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Photography Basics: Understanding Aesthetic Photography

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When a person describes a type of artwork, be it a painting, photograph, or art piece, they may use the word aesthetic. The meaning of aesthetics, in simple terms, is that something appears more pleasing to the eye. This could mean good to look at, symmetrical, high contrasted, proportional, and more. But what is aesthetics in photography? Well, there are numerous rules that you can follow to set the standard and quality of your photos apart from the rest. Read on further to learn their role or effect in photography. We have compiled a list of the techniques that you can learn about and hopefully incorporate into your aesthetic photography.

One common misconception or misunderstanding amongst photographers or artists, in general, is that they cannot judge the work they have created, and would need the opinion of a second person. This may be believed due to how personal their work is to them, but not necessarily true. You, as a photographer, can definitely be independent of others opinions when judging your work. Many a time, photographers can get angry too! You can do so by following certain guidelines to achieve aesthetic photography. 

The Basics of Aesthetic Photography

Anyone can judge a photo, you do not have to be an expert, however, the contrast between a trained eye and a layman's perception of art is huge. A trained artist can appreciate the beauty in a something and point out what is making it visually appealing.

The reasoning behind the beauty in an object is most of the time, not a pure coincidence or guess, there is a technique at play here.

Every photographer and artist as well rely on their ability to understand and apply their aesthetics and originality. Not everyone can see a photograph and connect the dots to analyze the underlying effect or technique used.

what is aesthetics in photography
Aesthetic Photography -  Technique at play

But worry not, by learning these basic elements, you too can master recognizing aesthetics in photography and incorporate it into your work as well.

Most of the techniques used in aesthetic photography have been discovered, not solely through or for the purpose of photography but can be applied to it correctly. Take the golden ratio as an example, it is a mathematical ratio that was established by mathematicians as early as the construction of the pyramids.

The ratio was applied to architecture, and now can be used for pretty much any art practiced today. If you take these principles and visualize them before taking your picture or during the post production, you can create truly appealing, aesthetic photography.

Thoughts and Concepts Behind Aesthetic Photography 

1. Expression of Idea and Emotion

Many photographers visualize and conceptualize before they go out and click a photograph.

They may pick a theme or symbol to represent a concept or wing it and edit along the same lines in post production. In photography, the photo cannot perfectly reflect what the reality of the scene is, rather it is displayed through the camera lens as per the photographer’s perception.

aesthetic photography
Expression of Idea and Emotion - Pay attention

A famous urban photographer Jonathan Bayer stated that "good photos are meant to intrigue, create mystery, and demand to be read". This is very true when it comes to aesthetic photography, where you will need to pay attention to the image, attempt to analyze or make meaning of it.

2. Imitation of Reality

The concise and well-written book Art, written by Clive Bell, iterates how painting and its components are a creation of art whereas photography is referred to as an imitation. The meaning of imitation is taken literally, where the perception of the lens and the photographer’s technique help to capture the reality of the subject or scenery.

Imitation does not mean that photography is inferior to painting or any other medium. Instead, it allows for multiple perspectives or takes on the same scene or image to allow creativity or versatility.

Painting is a form of creation, and according to the book Art, painting and other similar mediums are akin to the painter entering a special realm, that needs no connection to that of the real natural world. Painting can be representative of the real world but does not need to be realistic.

aesthetic photography
Imitation of Reality

We can often see this in abstract art, where ambiguity and chaos can reign.  When viewing a photograph, you should infer whether the image, although taken as an imitation of reality, would be preferred over the original scene. The reality is kept as a reference, not a standard to assess a photograph.

3. Appreciation of Process

The first step of the process is pre visualization, which involves a thorough knowledge of what you want to achieve or express through your photograph. You must plan out what elements or techniques to apply before taking a photograph.

Then when you spot out these in the subject or scene of focus, you can create aesthetic photography. 

The whole process of composing appealing images requires foresight, insight, and hindsight. You need to plan, analyze and correct or redo shots to arrive at the one you find suits your aesthetic best.

aesthetic photography
Right Lens for Appreciation of Process

You don’t require expensive high-end photography equipment to achieve the great results, just find the right lens for your type of photography should be adequate for most cases. It is, more importantly, the mind behind the lens that deserves the credit, some can make do with the most basic of equipment and turn up with spectacular photographs.

Similarly, post production is important too, adjusting features such as tint, brightness, contrast, and more can really renew a photo. But the most important aspect is the technique behind all these steps.

As you will soon discover, these elements of aesthetic photography can really give you a whole new outlook on the composition of your work.   

Compositional Elements

1. Leading Lines

Make your subject the cynosure of all eyes.

From where a person is standing, their line of sight or viewer’s eye is guided by lines and other figures in geometry. These leading lines help us perceive an object better by emphasizing it in the photo.

Marking the Checklist
Leading Lines for focus

When the viewer’s eye follows these specific lines that lead up to a subject, they appear more focused on and visually appealing. If the person does not follow leading lines then the subject is vaguely positioned and not as prominent.

2. Golden Ratio

This ratio based on the Fibonacci series and Phi number is basically a mathematical equation for determining a balanced proportion. Golden Ratio is used in art, architecture, and is found regularly in nature.

The ratio is 1.618 to 1, and when used in photography can result in an aesthetically pleasing composition. This compositional element dates back to the Greek Parthenon, the pyramids, and the Notre Dame.

Expression of Idea of Emotion
Golden Ratio - A work of science

 
3. Rule of Thirds

This method of composition is used by picturing four lines running across the image plane, two horizontal and two vertical, intersecting at four points.

These intersections are set as ideal points of focus where we propose to place the subject while taking the photograph. This technique is commonly used in street photography, where the focusing of a subject on the top intersection points makes the photo more interesting.

Another way to use this compositional technique is to try to focus the subject slightly off center as this shifts the point of interest and makes the photograph more appealing. This can be done off center horizontally or vertically.

Imitation of Reality
Rule of Thirds

4. Triangles

Similar to leading lines which assist the viewer’s eye to the subject or subjects of interest, geometrical symbols can also direct the viewer's attention. Geometric shapes can help the viewer by providing a framework with which they can use to perceive a more appealing overall image.

Triangles can connect points of interest in an image, and make the image more concise and meaningful instead of chaotic or random.

Appreciation of Process
Triangles - Similar to leading lines  (source)

 Using a triangle, circle, or other various shapes can create more active movement in the image as there is no full stop to a triangle or circle.

5. Rule of Odds

This compositional element suggests that subjects that come an odd number of times in a photograph are more visually appealing. This means that three subjects or points of interest are more appealing than say four in the same picture.

This also means that five, seven, nine, and so on odd numbers create harmony to the viewer’s eye.

Aesthetics and Originality
Rule of Odds - compositional element

The underlying reason is that, cognitively, you can arrange and organize even numbered objects easier than odd numbers. This makes an odd number of subjects more appealing and exciting for our minds.

6. Breaking Symmetry

Just like in the Rule of Odds, where our brains are used to even number grouping, a symmetrical image is too common and easily comprehended. This makes it uninteresting to us and thus breaking the symmetry can enhance the appeal.

Marking the Checklist
Breaking Symmetry - easily comprehend the basics

Although symmetry does bring harmony and is quite tricky to achieve without previous planning, breaking this traditional rule can add wonders to your photography. This means that a subject off center or an image unfamiliar on both sides of the center point can be more interesting than a symmetrical image. 

7. Marking the Checklist

By following the provided list of compositional elements in your photos, you can create aesthetic photography effortlessly and find more ways to inspire yourself. Whether you incorporate one or more of these techniques in your photography or not, you certainly will learn to look at the world around you in a very different artistic way. 

Imitation of Reality
Check the Checklist (source)

Along with these composition elements, the other elements that will add a wow factor to your photographs are pattern, texture, depth of field. So go ahead and experiment with your photos!

You don’t need to be a trained professional to understand or find these elements in your surroundings. Now that you have learned these techniques, by practicing them in your everyday photography, you will eventually master and find them around you naturally. Being able to explain these elements in your photos is what makes you different than the rest. Make sure you still stick to your own creative instincts in the end to add that touch of originality. You have accomplished the first step to successful aesthetic photography! 

Basic rules are also not an invention by some masterminds, but the codification of an easy way to create enough tension for a picture without being overwhelmingly chaotic. In other words: Having an aesthetically successful picture also doesn’t make it automatically great; it provides a beautiful framework to present the story.

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