Composition. Golden ratio.

With this article I’d like to start series of articles about composition in photography. And I’d like to start with the most popular one – Golden ratio (also known as Rule of Thirds).
Wikipedia says “In mathematics and the arts, two quantities are in the golden ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to (=) the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one. The golden ratio is an irrational mathematical constant, approximately 1.6180339887. Other names frequently used for the golden ratio are the golden section (Latin: sectio aurea) and golden mean.”
Translating this to common language:
a/b=b/c – these values have same ratio and (a+b)/a=a/b

Actually, this is it. It is golden ratio.

Now some history.
Ancient Greek mathematicians first studied what we now call the golden ratio because of its frequent appearance in geometry.
Euclid’s Elements provides the first known written definition of what is now called the golden ratio: “A straight line is said to have been cut in extreme and mean ratio when, as the whole line is to the greater segment, so is the greater to the less.”
The modern history of the golden ratio starts with Luca Pacioli’s De divina proportione of 1509, which captured the imagination of artists, architects, scientists, and mystics with the properties, mathematical and otherwise, of the golden ratio.

This rule is know for ages. Actually some scientists think Pythagoras had taken the rule from Egypt as Pyramids and lots of statues in Egypt are built on these proportions.
Parthenon in Greece has many proportions that approximate it.
A geometrical analysis of the Great Mosque of Kairouan reveals a consistent application of the golden ratio throughout the design, according to Boussora and Mazouz.

The ratio is just natural rule how things are organized

Leonardo da Vinci’s illustrations of polyhedra in De Divina Proportione (On the Divine Proportion) and his views that some bodily proportions exhibit the golden ratio have led some scholars to speculate that he incorporated the golden ratio in his paintings.

Salvador Dalí explicitly used the golden ratio in his masterpiece, The Sacrament of the Last Supper. The dimensions of the canvas are a golden rectangle. A huge dodecahedron, with edges in golden ratio to one another, is suspended above and behind Jesus and dominates the composition.

Mondrian used the golden section extensively in his geometrical paintings.

Golden ratio is also used in music.

Not enough proves? Ok, more is coming.

Even human was built using golden ratio. Its a kind of universal rule.

Now how does it all work in photography.
First of all, its not really rule of thirds. Rule of thirds is just a simplification. If we have a line with length 100, Golden Ratio is division of this line with lengths of 68 and 32, so it is 62:38, while rule of thirds is 67:33. Cameras usually have grid with 67:33, so if you are going to use this rule, bear in mind that intersections are a bit closer to the centre. There’s also Golden Ratio 2, which is 56:44.


Golden Ratio

It is not really important which picture format you have, proportion always look like this:

So what’s next? It’s simple, just put important things in your photo, your accent, to the intersection points.
But that is not all.
Nowadays many people argue with this rule saying its nonsense and I’d like to explain and clarify this question.
Most of the time they argue that horizon shouldn’t be on the thirds, it can be in the center. Did I say anywhere horizon should stick to the third? No. I just said that important, accent things should be there. Horizon may be important and may be not, you may even not have it at all and still you have to compose a photo. However, in landscapes horizon is often important.

For example here horizon is not important at all – there’re other playing lines, so its here jsut for some stability.

and here it is one of the main lines, you cannot disregard it:

So.
Determine what is important in you photo, what did attract you – foreground or sky. If one is obviously most important, than divide your photo accordingly giving more space to it. Photos with division 1/3, 2/3 are more dynamic, giving you “effect of presence”, while those with horizon in the middle are more tranquil and calm. The main thing here – any important lines (horizon, big tree etc) shouldn’t split you photo into parts, making 2 separate photos, it should all be one.

I bet when you look at photo for the 1st time you look near one of those intersections. Test yourself. Here’re some examples:

Before applying this or any other rules – think. What do you want to achive and if particular method will suit you.
The main exception to this rule is panoramas. You will usually put hirozon in the middle or not far from it. Because otherwise one of the sides becomes very “heavy”.

There’re other “rules” or recommendations, which may be applied and I will try to write about them as well soon.

Journal Comments

  • reypr
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