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English Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Static Images: More Visual and Graphic Features

Other important graphic and visual features are found in such static images as pictures, photographs, or posters.

  • Shape

    The term shape is used to describe how the different elements of an image fit together and how shapes in an image combine to achieve a particular effect for a purpose.

  • Colour

    Colour is more than decoration. Colours, whether described in words or shown in images, often have symbolic significance that contributes to meaning. Red might indicate blood or anger; black may evoke evil or grief; blue can convey sadness or depression - or, in other circumstances, calm. The choice of colours, such as the use of primary colours (red, blue, and yellow), and the intensity or brilliance of the selected colour, all affect the impact of the image and therefore its effectiveness in communicating. Local colour refers to the natural colour of an object; for example, yellow is the local colour of a lemon. In a monochrome, different tones of the one colour, described as different hues, are used.

  • Depth

    As with the visual effect of a stage, depth may be important. Although most static images are two dimensional, their effect may be three dimensional because of the impression of depth given by the placement of people, animals, objects, or words in the foreground in relation to the background "behind" them.

    Sometimes referred to as depth of field, this is also significant in film. Depth of field enables relationships between the visual elements to be communicated to the viewer.

  • Proportion

    Proportion is also a significant feature to consider in reading or presenting static images. A comic-strip frame or a poster may contain several different elements, usually combining images and words and in different sizes. They may be represented as bigger or smaller in relation to one another than they might be in real life. The size of the different elements, and the ways these sizes are combined, will lead the viewer or reader to interpret them differently. Size, which is relative, will help determine the dominant image and concept.

  • Use of space

    The use of space is how the different elements are placed in the complete image. Examining the use of space extends the concept of layout, exploring not only how the elements are placed in relation to each other but also how and where they are combined and placed on the page or screen. The use of space includes the use of white space, where nothing is printed. White space is critical in helping highlight graphics and illustrations, throwing them into relief and creating visual interest to convey a vivid message, such as "Watch This Space".

    The use of space is a consideration in selecting how headings should be highlighted. Upper case or bold formats tend to use more space, and italics generally use more space than underlining. The use of borders within the page redefines its space according to the purpose, the audience, and the desired effects.

  • Paper

    The paper on which any static image is printed is itself a significant visual feature. The weight of the paper, its texture, its opacity, and whether it is embossed or watermarked, glossy or flat, or white or coloured are all related to the purpose, the audience, and, inevitably, the cost. Students can explore the language of paper and paper products by investigating the qualities of different papers and making their own, linking their investigation of visual language to objectives in the area of technology.

  • Composition

    Composition is the process of organising the forms, shapes, colours, and any words and so on into a balanced and rhythmical design. Composition is based on conscious choices made with the purpose, topic, and audience in mind. These choices influence our reading or viewing accordingly.

    Composition involves selecting and ordering the visual elements and using space to achieve the appropriate effect and to communicate the originator's message. Designers usually look for balance in a static image, and they relate dissimilar elements to each other in such a way that the overall image is completely unified.

    In a closed composition, the space depicted with its forms is designed to be complete in itself, whereas open composition appears to be only part of a larger space beyond the boundaries of the image.

    Composition clarifies the focus of the static image. The central focus or dominant image may be obvious from its positioning, often at the centre of the static image, or it may be more subtle. Movement that carries the eye from one part of the image to another also assists this design focus.

    Students need to take composition, balance, layout, lettering, size, style, font, spacing, shape, colour, depth, proportion, the use of space, and the technology used into account when making choices in presenting their information and ideas. They need to consider the same matters whether they are viewing the daily newspaper or presenting a student newspaper as part of the English classroom programme.

    Close reading and exploring the visual language in static images helps students to understand the ways they can combine verbal and visual elements effectively.

    Students exploring visual language and thinking critically about it are shown at work investigating packaging, marketing, and the presentation of compact discs and music videos in parts four and five of the 1995 eTV series, Getting the Message. This series makes links to the objectives of the technology area of learning.

Summary of Terms

graphics tones white space
graphic features hues borders
visual features depth composition
shape foreground balance
colour background closed composition
primary colours depth of field open composition
local colours proportion dominant image
monochrome use of space  

Exploring language content page

Published on: 07 May 2009