How to Use Getty Unshuttered to Spark Creativity & ELA Connections

13 milliseconds: that’s how long it took your brain to process the image that most likely led you to this blog post, according to research from MIT. In our increasingly visual world, images are everywhere: photos, emojis, infographics, memes, GIFs, videos, and more. Our brains are hard-wired to process images, and they always have been, even before smartphones and Snapchat. Just like our prehistoric ancestors who once etched petroglyphs into towering rocks, we are visual creatures who use images to tell stories worth remembering. Visuals are not only art but human communication: how we express ourselves and make sense of the world around us. 

This kind of self-expression and communication is more important now than ever, as many of us feel isolated and restless stuck inside our homes. While we may be physically apart, we need to stay curious, connected, and creative, because that’s what makes us human. Thankfully, there’s an app for that: Getty Unshuttered!

How to use Getty Unshuttered to spark creativity and ELA connections


Getty Unshuttered is a free photo-sharing app that encourages teens to express themselves through photography. Created by the Getty Museum, the app is a community where teens can come together to learn, create, share, and support others. I was sold on Getty Unshutttered as soon as I read its mission: Artists are powerful. A force to be reckoned with. It’s a simple equation: more art = better world … we believe everyone is an artist.

You can think of the app as a refreshing, educational take on photo-sharing apps like Instagram, Tumblr, or VSCO. But instead of all the pressure to take perfect selfies, curate filtered photos that meet an aesthetic, post clever captions, and beat the constantly changing algorithm, the goals on Getty Unshuttered are simple: Creativity. Self-expression. Growth. Inspiration. Community. 

When you create an account (it’s free and takes two minutes) and open the app, you will see that it has 3 main components:

  • The Feed: Similar to Instagram’s feed, this is where users’ photos are posted. You can post and caption your own photos, like and share others’ photos, and follow other “artists” on the app. What makes the feed even more interesting is the option to browse photos that feature different elements of photography. Candid, color, composition, movement, lighting, and more are among the elements on the menu, allowing users the chance to explore different ways other artists have captured their subjects.
  • Skills: This is the part of the app that houses a variety of mini-tutorials on different photography skills. These tutorials are broken down into 5 main categories: Perspective, Composition, Shot Size, Lighting, and Portraits. Each category contains a collection of bite-sized video tutorials and tips that make learning photography accessible, easy, and enjoyable. After each mini-tutorial, users can submit a photo and move on to the next skill in the progression. 
  • Challenges: This section features fun weekly photography challenges that will help artists develop their newfound skills. Some of the challenges on the app right now include “Use a Reflection,” “Blurred Lines,” and “Black and White.” 


Since the app is so intuitive, users can learn how to use it by logging on and exploring its features. Learning, creating, and sharing on the app is sure to spark curiosity and creativity. But if you want to maximize the power of this app, then you can use it in your virtual classrooms right now. After all, photography is more than pretty pictures: it’s human communication.

Photography is a close reading of the world around us. A search for meaning in between the lines or the snaps of the shutter. A narrator’s unique perspective of a story worth capturing.

And isn’t that what we are here to teach our students? Isn’t that what makes us human? And don’t we need more of these connections right now?

I think so. We need these things more now than ever, because they bring us together, even when we are 6 feet apart. 

I hope you agree. If so, then here are 5 unique ways you can use the app to encourage your students to learn, create, and inspire, all while reinforcing essential ELA skills:



Break your students’ boredom and pique their curiosity with a photo scavenger hunt that will get them up off the couch and into the world (socially distanced, of course). Even if students don’t have access to safe outdoor spaces, they can get creative and complete challenges around the house. A photo scavenger hunt will give students a chance to rediscover their surroundings and creatively express themselves.

Here’s how you can make it happen. Browse through the Getty Unshuttered app and make a list of some of the app’s weekly challenges and skills. You can even incorporate choice by creating a bingo board of options or giving students the freedom to choose and complete a set number of challenges. Once students have shared their photos, you can celebrate the scavenger hunt in class by hosting a virtual “gallery walk” or giving students a chance to nominate photos for different awards. Hosting a photo scavenger hunt won’t take up much time, but it will give students a chance to be curious, creative, and expressive, which is what we all need right now.

Because I am always in search of ways to spark my own curiosity and creativity, I decided to embark on my own personal photo scavenger hunt on one of my daily quarantine walks. This scavenger hunt was exactly what I needed to be more present, notice the world around me, and capture its beauty.

Spark curiosity and creativity with a photo scavenger hunt.


If you are searching for a purposeful project that will engage students without overwhelming them, give them a chance to document life during this unprecedented pandemic. A photo journal/diary assignment will give students the opportunity to capture life in 2020 as they know it. Whether you assign it with journal writing or as a standalone project, a photo journal will help students practice essential skills while they contemplate what it means to live during this new normal.

Simply ask students to document their lives, express their emotions, and make sense of the world around them with their camera phones. Perhaps it’s through a series of daily self-portraits, eerie snapshots of empty streets, or a creative compilation of the changing colors of nature. A photo journal will look different for every student, but it will give them a new perspective, a chance to reflect, and the power to make even just a little sense of this chaotic, uncertain world.

Give students a chance to document the world around them with a photo journal assignment.


We often teach about symbolism in literature but forget to remind students that symbolism exists in real life, too. We live in a world of symbols, assigning meaning to the objects around us, making sense of the abstract with the more familiar. Symbols are everywhere: red octagons on the corner of streets, eagles soaring in the sky, clusters of 4-leaf clovers hidden in the grass, donkeys and elephants … the list goes on.

Despite the presence of symbols in everyday life, symbolism in literature can feel intimidating and elusive to students. This is why it’s important to make symbolism tangible and real. Here’s a creative, simple way to do this with Getty Unshuttered:

Instead of asking students to decipher an author’s use of symbolism, give them the chance to assign meaning to the objects around them. Ask students to “hunt and gather” (aka, photograph) the symbols around them and explain what they represent in captions. Don’t set too many parameters or you’ll risk stifling their creativity. Rather, let students interpret this challenge for themselves. Some may find deeply personal symbols that only matter to them, perhaps a cherished memento or souvenir. Others may head outside in search of more universal symbols that connect us all. This refreshing approach will empower your students and give them “permission” to be authors and artists who represent the complex with the ordinary.

Scaffold literary symbolism with a “real-life” symbolism photography project.


To scaffold literary analysis, pair the app’s perspective skills and challenges with a study of point of view in the classroom. For example, challenge your students to take photos of the same object from different angles (low level, eye level, high level, canted, etc.) and analyze how it affects the way a viewer sees an image. Then, make the connection to literary point of view. After all, isn’t a canted, or off-balance, perspective like an unreliable narrator? Isn’t bird’s eye view similar to a third-person omniscient point of view? After you’ve primed your students’ brains with perspective in photography, they will be able to answer these questions with more appreciation and insight: 

  • How does the point of view affect the story? 
  • How would the story change with a different point of view or narrator?

Students can even emulate the photo challenge by getting into character and writing scenes from different perspectives. By scaffolding literary analysis with visual analysis, students will be able to make new connections and understand perspective in a deeper way.

Connect perspective in photography to point of view in literature with engaging photo analysis.


Let students use their new photos to practice the art of captioning, which is all about precise, powerful word choice. Much like crafting a concise tweet, captioning a photo requires paying attention to style, diction, sentence structure, and more. 

Because Getty Unshuttered’s captions fit only 140 characters (like old-school Twitter), writing an impactful caption is a challenge in itself! Depending on what skills you to teach, you can emphasize different aspects of writing with the following prompts:

  • Storytelling: A picture is worth 1000 words! How can you write your caption to contribute to (not repeat) that story? Can you tell the reader something new that cannot be grasped by the photo alone?
  • Tone & Mood: What is the mood evoked by the photo? How can you write your caption in a tone that complements the photo’s mood?
  • Action Verbs: A powerful caption should do more than describe; it should convey action. How can you use strong action verbs to illustrate the photo?
  • Curiosity: How can you pique your audience’s curiosity with a compelling caption? What can you write to make viewers wonder more? 
  • Call-to-Action: What do you want your audience to do or think about after viewing your photo? Can you craft a call-to-action in your caption and inspire them to see their world differently?
  • 6-Word Caption: In the spirit of the 6-word short story genre, how can you caption your photo in the fewest words possible? Sometimes, fewer words = more meaning.
Sneak in some essential writing practice with a fun photo caption challenge activity.

I hope these ideas inspire your students to tap into their innate curiosity, share stories that matter, and connect with other creators. If you have any other ideas for using this app in your classroom, drop them below in the comments. I’d love to connect!

For more information on Getty Unshuttered, check out the app’s website here and its YouTube channel here.

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This post is sponsored by Getty Unshuttered.

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