This article looks at how aesthetic concerns inflected the dynamic of imperial relations during the 1857 Indian Uprising and its aftermath. The invention of photography inaugurated a period in which aesthetic imperatives increasingly came to structure the engagement of colonial bodies with the traumas of warfare in British India. The formal conventions of image-making practices were not consigned to a discreet virtual sphere; they were channelled into the contested terrains of the subcontinent through the poses that figures were striking for the camera. I trace how one pictorial convention – picturesque staffage – had the capacity to engender politically and psychologically disruptive tableaus on the contested terrains of empire, as colonial photographers arranged for Indian figures to pose on landscapes that were marked by disturbing wartime violence.