BlogEnglishThe Complete HSC English Visual Techniques Cheat Sheet

The Complete HSC English Visual Techniques Cheat Sheet

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Remembering relevant visual techniques while you’re trying to interpret an unseen text in your HSC English exam or a prescribed film for class is a tough feat.

While literary techniques tend to get all the love, most students couldn’t tell you what diegetic sound or the law of thirds is.

The truth is, you could (and probably will!) have to analyse a visual text at some point, and you don’t want to walk into HSC English Paper 1 without an arsenal of visual techniques at the ready.

That’s where this cheat sheet’s going to come in handy. Download and save for later!

Make sure you check out our Comprehensive List of HSC English Literary Techniques while you’re at it!

So, let’s jump in!

Visual Techniques
Film Techniques

English Visual Techniques Examples

English visual techniques are tools which help convey a certain image. They may be used in any still form of media, including photos, picture books, book covers and posters.

AllusionsReferences to other images/visual media, including art, films, pop culture, religious icons, etc. Sometimes in the form of a parody (referencing another image but making it humorous), these usually recontextualise or “change the meaning” of the original media.
Angles/linesThe ‘direction’ of an image based on the angles or lines within it. Horizontals create a sense of calm, verticals a sense of structure and diagonals a mood of unease or being off balance.
Body LanguageFacial expressions, body language and gestures used to show character’s attitudes, moods or personality. Often focussed on overall body movement and positioning.
Close-up ShotWhen the frame is mostly or entirely filled with a character’s face, an important object, etc. Used to create viewer focus and show that whatever is being shown is important. Often used on character’s faces in highly emotional images.
Colour (Hue/Tones)Colours are symbolic of different emotions, moods, etc. and are used to evoke corresponding responses in audiences. Purple is a colour of royalty, wealth and luxury whereas red symbolises lust, passion, anger and so on. Also consider how saturated colours are (are they bright and vivid or dull and desaturated?).
CompositionWhat an image is made up of – where things are placed, how it is framed, the colour and lighting used, etc. This generally refers to the image as a whole.
ContrastPlacing things that are considered opposite close to each other. Contrasts can be between colours (black and white), sizes (large and small), textures (rough and smooth), etc. to create interest and complexity. One small contrasting colour/size/shape in an image is also usually highly salient because it stands out.
FramingThe camera shots and angles used in images/films to create different audience reactions and emotions. E.g. close-up, extreme close-up, mid shots, aerial shots, etc.
GazeWhere a character looks, which then directs viewer’s eyes. A ‘demand’ gaze involves direct eye contact between a character and the viewer, an ‘offer’ has the character look at something within the image, drawing the viewer’s eyes there too. Can also be used to express emotion/intent.
High Angle ShotA shot taken from slightly above something/someone, looking down on it/them. Creates a sense of the character being weak, helpless, intimidated, etc. May also be used to represent someone literally looking down at an object/scene (point of view).
Law of ThirdsBy dividing an image into equal thirds along the horizontal, the vertical axis you can break it into 9 equal sections which each have different connotations, Movement is expected to from the left thirds to the right thirds, otherwise it’s read as moving backwards (literally or figuratively). Characters in the top right third are seen as powerful or in control, while those in the bottom left thirds are weaker or being controlled.
Lighting How a shot is lit or not lit. This includes natural lighting (the sun, open windows, etc.) and man-made lighting (lamps, torches, etc.) as well as feature lighting such as coloured lights, spotlights, moving lights, etc. Lighting has a major impact on the mood and atmosphere of an image (low light is seedy, harsh light is unnerving, soft light is intimate, etc.).
Long/WideA shot that is made up of a large landscape, cityscape or other kind of scene, Generally these are used to get across lots of information at once, such as the layout of a room, the location of an event, the number of people around, etc.
Low Angle ShotA shot taken from slightly below someone/something, used to present them/it as being in a position of power, dominance or control. It may also be used to have someone literally look up at someone/something (point of view)
Mid ShotA shot that is approximately half-filled with a figure, object, etc. Usually these are ‘regular’ shots and are very common for character conversations/interactions or showing a select area or object within an area (a desk, chair, etc.).
Point of View How the shot is framed in reference to the viewer or a character. Does the shot take the character’s point of view (a shot of a character leaning out a window cutting to an aerial shot looking down from a window) or is the audience placed level with, above or below the characters/objects/action?
PositioningWhere have objects and characters been placed in the shot? What is in the foreground, middle ground and background and why have they been placed there?
Salience How much any section of an image draws the viewer’s eyes – the most salient feature of an image is whatever/wherever the viewer’s eyes are first drawn when they look at it. Salience is always deliberate and usually created through contrast, colour, framing and layout.
SymbolismThe use of one image/object to represent an idea or concept that is more complex than it is. Religious symbolism, pop culture symbolism and animal symbolism are all very common.
Text Words used within images to convey a literal or figurative message. Consider the font, colour, size, weight, etc. of the text, where and how often it has been used and the connotations of the words actually used.
Vectors The lines or paths viewer’s eyes follow when looking at an image, usually vectors are deliberately created to lead the eyes to a focal point or important feature. Because we read left to right we tend to follow vectors in the same direction across an image.

Use some of these visual techniques as you create your English feature articles to fully engage your readers!

Film-Specific Techniques Examples

Aerial ShotA shot usually taken from a crane or helicopter to show a landscape, city, or many other elements within a single moving shot. Usually these are used to establish settings, large spaces/areas or a sense of scale.
CostumingThe clothes, makeup, hairstyles, accessories, etc. designed to be worn by characters to represent their personality, status, heritage, culture, etc. Often characters clothes will fit within one or two similar colour palettes or tones and use fabrics of similar textures. Colour symbolism often comes into play here (a character wearing earthy colours may be associated with gardening, plants and nature).
CutThe splicing of two shots together so that one seems to instantly move to the other. There are many different types of cuts – jump cuts are more jagged and create a sense of fast pace or deliberately poor editing, match cuts involve cutting between two very visually similar shots to create a more seamless flow.
DialogueThe words spoken by characters. Regular literary techniques are used her (metaphor, simile, personification, etc.) but also consider character vocal inflection, tone, pauses, etc. as well as their vocal range (does the character have a deep voice? A high, feminine voice?).
Diegetic SoundThe ‘literal sound’ created by the objects and people within a shot – sounds that the character is presumed to be hearing as well. This includes; character dialogue, fabric rustling, animals, background noise/voices, sounds made by objects (doors closing, rain), etc.
Digital EffectsAny images, characters, setting and effects added digitally in post-production to add to or alter the original shot. Remember that all digital effects are deliberate and have been added for a reason – to change the mood of a shot, change character gesture, etc.
Establishing ShotThe shot at the beginning of a film or scene that gives the basic or introductory information to viewers. Generally includes or introduces the location, characters, etc.
Fade In/OutA transition device whereby a shots fades into or out of black (or another image) at the end or beginning of the shot respectively. These are generally used to create a sense of slow movement, intimacy or ‘trailing off’ in a shot/scene.
MontageThe cutting together or several shots that show small pieces of a larger scene or idea to create an overall sense of time passing/something occurring. Most commonly used in training sequences where a character must become skilled in a task over time, so many shots of them completing different training exercises are cut together to create a sense of them improving over time.
Non-diegetic Sound The ‘non-literal sound’ that has been added into a shot that the characters cannot hear. This includes; narration/voice-over, added sound effects, music (that isn’t shown to be produced from an onscreen source such as a tv, dance party, etc.) and the film score/soundtrack.
PropsItems and objects used within a shot to create a sense of setting, represent character interests, symbolise something else or be interacted with. Generally the most important props are those used or seen as important by characters, as well as recurring props that feature in several different scenes/shots throughout the film.
Voice-overAudio narration laid over the top of a shot’s regular soundtrack. Generally voiceover is used to give audiences extra information, additional commentary or character’s specific views/comments on the scene.

Film specific techniques are visual tools used to convey messages in films, television episodes, documentaries and other forms of video.

We also have an in-depth guide on analysing visual texts to ace your HSC English Assignments!

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Maddison Leach completed her HSC in 2014, achieving an ATAR of 98.00 and Band 6 in all her subjects. Having tutored privately for two years before joining Art of Smart, she enjoys helping students through the academic and other aspects of school life, even though it sometimes makes her feel old. Maddison has had a passion for writing since her early teens, having had several short stories published before joining the world of blogging. She’s currently studying a Bachelor of Design at the University of Technology Sydney and spends most of her time trying not to get caught sketching people on trains.

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