How to Master Your Own Aesthetics in Photography

Cindy with umbrella. Tokyo, 2017
Cindy with umbrella. Tokyo, 2017
Cindy with umbrella. Tokyo, 2017
Cindy with umbrella. Tokyo, 2017

One of the first steps to mastering photography for yourself: master your own aesthetics (how your pictures look and feel).

Take Your Photography to the Next Level with an ERIC KIM WORKSHOP

Helicopter. Tokyo, 2017
Helicopter. Tokyo, 2017

Photography is very personal. It is for you.

You want to make pictures that bring you joy. The first step towards that, master your own aesthetics — how your pictures look and feel.

For me, I like to look st my own pictures. I know if my picture are good if I look at my own pictures, and I get excited from them.

Never stop evolving

People in elevator. Tokyo, 2017
People in elevator. Tokyo, 2017

To master photography for yourself is to always keep yourself excited. To constantly grow in your aesthetic, style, and visual artistry.

If you’re not busy growing in your photography, you’re dying.

Aesthetic creative constraint

Man with hand over face. Tokyo, 2017
Man with hand over face. Tokyo, 2017

My simple suggestion: to focus on elevating your photography aesthetic, keep the same camera, lens, and post-processing style for a certain project, or period.

For example, all the pictures here are from street photos I shot in Tokyo, 2017 — all with RICOH GR II and JPEG with ERIC KIM PRESETS.

This is a good example of a “creative constraint” you can give yourself in photography. By limiting your aesthetic, you can focus on making unique pictures, with different compositional styles, and to take creative risks while keeping your photographic aesthetic and “look” consistent.

You are a director

Man walking up stairs, and looking back. Dynamic diagonal lines and composition. Tokyo, 2017
Man walking up stairs, and looking nack. Dynamic diagonal lines and composition. Tokyo, 2017

Movie directors shoot different types of films, with different storylines, genres, and different aesthetic looks. A director will choose different (or the same) equipment, film, for different movie projects.

What is important: each film must have the same aesthetic, mood, emotion, and feel from the beginning of the movie until the very end. If the aesthetic isn’t consistent, the film will be a failure.

Woman walking past blue background. Tokyo, 2017
Woman walking past blue background. Tokyo, 2017

For example, Akira Kurosawa did all of Seven Samurai in with a similar spare soundtrack, with the same actors, the same mood, all (of course) in black and white.

Akira Kurosawa film poster. Tokyo, 2017
Akira Kurosawa film poster. Tokyo, 2017

For another film (RAN), 1985 Kurosawa shot it all in color— and deliberately used the color aesthetic in a way that created the visual artistry in the film. It would have not made sense if he shot some of the film in color, and some of it in black and white. The mood and storyline wouldn’t have made sense.

Yet, as photographers, we all make the mistake of mixing black and white and color within the same project.

For my personal projects, I keep the aesthetic consistent within each project. I like both black and white and color, but within the project, I keep it consistent.

For example, CITY OF ANGELS and DARK SKIES OVER TOKYO is all black and white. SUITS is all color.

Why are aesthetics important?

Tokyo flash. Woman with umbrella. Ginza, 2017
Tokyo flash. Woman with umbrella. Ginza, 2017

To me, aesthetics are important because they convey a mood, feeling, and emotion to the viewer.

In philosophy, aesthetics is the study of beauty— what makes something beautiful or ugly.

We like art, and we like to look at pictures which bring us joy. Generally we all have different definitions of what is “beautiful” to us, according to our visual palette and taste.

For example, some of us prefer to look at high saturated color pictures (some of us like our food seasoned very strongly, with spicy spices) and others of us like more silver-gelatin monochromatic images (maybe seasoned with a little bit of salt and pepper, and olive oil).

The important thing:

Know what is your personal taste. Never let anybody dictate your aesthetic taste. Dictate your artistic and aesthetic taste for yourself.

For example, if you like vanilla ice cream— why would you let someone who likes (only) chocolate ice cream to call you an idiot for liking vanilla? You’re not dumb for liking vanilla— you just prefer a different taste.

Some of us like mint ice cream, some of us like pistachio ice cream, some of us like cookies and cream, some of us like burnt caramel, some of us like gelato, others of us like frozen yogurt. You cannot force someone to prefer the same taste as you do— similarly, never let anyone superimpose their artistic tastes unto you.

You are the Master

To conclude, realize…. you are the ultimate master for yourself. You are the only master for your own photography.

If you have learned photography from the masters, yet feel constrained negatively by your masters— learn to KILL YOUR MASTERS IN PHOTOGRAPHY! Only a fool would let his or her flight be held back by a golden chain and ball.

Learn the fundamentals and basics for your photography from your teachers, but don’t intend to be their slave forever. Leonardo da Vinci started off as an apprentice, learning the fundamentals from his master. But then, he broke from his master, and then pursued his own artistic vision.

So friend, never stop having faith in yourself, and your own unique artistic vision.

Fly high,
ERIC

Take Your Photography to the Next Level with an ERIC KIM WORKSHOP

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By ERIC KIM

Artist-Philosopher