Aesthetic is defined as being concerned with or the appreciation of beauty. It also suggests a style or underlying principles that guide an artist or an artistic movement.

Judging photographs, particularly our own photographs is a minefield fraught with danger. Rating someone elses work can hurt their feelings to the point of damaging a friendship. Ranking our own work involves dealing with the emotions we feel as we relive and remember the events along with all of the work work it took to create the shoot. We recall the magical moments or the unavoidable disasters during a shoot. They color our rationality during an edit. We rationalize that the photograph is better than is really is because of our feelings. Do we choose the photograph that is a great one or is the pick a result of our wanting people to understand the effort and angst that went into its creation.

Once we understand this happens, that it is natural and human, we can begin to look at our work dispassionately. With distance we can evaluate our work through the filter of our personal aesthetic. My aesthetic includes, lighting, exposure, composition, color and story. My list says that I am process oriented. What is your list? What does it reveal about you?


What is revealed? What is hidden?
Does the lighting reveal the elements of the composition in a compelling or evocative way? What is revealed? What is hidden?

This photograph of AJ is lit with her looking into a window. Two areas are revealed. Her face and neckline form an inverted exclamation point that guides the eye to the second reveal: her hands. Everything else is hidden in black. There is no hint as to her shape, what it is shes wearing or where she is. That said, I really like this as a beginning. I have to be careful not to let what I think looks like a great photograph get away with being underexposed as this one is.


The amount of light that produces an image on the sensor is one definition of exposure. In my aesthetic, exposure is the combination of shutter speed, aperture and ISO that reveals the true tones of the subject. I use an X-Rite ColorChecker chart to set both neutral color and for setting a base exposure. Once I have the base exposure, I adjust my lighting to define the creative objective of my photograph.


The next photograph of AJ is made with the exposure adjusted using the ColorChecker. Notice that her face is brighter and that her eyes are glowing. The proper exposure shows the outline of her hair more clearly and her left shoulder. A careful look shows the shape of her back as well.


Lighting and exposure are the two most important on my aesthetic list. Without them there is, well, nothing. I love light. I love what it can do. I love what it shows with careful application to the subject. Coming soon to Photofocus is the rest of my list… composition, color and of course, story.2192-PSW LV lightingKevin is a commercial photographer from Atlanta. He works for fashion, architectural, manufacturing and corporate clients. When he’s not shooting, he contributes to Photoshop User magazine & writes for