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The "Golden Ratio" Applied to Photography & Art

Sanford Edelstein , Mar 03, 2012; 09:09 p.m.

Do photographers that employ the Golden Ratio scientifically "figure it out" before they apply it or is it one of those "ah, that looks about right" things. Is good composition just a matter of something looking or feeling right or something that needs to be thought through or maybe a combination of both.


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Michael Chang , Mar 03, 2012; 09:26 p.m.

I think it comes intuitively for most experienced photographers.

Alan Klein , Mar 03, 2012; 09:49 p.m.

The Golden Ratio is not in the picture. It's in the brain.

Tim Lookingbill , Mar 03, 2012; 10:24 p.m.

From a graphic design POV there's a visual language that follows along the lines of repeating negative/positive spacing, patterns and shapes.

It becomes second nature for me when cropping for best composition and framing the scene through the camera's viewfinder. If I can see a golden ratio I'll go for it but if it throws off an obvious repeating pattern that's amplifying the main subject or emotion I won't use it.

The example below is cropped and tilted to give the highway an arched slant to convey motion instead of a static straight line across that was in the original image. I cropped keeping the original 2:3 ratio of the frame coming in just enough to retain spacing between border and elements on all sides that repeated other similar dimensions in the rest of the composition. None of this is exact matches between repeated spacing, but only a guide.

Repeated patterns and spacing with very little Golden Ratio.

Tim Lookingbill , Mar 03, 2012; 10:35 p.m.

This simple grid pattern below builds on a repeated small square pattern to become an elegant double page spread layout design. Just a cluster of same sized squares made into rectangular divisions.


A photographer is not always given this type of image language out in the field. Most often it has to be sensed and then built upon.

Luis G , Mar 03, 2012; 10:44 p.m.

Sanford, I think you might find this book illuminating on this subject...


Sanford Edelstein , Mar 03, 2012; 10:47 p.m.

Always nice to get that second chance in post-processing. With slide film you had to get it perfect, exposure & composition, then and there. Of course we had much better view finders in the old film cameras.

Sanford Edelstein , Mar 03, 2012; 10:52 p.m.

In some of the galleries you will sometimes see photos where the photographer prints the edge of the film all around the outside of the print as a way of saying "I DON'T NEED TO CROP, I got it right in the field!".

Jeff Spirer , Mar 03, 2012; 11:09 p.m.

I carry a yardstick so I can make sure everything aligns properly with the golden ratio. It doubles as a prop in the fetish photos I shoot.

Alan Klein , Mar 03, 2012; 11:18 p.m.

I think the Golden Ratio, Rule of Thirds, etc, just codify what the brain already finds pleasing, not the other way around.

If you ask men which of three girls have the nicer figure, you will pretty much get the same answer. This has been researched across cultures, races and national boundaries. Likewise, if you ask a woman what attracts her to a particular man, you will find that broad shoulders do it for her. I guess that would create the Rule of Triangles for sexual preferences.

The point is that we have prejudices when it comes to shapes, geometric balance, sizes, colors, white balance and composition that appeal to us. The Rules of Thirds, Golden Ratios etc. are not so much rules but rather formulas that reflect the brain's prejudices already in our DNA. When I look back at some of my old photos, I see that I was composing with these rules long before I ever heard of them. I think they're helpful however because they make us think about composition when looking through a viewfinder. That's not natural. Also, we tend to center on the main subject because that's what are eyes are drawn too. Only when we stop and think about aesthetics, do we see that the photo could look better if we shift the camera. That takes awhile to get use too. The "rules" help you think about these aesthetic manipulations.

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