Photography and capturing an aesthetic.

For the learning to be a better photographer assignment I set out with certain tips in mind more than others. Specifically:

Get Pickier

Get Balanced

Look to the light

Expose for Aesthetics

All of these are taken from David DuChemins’ eBook “20 ways to make better photographs; none of which involve buying any more gear”

Getting pickier is essentially, instead of shooting at random (which can work some of the time, but doesn’t guarantee the results you want) plan out your shots. Artists often draw out small quick ‘thumbnail’ sketches planning out the basic composition and maybe even lighting of what they want to create. Its best to not just go with the first thumbnail you make, but instead make A LOT of them and then choose which one is the best. This saves you time so you don’t have to be constantly adjusting and readjusting your ‘set’ for every idea that pops in your head because you’ve already planned out which will look best and which won’t. I do a lot of thumbnails for my work because I usually start with the idea or feeling I want my piece to communicate and one or two main visual elements to include, then figure out the rest through the sketching process.

Getting Balanced is making sure that that your piece isn’t too dark or too light overall, or just in one place. if your work is just darks or just lights it can be pretty flat and not visually interesting, or if you have all of the dark/ light concentrated in one little area it will pull the viewers eye there and trap it, instead of guiding them though the piece. I struggle with balance a little bit, I tend to go overboard on the dark and not have enough light to make the image pop.

Look to the light just means plan out your lighting to best serve you. Either know which time of day to shoot at to get the shadows you want or shoot somewhere you can control the lighting conditions and use them to your advantage. If the lighting is bad it can ruin a really well composed image. (My favorite tip is that days with complete uniform cloud cover are the best days to shoot because you have less harsh shadows and less change in the lighting condition.) Lighting is actually my favorite part of taking photographs, I love getting a really moody, surreal atmosphere by having really intense contrast in lights and darks, and having my lighting low to the ground to create strange shadows. I have been known to round up every lamp in my house, take the shades off and drag them around with me for my photo shoots.

Expose for aesthetics, a little more complicated and honestly I still don’t fully understand it, but it is essentially using the shutter speed and depth of field and what not to capture the aesthetic you want in your photo.

So here is the photo that I think is the best at achieving these things titled ‘VHS’ (please click it to view the full image and look at the other attempts I made for this assignment.)


For this picture I focused a lot on lighting. The pale white contrasting the dark brings a foreboding feeling. This is a picture of a cuddly panda stuffed animal, but the darkness, the extreme close up and the intense lighting makes it seem much more sinister. I used a Cannon rebel 17 with a standard lens that’s not meant for night shooting or close ups at a very long shutter speed (about 5 seconds) to achieve the strange blurriness that is reminiscent of a VHS recording. This is to call back to a time when the viewer was younger and emphasis the juxtaposition of innocence and the sinister. I play a lot of indie horror games, and they use the late 80’s early 90’s nostalgia a lot (the close up half shot of a face is a classic move for the cover image of one of these games.) The blur of the VHS recordings makes it harder to fully understand what’s going on as well as being a call back to a time when the presumed audience was young, taking innocent and beloved iconography and making it sinister as a tool for creating discomfort and horror. Visually calling back to and referencing these other older works can more quickly and effectively bring the feelings or ideas you want your work to communicate into the minds of your audience and it lets them bring a preexisting knowledge base to the work in question. This can really aid an image in trying to tell a full story, but these references only work if the viewer has seen and knows the work being referenced.

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