Posted in Visual Storytelling

Emotions in Images

Color plays a pivotal role in being able to show emotions with a picture. “Combining color and emotion is a powerful storytelling tool. Color creates a sensory impression that reflects mood and emotion” (104, Lupton). I searched through many different paintings and many different movie posters to ones that I thought conveyed the color range of red on the Plutchik’s color wheel. Red portrays annoyance at its lightest stage, anger at its middle stage, and rage at its darkest stage. The first picture is the movie poster from Dinner for Schmuck’s, a comedy starring Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell. Having seen the movie myself I already know how it conveys annoyance, but I will be only using the actual poster (and none of the scenes) to talk about the emotion. My second picture is a painting that conveys anger. The third image is a painting by Saryth on dA that conveys rage.

Dinner for Schmuck’s is a comedy that stars Paul Rudd and Steve Carrell. The movie poster describes the relationship between the two very well. Paul Rudd looks incredibly annoyed at Steve Carrell. While Steve Carrell just looks happy to be there and won’t stop holding onto Paul Rudd. The Gestalt principles of perception [“the brain converts a flood of data about color, tone, shape, movement, and orientation into distinct objects. These useful chinks of information are called percepts” (126, Lupton).] aren’t too noticeable here. The biggest one that I see is Similarity (which is when elements with the same color or shape are in a group). Steve Carrell is wearing a lot of blue and lighter colors and they are grouped together showing that he’s brighter. Paul Rudd is wearing black and darker colors showing that he’s more dark and not as bright and chipper as Carrell. Normally, to show annoyance there would be a hint of red in the image, but not in this case. The annoyance is seen on Rudd’s face. The hand on his forehead that is the all-too-known “facepalm” gesture, which most people know to be a sign of annoyance. Someone is just being so annoying that you (since you can’t slap them) you slap your forehead, or even just rub your forehead because you can’t fathom someone being this annoying or stupid.

This painting is a lot more straightforward than the Dinner for Schmuck’s movie poster. It abuses the color red and uses it very well to depict anger. It does a very good job at adding the human element to it. Now, you may be asking yourself how this painting has the human element. Well, it follows three simple steps. The first step would be the basic image. The basic image in this case would be just the boy being very mad. The second step is adding a human touch, which would be the person that the boy is angry at. The third and final step is adding the human trace. If you look very closely at the image you can see blood spattered on his cheek. That would be the human trace, literally and figuratively. It’s the trace left behind of the person he attacked in anger, it’s also what adds the story to this image. Not only do we know that he’s angry, but we also know that he did something about it. The image also does a great job at following the Gestalt principle, Enclosure, “Things that appear to have a boundary around them are perceived to be grouped, and therefore related” (Bonner). There’s a thin white line surrounding the boy in the picture which groups together the boy and the color red and separates it from the background. Along with Enclosure, the image also does a great job at Figure/Ground Ambiguity, “Perceiving certain objects as being in the foreground and other objects as being in the background” (Bonner). The blackness is clearly the background in the image and that can be seen because of the white boundary surrounding the subject.

I really like this painting because it has so many different stages to it. You have the battered warrior with a multitude of scars across his chest. He’s holding a wicked looking sword that’s gleaming in the light. That’s not even mentioning his eyes. His eyes exude pure rage. Which is the reason I picked this painting to showcase rage. He has no pupils, no iris. His eyes are just pure red. They almost look as if they’re just balls of fire that could destroy anything with just a glance. The area around him is smoking and looks like it’s rundown, possibly from a battle he just finished (and clearly won). This image does a great job of showing the Gestalt principle, Proximity, “closely spaces elements form groups” (128, Lupton). The stairs that rise up to what you can’t see is its own group. The ambiguous object next to the warrior is its own group. The entryway in the corner is its own group. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget the warrior. He’s in his own group as well. He’s separated from the background (Figure/Ground Ambiguity) by a thin white line (Enclosure). Now the figure isn’t really red, other than his eyes. The entire area around him is red. This could mean that the area he just fought in has rage towards him for destroying a once beautiful area. They’re the same shade of red as his eyes. His eyes hate that area as much as the area hates him. Perhaps it was once a home that casted him out as a child, and he has now come back to enact his revenge?


Bonner, Carolann. “Using Gestalt Principles for Natural Interactions.” Thoughtbot, 15 Sept. 2014,

Cohen, Micah. “How To Master Visual Storytelling with Emotional Pictures.” Insights.twenty20.Com,

Lupton, Ellen. Design Is Storytelling. Cooper Hewitt, 2017.

One thought on “Emotions in Images

  1. HI Louis,

    I think the photos that you chose for this assignment work really well. I am a big fan of Dinner for Schmucks and think your detailed description and use of color analysis works really well to describe why it portrays that emotion. We can almost get the whole story from this poster. The second one I thought was really interesting how you incorporated the human touch aspect. I hadn’t noticed this on the first look and really helped me feel the emotion portrayed. I think you did a really good job on including information you learned from the readings and such to this assignment. I think the images you picked are really detailed, and that’s what this is about!


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