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Visual Rhetorical Analysis

ENGL 1301 with Professor Gutierrez

Terms to Know


What do you see?

What is happening in the picture? Who are the people? What are they doing? What objects are in the scene? What activity is captured in the shot?

What is your overall impression of it?


Study the composition. What is in the background and foreground of the photograph?

Identify the important visual elements. What are they?

What meanings are conveyed by the design choices? Are there different ways to look at the photo?

How is color, light, shadow, and textures used?


How does the title affect and influence the interpretation and message of the image?

What context does the information provide the viewer? Does it answer the questions where, how, why and for whom the image was made?

Where can you find information about the time, location, social, political, and cultural context to the photo?

abstract: an image that emphasizes formal elements (line, shape, etc) rather than specific, recognizable objects.

content: the subject, topic or information captured in a photograph.

direct approach: confronting a scene in a straight-forward manner, without using unusual angles or distortion.

documentary photography: photographs whose main purpose is to record a place, person(s) or event.

expressive: concerned with communicating emotion.

geometric shape: simple rectilinear or curvilinear shapes found in geometry, such as circles, squares, triangles, etc.

intention: reason(s) why the artist made a work of art.

landscape: an image that portrays the natural environment.

objective: a point of view free from personal bias, which attempts to consider all available information with equal regard and fairness.

organic shape: shapes based on natural objects such as trees, mountains, leaves, etc.

representational: an image which shows recognizable objects.

subject: the main object or person(s) in a photograph.

theme: a unifying or dominant idea in one work of art or in a collection of works.


The terms and explanations are from:

Angle of view is the position from where the photographer took the picture. A photographer can point the camera from below, above, or straight at an object. In other artistic media, this is often called point of view. When looking for subjects, especially in nature, a photographer often shifts the angle of view to make interesting images. Angle of view can also express emotion or mood. It can give the viewer a sense of being small if looking up, or a sense of being big if looking down. 

Color is light reflected off objects. Color has three main charateristics; hue (the name of the color, such as red, green, blue, etc.),  value (how light or dark it is), and intensity (how bright or dull it is). Artists use color to achieve many effects. Color gives viewers a sense of mood, place, and time of year. Color can also move your eye around a composition and create a sense of space on a flat surface. Some artists achieve very saturated (strong, intense) color in their images, while others intentionally use subdued or muted colors in their subject matter.

Focus is the sharpness or clarity of subjects in the photographic image. Soft focus is created when a photographer manipulates the camera to achieve blurry, gentle edges. Photographers use the aperture (lens opening) and limitations of the lens to create sharp detail, soft edges, or both; this is called selective focus. 

Forms are three-dimensional shapes expressing length, width, and depth. Balls, cylinders, boxes, and pyramids are forms. 

Framing is how a photographer carefully presents a subject. Unlike painters, who usually begin with a blank canvas, photographers begin with everything in front of them. Once a subject is found, a photographer decides what to include in the picture frame. The photographer then composes the image to draw a viewer’s attention to the subject in a way that best expresses the artist’s idea of it.

Line is a mark with greater length than width. Lines can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal; straight or curved; thick or thin.

Shape is a closed line. Shapes can be geometric, like squares and circles; or organic, like free-form or natural shapes. Shapes are flat and can express length and width. 

Space is the area between and around objects. The space around objects is often called negative space; negative space has shape Space can also refer to the feeling of depth. Real space is three-dimensional; in visual art, when we create the feeling or illusion of depth, we call space.

Texture is how the surface of an object appears to feel or actually feels to the touch. Texture can be described as rough, smooth, soft, etc. Texture is shown in photographs by the way the light falls on an object and through value changes. The paper on which the photograph is made also determines texture

All terms and explanations are from:

Balance is the distribution of the visual weight of objects, colors, texture, and space. If the design was a scale, these elements should be balanced to make a design feel stable. In symmetrical balance, the elements used on one side of the design are similar to those on the other side; in asymmetrical balance, the sides are different but still look balanced. In radial balance, the elements are arranged around a central point and may be similar.

Emphasis is the part of the design that catches the viewer’s attention. Usually the artist will make one area stand out by contrasting it with other areas. The area could be different in size, color, texture, shape, etc.

Movement is the path the viewer’s eye takes through the work of art, often to focal areas. Such movement can be directed along lines, edges, shape, and color within the work of art.

Pattern is the repeating of an object or symbol all over the work of art.

Repetition works with pattern to make the work of art seem active. The repetition of elements of design creates unity within the work of art.

Proportion is the feeling of unity created when all parts (sizes, amounts, or number) relate well with each other. When drawing the human figure, proportion can refer to the size of the head compared to the rest of the body.

Rhythm is created when one or more elements of design are used repeatedly to create a feeling of organized movement. Rhythm creates a mood like music or dancing. To keep rhythm exciting and active, variety is essential.

Variety is the use of several elements of design to hold the viewer’s attention and to guide the viewer’s eye through and around the work of art.

Unity is the feeling of harmony between all parts of the work of art, which creates a sense of completeness.

The terms and explanations are from:

visual literacy the ability to interpret and communicate with respect to visual symbols in media other than print, as visual literacy in viewing television, art, nature, etc.

Identify information relevant to the image’s meaning:

  • Look carefully at an image and pick out the content and physical details in it.
  • What do the captions and accompanying text offer in terms of additional information about the image?
  • Who or what is in the image?
  • Are there relationships to related images that influence your interpretation? 
  • What additional information do you need about the image? What questions do you pose due to the question? What research do you need to conduct?

Put the image in cultural, social, and historical contexts:

  • Describe the cultural and historical factors relevant to the production of an image (e.g., time period, geography, economic conditions, political structures, social practices)
  • Why was the photograph taken? 
  • What choices did the artist make that creates meaning or influence the interpretation of the image (e.g., framing, composition, included or excluded elements, staging)?
  • Who is the intended audience? 
  • Explore and explain the representations of gender, ethnicity, and other cultural or social identifiers in the image.
  • How has the audience, context and and interpretation of the image changed since it was taken?

Identify the physical, technical, and design components in the image.

Evaluate the effectiveness and reliability of the image as visual communication:

  • How effective does the image achieve its pupose?
  • Does the image create an appropriate impact that conveys the intended message to its intended audience?
  • What persuasive or manipulative strategies are used? How do they influence interpretation?
  • What signs, symbols, and conventions are used to convey meaning in the image?
  • How does editing or manipulation effectthe meaning and reliability of the image?

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