Learn IELTS Vocabulary: An important photo

Apr 23, 2023 | IELTS Test

IELTS Speaking Test Sample:  

Talking about photos and photography are two very common Speaking day topics. 

Read the following speaking-style questions, paying close attention to words you dont know and the words in bold. There are definitions for the words in bold at the end of the page.

Before you read the conversation, you might like to download this free PDF quiz and have a go at completing the blanks.

Part 1-style questions

Examiner: Let’s talk about photos. Do you take many photos? 

Candidate: Yes, quite a lot. It’s the same with all my friends. We particularly like to record times when we’re having fun together, like going somewhere on holiday, having a party or eating out.  

Examiner: What do you use to take your photos?  

Candidate: Well….. I do have a good digital camera, a Sony, which my parents gave me on my last birthday. But I have to say, I mostly use my mobile phone. As I’ve always got it with me, it’s just so quick to take it out, hold it up and so easy to use the camera function. Sometimes I use the digital camera though, probably if there’s an especially important event or time I want to record, because there are more editing, zoom and lighting functions on it.  

Examiner: Do you like having your photo taken?

Candidate: Ha! No, not so much. I don’t mind being part of a group photo, but I’m not so keen on it just showing me. I know it’s necessary now and then, as I guess I’ll have my own kids at some stage and they will want to see how I was in my young age. But unlike my friends, I’m not a huge selfie-taker. I always think I look a bit goofy, you know?  

Examiner: What was the last photo you took? 

Candidate: Oh, that’s easy. Just this morning. My cat was standing up on the bedroom window sill with her front paws up on the glass, trying to get at the birds on the tree branch nearby. Funny… she never seems to learn that it’s impossible for her to catch them! Anyway, it looked so cute, so I quickly took a few snaps on my phone. 

Part 2

Describe a photograph which is important to you in some way

You should say:

  • what it shows
  • when it was taken
  • who took it

and explain why the photo is important to you


Well…. there are a number of photos that are personally important to me, but one is perhaps my favourite family photo. It was taken by my father when I was just seven years old and we were on a family holiday in Beijing. We went to the zoo…. let me see… in the morning I think, on the weekend, so there was quite a crowd there. We were walking past the chimpanzee enclosure and some of them came right up to the high fence and started rattling the bars and making a real noise. 

At first, I was quite startled and jumped back, but when I could see there was no danger, I went closer to the fence and started pulling faces and hooting in the same way the chimps were. My father had his camera on its carry cord around his neck, so he quickly brought it up and took several pics before the chimps kind of lost interest and wandered off. 

I remember my mother couldn’t stop laughing for quite a while. Anyway, when we got home from holiday, my dad got the pics developed…this was in the days before digital cameras had really taken off…. and he chose what he thought was the best one, got the photo shop to blow it up. Then he had it framed and put it up on the wall of our lounge. 

So why is it important to me? Well, it’s a magical moment from my childhood. It reminds me of a happy time, and other members of our family often look at it and comment on it when they come around for birthday parties or family reunion dinners. 

I mean….as I said, there are other photos that are important to me in some way, but this one kind of stands out a bit. I’ll always treasure it, and at some stage I guess I’ll put it up on the wall when I have my own home and family. It’s a nice memory.

Part 3-style questions

Examiner: Is photography a popular activity in your country? [Evaluate]

Candidate: Oh, yes! I mean it’s the case pretty well anywhere, isn’t it? Especially in this modern age where cell phones make it so easy to take photos. You don’t have to wait for your pics to be developed and printed. You can just download from your phone, store them on the computer, edit them with Photoshop if you want.  And of course, posting and sharing photos instantly on social media is just a really huge thing today.  

Examiner: Do you agree that some people take too many photos nowadays? [Agree/disagree]

Candidate: For sure. And it’s a result of that same ease of accessibility that I mentioned. It’s so easy to take a photo almost anywhere at any time. But I mean…… is it really so important for you to take a photo every time you go to a restaurant and show yourself and a friend eating fried rice or hamburgers? Or take a selfie of yourself so often when you go off to class or to work? These are just a few examples. I mean, certainly special occasions like family reunions or your graduation celebration but …..doesn’t it all become a bit trivial and meaningless when you’re doing it nearly all the time? And is it really that interesting for others to look at on your social media site? 

Examiner: Do you think photography will continue to be so popular in the future? [Speculate]

Candidate: I would imagine so. I mean…why wouldn’t it? It’s so easy for an average person to take a pretty good photo nowadays, and I think that social media is likely to be a big driver of it all just as much in the future. And …. who knows? What further technical advances will come that give us even more in the way of choices and functions? There’s bound to be something.  

Examiner: Can photographs tell us something about history that words can’t? [Evaluate]

Candidate: 100 percent true.  There’s the old saying, a picture is worth a thousand words, and there are so many famous photos from the past that can express something about the mood of the era in which it was taken. For instance, that horrible but fascinating pic of the young girl naked, crying as she’s running down a country road in Vietnam. All her clothes had been burnt off her in a bombing attack. It’s one of the most famous images of that whole terrible, tragic war that went on for so long. 

And photos can have important meanings and arouse feelings among a whole nation. There’s the photo of the US soldiers raising their flag up on the summit of the mountain on the Pacific island during World War Two. It represents the coming victory after years of struggle and loss. 

Also….this is interesting. A photo doesn’t necessarily have to show some dramatic action or event such as in those two examples. There’s a photo of a Chinese man standing before a microphone reading from a piece of paper. Looks kind of boring, really. But ask anyone in China and they will immediately see it as representing an extremely important event. It’s Mao Tse Tung proclaiming the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949. A new kind of China arising from all the long years of hardship and civil war. 

There are so many other examples of photos like this. They tell us something which goes beyond just what words can express.  

Definitions for IELTS Achievement Vocabulary

image of a page of the Oxford English Dictionary

Part 1

not so keen on: This is a very common, informal way of a speaker  saying they are not enthusiastic or in favour of something. The opposite, of course, is to be keen on [something], e.g “I’m really keen on movies about history.”  

huge: The adjective here has nothing to do with physical size, but has the meaning of favouring or not favouring something. E.g “I’m not a huge coffee drinker” = I don’t drink much coffee. Similar is big, e.g “I’m a big fan of Leeds United in the Premier League.” 

                    yeah, I know  

goofy: An informal way of saying awkward, gauche [check your dictionary], perhaps even a bit silly in some way. 

snaps: A short form of snapshots, photos that are often taken quite quickly and casually, I.e they are taken “in the moment,” without any plan or intention beforehand.   

Part 2

startled: To be startled is to be suddenly surprised, perhaps made a little nervous or frightened in some way. 

pics: An informal, short form of pictures (in this case, photos). You will also sometimes see it spelled as pix.  

taken off: To take off is an informal way of saying to become very popular or common, often happening quite quickly.  

stands out: To stand out is to be noticeable as something beyond the ordinary. It is to be unusual, special in some way.  

Part 3

the case: The situation. 

trivial: Unimportant, lacking in real meaning or substance.   

bound to be: Certain to be.   

proclaiming: To proclaim something is to formally announce and present something of importance, e.g a new law, a declaration, the foundation of something new.  

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