How to take photos that showcase an aesthetic.

Explore how to take aesthetic pictures that develop and demonstrate your personal style. Then build your photo editing skills to enhance that vibe.

A person wearing a green suit and hat standing in front of a stone wall

Aesthetics are everything in photography.

Aesthetics deal with subjective properties like beauty, style and form — the “look” of a piece of art. You’ll get a slightly different definition of what exactly an aesthetic is depending on who you ask, especially in the world of photography. Even AI has trouble seeking out a good photo — there’s no one answer to what makes an appealing aesthetic.

 

You can explore the work of classic professional photographers like Diane Arbus and Ansel Adams and see different perspectives on what creates an aesthetic. Many new photographic forms are out there — selfies, for example. These new forms have expanded the field of photography and opened new avenues of exploration. Explore how finding your aesthetic can help you to build a body of work that will help with college admissions or land that internship.

 

The elements of an aesthetic.

Several key components compose a photography aesthetic. How you emphasise each, depending on personal style, will help you land on your look.

 

You need good subject matter to take good pictures and from there you can move to format, framing and technical specifications. Explore the principles of photography composition. Along with some trial and error, you can start to develop a personalised and bespoke style of photos. 

A photo looking up at a person sitting on the ledge of a stone balcony and the clear blue sky behind them

Subject matter

Your aesthetic develops based on your choice of subject matter. A compelling subject can give you a leg up. Explore how streetwear overlaps with sports like basketball or skateboarding. Follow a colour story through different aspects of fashion like clothing and makeup. Play with the environment and how a subject blends in or contrasts with the setting.

 

By choosing a subject, theme or idea, you’ll find other artists who can inspire your techniques and you can learn from specific types of photography. Capturing a city street, for instance, requires you to make dozens of decisions about how you want to portray the hustle and bustle of a lived environment.

 

Format

You might not shoot on film, but a knowledge of different film formats can help you to decide what looks best with your artistic vision. That doesn’t mean you need a supply of technical equipment to explore aesthetics. You can discover a lot with just an iPhone. However, understanding photography formats can help you to learn the difference between vintage style and modern flair.

 

Format also applies to the platform where your photo will appear. Shooting Instagram photos will force you to adjust the composition of images for the portrait orientation ideal for scrolling. Wider landscape orientation images may be better suited to bring a particular aesthetic to a desktop-focused website.

A person standing in front of various tall plants while wearing a bright red suit
A person lying on the ground wearing a power suit and surrounded by plant vines

Composition

The rule of thirds is a great beginner composition tool that’s used by experts as well. It’s where the subject of the photo is aligned with an intersection of a 3 x 3 grid in frame. What you put at the intersection of those grids determines where the viewer’s eye goes and what aesthetic your image may have. Align a subject with one of the lower crosshairs to emphasise them in relation to the space around them. Put your subject along one vertical line to showcase height.

 

Another great composition tool is the use of negative space. Negative space is the area in and around your subject. When you’re first learning to shoot, try framing your subject on backgrounds that are stark, like a blue horizon or a night sky. Besides being interesting to look at, it will also help you refine some other techniques as you focus on your subject without worrying about the surrounding environment.

 

Understanding compelling compositions can really set your work apart. Great photos come from a viewer’s eye that is well developed. What is important to you about the work you are photographing? What is the concept, idea or theme you want to convey to a viewer? Once you have a sense of that question and its answer, you can begin to refine your efforts.

 

Framing and timing

When and how you take your shot matters. If you’re photographing a horse, what do you want a viewer to see? You can capture images in different ways to showcase athleticism, put a focus on the physical beauty or emphasise the strength of the animal. If you want the athletic horse, compose your images to show a horse at gallop. If you choose a more panoramic approach, you can place the horse in its environment, juxtaposing it against the beauty surrounding it.

 

You can also use natural light at golden hour or shadows at different times of day to change the feeling of a photo — the same horse at dusk will produce a different aesthetic than one under a hot desert sun.  

 

Enhance aesthetic photography with clever editing.

If you want to enhance your aesthetic further, you can do so in photo editing apps. Explore Adobe Lightroom tools to find ideal ways to hone your personal style. Colour adjustments and filters are a great place to begin. 

An image of two people holding hands and the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Colour editing panel superimposed over it

Colour palette

Once you’ve uploaded some of your photographs to Lightroom, experiment with basic colour correction techniques. Begin in the edit menu and test out tweaks to Exposure, Saturation, Contrast and Highlights. Bumping up saturation makes things warmer and more vibrant, for instance, while toying with exposure affects the depths of shadows and light within your images.

 

Customisable presets

If you’re not sure exactly how to start modifying your photos in post-production, try Lightroom presets. Similar to photo filters, presets get the editing process started with some adjustments. Once you’ve found one that meshes with the aesthetic you want, modify the sliders to make things feel more personal. Save your new preset for future use and bring a consistent aesthetic to images in your Instagram feed.

 

Developing an aesthetic that’s unique to you as a photographer is a journey that requires you to commit to decisions, make mistakes and learn. By researching, practising and paying attention to what works and what doesn’t, you’ll have an aesthetic and personality that’s all yours.

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