On the pursuit of digital aesthetics

It's neverending. The struggle is real. Not only I feel mentally frozen by it, I feel it's a path we all must take.

2008 Nikon D80 + Lightroom Shadows contrasts and high saturation + Photoshop cross process by curves

Aesthetics define the visual identity and universal language of our images. Having a strong sense of how we want to finish our images helps a lot in explaining our style and vision to the audience. It’s a greeting card. The benefits of having them solved is that not only I'll be able to continue creating interesting content but my mind will be at ease to allocate more energy to other aspects of my photography. They are made out of the physical technical stuff (gear, lighting, subject, exposure choices) and digital stuff (raw editing software, photo retouching software work).

2010 Nikon D90 + Lightroom pushing colors and dynamic range further

Technical Aesthetics have to do with gear choices, I have written about lenses in the previous article. Obviously, the choice of sensor + color chip pairing will also influence how the native contrast and colours will come out of the shoot. People might be welcoming the coming of a new and more powerful camera sensor/color chip combo but every time technology is pushed towards a higher limit, it's a headache to adapt all the look and workflow around if one wants to take full advantage of the upgrade (going from D90 to D7000 gave me more post-processing troubles than it solved, then from D7000 to D600 was good at first but oh boy was I still struggling).

2011 Nikon D7000 + Lightroom dynamic range pushing until image goes flat and shows a whole lot of detail

Digital Aesthetics are like GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). When I'm done solving the direction for the current and upcoming work, there are cooler visual trends that popout and challenge me again to push the boundaries of my post-processing. I never accepted to use filters, plugins or presets to define my work. Adapting a preset-filter-plugin-based practice in aesthetics is dangerous. By their accessibility, they influence personal mindsets and style a whole lot more than photography gear. It's very easy to lose identity as they are best served as style guide rather than full on work tools.

2012 Nikon D600 + Lightroom pushing the limits of color vibrancy and dynamic range again with the new super fullframe sensor

Aesthetics are all about the surface of the image, what they catch the attention of the viewer in order to open his mind to what the image has to say or show. But then if the image doesn’t carry the viewer past its surface, then the overall effort would have been somewhat vain.

2013 Sony RX100 + Lightroom development of more "realistic" colors and contrast by toning down shadow recovery and saturation

I have spent most of my early photography career minding about aesthetics. Nine years down the line, it requires resolution. I remember I went from saturated to hdr to cross processed hdr to realistic enhanced to hybrid digifilm look by sometimes passing by black and white and sepia. I believe all of them should be attempted and mastered at least once in a career to see the potential of a Raw file and post process our way through many types of shooting situations.

2014 Olympus OMD-EM10 + Lightroom Exposure, HSL color work, Tone Curve contrast management. More emphasis on shadow and highlight management for depth and 3dmentionality

I don’t regret spending so much time in getting all my pixels right in order without sticking to filters, presets or plugins. I feel much stronger as a result. It's time to worry about telling stories now.

Late 2014 Nikon D750 + Current Lightroom digital aesthetics matched with EM10 look

Yannick KhongComment