Up for Discussion – The Golden Ratio
Today’s post is from Sarah Vercoe, I saw a post she had written on the Golden Ratio and I asked her if she would be interested in doing a post here to explain it to you. I first heard about this at art school, though it was a little different, but the idea of the Golden Mean, and how some faces are considered more beautiful than others, and how the Golden Mean can be used to demonstrate it. What Sarah is talking about is a little different and a lot more relevant to photography.
Composition with impact: Using the Golden Ratio in Photography
By Sarah Vercoe
Composition is one of the most important aspects of photography, one that can make or break a photograph. A strong composition can give an ordinary subject appeal, just as poor composition can leave an otherwise appealing subject with no impact at all. The variety of composition guidelines available to photographers is seemingly endless, with some argued as being better than others. The Golden Ratio is one of those composition guidelines that is said to be just that little bit better for creating a photograph with impact.
The Golden Ratio, a ratio of 1:1.618, is said to have been ‘discovered’ by a mathematician named Leonardo Fibonacci in the 12th century A.D. when he devised a series of numbers to create a composition that is pleasing to the eye. Also known as the Golden Mean, Phi, and Divine Proportion, among others, the Golden Ratio has been used for centuries as a design principle in everything from graphic design, painting, architecture and photography. Regardless of the name attached, or where the idea of using the ratio originated, the Golden Ratio as a composition tool in photography can help us produce photographs with impact.
It is said that humans are naturally drawn to the ratio due to the perfect division of space that is pleasing to the eye, which is perfect for photography. This may be due to the fact that the ratio can be found throughout nature, in flowers, shells, plants, even the human ear is said to be shaped in a way that the Golden Ratio can be seen. Attracting viewers to a photograph through a composition that is based on nature, and naturally drawn to, seems like perfect logic. Creating a photograph that will attract viewers is something almost all photographers strive for in their work. So, how can we compose a photograph using the Golden Ratio to naturally attract viewers? There are a variety of ways in which the Golden Ratio can be applied to photography. Following are just two of the most commonly favoured compositions among photographers who are in-the-know.
The Fibonacci Spiral
The Fibonacci Spiral is formed from a series of squares based on a complex formula using Fibonacci’s numbers. This is achieved by adding together pairs of numbers to create squares, starting at 1×1, repeating 1×1, then 2×2, 3×3, 5×5, 8×8, 13×13, etc., the series of numbers can go on forever. When a point is placed strategically at the diagonal corners of each square and connected by a line, a spiral shape is formed throughout the frame itself as per the diagram below.
These points are considered points of interest in the frame and key focal points in a scene can be positioned to fall on or near them. As you will notice, the most important points of focus fall around a small rectangular area at one of the corners in the frame. This is what I like to call the ‘sweet spot’ and where I like to place the most important elements of a scene. The remaining points on the spiral can then be used as complementing focal points to incorporate other elements into the overall scene. The sweet spot acts as a starting point to lead the eye around the photograph along the spiral.
This version of the Golden Ratio is perhaps the most favoured composition in photography. I like to think this is due to the way the spiral leads the viewer around multiple complementing points in the frame, causing them to linger on the photograph.
The Phi Grid
The Phi Grid is formed when the Golden Ratio is applied so that the frame is divided into sections that are 1:1.618:1 as per the diagram below. The intersecting lines of the grid are concentrated in the centre of the frame resulting in more weight being given to the four outer corners of the frame. Placing key focal points at the intersecting lines of the Phi Grid, the Golden Ratio’s sweet spots, will allow for maximum impact in the photograph. This is due largely to the fact that the intersecting lines are at that point that is considered the perfect division of space in the frame.
Another way that composing a photograph using the Phi Grid can be beneficial is to use it as a guide for the placement of a horizon line. By using the Phi Grid as a guide for where to place the horizon line will allow the horizon line to be less apparent and offer a good separation of space. You might notice that the Phi Grid looks quite similar to the Rule of Thirds. Although no one knows for sure, and there are a variety of fables that address the history of the Rule of Thirds, one suggestion is that the Rule of Thirds was devised as a simpler version of Golden Ratio.
The Golden Ratio in my own work
The Golden Ratio is often my go-to guideline when composing a photograph, particularly the Fibonacci Spiral. When I compose for the Golden Ratio I will envision a rectangle in the corner of the frame that places my main subject near the sweet spot. When I can utilise the Fibonacci Spiral I will also look for complementing points of interest that I can try to incorporate in the scene along the other points of interest. This is the reason I prefer to use the Fibonacci Spiral. I am of the belief that incorporating complementary points of interest to the main focal point where possible will draw the viewer in and lead them around the photograph.
As with everything in photography there are no fixed rules and composition choices are unique to both the scene you are photographing and the photographer. The Golden Ratio is a good technique to keep in your mind as a guideline when considering the composition options for a scene, and you may just end up with a photograph that has that little bit more impact.
Following are a series of photographs where I have applied the Golden Ratio in my own work. See if you can pick out which of the Golden Ratio compositions I have used as a guide.
A big thank you to Leanne for allowing me to discuss the Golden Ratio in today’s Up for Discussion.
Please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about the Golden Ratio. You can view more of my landscape and travel photography on my blog Sarah Vercoe Images www.sarahvercoeimages.wordpress.com.
I would also like to thank Sarah for taking the time to write this for us. Please take a look at her blog, she has some amazing work there.