He was born in Manhattan. At 18 years old, Aarons enlisted in the U.S. Army, worked as a photographer at West Point, and later served as a combat photographer in World War II and earned a Purple Heart. Aarons said combat had taught him the only beach worth landing on was "decorated with beautiful, seminude girls tanning in a tranquil sun."
Aarons never used a stylist, or a makeup artist. He made his career out of what he called "photographing attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places." "I knew everyone," he said in an interview with The (London) Independent in 2002. "They would invite me to one of their parties because they knew I wouldn't hurt them. I was one of them."Alfred Hitchcock's film, Rear Window, whose main character is a photographer played by Jimmy Stewart, is set in an apartment reputed to be based on Aarons' apartment.