Understanding Basic Aesthetics in Photography


Recently I got a message from a person who said that they liked my pictures, but unfortunately they don’t have a “photographic eye.” This inspired me to write the following article about basic aesthetics and their relationship to photography.

Express your Opinion

When we talk about aesthetics, we mean that some things are generally more pleasing to the eye—whether it be in a photograph, painting, or sculpture.

One thing that often happens when discussing the quality of pictures is that people are self-conscious about their own photographic abilities, and therefore think they can’t judge a picture. In my opinion, anyone can evaluate a picture and express whether they like it not; you don’t need to be an expert to convey your own views.

The difference between a photographer and anybody else is not their ability to notice beauty, it is that the photographer should also be able explain why some elements are pleasing while others are not. The understanding of aesthetics are ingrained in everybody. Anyone can see them, but only few can actually analyze a picture and are able to explain the compositional techniques to create a beautiful picture.

These techniques were not “invented” by some expert painters, they were discovered in many different disciplines. For example, the golden ratio is not only of importance in photography or paintings, but also in architecture, mathematics, and even in the arrangement of flowers. This means we can apply some of these universal rules to create pictures that, visually speaking, most human beings will find harmonic.

Compositional Elements

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.


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.

This leaves us with four intersections (top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right) where we want to place our subject “ideally.” In Street Photography, using the top coordinates allows us to show more from the subject, making them the most preferable points to focus our attention.



Geometrical symbols help to control the flow of the picture. They build a basic framework for the viewer to follow, and create some dynamic movement because symbols like triangles or circles aren’t a dead end.


Rule of Odds

The picture above already shows an example of three subjects that form a triangle. But it’s not only three subjects that are pleasant for a viewer—5 or even 7 points of interest can increase the aesthetic value of the image tremendously.

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.


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.


Marking the Checklist

The listed compositional elements can help you create pictures that are aesthetically pleasing, and you don’t need to be born with an “exceptional eye” in order to see interesting images. Also, keep in mind that everybody has this sense of aesthetic. The difference is in being able to explain and recreate eye-pleasing pictures or paintings.

Basic rules are also not an invention by some masterminds, but the codification of an easy way to create enough tension for a picture without being overwhelmingly chaotic. In other words: Having an aesthetically successful picture also doesn’t make it automatically great; it provides a beautiful framework to present the story.

About the author: Sebastian Jacobitz is a 27-year-old hobby Street Photographer from Berlin, capturing the everyday life in the city. The opinions in this post are solely those of the author. To see more of his work, visit his website or give him a follow on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.