Key terms: Visual Rhetoric

11 Apr

In Writ 101, we’ve already explored rhetoric: how we can use language to construct an argument or make meaning in a text. Visual rhetoric is the art of capturing, arranging, & manipulating images to create a meaning or an argument. In order to fully understand visual rhetoric and therefore use it in your own LPE projects, you must attain visual literacy: the ability to read and interpret an image.

The following terms (coupled with images & videos) should help you all better understand visual rhetoric. Read over these definitions and then take the visual rhetoric quiz to demonstrate your visual literacy!


*   *   *

1. Framing

  • Images can be visually framed by other objects in the shot. When framing is used, it’s usually to call attention to the framed image.
  • Ex: in this photo, the archway in the foreground frames the building in the background.

[image from here]


*   *   *


2. Focal point

  • What the eye is drawn to first when you view an image. By making an object the focal point, you’re highlighting its importance.
  • When framing is used, the framed image is the focal point. In general, the object that’s centered in the photo is the focal point.
  • Ex: in this picture, the icicle is the focal point.

[image from here]


*   *   *


3. Zoom

  • Photographers might choose to zoom in on certain objects or parts of their photos. Again, this technique is usually used to highlight a significant part of the image. It might reveal a specific detail, like a texture, or draw attention to a specific person.
  • In your projects, you’ll be able to use effects such as zoom to move into certain parts of an image; you should consider how you could use this technique to create meaning.
  • This photo’s extreme close-up reveals the texture of this tree:

[image from here]


*   *   *

4. Line

  • Lines lead your viewers to the focal point or other key elements of the image. They help viewers “move through” the image.
  • Different types of lines can convey different moods:
    • Horizontal lines are most typical—they suggest a depth, the feeling that this scene goes on forever. In this sense they represent calmness and stability.
    • Vertical lines suggest movement.
    • Diagonal lines suggest instability.
    • A photo with many competing lines could suggest confusion or stress.
  • All of the competing lines in this photo (along with the blurred focus) create a sense of disorientation & motion.

[image from here]


*   *   *


5. Color

  • Different colors communicate different meanings to your viewers. You can use colors to convey an emotion, to contrast two things, to call attention to something, and so forth.
  • Bright, warm colors (red, pink, orange, yellow) call attention to an image and usually connote intense emotions like passion and rage.
  • Cooler colors (blue, gray, green, purple) are associated with calmness & serenity.
  • Black & white images can create different meanings: they can make a place seem boring (like Kansas in the Wizard of Oz), they can make a scene seem more somber, etc.
  • Ex: this image of a family in mourning seems more serious & emotional in black and white than in color.

[image from here]


  • Increasing the saturation of an image makes the colors more intense and highlights the contrast between colors. Ex: here’s a before and after of a sunset photo taken by my fiancé.





*   *   *


6. Angle/perspective

  • The angle from which a photo is taken can affect the way an object is perceived, and can thus change its meaning.
  • This photo of a tree that I took vacationing in Lake Tahoe plays with angles. I took it looking up at the tree, intending to capture how vast & tall it was. If I had taken the same shot from the side, it might not have had the same impact.


*   *   *


7. Focus

  • Focus refers to how distinct or clear an image is. You can play around with the focus of an image to create a myriad of meanings:
    • Blurred images—ones that are out of focus—can suggest confusion, dizziness, disorientation, sadness, or innocence, among other things.
    • If an image is in focus while the foreground or background is blurred, the focused image is the focal point; the photographer wants to draw the viewer’s eye to that object or person.
  • Ex: the blurred focus in this photo of the Ferris wheel conveys its motion and also gives off a nostalgic, old-time feeling.

[image from here]


*   *   *


8. Juxtaposition

  • When images are arranged in a sequence (like they’ll be arranged in your LPE projects!), you should pay attention to where they’re placed & what surrounds them. Images placed side by side are juxtaposed with one another. Juxtaposed images can make many meanings: they can highlight the difference between two pictures, they can create irony, they can establish continuity in mood or tone, etc. In your projects, you might juxtapose two unlike photos to mirror a change in your emotion or a new situation that you encountered & wrote about in your LPE.
  • Ex : When juxtaposed, these images are a satirical look at the current job market. By placing a photo of students lined up for graduation next to an unemployment line, the “author” of this visual text suggests that a college degree doesn’t guarantee you anything in this troubled economy.

[image from here]


[image from here]


*   *   *


9. Transitions

  • It’s important to consider how you’ll transition between images in your projects; there are many options to choose from, including:
    • Dissolving: links the two images
    • Wiping down: like a curtain falling, it suggests a break & a finality; the next image will move into a new scene or story.
    • Fading in & out: creates visual breaks between images. A sense of disconnection between each, but less abrupt than a straight up cut to black.
  • Transitions can affect how your viewer interprets the relationships between two juxtaposed images. For example, if you’re moving from one section of your essay to another, and you want to visually communicate this break to your viewer, you might choose to fade to black on the last image in the section, then fade in to the following image that signifies the new section.
    • Ex: this brief clip (the first video on the site) uses transitions to good effect near its end. First the video is focused on one woman in the image; it’s the voice of the narrator. In this first picture, the women are shown speaking in the classroom (which was unusual & controversial at that time); then the video fades into a picture of women protesting outdoors. The fade into the second image establishes continuity between the two photos; it suggests that the women are controversial both in and out of the classrooms. Next, a fade to black indicates that a the film is moving on to a new section.


*   *   *


10. Symbolism

  • Visual texts can also use symbolism—allowing one image or object to signify another—to make meaning.
  • Ex: The wine splashing into the glass forms a hook, alluding to the fact that alcohol can “hook” the drinker and cause addiction.

[image from here]

About these ads

2 Responses to “Key terms: Visual Rhetoric”


  1. Visual rhetoric quiz « The Curious Writers - April 11, 2011

    [...] reading the post “Key terms: Visual Rhetoric,” please respond to these quiz questions in your [...]

  2. Homework due on Wednesday, April 13 « The Curious Writers - April 11, 2011

    [...] Complete reading on the techniques of visual rhetoric. [...]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: