Media Codes and Conventions

Media Codes.

How do media products communicate?

Media codes

Media codes

Media conventions

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A picture tells a thousand words

A still from 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?' Directed by Stanley Kramer, 1967.

Technical codes

Technical media codes are the ways equipment has been used to record and/ or create meaning in a media production. These are the building blocks of media that are used in many ways.


How vision is recorded.


Camera refers to the way a camera has been used to record visual sequences for photography, video or cinematography. 

Camera and film techniques include:

  • Shot sizes
  • Camera angles
  • Camera movement
  • Tripod, hand-held
  • Zooms and pans
  • Focus/depth of field
  • Film stock, grain, ISO Exposure


What is the cinematographer’s style?

  • The camera angle
  • Camera movement
  • Are different techniques combined?
  • Why does it used this way?


How character is represented


Acting refers to the art of human representation or interpretation of a character within a media production. 

Acting can be:

  • Naturalistic
  • Exaggerated

*Consider the impact of a ‘star’. Some stars can bring a certain quality to a role.


  • The visual aspects of the performance
  • Appearance
  • Gesture
  • Facial expressions
  • Mannerisms

*Even non-acting or playing one’s self is acting. Consider the way Michael Moore ‘acts’ in his documentaries.


How place and time are represented.


Setting refers to the time and/ or place that the narrative occurs in. Setting is related to the code 'mise en scene'.


How does the setting contribute to the narrative?

Is the setting integral to the narrative itself?

Could the film be set in a different time or place?

How does the setting function symbolically?

How would this affect the interpretation of the film?


What is shown or omitted.


Mise en scene refers to everything in a frame that has been placed to create a representation. Aspects of mise en scene include;

  • set,
  • costume,
  • makeup, hair styles,
  • props,
  • lighing,
  • colour.

Mise en scene works in symbolic ways as it often includes objects that represent something else or other ideas.


  • Setting
  • Props
  • Colours
  • Costumes
  • Lighting
  • Character blocking


Cutting and ordering of sequences of vision and/ or sound.


Editing refers to the cutting and combining of sequences of vision to create a narrative. As a narrative is rarely filmed and presented to the audience in real time, editing is the method by which sequences are assembled together to create a meaningful product. 

Editing may refer to;

Visual: The way separate shots are combined/ arranged to make meaning,

Sound: The way sound is layered together to create meaning or emotion.

  • Editing is used to:
  • Tell a long story in a limited amount of time (screen time vs real time)
  • To engage the audience
  • Emphasise information about certain characters or events

*Do not discuss sound effects here!


  • The types of edits (fades, dissolves, jump cuts)
  • The sequence of shots
  • The rhythm of the edits
  • The pace of the editing

*Consider particular Directors and whether they favour particular editing techniques.

*Terms for editing include; jump cuts, pace editing, cross-cutting, continuity editing.


How acting and setting are revealed or represented.


Lighting refers to the manner in which a scene or frame is illuminated.  Video and filming are forms of photography so inherently rely on the capture of light and shade to render characters, actions and settings. However, lighting is not a given and must be constructed in the way that best creates meaning for a representation desired in a media product.

Lighting can be:

  • Naturalistic 
  • Expressive 
  • Chiaroscuro (dramatic and 3 dimensional)
  • Low key (dark)
  • High key (light)

Different effects can be achieved by:

  • Changing the direction of light
  • Changing the number of light sources
  • Changing the quality of the light
  • Changing the colour of light
  • Framing with light
  • Using shadows


Identify the lighting style

  • Naturalistic lighting – Helps the audience to accept the film’s fictional world is real.
  • Expressive lighting -  Can be used for emphasis of to create a mood or atmosphere

Consider the direction of light. Front, back lit.

Consider the kind of light; candle, spot, daylight.

*Terms for lighting include; chiaroscuro, front-lit, backlit.


The aural component of a media production.


Sound refers to the audio (heard) component of a media production. In the case of a podcast or radio production this sound may be the entire component. 

Sound may be used to provide mood and/ or continuity in visual sequences. it is also often used to given an audience an insight into a character's feelings. 

Sounds in a film are classified into two types:

Diegetic sounds: Sounds that originate from events in the film (within the world of the narrative).

  • Character voices
  • Sounds from objects
  • Character turns on a radio and sings along to a song

Non-diegetic sounds: Sounds that do originate from events in the film, are not heard by characters in the story and are only heard by the audience

  • Voice-over narration
  • Incidental music


  • Sound editing – cutting and placing of sound
  • Sound effects – Sound effects are diegetic if it what a character would hear even if it is a sound effect.


Tricks to make impossible possible, or to make production workflow more efficient.


Special effects (SFX) refers to methods of achieving difficult or impossible  actions or sequences that cannot be filmed economically, easily, safely or naturally. Special Effects began as simple double exposures, tricks in editing, animation, models, and now usually employ digital production, digital sets, matte painting, stunts, visual illusions and/ or post production work.


How does the SFX add to the meaning of the media production?

How does the SFX add to the audience engagement?

How does the SFX relate to the genre of the media production?

How do SFX relate to a production schedule, location, degree of difficulty of the shoot or budget?

*What are the techniques used?

SFX may involve; green screen, (digital) matte painting, models, stunt work, digital sets.


Symbolic codes

These are elements in a representation that ‘stand for’ or represent something else. A symbol is related to the study of semiotics, in that meaning can be created by incorporating elements that are encoded with connotations or associations. Often these connections are culturally specific links and may not apply in all times and places in the world. Symbols can be objects, colours, lights or shades, settings, white space, or any other kind of thing included in a representation and intended to build meaning in the media production. Examples include a knife, the colour white and a shadow. A discussion of symbolic codes refers to the way images or objects are used to refer to something beyond their literal identity.


Colour can be used to denote gender or create many emotions.


Light coming into a frame is a symbol for enlightenment or divinity.


The shadows from venetian blinds or jail bars represents mystery or foreboding.


A knife is used for cooking but can be a symbol for danger.

Object - jewlery

A wedding ring is a symbol of love and fidelity.


A cast shadow is representing the presence of someone else in the scene. Another mysterious symbol.


A simple hexagon is the shape of a stop sign.

Written codes

These refer to text in motion image and print media. What is written and how it is ‘typeset’ are considered. In addition to the actual written content, typography, the field of placing, aligning, choosing fonts and other methods of styling writing for print, is an expressive element of media. A discussion of written codes includes the kind of voice or tone used in writing on media forms, the typefaces chosen, the case, alignment, position and colours, etc. used to style type. The kind of font; sans serif or serif is the first place to begin.

Sans serif type

A sans serif type form. Usually used for new or contemporary, impartial or factual media productions.

Serif type

A serif type form. Usually used when the producer requires a sense of old world experience and authority.

Sound codes

Sound is a huge component of a media production. It is almost always present in moving image texts and maybe present in web or other media productions. Sound may be as an actor might hear as part of their role in a narrative- diegetic sound, or added to enhance the audience experience – non-diegetic sound. Sound codes include musical scores, actors’ spoken words, foley (sound effects), noises added to buttons or user interface for web based media productions.