Language in Moving Image Media

In Media, we often talk about the “language” of texts and many incorrectly assume we mean that in an English Studies sense.

Of course, we mean how technical aspects (codes) are used in text to suggest narrative, story, mood and meaning.

This page is intended to discuss a wide range of “language” in moving image texts – for example, movies.

High Key Lighting
Bright light with few shadows – can be seen as “happy”

The Wizard of Oz

Low Key Lighting
Lower light with shadows, dark tones, contrasts – tension or mystery


Low key and high contrast lighting, film noir

The Third Man

Low Angle Shot
Image taken from below the subject – can make it seem powerful

Quantum of Solace

High Angle Shot
Image taken from above the subject – can make it seem vulnerable

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Tilted/Dutch Angle (canted)
Tilted image – can show unease, disorientation, confusion, intoxication

Mission Impossible

Bird’s Eye View (overhead)
Image taken from directly overhead, unusual point of view, dramatic


Long Shot
Usually shows the entire human figure

The Usual Suspects

Medium Shot
Usually shows the waist up


Close Up
Usually shows the whole face

The Shining

Image is sharp – focus can be on foreground or background, or entire frame

Batman V Superman

Tracking Shot
Camera moves alongside the object it is recording – usually stays same distance from subject, but not always.  Easier today with portable cameras.

North by Northwest
Touch of Evil

Dolly Shot
Similar to tracking except camera moves towards or away from subject


Camera is fixed in position but is turned left or right

Schindler’s List

Camera is fixed in position, but is tilted up or down

Star Wars

Editing, cuts and transitions – see this useful video as an introduction.

Continuity Editing
Creates a continuous flow of narrative, clear understanding

Image fades out to a blank screen

Image fades while being replaced by another image fading in

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Jump Cuts
Non-continuous cut which could jump in time or location, can be startling, unsettling, or exhilarating.

Eye-Line Match
Character is gazing at something – next shot perceived as what they see

Rear Window

Graphic Match
The image, shapes, colours of one shot match the previous one


Diegetic Sound
Sound that happens in the world of the film, e.g. the characters can hear it
Marty plays the guitar on stage in Back to the Future

Non-Diegetic Sound
Sound that the characters can’t hear – the movie’s soundtrack, narration
Most film soundtracks!

Parallel Sound
Where the sound we hear suits the mood or tone of the scene
Exciting music during action scene

Contrapuntal Sound
Where the sound contrasts with the mood or tone of the scene.

In “Face-Off” a violent shoot out happens, but the soundtrack plays “Somewhere over the rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz

Foley Sound
Live action sound recreated in the studio using everyday objects.
Most films!

The Secret World of Foley

Within the film, or the soundtrack.

Words spoken by the characters

Computer generated imagery

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Green screen
Green backgrounds which can be digitally replaced in the final film

The Hobbit

Matte painting
Detailed painting on glass used to create the illusion of environments

The Empire Strikes Back

Bullet time/Flo-Mo
Slow-motion effect where camera seems to rotate around a frozen moment

Speed Ramping
Slowing down/speeding up movement to create dramatic and stylish effects


Scale models used to represent real objects


Everything in the frame.
The Force Awakens
  • Props
    Objects used to make the scene more realistic
  • Body language
    Messages given by the position of the body
  • Costume
    Clothing worn by characters, design, colours, choice can be important
  • Facial expression
    Emotion shown by the performer’s face
  • Sets
    Real or specially built locations for filming to take place
  • Hair
    Cut, design and colour of hair which could indicate character or time period
  • Make-up
    Used to enhance features, add ageing, illness etc.

There’s a lot to learn!

But by watching movies and spotting these features, you will become more familiar with how they are used and the filmmakers reasons for using them.

The next step then, would be to start using them in your own film projects!

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