Visual Literacy

Given the increasing amount of questions appearing in the comprehension section in recent years based around images, it is more essential than ever to know your image vocabulary (foreground, background, centre, left, right, middle; as well as: Close-up, medium-shot, long-shot – and: focus/out-of-focus)

*Be prepared to describe in detail all aspects of the image. It might be particularly important to consider the following:

The Unseen Creator: Think about the photographer’s position. Where is he/ she in relation to the subject(s) of the photograph. Is the subject aware that they are being photographed? Most importantly, what is the photographer trying to communicate with the photo? Are they seeking to convey a particular theme or make a particular point? Why has this image made it to print from the millions that are created every day?

Lighting: Is it day or night? Where is the light in the photo? Does the light draw your attention to certain aspects of the image? Why? What does the creator of the image hope to achieve by this?

Colour: Is colour important in the image?  Does it catch your attention? Are primary colours used to draw your attention to particular aspects of the image? Is there a lack of colour? Does that contribute to the atmosphere of the image? Does colour influence how you respond to the image overall?

Subjects: Are the people in the image famous, recognisable? Is what they are wearing important: do the clothes indicate class, employment, culture or even a particular historical period? Is there a contrast between what people are wearing? What connection has the subject of the photo with the setting/background? Where are the subjects positioned in the image? What is at the centre of the image – this is often a significant area of the image? Are the subjects in the foreground or the background?

Angle: Is the shot a close-up, medium shot or long shot. If it is a close-up, what purpose does that serve – what is being conveyed by the subject’s expression? Is there any clue as to what they may be thinking? Can you speculate on their background? Is there a wider narrative that can be gleamed from the image? Think about how/why the images were created. Consider also the height of the shot. If it is a low-angle shot, or a shot from above, it may influence how we perceive the subject.

Personal response: What was your initial response to the image? Does the image evoke a particular emotional response in you? Pity? Shock? Anger? Disgust? Surprise? Joy? etc. Are the people in the image similar to you in any way? Can you relate in any way with what is happening in the image? Are you understanding/ sympathetic to what the image creator is trying to convey?

*When presented with a collection of images, you must be able to compare and contrast them; and be able to discuss those links. Consider whether they work together to convey a particular viewpoint. Do they all share an overall theme?  Is one or more noticeably different? How similar/different are they in style or general composition (angles, colours, lighting, subject etc.)

** It is also crucial to be able to connect an image with an accompanying text.  What links are there between both? Do they communicate a particular perspective together? Do they complement each other or is there a contrast?




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