Aesthetic Guidelines in Photography

I have discussed this topic so many times with other photographers and even models sometimes – how some poses, angles and different ways of presenting an object or scenery are a lot more aesthetically pleasing than others…

The thing is – the opinions will vary and you will find that people’s understanding and views are very different.

“The concept of the aesthetic descends from the concept of taste.”

I like to think that there are general things that most people can agree on when it comes to aesthetics in Photography.

I like to call them aesthetic guidelines – because they are not exactly rules that you must follow like crazy, they are recommendations, some people will find them practical while others may just disregard them.

I wanted to include enough information on that topic so I am sharing  things that I learned trough my experience along with information that I gathered online.

Here are the main things to consider if you want to create more aesthetically pleasing images:

• Center of Interest

Simply put – your focal point. Most digital cameras can only focus on one particular and rather small area or the frame, so your center of interest is going to be one. This should be the primary subject in your photo – the thing that you want the viewers to notice first.

• Points of Interest

A point of interest is a point that attracts attention. While the center of interest is one, the points of interest can me more. Multiple points of interest are said to increase the aesthetic value of a photograph.

• Circles

I was taking a course in which the lecturer insisted that eyes are drawn to circles so images containing a full circles are more aesthetically pleasing to the viewer.

• Triangles

Same can be said about triangles. Many of the popular poses in portrait photography are based on creating triangular shapes.

• Leading Lines

“The viewer’s eye is automatically led by lines and other geometrical figures. Leading lines help to put an emphasis on the subject, making them the center of attention. If the natural eye movement can follow these lines and ends up on the subject, it gives a very harmonic impression. Conversely, fighting against this flow can be very stressful.”

• Symmetry

We all know that more symmetrical faces are generally perceived as more beautiful. I love symmetry in Photography – I always try to present my scene in a symmetrical way but not to the point where it looks like I have mirrored the image – I am not against mirroring as long as it’s not overdone.

• Breaking Symmetry

“Having a symmetrical picture is a nice achievement, but a picture that is 100% symmetrical is too easy to comprehend. In order to make it more interestingly, you can simply use a subject very slightly off the sectional plane.”

• Golden Ratio

“Some argue that the rule of thirds is an oversimplification of a more advanced mathematical equation known as the golden ratio (also known as the golden mean). The golden ratio is a ratio which has continued to surprise artists, scientists, musicians and mathematicians for centuries. The reason being is that the golden ratio seems to pop up everywhere. Not only does the golden ratio pop up in everywhere, it also seems that the human eye is very attracted to the results of the ratio.”

• The Rule Of Thirds

“Slightly different than the golden ratio, the rule of thirds is an approximation and divides the image in three areas. It is often more pleasing to place the subject slightly off-center. This is not only meant in a horizontal aspect, meaning from left to right, but also in the vertical gradient from bottom to top.

• The Rule of Odds

“The psychology behind this odd rule is that even subjects are easy to organize, easy to pair (2,4,6 etc.), and this is an uninteresting task for our brain.”

• Composition

Your composition is everything that you choose to include in the frame. Even though nowadays the composition can be altered in post processing, it is best to be aware of what you want to capture while taking the shot.

Those are the main ideas on how to guide the viewers attention and there are many ways to incorporate them into your work.

I want to add some things that I would advise anyone to avoid – if they want to create a good looking photograph :

  • Dutch angles – crooked horizon
  • Perspective distortion
  • Low angle portraits
  • Nude or provocative shots that make the subject look cheap

There are a lot more things but those are the ones I really cannot stand…

In order to capture your subject in the most flattering way it’s also important to understand Lens Distortion & Lighting Patterns.

I want to add that I don’t stop my work, or take a break just to think a bout aesthetic guidelines.

Since I learned them I am able to apply the ones I choose without even thinking bout it.

It’s a lot more important to be familiar with the concepts, than to follow them entirely of fixate on them all the time.

What I go by is what looks good to me – I just listen to my own sense of taste 🙂

Meet the Author

Estee White

Professional Photographer with 5 years of experience. Explored many photography fields but excel in Dance, Portraiture & Fashion.

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