Welcome to Nebo Literature.

Language of Visuals

People who use graphics, images and film to illustrate and depict issues will use both an objective and a subjective approach.

Text types  that: Illustrate, depict , diagram or use moving images

They say that “pictures never lie”, but we know this is a half-truth. Through various filmic techniques, pictures and especially moving images can manipulate the viewer’s emotions and distort the actual truth of the scenes they depict. Further it is our limitations of vision, and the inevitable idiosyncrasies and distortions involved in the act of looking — in particular, looking at photographs.

It was believed the invention of the camera would create objective impersonal and neutral documentary images because of the decisive momentary, instantaneous and accidental nature of capturing an image. However, photos can be manipulated, improvised and deceptive depending on a number of factors concerning the truth revealed.  Collaboration between the photographer and  subject by implicit or explicit invitation can influence our perceptions of posed or natural shots.  

Characteristics of Visual language:

·        Capture, Focus and maintain our attention on a central message. 

·        Communicate instantaneously – “a picture is worth a 1000 words.”

·        Sensual awareness;  Composers try to recapture scenes and objects through the appeal of the five senses, visual, tactile, olfactory, auditory, gustatory.


·        Use of  Graphics, Layout and Language.

Analysing a cartoon:

Write about each, including the following information.

(a) A statement of the subject (story line) the cartoonist is commenting on.

(b) The message the cartoonist is trying to convey on this subject. (Purpose)

(c) An analysis  of the visual techniques noting any unusual features.

Everything in the frame speaks to us and we need to learn how these elements affect us and create meaning for us.   Secondary motifs such as clutter, other photographs in the background – everything is recorded as it cannot be selective and all props add to our impression.



Characters used, Caricatures or Stereotypes

Caricatures are exaggerations or enlarged features to identify individuals.  In Political cartoons distinguishing features such as hair styles, noses, chins, or any other distinctive individual trait is highlighted. 

"Caricature involves singling out features disproportionately”     


How is meaning created in visuals?

Meaning in a film is created by cinematography also called mise en scene or sub- text.   Spectacle includes colour, sound and language. 

Everything on stage or in the frame speaks to us and we need to learn how these elements affect us and create meaning for us. 

It is through performance  - action, interaction and spectacle that we experience and glean meaning often sub-consciously.

Structures:  (Scaffolding)


Graphics:  Drawings, pictures, photographs, montages, tables, graphs, diagrams, symbols, logos…

Backgrounds: Colour, Black and White, White on Black, texture,  materials,   - muted colours or intense vivid fluorescent colour. Pale or saturated loud colours.

Here are James Loehlin’s comments on Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet:

The film’s frenzied camera movement, staccato editing and pop music score uses a whole range of self-conscious cinematic tricks and rock-video flourishes. The film reels with hand-held-shots slam zooms and swish pans as well as changing film speeds, jump cuts, and lush, unnatural saturation of colour

James N. Loehlin, These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends.

·        Sound Effects:

It begins and ends as television broadcast, and sets several scenes in an abandoned cinema, the Sycamore Grove. The film features an elaborate sound design with sophisticated layering and sampling, amplified sound effects and a wide range of  musical styles, including many alternative pop songs commissioned especially for the film and incorporating lines from the play, such as the pounding hardcore rap of ‘Pretty Piece of Flesh’ by One Inch Punch. This sonic and visual flair is needed to balance out the weaknesses in the film, notably the shortcomings of cast.

      James N. Loehlin, These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends.



·        Borders: Framing,  Centred, off-centre,  marginalised, focussed, blurred, 

·    Perspective,     

·    Distance,  Panoramic or establishment shots,


Panoramic shots are used to establish the overall scene and provide orientation.

Other distant shots can be used to detach us from the characters or to indicate their isolation or loneliness.


·    Horizontal or level shots,

These are neutral shots and make us equal to the characters.


·    Frontal shots. 

as long as the character is looking past the camera we are induced to accept and identify with the character.  When the character looks at the camera and talks to it, all illusion of immediacy and drama is broken.  We now know that we are not voyeurs watching real action.

·    oblique (profile) shots

Create the illusion that the character is unaware of us or the camera.


·    High (Overshots overhead),

Make the characters look diminutive and we are encouraged to look down on them condescendingly.

·    Low angle (Undershots)

Make the characters look larger than life and we look up to them perhaps in admiration.

For illustrations see: 





·        Space and Depth: 
Paintings can build on complex fields of depth and space that allow for multiple perspectives in constituting meaning. Because of the depth, from the foreground to the picture horizon, picture may convey multiple layers of orientation and context.

·        Editing and Cuts

The editor controls the sequence of shots, their juxtapositioning, the cross cutting between scenes.  These can be done gradually or smoothly or by “Jump cutting” – back and forth quickly.  Another device is to split the screen into two or more windows to compare or contrast scenes.




·        Gaze, -eyes direct/averted, - uplifted/downcast, Demand/Offer, Confident/Defeated.
For an image of the Mona Lisa see:


·        Fashion – Costuming, Clothing styles, period pieces, material, neatness, grooming and appropriateness.

·        Body Language:  deportment,   Stance,  gestures,  arms,  facial expressions

·        Vectors:  invisible lines that divert our eyes to a focal point of attention.  Our eyes are trained to look from left to right and top to  bottom.

 Layout:   Arrangement of Page:


·        Columns and Boxes

·        Headings and subheadings

·        Font – types, size, Case; upper/lower

·        Subscripts/ Superscript

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