Terms for Visual Analysis

produced by students in ENG 298, Spring 2000
from William H. Phillips, Film: An Introduction, Chapter 10

MEANING: The import of a cultural product, its reason for being: what it is trying to communicate. To state the meaning of something is to make an observation or a general statement about its subject.

Explicit Meanings: general observations given by a certain work, within it -- such as subtitles or title cards in silent films.

Implicit Meanings: ideas implied by a cultural product. Different meanings are communicated to people from different cultural, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds.

EVENT: In a narrative, either a happening (such as rain falling) or an action.

SYMBOL: Anything perceptible that has significance or meaning beyond its usual meaning or function.

SCENE: A section of a narrative film that gives the impression of continuous action taking place in one continuous time and space.


  1. (noun) The borders of the projected film screen or TV set or computer monitor.
  2. (verb) To position the camera in such a way that the subject is kept within the borders of the image.

MISE EN SCENE: An image's setting, subject (usually people or characters), and composition (the arrangement of setting and subjects within the frame).

SHOT: An uninterrupted strip of exposed motion-picture film or videotape. A shot presents a subject, perhaps even a blank screen, during an uninterrupted segment of time. Thus, most films are made up of thousands and thousands of shots.

REACTION SHOT: A shot that shows someone or occasionally an animal presumably responding to an event.

POINT-OF-VIEW SHOT: Camera placement at the approximate position of a character or person (or, occasionally, an animal) that gives a similar view to what that creature would see.

FLASHBACK: A shot or a few shots, a brief scene, or a sequence that interrupts a narrative to show earlier events.

EDIT: To select and arrange the processed segments of photographed motion-picture film in order to develop or undercut the meanings of each shot.

SUPERIMPOSITION: Two or more images appearing on top of each other.

FAST CUTTING: Editing characterized by many brief shots, sometimes shots less than a second long.

MONTAGE: A series of shots, often joined by lap dissolves (see below), used to condense time and events.

LAP DISSOLVE: A transition between shots in which one shot begins to fade out as the next shot fades in, overlapping the first shot before replacing it.

MATCH CUT: Transition between two shots in which an object or movement at the end of one shot closely resembles an object or movement at the beginning of the next shot.

CLOSE-UP: An image in which the subject fills most of the frame and shows little of the surroundings.

FREEZE-FRAME: A projected yet unmoving motion-picture image, which therefore looks like a still photograph.

DOLLY: To film while the camera is mounted on a moving dolly or wheeled platform.

TILTING: Effect achieved when a camera on a stationary base pivots vertically, down to up or up to down, during filming.

EYE-LEVEL ANGLE: A camera angle that creates the effect of the audience being on the same level as the subject.

HIGH ANGLE: View of a subject from above, created by positioning the camera above the subject.

HARD LIGHT: Light that has not been diffused or reflected before illuminating the subject. On subjects illuminated by hard light, shadows are sharp-edged and surface details are more noticeable than with soft light.