Previous research using the contextual cuing paradigm has revealed both quantitative and qualitative differences in learning depending on whether repeated contexts are defined by letter arrays or real-world scenes. To clarify the relative contributions of visual features and semantic information likely to account for such differences, the typical contextual cuing procedure was adapted to use meaningless but nevertheless visually complex images. The data in reaction time and in eye movements show that, like scenes, such repeated contexts can trigger large, stable, and explicit cuing effects, and that those effects result from facilitated attentional guidance. Like simpler stimulus arrays, however, those effects were impaired by a sudden change of a repeating image's color scheme at the end of the learning phase (Experiment 1), or when the repeated images were presented in a different and unique color scheme across each presentation (Experiment 2). In both cases, search was driven by explicit memory. Collectively, these results suggest that semantic information is not required for conscious awareness of context-target covariation, but it plays a primary role in overcoming variability in specific features within familiar displays.