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  • Writer's pictureSandra Lee

Ultimate 2023 ATAR Guide: Top 10 English Visual Techniques [Cheat Sheet]

Updated: Apr 15

Get ready to maximise your English results with our ultimate 2023 ATAR guide for English visual techniques. From salience to symbolism, master key techniques in your assessment with our comprehensive cheat sheet.


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Sandra Lee



Sandra is the founder of Cloud Tuition, University of Queensland Biomedical Science graduate and an experienced primary and high school educator with over ten years of tutoring expertise. With a passion for education, she is driven by the mission to help Australian school students get better access to quality tutoring support.

"This guide was written to help all Year 11 and 12 English students feel more confident with their visual text analysis skills!" – Sandra Lee


Table of Contents


Preparing for Visual Text Analysis

Visual techniques are the building blocks of visual texts. They're the tools artists, filmmakers and photographers use to convey meaning, evoke emotions and tell stories. What truly makes a visual text compelling? Whether you're analysing a painting, a film or a photograph, understanding these visual analysis techniques will give you deeper insights into the work and highlight its impact on readers and viewers.

Before we dive into some of the most essential visual techniques you'll encounter in your English studies, here are a few study tips to help you break down visual texts:

📑 Visual Text Analysis Study Tips

1) Understand the Context

  • When was the visual text created?

  • Can you describe its historical, cultural and social contexts?

  • What's the author's background?

2) Identify Visual Techniques and Elements

  • Recognise and understand the visual techniques and elements selected by the author (NOTE: it was done purposefully!)

  • Read through our list of visual techniques below and take note of the choices of colour, line, shape, space and texture. Look for symbolism, contrasts and other visual techniques that convey meaning.

3) Annotate Thoroughly

  • Make detailed annotations on the visual text. Note down anything that stands out such as unusual imagery or effective use of color. Annotations will help organize your thoughts and form a deeper understanding.

  • Conduct research and read what other students or critics have to say about elements of your text. This is the best way to frame your interpretation and analysis. You don't have to magically think of great vocabulary to use all on your own!

  • Add vocabulary words and key points that you come across during research to your annotations to help build your analysis

4) Apply Literary and Theoretical Frameworks

  • If applicable, use literary and theoretical frameworks such as monomyths, antiheroes, archetypes, feminism, Marxism or semiotics to explore deeper meanings and connections in the visual text.

5) Take it Easy & Break Down Each Step

  • Practise analysing your visual text in stages. You don't have to do it all at once!

  • From watching Youtube videos about your text to reading other writers' analytical essays, immerse yourself in the text slowly and prioritise planning rather than writing your analysis straight off the bat with no preparation

  • Discuss your interpretations with your friends or your teacher to gain different perspectives and improve your analysis

Without further ado, let's get right into the most important visual techniques that you can use for your upcoming visual analysis assessment!


Introduction to Visual Techniques

🟢 Visual Technique #1 - Salience

Salience refers to the most noticeable or important part of an image. It's what captures your attention first. For instance, in a photograph of a crowded street, a brightly colored umbrella might be the salient image. Salient images guide the viewer's attention and often carry significant meaning.

Consider the salient image shown below. What salient imagery can you identify?

Salience in image with three pears and a bright red apple

"From the visual text above, the red apple stands out as a salient feature and draws the viewer's attention. The apple is therefore seen as 'different' or 'unique'" – Sandra Lee

🟢 Visual Technique #2 - Colour & Lighting

Colours evoke emotions. Red can symbolise anger, blue may indicate tranquillity and yellow typically symbolises happiness. Lighting, whether natural or artificial, can also be used to set the mood. A scene bathed in soft morning light feels different from one under the harsh glare of neon.

Consider the image shown below. How is colour and lighting used to evoke emotions?

Colour and lighting use shown as barbie waves to barbie world with bright bipink and blue tones throughout image

"Within Barbie World, bright pink and blue colours make up the film's iconic spring palette with its white undertones that evoke a playful, feminine and youthful feeling. The use of bright lighting also reinforces the artificial environment created within Barbie World." – Sandra Lee

🟢 Visual Technique #3 - Vector Lines

Vector lines guide our eyes in a particular direction. They can be explicit like arrows, or implicit such the gaze of a person in a portrait. These lines help structure the composition and lead viewers through the visual narrative.

Consider the image shown below. Can you identify a vector line and what direction your eyes are being guided?

Vector lines shown as wooden walkpath leads forward towards the water in the distance

"A vector line moving upwards along the path of the wooden walkway is implicitly directing the viewer's attention to the sky, its colours and natural beauty" – Sandra Lee

🟢 Visual Technique #4 - Gaze

The gaze technique is all about where characters or subjects are looking. An "offer gaze" suggests the character is offering something to the viewer. On the other hand, a "demand gaze" or a "direct gaze" feels more confrontational, demanding something from the viewer. You can try noting your character's gaze direction, head orientation and whether or not eye contact with the camera or perspective is being made.

Consider the image shown below. What kind of gaze is being shown and how does it contribute to the character's emotions or intent?

Female Afghan woman with green eyes staring directly at the camera

"The character's demand gaze confronts the viewer with her direct eye contact which establishes a strong connection between subject and viewer. Taking into the account of the context of the image, the direct gaze conveys a sense of helplessness and suffering" – Sandra Lee

🟢 Visual Technique #5 - Body Language

Body language speaks volumes. The posture, gestures and expressions of characters can reveal their emotions, intentions and relationships without a single word.

Consider the image shown below. What does the body language and posture suggest?

Prada model in red dress looking to the side with handbag in front view

"The model in the luxury ad above exudes a sense of confidence and energy through her posture, body language and non-verbal cues. Furthermore, the advertisement meticulously crafts a strong sense of brand identity, inviting the viewer to aspire towards a similar sense of self-image and confidence" – Sandra Lee

🟢 Visual Technique #6 - Imagery

Imagery encompasses the use of visually descriptive or figurative language. It's about painting a picture with words, helping readers visualize and connect with the content.

Consider the image shown below. Can you identify the figurative language device used and the imagery being created?

Coca-cola advertisement showing close-up shot of drink with a sunrise and green landscape shown in the background

"In the persuasive ad above, a metaphor is used to compare the drink Coke with happiness. The fresh, positive and joyful imagery created from this figurative device is reinforced by the sunlight, bright green grass and natural landscape shown in the background" – Sandra Lee

🟢 Visual Technique #7 - Allusion

Allusions are references to other works of art, literature, or culture. They add depth and layers of meaning, enriching the viewer's experience by connecting the visual text to something familiar.

Consider the image shown below. Can you identify what the Simpsons is alluding to?

Allusion used in Simpsons parody to Salvador Dali's Persistence of Memory

"Matt Groening's TV show The Simpsons makes an allusion to Salvador Dali's Persistence of Memory. By replacing the famous clocks in the artwork with the characters of the Simpsons, this suggests to the viewer that entertainment causes time to slip away" – Sandra Lee

🟢 Visual Technique #8 - Point of View, Camera Shots & Angles

From close-ups that capture minute details to wide shots that set the scene, the choice of camera shot and point of view can drastically alter how we interpret a visual text. Camera angles can also influence how we perceive a subject. A low-angle shot might make a character appear dominant, while a high-angle shot could make them seem vulnerable.

Consider the image shown below. Can you describe the perspective, camera shot and angle being used?

A high-angle shot portraying Harry potter on a concrete floor looking frightened with his wand in his hand pointing upwards

"In the movie still above taken from the film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, an objective high-angle, midrange shot provides an overview of the dangerous situation Harry is facing as he is confronted in a tunnel. As the camera looks down on Harry, highlighting the fear in his facial expressions, he is portrayed to be in a vulnerable, powerless and weak state as a threat approaches him" – Sandra Lee

🟢 Visual Technique #9 - Composition, Contrast & Juxtaposition

Composition is the arrangement of elements in an image. Contrast highlights differences, and juxtaposition places opposing elements side by side for dramatic effect.

Consider the image shown below. Explain how the composition is used to create a dramatic effect.

Female lawyer Elle woods walking into a courtroom wearing a bright pink outfit

"Taken from the film Legally Blonde, the movie still above uses comedic juxtaposition to dramatically contrast the distinctive feminine and flashy pink attire of lawyer Elle Woods with the traditional and conversative fashion of stereotypical professional lawyers. As a result, this contrast challenges the stereotypes and norms of the legal profession and promotes a sense of empowerment and individuality." – Sandra Lee

🟢 Visual Technique #10 - Symbolism

Symbols are loaded with meaning. They're shortcuts, representing complex ideas or themes in a simple, visual form.

Consider the image shown below. Describe the meaning of the symbolism being used.

Persuasive ad for driving safe portraying car keys as a gun

"The symbolism used in the persuasive ad above holds semiotic importance. Portraying the car keys as a gun, an iconic representation of violence, the message that driving can kill is strongly reinforced. The black and white colour theme used in the ad also creates a stark contrast, with black often associated with death and white reflecting life." – Sandra Lee

🟢 Visual Technique #11 - Texture

Texture in visual texts refers to the perceived surface quality or feel of an object within the image. It's about how things look like they might feel if touched. Texture can be both tactile (how things actually feel) and visual (how things appear to feel). This technique can evoke emotions, create contrasts, or add depth to an image.

Consider the image shown below. How does the texture provide meaning?

Close-up shot of white painted door with many cracks showing the brown wood underneath

"In the photograph above, the old, weathered wooden door shows the rough grain of the wood, the peeling layers of paint and the cracks that have formed over time. This texture evokes a sense of nostalgia and the passage of time." – Sandra Lee


📚 Need More Study Tips?

While we hope that this Visual Text Analysis guide helped you, mastering visual techniques is just the beginning. To truly excel in your English studies, you'll need a range of skills, from essay writing to critical thinking. Check out our other guides and resources to help you succeed made exclusively for students in mind.

🗣️ Learn 1:1 with a private English tutor

Struggling with visual techniques or any other topic? Our experienced tutors are here to help. With personalised guidance, you can gain a deeper understanding and boost your grades. Contact us if you're in need of one-on-one tutoring support to help with schoolwork and exam preparation.

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