The Golden Ratio

There are several methods you can use to frame and compose your photos, but one of the most well known methods is the golden ratio which is what I mainly use. The golden ratio, in simple terms is the ratio between to quantities, one being shorter than the other. The specific number in which the ratio is referring is 1.618, which is known as phi.

It was first discovered or studied when ancient greek mathematicians began to observe and measure this ratio frequently in a variety of geometry. To begin with the golden ratio was more of a mathematical term but since it was first studied it has been reiterated on over the centuries and the ratio has now been applied in a variety of different applications.

The ratio has been thought of as a scientific way of quantifying of what the human eye regards as beautiful, so this has big implications on any kind of visual creations or design we make. The appliance of this ratio has been used in a wide variety of fields including architecture, painting, logo design and what we are interested in, photography.

Specifically the ratio can be used to aid in the framing of a shot and how the elements in a shot relate to each other. You may be asking how we can apply a mathematical term to framing a photo?

Well the ratio can be represented visually in a number of ways from a series or rectangle to displaying it in a curving format. Both of these methods can be used to approximate the ratio easily in a visual way.

Rule of Thirds

Take the curved representation for instance, imagine it is overlayed onto a frame and if the curve is rotated round 90 degrees each time, it produces 4 distinct points where each of the curves center points terminate, i.e. the points where the white lines cross each other. In this example I have framed the eye of the dancer onto one of the points, which draws to eye naturally to it.

These points can now be used as a general rule of thumb for framing your shots, you simply position the points of interest on top of one of the 4 points. Now this is a very simplified version of the sequence but it does give a good idea of how to position your shot and it is easy to keep track of the 4 points. Many camera even have a “rule of thirds” overlay that can be turned on, so if you are using the LCD screen you can easily arrange the shot accordingly.

The ratio can be applied in a number of ways on top of this general rule of thirds which is mainly to draw the eye to a point of interest. The ratio can be applied to position the various features in the frame in such a way to be pleasing to the eye.

By this I mean that elements can be made to run along the line of the curve.
Elements can be scaled in a way to follow the ratio, so elements in the foreground could be 1.6 times bigger or longer than an element in the background.

Applying the Rule

Now you know the ratio and rules and a number of way to apply it, this does not mean you should be applying it all the time. You should at least be aware of it and apply it where necessary, the rules are meant to be broken! Just experiment with these rules and you will soon discover how you can apply it, or whether it even works for your type of photography.

You can even overlay these various applications of the ratio in photoshop. The crop tool has a number of tmeplates which can be used to overlay the ratio, this can also be useful if you havent quite managed to frame it completely correctly when you took the photo. You can just crop and adjust it in Photoshop using the templates that it has.

Another exercise you may want to try is to take some of your favorite photographs or paintings and try to overlay the golden ratio onto them. You may be surprised at just how often they are applying the rule!