Beauty is not quite subjective

Beauty is not quite subjective

Many people believe that beauty is subjective and that everyone has their own unique preferences. However, there are objective standards of beauty that everyone can appreciate. In this article, I write about features and qualities that are considered beautiful by most people and how this understanding can help us in photography.


Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

This saying is a reminder that personal taste and preference play a large role in what we find attractive or pleasing to the eye. So, what may be beautiful to one person may not necessarily be beautiful to another.

There is some evidence to suggest that our perception of beauty may be influenced by our past experiences and associations. For example, research has shown that people tend to find faces more attractive if they share certain features with their own face or with the faces of people they find attractive.

I once discussed with a friend whether it also applies in the other direction. In other words, whether we perhaps find other people repulsive because they have attributes that we don't like about ourselves personally. And we both came to the conclusion that there must be some truth to it.

This all suggests that our personal preferences for facial features may be influenced by our own appearance or the appearance of people we find attractive.

In my oral A-level exam I had to answer questions about philosopher Immanuel Kant and his complex, interwoven language was so corrosive that I didn't think I would ever come into contact with him again.

His philosophical ramblings gave me a headache and a bad oral grade.

But now I have to mention his views on beauty and taste for once, because they do coincide with my personal views. I have simplified his language considerably so that it is understandable:

Immanuel Kant believed that the aesthetics of taste is subjective, but that there are certain universal principles that guide our judgments of beauty. He argued that beauty is determined by the way that an object is presented, rather than by the object itself, and that our judgments of beauty are based on the harmony, proportion, and unity of the object.

Beauty pleases us

Biophilia is a term that pops up when you think about this. It describes the human attraction to nature and living things. It's that feeling you get when you take a walk in the woods or listen to the sound of waves crashing on a beach. It's the way you feel when you see a beautiful sunset or watch birds flying in the sky.

Biophilia is the reason why we love to have plants in our homes or why we feel more relaxed in a natural environment. It's a fundamental part of our biology, and it reminds us that we are connected to the natural world around us.

This leads to objective standards of beauty based on things like symmetry, proportion, and harmony. For example, in art and design, certain principles like the rule of thirds or the golden ratio are used to create visually appealing compositions.


The innate human tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life.

Humans like curves

Scientifically, people prefer curves to straight lines, I read. Funny, isn't it?

Curves may be attractive because they are associated with fertility and reproductive health. Men find curvier women more attractive because they have higher estrogen levels which indicate better fertility. Really?

Curves may also be visually interesting and stimulate more neural pathways in the brain, leading to a greater sense of visual pleasure. I can relate to that.

Additionally, cultural factors may play a role in shaping our aesthetic preferences for curves. Curves may be associated with wealth and prosperity in some cultures, while in others they may be associated with sensuality and sexuality.

Reduction is key?

I'm sure I've written on my blog at various times that reduction is key. But in doing so, I have made it too easy for myself.

I just wanted to say that we should not overstimulate our brain with visuals. Not that the single image has to be super simple and reduced. Otherwise you would only be allowed to take pictures in a white studio.

As humans we seem to need some complexity or diversity of form, but not too much.

Humans tend to find a certain level of complexity in design or art more interesting and engaging. While simplicity and reduction can be effective in conveying a message or creating a strong visual impact, too much simplicity can become dull or uninspiring.

This is because humans have a natural tendency to seek out patterns, novelty, and visual interest, which can be achieved through a certain level of complexity.

Interesting, isn't it?

Complexity doesn't necessarily mean cluttered or chaotic. In photography we need to balance simplicity and complexity, creating a visual hierarchy that guides the viewer's attention and communicates a message effectively. In this sense, complexity can be seen as a tool for creating visual interest and engagement.

Organized complexity

Our preference for symmetry might be rooted in human nature for several reasons. One reason is that symmetry is often linked with good health and genetic quality. People tend to find symmetrical faces more attractive than asymmetrical ones. Our brains also like patterns and order, and symmetry is a type of pattern that's easy for our brains to recognize and process, making it pleasing to our eyes.

As always, however, you can use just the opposite and create more attention through asymmetry, to make a photo more striking.

The trick lies in the variety.

Beauty is not quite subjective

So you can not say everything is beautiful, it's in the eye of the beholder. Disliking something is not automatically a matter of personal taste.

No, there are universal rules that need to be known. And even though I studied some of the design rules back in the days as a student, I always find it interesting to consciously deal with such topics from time to time. And to find out more about what humans consider to be beautiful.