Browse Instagram long enough, and you are sure to stumble upon some aesthetic photography. The social media platform has elevated this form of photography like nothing else has, though earlier blogs and platforms like Tumblr aesthetic pictures began the trend.
Aesthetic photos are loosely grouped, and there really isn't a clear-cut definition that encompasses or explains it clearly. If a photo catches your attention and draws you in, then it has strong aesthetics.
If a photographer's images are identifiable by their style, or the post-processing they do to make their pictures pop, then that photographer has a strong aesthetic.
Influencers create and use their aesthetic identity to market themselves on social media. They want their pictures to be clearly their own; they want to bring their style and their "look" to the places they visit or the products they use. Since the basis of photography aesthetic pictures is usually beauty, they want to draw people in.
Of course, none of this is new with social media. But specific platforms and venues seem to be built on the idea that a beautiful photo will get more likes and more followers than regular snapshots.
Photo editors and designers may say that they are looking for a photo with a certain aesthetic. Here are the Top 36 Photo Editing Apps of 2020, based on their features, ease-of-use, and social sharing capabilities. What they mean is that they have a "look" in mind that they're searching for. Aesthetics are essential to publications, who try to maintain consistency throughout their work. They don't want one random low-key black and white image when the rest of the magazine has high-key beach shots.
What is Aesthetics in Photography?
Aesthetics are a set of principles that makes something beautiful. Of course, different people find different things beautiful. So it's nearly impossible for people to agree on what makes a photograph beautiful.
By design, not all photography is beautiful. There are many forms of technical, event, documentary, or photojournalistic photography that are not especially pleasing to look at. So the one binding attribute that makes a photo aesthetic is a focus on showing something beautiful in a way that draws the viewer in and makes the viewer want more.
Aesthetic images aren't just for social media. Many professional photographers work hard to embrace a certain aesthetic, and then they build their business upon it. A photographer on a tropical island might use bright saturated colors and crystal-clear sharpness to make their images look hot and summerlike. It emphasizes the scenery and fits the aesthetics of their surroundings. A portrait photographer might specialize in fantasy fairy-tale style portraits with soft lighting and elaborate costumes. You might want to read our article on portrait pictures and mastering the art of combing the right technique with the artist's expression. These are simple examples of how aesthetics can be put to work.
Don't confuse aesthetics with your photographic style. Your style is mostly technical. It involves the equipment you use and how you use it. It is mostly formulaic, and it's also easy to define. How do you position your strobes, and how do you make the photograph? These are questions of style.
Aesthetics are the je ne sais quoi of the photo; it's the things that go beyond the technical details. How do you use composition, color, and texture in the photo? What do you do specifically to draw the viewer into the scene?
How Do You Take Aesthetic Photos?
If we can't even agree on what makes a photograph beautiful, how can we ever come up with any rules and principles for making them?
It's fair to say that everything you know and can learn about making a technically perfect photograph also goes into making an aesthetically strong image. They need to be sharp and clear. They need to have a definite subject. The lighting should be on the spot. They should be exposed correctly.
But the composition is especially critical–perhaps even more important than in other sorts of photography. The goal here is to make your photographs attractive, and that's really what proper composition is all about. All of the tricks you know to make photos "work," like the Rule of Thirds, the Golden Spiral, lead lines, or symmetry should be applied. None of this is new or different, but there should be an extra emphasis on keeping your audience's attention. Ask yourself not only how you can best capture the scene, but how you can make the scene breathtaking?
It's also worth noting that there is far more room for creativity if beauty is the goal. You aren't documenting reality, so your creativity should know no bounds. Themes, textures, graininess, vignettes, or color filters can help set a mood and make your photo stand out and grab attention. The important thing is not to go overboard and not add anything that isn't to better the composition.
10 Tips for Taking Aesthetic Pictures
Start with a Strong Composition
No matter what the end-use for your image is, or where you're going to publish it, an excellent composition is essential. It should draw viewers in and make them want to "wander through" the photo. They should be comfortable there exploring, and they shouldn't be able to get lost or confused.
As stated above, the Rule of Thirds can help. But get creative with composition too. Break some rules and try some new tricks.
Keep the Platform in Mind
If your photos are destined to go on Instagram, they'll need to be square. While that's obvious when you upload it, it's not apparent when you take the picture. Square images change the rules of the composition quite a bit. The Rule of Thirds grid is entirely different. Thus, it can sometimes be very difficult or impossible to crop a regular format photograph down.
Create a Style
If you're an influencer, you might consider your pictures styling to be your brand identity. If you're a photographer, you might just want to be known for a particular thing. Whatever your end goals are, you'll need an aesthetic photo editor program to make some presets.
Most aesthetic photo editor apps already have a few preset functions. These are pretty generic, and they're certainly not going to work for every photo. You'll want your images to have a similar vibe, but you also want to make sure it works with the individual photo. So each image may require a little fine-tuning.
Remember, you'll want to start with a properly exposed and sharp image. Even though most photos have a "snapshot on a smartphone" look, they were probably taken with DSLRs and uploaded to the smartphone.
Doing it this way means that you have the option to use your desktop editing software. You can control levels and curves like you usually do, plus shoot and edit in RAW format for maximum control. And of course, if you're shooting with a full-sized camera instead of a smartphone, you can use those photos for more than just social media gigs.
As you work to create your style, be conscious of how your channel on social media looks as a whole. If your aesthetic is strong and consistent throughout all of the photos on your feed, you will create a more powerful connection with your visitors. If each photo stands alone, there will be no cohesion. Viewers may like a few photos and move on rather than follow you.
Pick a Story-telling Theme
If you're considering what sort of aesthetic to apply to your photography, chances are you've already begun building a portfolio website. Make sure that the portfolio website builder you choose offers the flexibility, features, and ease-of-use you need to put together a professional portfolio website without requiring any coding knowledge. Pixpa is a portfolio website builder platform that is trusted by creative pros around the world. Have a look at some stunning portfolio website examples.
What you need to do is find a look that compliments the photos that you take. Whether you shoot in the California High Desert, the streets of New York or the atolls of the South Pacific, your aesthetic should suit your images.
For example, if your set is travel pictures of kitschy Americana, hyper-saturated Polaroid-style images might suit. Chances are, a little film grain effect will add to the nostalgia of the image. Street photographers may choose a gritty, earthy look with very neutral colors. Island pictures might use saturated colors and be sharpened to pin-point.
Here are 29 Outstanding Photography Portfolio websites built on Pixpa, for you to get inspiration and ideas. These photographers have made excellent use of Pixpa, an easy to use website builder to showcase their photos. You can draw inspiration from these creative professionals and study their portfolios, to get a clearer idea of how you want to showcase your repertoire of work.
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Focus on Details or Change Angles
If you're looking for a quick and easy way to up the interest factor in your photos, try looking for little details. Zooming in on one part of a photo when others may only take the broad view is a great way to make people slow down and take a look. Everyone instantly wants to know what they're looking at. It works well if the subject is familiar, yet not readily identifiable. If people have to puzzle over something, they are likely to move on quickly. Here is a guide on how to capture a genuinely unique macro photograph.
Another great technique is to shoot from new angles. Get down low or get up high. Drones are a great way to take beautiful aesthetic landscapes. Drone cameras have gotten really good in recent years, and with a little editing, aerial scenics can absolutely pop. Read more in detail on how to use the Best Drones for Aerial Photography.
Keep Lighting Simple
While there are plenty of contrary examples, many images like these are pastel aesthetic photos with very flat even lighting, and soft colors. You can do moody black and white photos and still call them aesthetic, but generally, people are looking for soft images that are less dramatic and more pleasing.
An excellent way to get started with this type of lighting is to just stick with natural light. The more diffuse the light is, the better.
Fake It 'Til You Make It
Many photographs are made to look like a quick snapshot of a moment in time. But in reality, good photography aesthetic photos are staged more often than not. While fashion photography is obviously posed, these beautiful images tend to strive for an impromptu look, even if that look is fiction.
The reality is that most images you see that grab your attention are meticulously thought out, with every detail planned and executed. No little detail goes unnoticed in the setup. If there's background clutter, it needs to be cleared out. If some props or extras don't add to the beauty of the photograph, they must go.
Even the models you choose for aesthetic images are equally vetted. Hair, wardrobe choices, and poses–everything that goes into the image is there to increase the final image's attractiveness.
If this all sounds a little fake for your tastes, you might have a point. But these are not photos used to document reality. They are the visual equivalent of a fantasy novel. The viewer should fall into them; they should appeal to the escapist fantasies that we all sometimes have. As Tina Fey once said, "I want to go to there."
It’s Mostly Post-Production
Making your photos really stand out is often due to significant time spent in post-production. Your aesthetic photography editor should allow you to make good exposure and color adjustments. It's always best to work in a full-resolution RAW format to preserve the image quality.
For your everyday photography, you might have a set of presets you work through to correct exposure and lighting. The key to taking these pictures to the next level is to push the limits a little. You can make stunning photographs by boosting shadows and mellowing highlights, making a light range more suited for pastel aesthetic photos. It's almost like a mellow HDR image.
If you're sharing on social media, image quality isn't the overriding consideration that it is when publishing elsewhere. Grain and distortion can be overlooked, just like non-standard exposure and color use can be.
Likewise, some photographers make composite images that truly blur the lines between fantasy and reality. You can overlay Milky Way star photos over daytime landscapes, or visualize the view from distant planets. Or you can add artistic elements to tell your story further. The choice is yours!
Consider Presets and Filter Packs
A great way to get started is to review the internet for tutorials and how-to videos related to the exact style you want.
Since many photographers and social media superstars get followers based on the aesthetics of their photos alone, many have taken to selling or giving away filter packs. These are preset for use with various aesthetic photo editor programs. They allow one button adaptation of your images into that photographer's aesthetic style.
They're a great way to get started, but don't let them become a crutch for your creativity. These packs are just automated macros that use all the settings already in the editing software. You already have access to them, so it's far better for you and your career to come up with your own presets from scratch.
Don’t Be A Copycat
As you try to find your style, it can be a little too easy to download a filter pack from your favorite photographer and start publishing. The same goes for dramatic editing processes, like effects and borders, that are clearly borrowed. But just applying generic filters never gets you that novel look, and worst of all, it can make you seem like a copycat. The goal is always to come up with something unique that has your creativity built-in, not just to copy and paste what others have done.
Finding your own photographic aesthetic is all about experimentation. It should complement what you do and how you shoot it. It should flow with the platform you're using to share your photos. And above all, it should add to the beauty of your photos.
You may be just looking to build your personal portfolio, or you may be setting out to make a name for yourself on a photo-sharing site like 500 Pixels or Tumblr aesthetic photos. Whatever your goal is, finding your style just takes a little creativity and an artistic eye.
Most photographers work to make their work more eye-catching and intriguing. While beauty is always in the beholder's eye, photographers can use many tips and tricks in their toolboxes to make their photographs stand out. So take your viewers on their fantasy trip to a more beautiful world, and take your photography up a notch at the same time.
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