Visual Literacy Techniques

Visual and Film Techniques

Background This technique analyses the background of a picture or frame, locating behind the primary objects of the image. The background is usually the last thing the eye is drawn to, so may be a more subtle visual/film technique to analyse.In Van Gogh’s famous painting, ‘The Starry Night’, the background is, uniquely, the ‘star’ of the image. The eye is immediately drawn to the swirling, celestial sky, leaving the foreground of the village appearing mundane and insignificant in comparison.
Colour The use of colour is a powerful technique that composers can use for a variety of purposes; to create contrast and juxtaposition, to draw the audience’s attention to a motif, to align a character with a theme or mood.In the sitcom ‘How I Met Your Mother’, the character Robin is surrounded by purple hues, whilst the ‘Mother’ is in the opposite hue of yellow. These colour themes create subconscious familiarity in the viewers minds, so we expect Robin’s presence when the screen is slightly purple. 
Contrast Similar to colour, contrast is used to draw the viewer’s eyeline to an object or idea, and mark it as starkly different (or anomalous) to its surroundings. In Steven Spielberg’s film, ‘Schindler’s List’, colour is used to create tragic contrast between the little girl in the dress and the monochromatic world around her. She is a beacon of innocence and purity, later transformed to represent merciless violence. 
Foreground Opposite to ‘background’, the foreground of the image is what we see at the very front of the scene. This is usually the first thing to catch your eye. In Munch’s infamous ‘The Scream’ painting, the screaming man is located in the foreground of the image, immediately capturing the viewer’s eyes. Only after the viewer has adjusted to the shocked expression of the man in the foreground can they allow their eyes to roam over the rest of the painting. 
Juxtaposition Composers often place contradicting ideas or objects next to each other to create stark contrast, or juxtaposition. A juxtaposing image may leave you feeling uncomfortable. The illusive street artist Banksy loves to create juxtaposition in his work to reflect societal wrongs. For example, he famously painted a little girl ‘patting down’ a soldier in a typical military setting, reversing the role of victim and enforcer. 
Lighting Lighting is often used to inform the audience of unspoken dynamics between characters, and can foreshadow personalities. For example, the villain is often clothed in dark lighting and shadow, signifying their evil intention. 
Salient images The salient image, or salient feature, is the most obvious aspect of the image or frame. This object or character is generally the first thing the viewer sees when they look at the image. In Van Gogh’s ‘Mona Lisa’, the salient feature of the painting is, expectantly, the Mona Lisa. Specially, the viewer sees the figure’s eyes first. 
Shots and perspectiveComposers use a variety of camera shots and perspective to create diversity of experience in film. Specific shots include: tracking shots, high angle shots, close-up shots etc. 
Vector LinesVector lines are created in image and film to prompt viewers to follow a specific line of sight purposefully created by the composer. For example, in Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’, the woman’s eyes create a vector line back to the salient feature, the man. This vector line between her gaze and her husband is used to suggest an animosity or conflict between the two. 

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