Once the de facto capital of Japan during the Kamakura period in Japanese history, Kamakura today is small but beautiful city that is an inspiration for many anime series such as Slam Dunk. In today’s post I wanted to focus on gaining inspiration from the aesthetics of an environment, ranging from the macro to the micro. Going beyond the technical aspects, photography, like other forms of art can be explored philosophically. Being that aesthetics is an area of philosophy that explores the nature of beauty, art, and taste in its creation and consumption, photography fits well in that branch of thought enquiry. If you think clearly about why and what you photograph and how you edit, there are many elements behind your choices; your personal tastes and experiences has a undoubtedly heavy influence on all elements. Alongside critiquing your own work, there is a very real need to draw inspiration from other fields of artistic expression, such as architecture, culinary arts, music etc., especially if you want to improve your photography.
The three images above capture a slice of life, man going to work, a cute bread and pastries shop in a van, preparing yakitori for customers. Each of these images, lit by warm glow of a winter sun convey bits of life in Japan that gives you a small sense of the tastes of the culture, in an architectural sense and a culinary one as well. There is certainly an appeal to the organized chaos of the train station, where all pieces although irregular in shape and size fit together just-right to allow for the train to pass through. The bread café on the other hand speaks more to Japanese tastes towards smaller but more efficient use of space.
We can’t speak about aesthetics without looking at the details that the whole is comprised of. Decorations in shrines, lanterns, stonework, and landscaping, how all these individual elements are crafted and how they fit together conveys a meaning that is much deeper then initial impressions, obviously. As an example, in these photographs there is a very obvious sense of feudal Japan that is accompanied with a romanticized notion of east Asian culture, and the reason they illicit these feelings is the layers upon layers of visual, aural, and olfactory elements that build up the environment. When you begin to break these down you are better equipped to create photographs that capture these various feelings for your audience. As I wrote in my previous post about aiming to tell a photostory, there are many genres in travel photography, and to successfully tell a story through images, you need to understand what you are photographing beyond the cursory.
Lastly, let’s discuss the aesthetics we are probably most concerned about in photography, composition and colour. There is a tendency to adhere, strictly to the rule of thirds as the starting point for many beginners, or to use center framing. I don’t purport to be an expert in this realm of photography but compositional aesthetics plays an undeniable role in how you allow your audience to enjoy your photographs. Subjects in your photographs need room to breath, room to be part of their environment (especially in travel photography). So when you crop too close you are throwing out interesting and engaging information about a locale. The opposite is also true, when you compose too wide, you end up with a image that doesn’t seem to have a focal point. As an art form, there isn’t a right or wrong way to compose, per se, but there is a a general consensus of what makes a photograph good or great (technically or artistically). The best way to improve your composition, is to study other photographers, painters and architects. There are certainly scientific reasons behind how objects are placed in any given space and the effect it has on people.
Similarly, colour is an important aesthetic that requires careful consideration. Personally I seek to capture the colours as I had seen them, but there are times when they need to be enhanced. There are a myriad of reasons for adjusting colour, but most often it is because the photos were shot in RAW, automatically requiring some form of post production. I often think of the post work as where the photo gets that extra sprinkle of magic dust that makes it come to life. To be a master at applying that magic dust you need to how to colour your photos. Again, I recommend studying and reading into colour theory and how different colours changes the mood you’d like projected. In this digital age, there is no harm in pushing sliders all the way to max or min to see the results. The only harm is when you don’t reflect on what is being done and seek push your editing too much, resulting in over processing.