What Are English Visual Techniques?
English visual techniques are techniques used in forms of visual media such as in film, TV shows, paintings, and photography that are used to position viewers in a particular way. Just like in Aesthetic Features, English visual techniques are aspects of visual media that prompt emotional and critical reactions and they help viewers to get a deeper meaning from the visual text.
English visual techniques are an important part of your high school English analytical essays as knowing and understanding them can help you to analyse how creators have used the techniques to position their viewers. Here is our complete list of English visual techniques for high school in Australia. Download the complete PDF list for free! 💕
🎨 English Visual Techniques
Definition: An English visual technique that invokes a specific idea, concept, character, or event from another source, often from literature, history, art, or popular culture. Allusions are used to enhance the meaning or message of the visual content by connecting it to something familiar to the audience. They can add depth, complexity, and layers of interpretation to the visual narrative.
Example: The Simpsons is a visual text that commonly uses allusions. In the example below, the show is alluding to the Biblical story of Adam and Eve and drawing parallels and contrasts between Homer and Marge and the original characters.
Definition: Angles refer to the perspective from which a scene or subject is portrayed through the camera’s lens. The choice of angles plays a crucial role in conveying meaning, mood, and storytelling within a visual work. For instance, awkward camera angles disorientate viewers and can emphasise an action sequence.
Example: A classic example is the Dutch angle which is used in film to convey a sense of psychological uneasiness or tension in the subject being filmed. Below is the Dutch angle used in Harry Potter.
Definition: The non-verbal cues and signals conveyed through a character’s physical movements, gestures, and expressions. It plays a vital role in conveying emotions, intentions, and the inner thoughts of characters. Adds subtlety to a text as a character’s emotions, attitudes and feelings are conveyed without explicitly stating them. It is more effective and moving for a character to have their head in their hands than for them to explicitly say “I am sad.”
Example: In this shot of The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon and Penny are both displaying closed body language. Their legs are positioned away from the audience, and their expressions are neutral. This creates a sense of humorous, misplaced seriousness as both characters are taking the silly ‘Fun With Flags’ show too seriously.
Definition: A camera shot that focuses tightly on a specific subject, typically a face or a particular object of significance (perhaps of symbolic significance). This type of shot is used to capture detail, emotion, and significance.
Example: This close-up shot from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is used to build tension between characters during the climactic standoff in the final sequence of the film. It draws viewers’ attention to the characters’ facial expressions and eyes and makes viewers anticipate the important event.
Colour (Hue, Tone, Shade & Tint)
Definition: The colours used in a visual text. Different colours as an English visual technique evoke different emotions in viewers. Red symbolises anger while blue is associated with peace and tranquillity. Darker colours represent death and evil while lighter colours represent purity and youth.
Example: In Van Gogh’s Starry Night, rich blues and yellows paint the night sky, with green scattered throughout. The lack of blending between the colours creates a disjointed or broken colour effect which creates a sense of movement or turbulence in the painting.
Definition: An English visual technique concerned with the arrangement of visual elements within a frame. Composition is often used to draw viewers’ attention to elements. This is achieved through the size and depth of elements, as well as how they are positioned and framed by other aspects of the visual media.
Example: In Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, the positioning of Mount Fuji in the background just off centre adds to the sense of awe and expansiveness of the sea. The wave itself is positioned to the left of the print with open space to the right and above it. This frames Mount Fuji and draws viewers’ eyes to the mountain.
Definition: The noticeable differences between elements within an image or scene. It is a fundamental principle of composition and can be used to create visual interest, draw attention to specific elements, and convey meaning. It may also reveal a hidden meaning or add complexity.
Example: In Delacroix’s The Death of Sardanapalus, contrast is seen in the colour between the fiery reds around the central Assyrian king and the surrounding cool, muted blues and greens. The reds symbolise the flames and chaos of destruction while the blues and greens symbolise impending doom and despair. The contrast between the king’s relaxed representation on his bed and the chaos and despair of his loyal attendants around him creates a sense of shock in viewers and positions them to grapple with the painting’s brutality.
Definition: The process of composing and positioning elements within the frame of a camera or a visual medium, such as a photograph, film, or painting. It involves making deliberate choices about what to include or exclude from the frame to create a visually pleasing and meaningful composition. Framing includes different camera shots like long shots and close-up shots.
Example: Below we see an extreme long shot. This shot draws attention to the scenery and environment surrounding the tiny character and creates a sense of awe. The character is framed as insignificant compared to the beauty and expansiveness of the natural environment.
Definition: The way a subject within an image or scene is looking. This English visual technique encompasses the way their eyes and facial expressions convey meaning, emotions, and intentions. Intra-diegetic gaze refers to a character looking within the text while extra-diegetic gaze is where the character is looking outside the text.
Example: In Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, the central focus is the girl’s gaze, which is intense and direct, creating a sense of intimacy between the subject and the viewer. The captivating gaze, enhanced by the play of light and shadow, adds an element of mystery and curiosity to the artwork.
Definition: A camera shot in which the camera is positioned above the subject or scene and looks down upon it. This positioning gives the viewer a perspective that makes the subject or scene appear smaller, weaker, or less significant.
Example: In this scene from Titanic, viewers look down upon Rose as she contemplates death as an escape from her arranged marriage. James Cameron looks down upon her as she looks down upon the ocean. She feels insignificant, hopeless, and vulnerable and the shot helps viewers to relate to her emotions.
Definition: The level of light in a shot, its colour, and any use of shadows. Light may be introduced naturally (sunlight) or artificially (studio lights). Shadows, contrast, and colour temperature can further develop the lighting of a scene. Lighting as an English visual technique can give viewers insight into characters’ emotions or thoughts without them explicitly revealing them.
Example: In Blade Runner, this English visual technique is used to create harsh shadows on the subject which creates dramatic effect. Harsh lighting often creates a dramatic and intense atmosphere and here viewers get insight into the character’s serious thoughts and emotions.
Definition: A camera shot in which the camera is positioned below the subject or scene and looks upward. This positioning gives the viewer a perspective that makes the subject or scene appear larger, more dominant, or more imposing.
Example: In this example from The Matrix, a low-angle shot is used to position viewers to perceive the power and authority of the agents. It is clear that the agents are in charge and have power in this scene.
Definition: A camera shot in filmmaking and photography that frames a subject from the waist or hips up. It typically shows the subject from about the waist or knees up to just above the head, capturing a significant portion of their body and surroundings. The shot allows viewers to focus on how the character(s) are interacting with the environment.
Example: The shot below from American Psycho frames both the character and their surroundings. It’s a great example of a medium shot and gives viewers an understanding of both the character (their psychology and routine) and the setting (its organised nature and order).
Point of View
Definition: Refers to the position or perspective from which a story, scene, or image is presented to the audience or reader. It encompasses the vantage point or viewpoint through which the narrative or visual content is experienced.
Example: In this shot from Django Unchained, viewers are positioned from the perspective of someone who is being shot by the main character. Placing them in this point of view (with the high angle shot) frames Django as a hero and gives him a sense of power.
Definition: Relates to how subjects or other objects have been positioned in an image, artwork, or shot. It includes both 2D and 3D positioning (up, down, left, right, and into and out of the page). Objects closer to the centre of the shot (and in the foreground) draw viewers’ attention immediately.
Example: In the photo below, the two hikers are positioned in the foreground while the mountain they are about to climb is positioned in the background. The hikers are also closer to the centre of the shot. This gives viewers a sense of just how daunting the task is that they are about to complete.
Rule of Thirds
Definition: An imaginary gridline is created with two vertical and horizontal lines to create a 3×3 square. Viewers’ eyes are automatically drawn to elements along the gridlines and at the four intersection points. Placing objects in these locations also makes the image or shot more aesthetically pleasing. Like many rules, it may be broken.
Example: In this shot from Joker, the main character is positioned along the right gridline with their face close to the top right intersection point. This makes the shot more aesthetically pleasing and draws viewers’ attention to the Joker.
Definition: The quality of an element that stands out or captures viewers’ attention more prominently than other elements in a scene or image. It refers to how noticeable an object is, and creators use salience to draw the attention of viewers to a particular element of a visual text.
Example: In the example below, the salient figure is the red apple amongst the green pears. Viewers’ eyes are immediately drawn to the apple. In this case, contrast and colour have been used to create the salient object.
Definition: Objects, characters, events, or settings are used to represent abstract concepts beyond their literal meaning. Through symbols, creators imbue their work with deeper layers of meaning and evoke emotions and themes that go beyond the surface narrative.
Example: In da Vinci’s The Last Supper, the hand gestures of Jesus and his disciples are symbolic of each’s reaction to Jesus’ betrayal and help to convey each disciple’s emotional response. Judas, who betrays Jesus, is seen clutching a bag of coins, a symbol of greed and betrayal. Jesus is bathed in soft light (symbolising his divinity) while the disciples are in shadow (symbolising their human frailty).
Definition: The actual or perceived texture of the visual text. It is particularly relevant to paintings as it relates to the type of paint and techniques used. A painting may appear to be rough or smooth, or it may have ridges and an inconsistent texture throughout depending on the type of paint and techniques used. This English visual technique can also relate to the perceived texture of an object in photographs, sculptures, films, or art.
Example: In Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the use of the sfumato technique creates an impression of smoothness. This is particularly true of the portrait’s skin as it is depicted as pure and fair.
Definition: An English Visual technique referring to the lines or linear elements of shapes in a visual text that guide viewers’ eyes through the composition. We are guided through the vector lines as our eyes naturally follow straight lines through the visual text.
Example: In Guernica by Pablo Picasso, vector lines in the angular and obscure shapes are used to guide viewers’ eyes through the scene, creating a sense of urgency, chaos, and movement. The angular shapes (and their vector lines) create a sense of disorientation and tension.
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If you’re looking for more QCE English and Literature articles, check out these additional posts:
- Aesthetic Features & Stylistic Devices (Full List)
- English Poetic Techniques (Full List)
- How To Smash Your QCE English & Literature External Exams
- QCE English & Literature Analytical Essay Writing Guide
- How To Make A Quote Sheet For QCE English & Literature
Thanks for reading, and best of luck with your studies!