Understanding beauty – back to basics of photography

In this video, I want to go back to the basics of photography. this channel is mostly for beginners in photography, and focuses on the simple things, one needs to […]

In this video, I want to go back to the basics of photography. this channel is mostly for beginners in photography, and focuses on the simple things, one needs to understand before going any further.

So, you are here to learn about photography.

But why?

You have probably seen many other people taking beautiful photos, and perhaps you want to do the same.

– or you just want to record and preserve memories of your life,

– or you potentially want to capture beautiful images, for you or for others to see.

– you perhaps see success at other people, and you want that!

– maybe you just like cameras and want to play with them,

– or maybe you need to belong to a community, have a chance to talk to other people about it and kill some time.

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I feel like a wikipedia definition is appropriate at this point:

Photography is the art, the application and practice to record durable images with a tool (such a camera)

the word is coming from ancient Greece: photo and graphe – which means drawing with light.

Photography, like painting, is a way of copying and reproducing reality around us, but many times it can also create a new meaning, and create beauty.

Art is about creating beauty or emotion. Beauty is the first thing what makes anything attractive.

Art can create emotion without beauty, but that is a different topic altogether.

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You have probably seen other people teaching the basics of photography. They start with triangle of exposure,  shutter speed,  aperture,  ISO,  and continue with composition basics and further other lessons, like focusing, metering and camera settings.

But these are tools and methods of achieving a final image, the how, if you wish.

But very few talk about the concept of creative process. The concept is the “what”,  which comes before the “how”.

The Concept is the decision to create either beauty, or emotion.

Today we talk about beauty only and will leave emotion for another video.

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So..let’s talk about beauty.

Beauty is a feature of objects or things, which make them pleasurable to perceive. Beauty is an aesthetic concept and is in fact a branch of philosophy.

Beauty is similar to attractiveness. People feel pleasure by looking and observing beauty.

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Now we are talking about pleasure.

Pleasure is a physical experience. It is about feeling good as opposite to feeling bad, discomfort, pain and suffering.

These feelings are basically your body reactions to various stimuli. They translate in your body producing various chemicals in your brain, which relate to these feelings.

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When you see something that you already know, you will feel comfortable and safe, the world is as you know it. Safety and comfort are pleasant feelings. They give you pleasure.

After being born, a child sees his or her mums face every day. The mum’s face will become the most beautiful thing in the world for the child.

Mum provides safety and comfort.

Mum is predictable.

Mum is safe,

Mum is comfort.

Mum is beautiful.

Pleasure is beautiful and beautiful is pleasure.

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On the opposite side not knowing something will give as fear. Fear of the unknown. You need to worry about what might happen when you are faced with something new.

You do not know if you will be hurt, if you will experience pain. Unknown is giving us fear, is giving us discomfort. Unknown in ugly.

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If i ask you what is the most beautiful thing that comes to your mind…you are likely to think about a very attractive person that you cannot take your eyes off him, or her.

As you can see hundreds and thousands of people during your life, your brain will build an average, what a human needs to look like.  You will expect to see a head of a specific size in relation to its body. You would unconsciously want to see a face with 2 eyes , a nose and a mouth. The eyes are to be symmetrical in relation to the face, and a specific distance from the nose, mouth ears. The forehead needs to be a specific size in relation to the rest of the face. All the faces features have to be a a specific relationship with each other to have a beautiful face.

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A beautiful face is in fact the most average face, following the mathematical model built in your brain unconsciously, over time.

Beauty is average

In the same spirit, if you ask a large number of people to draw a rectangle, that they believe is looking good, you will be able to find an average one, expressed by the ration of its sides. This is a number which quantifies beauty in this case and other, and you will be surprised  to find out that this number applies to other things that we as humans find them beautiful. This is the golden ration, but we will explore this in detail in a separate video.

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Beauty is not absolute. it has 2 important dimensions:

  • one is general and applies to our human species. the vast majority of us will find beauty in the almost the same things…we can all agree on who or what is beautiful
  • one is individual which relates only to you.

As an I example I can tell you a short story. I was once talking to a women, who showed me a picture of her baby. When I saw it, I was shocked how ugly the baby was. Really, really, ugly to me. But the mum would not think the same. For her, the child was the most beautiful thing in the world. because she saw her child every day of her life. Her child was familiar to her and stranger to me. This is where our own perceptions of beauty may differ from others.

Beauty is not a fixed concept. It changes over time.

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During the course of our history, people have tried to measure and define beauty, especially related to human body.

You have probably came across this image, which is the Vitruvian man. It is a sketch by Leonardo Da Vinci and it represents the study of human proportions, based on a text written by the ancient Roman architect, Vitruvius.

Human proportions have been studied by many people, for a long time, and a very interesting discovery has been made. In addition to symmetry, there is one ratio which keeps appearing over and over again.

The proportion between the top of the head to the belly button and belly button to the floor is the same proportion between the forehead and the rest of the face. The same proportion applies to distances between the nose and lips, and lips and chin. Same proportion goes for the arms, legs, and various parts of the face and body.

You might say  hey,,,but people are different. Of they are, but it was observed that these proportions are present for people considered beautiful.  

Defining this is mathematical terms, a plus b is to a, as a is to b. A divided by B is the golden ration, which is about 1.61.

And the very interesting thing is that this ratio is found in nature everywhere, from plants to animals, which are generally considered harmonious and beautiful.

We are seeing this ratio all around us, and our brains is bombarded unconsciously with it. That is why, we consider it beautiful, because we already know it.

I think it is safe to summarize, that rules of beauty are: symmetry and golden ration. Using this knowledge in any visual artistic process, will ensure inclusion of beauty.

Since we are talking photography here, You have probably heard about rule of thirds in photography already. This rule is a simplification of the golden ratio, as it is easier to split things in one third and 2 thirds, which is 1.5, rather than doing math, using 1.61.

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You are probably asking:

if you have an exact beauty formula, how is it possible that beauty changes over time, as you mentioned in earlier video?

The answer is:[sPause sec=0.6 ePause]

Well, if us humans will become aliens, I am sure we would have different ratios considered beautiful.

General beauty changes, but very little. As long as the average humans being is the same, the golden ration will still applies. It does not matter if you put on 1 or 2 kilos, you are still beautiful to me.

Perception of beauty is different for other human species.

for example african Pygmy population might not consider the American next top model exactly beautiful. For them it is a long weird creature from another planet.

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That would be enough for today.

In summary, I would like you to remember the following ideas

  1. Beauty is generated by familiarity and it provide pleasure
  2. Beaty is a measure of averageness and can be expressed in numbers
  3. Beauty has 2 main components: symmetry and golden ration
  4. Beauty is general and individual. The general beauty is stable, but the individual beauty can change, grow evolve.

Today we talked about beauty in the visual context, but the concept can be extended to other humans experiences such as music, food, poetry, entertainment, sports. Anything that bring us pleasure, can be considered beautiful.

Understanding beauty should be the absolute first step in becoming any kind of creator. Applying the basic concepts and formulas,  would ensure a pleasant experience for the viewer. I am surprised that a lot of photographers, painters, architects, sculptors or any kind of creators are not using these beauty formulas in their visual work. They either do not know, or choose to be different out of stubbornness. Some of them may succeed….but not many.

About Christian Tudor

professional photographer, main editor at Academy of Photography and