I would like to explain or ask about pictures in a photo album, a book, a magazine a story , a newspaper and so for.

But I don’t know which tense I can use to explain about many situations which happened in different time and aspects in those pictures.

For example:

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A sentence in little red hen story. The little red hen planted some grains of wheat.

And there is the hen picture and I’d like to point to it and ask something. What tense can I use to ask or explain about it?

Example 1.

Me: What does/did the little red hen plant?

    Or What is/was the little red hen planting?

My friend: She plants/planted some grains of wheat.

    Or She is /was planting some grains of wheat.

Example 2. Two men were talking at the bus stop.

Man 1: “Which bus are you waiting for?”

Man 2: “The 33.” I have been waiting 20 minutes for the bus.

What tense can I talk about the pictures of the two men in a website with my friend.

Me: What does/did the man do?

    What is/was the man doing?

My friend: He waits/ waited for a bus.

    He is/was waiting for a bus.

Me : How long does/did he wait for a bus?

    How long has/had he been waiting for a bus?

My friend: He waits/waited 20 minutes.

    Or He has/had been waiting 20 minutes.

Could you help and explain it to me, please?

2 Answers 2


Tricky question. I liked it.

It can happen bothways.

Opinion 1:

I consider that the pictures belong to some story/event. Storytelling is always in past because the event has happened. However, in some sentences, present tense may be used but that will be special cases. Overall, it'll be in past.

I quickly referred my daughter's text books and found that most of the questions are in past tense. Having said this, it'll be answered in past as well.

The pictures are just for the purpose of illustration and will make kids/the readers understand the scene/scenario and not the tense.

Opinion 2:

You may use the present tense if you are talking about that picture and asking it right now. The way 'find the differences between two pictures comes in newspapers and magazines'. If there's one single picture and it's not a story, you may put a present tense. That's because these questions are based on the picture and not the story. The picture is right in front of you and you are asking questions. The moment, the picture becomes a part of story, and is a kind of lesson you find in text book, it takes past tense to narrate, ask and answer.


Pictures are almost always spoken about as if they were "live" or showing ongoing actions in the recent past:

"Here's people getting on a boat."

"The hen is planting seeds."

"These people were talking at a bus stop."

"What are (were) they doing in that fountain?"

"Why are those people smiling?"

Of course, different tenses can be used.

It might also be instructive to know that style guides for newspapers and other timely publications usually mandate that photo captions be written in the present tense, even when a reference to a past date is necessary. For example:

"Firefighters pour water on a house fire on Oak Street yesterday."

"President Clinton takes the oath of office at the Capitol on Jan. 20, 1993."

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