explaining their experiences behind the pictures (Harper, 2002; Matteucci, 2013). Drawing on the results of pilot studies using photo elicitation in three community-based events, this paper explores several methodological issues, with a focus on the logistics of data collection. The first study assigned each participant with a disposable camera (N=10), the second study randomly assigned participants to using a disposable camera or a smartphone (N=10) and the third study assigned participants to use a smartphone (N=9). In all studies, participants completed a short survey about the photo experiences as part of an exploration of feelings and thoughts of the community events. In the last two studies, a follow up group interview was undertaken to discuss the logistics of the method used.

Based on the three studies, logistical issues of disposable versus smartphone cameras are elaborated upon including: (i) quality of images; (ii) number of exposures; (iii) collection of cameras; and (iv) cost and time associated with photo development. Smartphone camera data collection was found to be superior to disposable cameras. Follow up group interviews found that photo elicitation enhanced participant experiences by helping them to reflect more deeply on the event experience. Participants also demonstrated enthusiasm in talking about their experiences and talked extensively with the help of images as form of recall aid. Ethical requirements such as privacy issues, and the level of commitment required from the participants necessitate careful briefing of participants.

Our findings support the literature’s conclusion that this technique stimulates deeper reflection, producing rich data. Photo elicitation has limitations and may be criticized for influencing the way participants view an event. However, it provides a good method to explore, in depth, the momentary experiences people have at an event with a focus on those salient or important moments that the participant deems to be of importance.


Harper, D. (2002). Talking about pictures: A case for photo elicitation. Visual Studies, 17(1), 13-26.

Matteucci, X. (2013). Photo elicitation: Exploring tourist experiences with researcher-found images. Tourism Management, 35, 190-197.

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