Aesthetic Photography: Ten Tips for Making Your Images More Appealing

Have you ever found yourself immediately drawn to a photograph? What was it about the image that grabbed you? Likely, it was the aesthetics of the photo. What is an aesthetic photograph?

This guide will take a closer look at aesthetic photography; discuss the techniques that make an image aesthetically pleasing; and give you tips to put them into practice to make your own photos more appealing.

aesthetic photography
Photo by mohammad alizade on Unsplash

What is aesthetic photography?

Merriam-Webster defines aesthetic as “pleasing in appearance.” But that definition is pretty vague, as beauty is subjective, making it hard to define. But, aesthetic photography can be described as an image that is immediately visually appealing. 

Not all images will be appealing to all people. However, we can all agree that there are some images that are more appealing than others. What do these images have that other, less beautiful, images do not have? The answer is aesthetic

Aesthetics vs. style

They are very similar, but your aesthetic and your style are not the same things. Developing a style is extremely important as a photographer. Your photography style defines how you approach photography — your exposure settings, what camera and lenses you use, whether you shoot in a studio or outdoors, etcetera. 

A photographer’s aesthetic goes further than that. It defines patterns in color, composition, subject matter, and more. 

For example, if you can look at an image and immediately name the photographer who shot it, you could say that photographer has a strong aesthetic.

Additionally, if you shoot an image that immediately grabs someone’s attention or inspires them, your image has a strong aesthetic.

aesthetic photography butterflies
Aesthetic Photography

How to take aesthetic images

As the saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” So there is no single blueprint for taking a beautiful photograph. Of course, the image should be properly exposed and in focus to be aesthetically pleasing. Unless that is, you’re making the rare artistic choice not to focus on your subject.

Additionally, here are some other things you can incorporate into your workflow to ensure your photographs turn out more visually appealing: 

Aesthetic leading lines
Leading Lines

Use strong composition

Composition is one of the fundamental tools to creating aesthetic photographs. Whether you opt for basic composition tricks like the rule of thirds or leading lines or incorporate more advanced techniques like the golden ratio, you should always consider composition with every photo you shoot.

There are many composition techniques you can use to improve the aesthetics of your photos, like:

  • Leading lines
  • Rule of thirds
  • Golden ratio
  • Symmetry
  • Triangles
  • Rule of odds
Aesthetics light
Photo by Valiphotos from Pexels

Pay attention to the light

Light can make or break an image. Think of light as another subject in your photo and treat it with the same amount of attention. Use light for exposure, interest, texture, drama, motion, and more.

Aesthetic shadows
Photo by Steven Coffey on Unsplash

Don’t ignore the shadows

Just as important as the light, is the lack of it. Use shadows creatively and in new and interesting ways to add aesthetic to your images.

aesthetics blue hour
Photo by Mo on Unsplash

Quality of light is as important as quantity

Achieve your aesthetic by paying careful attention to the quality of the light. Do you prefer soft, diffused light during the Golden Hour and Blue Hour or the drama of high contrast and harsh light? Great quality light will add to your aesthetic.

Color theory
Photo by Mohamed Nohassi on Unsplash

Use color with intention

Black and white photography and color photography can both be aesthetically pleasing. Whichever you choose to shoot, do it with purpose. Different color combinations have a psychological effect on the viewer. Understanding color theory and how the color in your photos will influence your audience is one way to achieve your aesthetic.

gestalt theory in photography
Photo by DESIGNECOLOGIST on Unsplash

Incorporate the Gestalt principles into your work

Gestalt theory was developed in the 1920s as a way to understand the human brain. There are several principles of Gestalt, but the following five of them can be incorporated into photography to achieve greater aesthetics:  

  1. Similarity: objects that are the same color, size, shape, etc. tend to be considered one whole thing. This is why large family photos work so well if the subjects wear similar colors. 
  2. Continuation: if you see lines going in one direction, you’ll assume they continue in that direction, even if they leave the frame. This is one reason leading lines are so effective.
  3. Closure: even if something is incomplete, the mind will read it as a whole. Because of this, as a photographer, it’s better to see your image as shapes rather than elements so you can compose in a more interesting way.
  4. Proximity: objects that are close to each other create a sense of familiarity. In portrait photography, for example, people that are close together in a group will be considered family.
  5. Segregation: objects are easier to identify when they stand out from their environment. This is why so many photographers aim to achieve a shallow depth of field in portrait photography.
aesthetics compilation
Photo by Anete Lūsiņa on Unsplash

Compile and analyze your favorite images

Create a folder on your computer, a Pinterest board, or save posts on Instagram of photographs that you love. This will not only help you develop a personal approach to aesthetics, but it will help you figure out what kind of style you’re aiming for as a photographer.  

When you review the work, ask yourself:

  • Do you gravitate to a specific subject matter? 
  • Pay attention to the lighting across the images. Is it similar from one to the next?
  • How many composition techniques can you name? Do you see a recurring technique that attracts you to certain images? Are your favorites unconventional or do they tend to follow the rules?
  • Do you gravitate toward a certain color scheme or are your favorite images black and white? What about editing?
  • Are your favorite images tack sharp or soft and grainy? Are you attracted to creamy bokeh or unusual textures?
aesthetics editing yourself
Photo by Erik Mclean from Pexels

Edit yourself

This doesn’t refer to editing your images in Lightroom or Photoshop — this means go through your own photographs and only keep the best ones. Going through your images, choosing the successes, and disposing of the failures is a critical part of helping you grow as a photographer. Saving only your best shots will improve the overall aesthetic of your work.

aesthetics story
Photos that tell a story often have more aesthetics than those that don’t. What story does this bird tell?

Tell a story

Sure, still-life photographs can be beautiful. But, images that tell a story, engage the viewer, grab their attention, create emotion — those are the images that stay with you. They have beauty that goes beyond just the visual. 

Get feedback
Photo by Lisa from Pexels

Get feedback

Feedback from others can be an invaluable tool for developing your aesthetic. Be sure to open yourself up to constructive reviews from a variety of different sources:

  • From other photographers
  • On social media
  • From friends and family

Final thoughts

Aesthetics in photography can be a vague topic. That’s because beauty itself is so subjective. In fact, you may notice that, as you become a more experienced photographer, your own opinions of what makes a photo appealing will change. 

That said, if you incorporate the techniques in this guide into your photography, you will boost the aesthetics of your photography and make your images more visually appealing.

Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

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