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The Golden Ratio in Photography

Understanding how to compose a balanced image is fundamental to photography. Does the rule of thirds sound familiar? What about the golden ratio?

That one may be a little more unfamiliar! To help you better understand how to apply it to your images, let’s discuss the golden ratio in photography.

golden ratio in photography
Here’s a very literal example of a golden ratio in photography.

The Golden Ratio In A Nutshell

The golden ratio is a principle focused on creating a well-balanced image. It’s often explained in mathematical terms. Yeah, that’s right… using numbers and ratios to explain its purpose.

If the math sounds scary, don’t worry!

While the technical jargon is one way to look at this concept, it’s easy to understand even without the math.

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What is the Golden Ratio?

There are two ways of describing the golden ratio in photography. By using the Fibonacci Spiral and the Phi Grid. We’ll will discuss both in further detail.

In simple terms, the golden ratio is a ratio that measures approximately 1.618 to 1. To find this number, we take a line or shape and divide it into two parts.

Once divided, the length of the longest area by the length of the smallest area will equal the original length of the line or shape divided by the longest area.

Here it is as a formula:

a+b / a  = a/b = 1.1618

If you continue to divide the shape based on this equation, you’ll create an image that looks like this:

photography composition
Golden Ratio, Image by the Shaw Academy

Leonardo Fibonacci discovered this incredible rule. Fibonacci was a mathematician from the 12th century. The visual composition you see above was determined by his numerical sequence.

To take the principle a step further, let’s further discuss the Fibonacci sequence.

By following this sequence, you can also create the same spiral shape as shown above. The sequence is a set of numbers found by adding up the two previous numbers. The numerical sequence by Fibonacci is referenced as:

0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,32,34 (0+1=1,1+1=2,1+2=3)

The squares created by this sequence each have a diagonal point that creates a path for the spiral on the image. As you can see, the spiral will flow through the image and allow a natural viewpoint for the human eye.

Whichever way you look at the numerical equation, you’ll end up with this spiral. And you can apply to your photography.

photography composition techniques
Here’s what the Golden Ratio looks like.

Related Post: How lines, form, and patterns can improve your photographs

The Purpose of the Golden Ratio In Photography

The golden ratio has been used for centuries to promote balance and harmony in visual art forms. Including photography.

The main idea is to create a strong focal point, while still allowing the eye to move through the rest of the image. To help you understand, let’s look at example images of this concept of composition below.

Want to use the ratio in photography?

You’ll need to become familiar with the spiral and visualize placing it on top of your scene.

Remember, the smallest part of the spiral should sit at the focal point of your image. Yet still encouraging the viewer’s eye to move throughout the rest of the photograph. Place the spiral either vertically or horizontally on your image.

Using the Phi Grid for the Golden Ratio

Besides the spiral, you can also use a tool known as the Phi Grid to achieve a balanced composition.

Similar to the grid used in the rule of thirds, the phi grid is six sections with a 1 to 1.1618 ratio. There are two horizontal and two vertical lines. The intersections are close to one another as calculated by the ratio.

See the example Phi Grid below:

advanced photography composition
The Phi Grid is very similar to the Rule of Thirds grid most photographers are already familiar with.

Placing the Phi Grid over your image is a way for you to compose the golden ratio for your photograph.

By utilizing the spiral or Phi Grid, you’ll bring balance and harmony to your images.

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Visual Examples of the Golden Ratio

Now that we’ve discussed the construction of the ratio, let’s see it in practice. Here are some perfect examples of the golden ratio in photography. Study them to see how you can start using the golden ration in photography too!

Phi grid in photography
The Golden Ratio in photography creates pleasing balance in the composition.
golden ratio in photography
Can you visualize the Phi Grid or Golden spiral over the image?

Applying the Golden Ratio to Your Own Photography

It’s easier to apply the golden ratio to your own photography once you can visualize the ratio composition.

Referencing the Fibonacci spiral or the Phi Grid is the best way to start composing images using the technique. Use templates in post-production to overlay on your image and crop to fit the dimensions.

Or, try these transparent stickers on your phone that overlay the Fibonacci spiral over the screen.

Eventually, you’ll be able to compose from memory while you’re shooting.

Remember that with any photographic principle, there’s no right or wrong way to create your photograph. You may find the spiral works well in one setting, while the grid is more suitable for another.

RELATED POST: Working with Lines, Patterns, Shapes and Forms in Photography

First, determine your subject. Then decide if the ratio will enhance and strengthen your overall image.

The Golden Ratio in photography will bring your images to the next level. Learn how to balance the objects within your image and create harmony for the viewer’s eye. Then you’ll achieve stunning compositions for your photography.

About The Author

1 thought on “The Golden Ratio in Photography”

  1. Thank you for the tips, Shannon. I took you up on your suggestion to adjust crops of portraits I had taken in the past, and I like the results. Hopefully, with practice, I’ll develop an eye for the spiral and golden rectangle’s proportions so I can employ them while shooting. I’ve added a link to my Flickr where you can see the results, if you’re curious.

    Best of luck with your photography!

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