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How To Understand and Use Aesthetics in Photography

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Photography exists in many different forms. Some are joyful, others thought-provoking, terrifying, and so on.

Some forms, known as aesthetic photography, are pleasant to look at.

But what makes these images stand out? Here’s all you need to understand and use aesthetics in your photography.

Photo of people standing on a cliff with the beautiful purple sky above


What Is Aesthetic Photography?

By definition, aesthetic is the measure or appreciation of beauty.

In photography, it usually means that an image appeals to the eye. there is something about its subject, composition, colour (or lack thereof). It makes you want to sit and observe it.

Like beauty, aesthetics aren’t easy to define in simple words. It all depends on the viewer’s preferences, experiences, and photography knowledge.

A beginner in landscape photography might find all kinds of photographs aesthetically pleasing. An expert might have a different opinion about the same images.

Artistic shot of a bridge in the colored light of sunset

There are exceptions to every rule. But we can agree that certain images are more appealing than others. A few important factors make all the difference.

Knowing these can prevent unflattering compositions. And you can improve your photography.

dreamy shot of a person resting on a hammock in the sea at sunset
Most people would agree that this image matches the definition of aesthetic photography. The unusual composition, peaceful location, eye-catching symmetry, and pastel colors make it stand out.

Why Aesthetics Matter

Aesthetically pleasing photos aren’t only made for appreciation. If you know how to take photos that stand out, you’ll be able to provide future clients with impressive results.

By taking aesthetic images, you will attract more people to your work on social platforms. It will also improve your portfolio. This could lead to photo opportunities and job offers.

You will enjoy having the ability to take eye-catching photos anywhere.

These are some of the many benefits of understanding how beautiful photography works. And why it matters.

dreamy shot of a person standing in a field at sunset
Understanding photography aesthetic can help you improve your business and earn more money. For example, publishers and stock agencies gravitate towards images with perfect compositions. The more aesthetically pleasing your images are, the easier it will be for you to attract customers.

Are Aesthetics and Style the Same Thing?

Finding and developing a style is an important part of any photographer’s journey. But it’s not the same as aesthetics. Photography style and photography aesthetic don’t go hand in hand. This means that you can have a strong style but no aesthetic at all.

In general, a style is a way you approach photography. This includes technical settings, equipment, and more.

Aesthetic goes a little further than that. Take a look at your gallery and see if you notice patterns in colour, composition, subjects, and so on. If there are similarities that make your general style stand out, you have an aesthetic.

studio shot of a female model posing on the floor

Some photographers are known for their fantasy-themed images or their nostalgic snapshots. Or a subject they often shoot.

If you can recognise a photograph without knowing the creator’s name, then that artist has a strong aesthetic.

Also, if your images have an emotion that catches a person’s eye, you have an aesthetic image.

Photo of San Francisco with Alcatraz in the background

How Do You Take Aesthetic Pictures?

As you already know, aesthetic isn’t one solid thing, yet it consists of a few simple factors.

These are what makes almost every beautiful image stand out. They make you feel something. They inspire you to take stunning photos of your own.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds can improve compositions. It’s made up of two horizontal and two vertical lines.

You can visualise these yourself or have your camera do the work for you using visual guidelines.

Place your subjects where those lines intersect. Horizons should be parallel or on the horizontal lines.

These guidelines mean to improve your compositions and prevent dull photographs.

A person taking a landscape photo on their smartphone, using the rule of thirds grid
You can improve your photography aesthetic right from your phone. Most of today’s smartphone cameras have Rule of Thirds guidelines, as pictured here. Advanced apps are also available for understanding this rule on a deeper level.

Leading Lines

Leading lines can be anything as long as they all go in the same direction. Their purpose is to lead the viewer’s eyes to your subject.

Without them, your compositions might look too crowded or empty.

Common leading lines are shadows, roads, and train tracks. Because of the nature of this technique, it’s often used in landscape photography.

An aesthetic picture of a small white flower placed between wooden planks in black and white

Gestalt Theory Principles

Psychology uses the Gestalt Theory to understand the human brain. You can also use it in photography to improve things like framing and storytelling.

You’ll often notice these principles in aesthetically pleasing pictures.

Some of Gestalt’s principles include proximity, segregation, and closure. They all emphasise the importance of placing subjects in specific places. The mind can then process what it’s looking at.

For example, look at the proximity principle. It states that subjects that are close to each other look familial. You can use this to emphasise the relationship between two or more models in your photograph.Aesthetic photo of colored hot air balloons flying over a field of tulips

How to Make Your Photos Aesthetically Pleasing

Before you use this, you need to understand your unique preferences as an artist. This involves a few simple steps and you can figure it out.

Make a Collection of Images That Stand out to You

Your aim is to put all your photos in one place so you can find similarities and differences.

Later on, this will help you figure out what kind of image aesthetic you’re going for. And how to approach your own photography.

You can make a Tumblr blog, add images to a Pinterest board, or save posts on Instagram. Make sure you have access to the photographers’ portfolios.

That way you can get an idea of their general aesthetic as well.

A laptop on a table, opening on a screen editing aesthetic photography

Observe and Take Notes to Understand Your Taste

Once all your references are in one place, you can start analysing them. Here are a few things you should look out for:


Do you have a mixture of subjects you like, or can you categorize them? Do you gravitate more towards people, landscapes, textures, etc.?


Is the light in the images limited, soft, harsh, or a mix of everything? Lighting is an important part of any image. Pay close attention to different lighting approaches to find out your go-to aesthetic.


How many techniques and principles can you name? This is a great photography exercise. And an easy way to understand what attracts you to certain photos. Are most of your favourite photos unconventional, or do they follow the rule of thirds?

Dreamy still life of a book and bouquet of flowers on a white table


Do you gravitate towards monochrome, vibrant, or faded photographs? Look out for editing and colour correcting tricks. You don’t need to be a Photoshop pro. Write down the kinds of colour combinations you like.


Are most of the photos sharp and detailed or soft and abstract? Try to figure out what camera settings the photographer used. You might notice that you like soft backgrounds, grainy photos, or unusual textures.

Artistic photo of two doorways

Be Curious And Introduce Yourself to New Concepts

Even expert photographers aren’t wizards. No matter how experienced you are, ask questions. Don’t be afraid of contacting your favourite photographers and asking for help. You might earn yourself valuable lessons and mentors for life.

You’ll also get an even clearer idea of why others approach photography a certain way.

Dreamy night portrait of a girl lighting a sky lantern

Discuss Photography with Other Artists

You probably have an idea of your favourite photos and the people who took them. Discuss them with your peers!

You don’t have to limit yourself to photographers. But it would help if your friends knew even a little about photography. This way, you’ll get proper feedback that will all enrich your knowledge of aesthetics.

Your discussions don’t have to be philosophical. You can discuss the concept of aesthetics, other photographers’ portfolios. Even why certain images stand out more than others, and so on.

a group of people shooting aesthetic street photography images outdoors

Take photos of your own. Make sure you consider them aesthetically pleasing. Ask for constructive criticism with an emphasis on aesthetics.

This might provide you with invaluable feedback.

Dreamy wedding portrait of a couple posing on a beach - aesthetics in photography

Practice to Understand Your Aesthetic

With all this newfound knowledge in your head, you can start taking photos. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, have a few notes. Use them throughout your photoshoot.

As you take photos, see what you’re drawn to. If this matches with the notes you took, you’re close to understanding your aesthetic. You’ll be able to use this information whenever and wherever you take photos in the future.

I gravitate towards black and white images, the golden hour, and expressive faces. This is evident in all my images and is an important part of my aesthetic.

As you can see, you don’t need to use complicated terms to describe your aesthetic. Experiment with simple terms until you find something that sounds right.

A blue butterfly resting on a door frame


Your photography aesthetic matters. It can help you take striking photos. And you’ll have a better understanding of photography fundamentals. If you go through this process, you’ll have the opportunity to develop your unique style.

All you have to do is be curious. Research different artists and experiment with all kinds of genres. You’ll then find the aesthetic through which you can fully express yourself.

For more help on achieving aesthetic photos, check out our article on how to use the golden ratio or shoot black and white portraits!

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