Divine Composition With Fibonacci's Ratio (The Rule of Thirds on Steroids) - Digital Photography School

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Divine Composition With Fibonacci’s Ratio (The Rule of Thirds on Steroids)

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Are you a stickler for little details? Well, if you’re a photographer, you had better be. Discovering the rule of thirds is a big milestone for any photographer. Suddenly, you realize that all you ever did before was center your subject right smack dab in the middle of the frame, because that’s where the camera’s focus grid is located. Makes sense right? The rule of thirds took you to new heights in your photographic journey, moving your subject off to one side or another in your frame, or to the top or bottom. But don’t some of these photos look a bit crowded being so close to either side of the frame? Sure it works in some cases, but what if there was still another rule you could incorporate into your photographic repertoire?

Enter Fibonacci’s Ratio…

Also known as the Golden Mean, Phi, or Divine Proportion, this law was made famous by Leonardo Fibonacci around 1200 A.D. He noticed that there was an absolute ratio that appears often throughout nature, a sort of design that is universally efficient in living things and pleasing to the human eye. Hence, the “divine proportion” nickname.

Since the Renaissance, artists and architects have designed their work to approximate this ratio of 1:1.618. It’s found all over the Parthenon, in famous works of art like the Mona Lisa and the Last Supper, and it’s still used today. The divine proportion has been used by companies like Apple to design products, it’s said to have been used by Twitter to create their new profile page, and has been used by major companies all over the world to design logos. It’s not talked about in most photography circles because it’s a somewhat advanced method of composition and can be confusing to a lot of people. It’s so much easier to just talk about the “rule of thirds” because it’s exact, precise and easy to follow.

This ratio can be used in many ways to compose a photograph. Lightroom 3 even has a golden ratio overlay option when you go to crop on image. This way, you can line up a grid of the golden ratio to coincide with lines or points of interest in your photograph. At this point, you may be quite confused. If you are, please take a few moments to watch any one (or all) of these videos that seek to explain this ratio.

Video 1: Natures Number: 1.618
Video 2: Nature by Numbers
Video 3: Golden Ratio

Ok, hopefully that made things a bit more clear? By now you should know that this is NOT a conspiracy theory or fuzzy math. This is a real aspect of composition that has been used by historical famous artists and architects, and Fortune 500 companies. When applied to photography, this ratio can produce aesthetically pleasing compositions that can be magnets for the human sub-conscious. When you take the sweet spot of the Fibonnaci Ratio and recreate it four times into a grid, you get what looks to be a rule of thirds grid. However, upon closer inspection you will see that this grid is not an exact splitting of the frame into three pieces. Instead of a 3 piece grid that goes 1+1+1=frame, you get a grid that goes 1+.618+1=frame. Here are a few examples a Phi grid placed over some images that I’ve used it on in the past…

In the above example, I placed the slightly more dominant eye of the horse on one of the Phi intersections. Consider that if I had placed a rule of thirds grid over this photo and lined the eye up with that, the head would be crowding the left side of the frame. In this photo, the head isn’t center, it’s not crowding either side. It’s just right, would you agree? Let’s take a look at another…

This one is slightly different. If you’re a REAL stickler for details, you may have noticed that there is a slight difference between the intersecting lines of the Phi graph, and the sweet spot of Phi itself. In this image, I made sure to align the head of my subject within the spiral and placed the left eye approximately over the sweet spot. Ok, moving on…

In this photograph, from Key West, I lined up the horizon with the top line of the Phi grid. In my opinion, when you line up the horizon with a rule of thirds grid, the separation is too…obvious. I think it would leave a bit too much of what isn’t the subject in the image. In this photo, the sky and clouds are the perfect compliment to what I’m trying to convey in the photo: The church on the bottom right, and the famous Duval street on the left. But with any more sky than is already present in the photo, the viewer might think the sky is actually the subject. Here’s one more…

In this example, I used multiple lines on the Phi grid for my final composition. I lined up the doors with both vertical lines, as well as the bottom horizontal line. This provided for a perfect amount of ceiling to lead the viewers eye to the door. Here’s a few more examples without the grid. See if you can imagine the grid over the images and determine why the image was composed the way it was.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this article has shed some light on a somewhat mysterious subject in the world of photography. Fibonacci’s Ratio is a powerful tool for composing your photographs, and it shouldn’t be dismissed as a minor difference from the rule of thirds. While the grids look similar, using Phi can sometimes mean the difference between a photo that just clicks, and one that doesn’t quite feel right. I’m certainly not saying that the rule of thirds doesn’t have a place in photography, but Phi is a far superior and much more intelligent and historically proven method for composing a scene.

If you’d like to start incorporating this powerful composition tool into your photography, you’re in luck! I’ve included a PNG overlay of both the Fibonacci Spiral and the Fibonacci Grid. Just click this download link to start using them. These overlays are for use in Photoshop. Just place them into the file you are working on, then scale them to the correct size of the image.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

James Brandon is a landscape and weather photographer, photo educator and author residing in Dallas, Texas. Get access to his free video tutorial library at his website which is also full of photo tips and articles to help photographers advance their skills and keep their passion for photography alive. James hosts workshops around the world and sells ebooks, video courses, presets and more through his online store. Use the coupon code "DPS25" for an exclusive discount!

  • Reina

    Great usefull info! For there is no working link: check : http://goldencrop.sourceforge.net/ open source: it’s free! Advantage: you can resize and use the tool in all corners… (I did not find that option in LR or PS6/CC)

  • Nice post. Was just reviewing your key west photo and noticed that if you had used the simple thirds grid you would actually have _less_ sky. The upper quadrant would have been smaller, not bigger as you imply in your explanation. I agree with you though that the composition is better this way, with the fibonacci sky proportion perfectly balancing the dominant city frame.

  • Q.A.

    It’s more an exercise in developing a good eye than a tool to apply.

  • PiPaPo

    late, but: i do agree with your arguments and i do agree with your opinion that all the pictures above could have been composed better, but could we get to see some of your pictures to get a notion of how better composed photographs could look like
    i would be curious

  • LeeH

    The regular camera app on Android phones has the thirds grid, and you can turn it on or off,

  • Adriana Oberto

    the link is not working

  • Oops

    That grid is on every camera – I believe they are referring to the fibonacci spiral.

  • Kiran Jain

    download link is missing

  • Christine

    I disagree about the surfer– the huge leading line of the wave behind him makes his position perfect. And the tail light? That, too, is a great position to draw you into & thru the photograph. The Golden Ratio is applicable to many, many things, but it is a visual ratio overall & that’s the very reason certain people are considered beautiful– their face structure matches the Fibonacci ratios.

  • Brian

    In Lightroom (v5.x), these overlays are all available when using the Crop Tool in Develop Module. For keyboard folks, use “O” to toggle between all possible overlay types. Use Shift + O to change the overlay orientation. To choose which overlay types you want to toggle between when toggling, simply go to menu item Tools / Crop Overlay Guide / Choose Overlays to Cycle.

  • Larry

    I use the Fibonacci also but almost every time I want to use it I have a brain cramp about how to rotate the overlay 180 degrees in Photoshop. I don’t even know how to do it now but I know it will take a lot of web surfing to find the answer again when I need to do so. I’m probably missing a real obvious menu item in PS but this one always is a problem.

  • Great article but 1 year later… download link still missing!

  • Ginny T

    The space should be placed in the direction something is moving so it doesn’t feel cramped. It is hard to correctly frame surfers to show the thrill of the sport since the white eye-magnet surf is behind the action.
    Many are successful, though. I agree with the critic in all.

  • James Brown

    Amen. There are NO hard set of mechanics to making you a better artist. Not to mention as with any artform, it’s still relative in the end. So many “pros” try to convince you to follow rules that many of the “great ones” only end up breaking anyway. smh

  • James Brown

    another rule I personally feel is foollish and shorsighted. What if the attempt is to convey a feeling of “cramped”. What if the shot is about leaving certain things behind you? Rules are not LAWS! They are GUIDElines.

  • To borrow a phrase from Mr. King.. “I have a dream”, that people would stop using the genie pose in their portrait compositions.

  • Sy Holtzman

    Download link yields Error 404

  • Suz

    I have been using the ‘Golden Crop’ script in photoshop for years. Not only does it include the ‘golden spiral’ aka Fibonacci’s Ration but it also includes the Rule of thirds, Golden Triangle, Diagonal Rule,& Golden Rule. You can pick & choose which ones you want to overly. I am not affiliated with the script. The author of the script only requests that you donate.

    Here is the URL:
    http://goldencrop.sourceforge.net/about.html

  • Alan Kelly

    Download link still missing! 22nd Feb 2015

  • Sujat Shah

    Something we have already been doing even without being aware of it!

  • jatinahuja

    link is not working

  • Steven McQuillen

    Shut you phi hole. And give us links so we can rip your work apart too.

  • Understanding Composition

    Your using the Phi rectangle incorrectly. In the horse picture and the picture of the man, you have stretched the Phi rectangle to fit a 1.5 rectangle. By stretching it, you have destroyed all the inherent geometry of that rectangle. In other words, all your division lines are incorrect for that rectangle and your placement of your subject isn’t pleasing. Also, artists didn’t limit themselves to one rectangle. In the golden section system of design, known as Dynamic Symmetry, there are many rectangles; root rectangles 2-5, the root Phi, the 1.5 and the Phi rectangle, which your talking about here. Another critical aspect missing in this article is the use of diagonals. You have completely eliminated them, and by doing so, you have destroyed all the useable aspects of the Phi rectangle. Master photographers that shoot in a 1.5 rectangle don’t use the divisions of the Phi rectangle. They are two completely different rectangles that have completely different divisions and diagonals. My suggestion is to read more on the topic. Read any books on Dynamic Symmetry and Dynamic Symmetry Photography. A few books that might help are Juliette Aristides series of art books, The Art of Composition: A Simple Application of Dynamic Symmetry, and Myron Barnstone’s DVD series on drawing lesson 7 & 10.

Some Older Comments

  • Lindy Kemp June 26, 2013 10:40 pm

    Thank you James. You helped me to understand the Golden Ratio. Now to go and apply it in my photographs instead of using the "Rule of thirds" all the time!

  • Mike Russel April 13, 2013 11:58 am

    I found that people who use the same placement pattern for their photographs look very similar and seem to be formulaic. I think it's important to vary how you use any placement technique to keep your work interesting. There are many "substantial" images that are shot DEAD CENTER and have enormous impact and there are others that are boring. I hope that those who read this understand that placement of objects in the frame by formula is but one aspect of how a photograph should be planned.

    Ultimately the most beautiful photographs are "seen" instantly and cause some level of emotion in the viewer, that's my goal when making an image; to evoke a human emotion from my audience/viewer.

    Thanks for the article, it's useful and thought provoking.

  • Julie March 25, 2013 11:57 am

    The download link doesn't work. I'd really like to have the .png file.

  • Sam Hamory March 5, 2013 07:38 am

    My degree is in commercial photography which is where I learned about Fibonacci, my passion has been building custom furniture and cabinetry which is where I've used the golden ratio more often. I just aquired Fibonacci gauges from Woodpecker tools that now takes the math out of the situation, all I have to do is set the gauge with one dimension already figued out and the other one appears on the other side of the gauge. Absolutely fantastic!

  • Connie February 5, 2013 06:24 am

    Could you pls send me the overlays? The link isn't working.

  • Mike January 9, 2013 08:04 am

    Could you please reupload the PNG overlay?

  • Mark January 4, 2013 03:20 pm

    I just discovered this article, I'd heard of Fibonacci before but didn't really understand it. Thanks for this. However, I too would like to be able to download that overlay.

  • Michelle September 7, 2012 05:07 pm

    The download isn't loading for me either. I would love to see this overlay if you could fix the link :)

  • Naren January 30, 2012 04:18 am

    Hi,
    Could you please fix the png overlay.
    Looks like the document has been removed.
    Or some else could repost or give another link

    Thanks In Advance.
    Naren

  • Vic January 27, 2012 10:42 am

    I agree with i-fendy and other the link don't work. I believe there was a program on telly recently about Fibonacci. Very interesting it was as well as the above article, thanks.

  • Sharon January 26, 2012 01:43 pm

    After doing some googling, I discovered...much to my delight that these overlays are available under the crop function in Lightroom.

  • i-fendy January 26, 2012 11:35 am

    the download link's error message : Sorry, the page (or document) you have requested is not available.

  • Sharon January 26, 2012 08:28 am

    Very interested too....but the link to the png overlays is not working. Thanks in advance if you can fix it!

  • Julie January 26, 2012 04:59 am

    I really liked this article.... and I had no ideas the crop overlays could be changed in lightroom... I'm definitely going to start using them and the Golden Ratio.

  • Jill Bingham-Daniels January 26, 2012 04:36 am

    I will explore this rule much more in the future. Unfortunately the link is not working. i would love to take my skill up a notch.

  • Ian Skelly December 14, 2011 12:12 am

    Very interesting. And the comments too. The Golden ratio was given the name Phi by an American mathematician in the 20th Century because it is the first Greek letter in the name Phidias, a sculptor whose work appears in the Parthenon. Like the building Phidias's sculptures are balanced and beautiful and rely upon the Golden ratio, which was known of before the Greeks. As another response points out, the Renaissance does indeed come after the Ancient Greeks. Perhaps it is not so obvious as I would have thought, but the Renaissance is so called because it was in that period that these ancient principles were rediscovered in Europe - they came via the Islamic Empire of the Arab word which had never lost touch with them. That is why we call that period "the Renaissance". It was a renaissance in classical understanding. I shall now go and re-balance my shots. While I do so, your link to your frame doesn't seem to work. Do you have another?

  • Marcos J Pinto December 12, 2011 05:20 am

    Hello!
    Thank you for the terrific info!

    BTW, the link for the file is not working. I'm getting a 500 error code.

    Marcos

  • Snodge December 11, 2011 07:40 pm

    I suggest checking out http://naturography.com/the-golden-section-hypothesis-a-critical-look/ as a counter-argument to the whole "golden rule" and fibonacci spiral thing - at least then you can make your own mind up about it rather than just following it like lemmings...!

  • Nerine December 11, 2011 05:02 pm

    Hi. Please help, I get this msg when I try open the link

    Sorry, the page (or document) you have requested is not available

  • Cecilia December 11, 2011 02:07 pm

    The the PNG Overlay link is not working for me..

  • Noelene November 12, 2011 07:55 pm

    Thank you for reminding us of a long forgotten "rule". I read an article about this rule, but related to another subject, about 4 years ago but never thought to try and apply it to photography.

  • Kenneth Chan August 14, 2011 02:12 am

    Nice examples of the Golden Ratio! I can already see that this is going to improve my sense of composition.

    It would definitely be cool to see how this might apply in square crops, etc, as well.

  • Shanna June 28, 2011 10:40 pm

    @Maggie
    Here is a download of the golden spiral: http://thewebshoppe.net/divine-proportion-template-download/
    It will work in Photoshop and Illustrator.

  • Nick Bedford February 14, 2011 11:08 am

    I use the Golden Section in my head all the time now. The Spiral is ok, but I find the using points on the Golden Section to be better.

  • maggie January 29, 2011 10:38 am

    HI! I love this! I wanted to get the grid and spiral overlay but the link isn't working. Is there somewhere else I can get that?

    Thanks!

  • Kerry Bergman January 18, 2011 03:26 am

    This was a really interesting article with loads of cause for thought. I'm going to give this a go. I guess only time will tell if it makes a difference. Sure makes sense!

    Cheers!

  • Raul January 7, 2011 12:54 am

    As I was reading this great article, I though about some other irrational numbers (e, sqrt(2), pi,...), maybe we can use them on composition for different purpouses, e.g. panoramic photo, I don't know... I was wandering...

  • danj January 6, 2011 11:24 pm

    One simple reason why a photo with a fibonacci's ratio is pleasing to us because we ourselves were made from that ratio,starting from dna. AMAZING!

  • Peter December 29, 2010 03:30 am

    Found this extreemly interesting and look forward to expirementing with it

  • Forensics Teacher December 25, 2010 05:17 am

    Wow, lots of opinions here.

    As a biology teacher, I've certainly known about this golden ratio for years now. I've always known that it CAN enhance an image, but I haven't developed an eye for it yet while taking pictures so I'm subject to trying it in Lightroom and seeing if I like the image. Doesn't work for every image, but it really does make some of them look awesome.

    As above, I think an eye for photography is important and you certainly seem to have it. It would seem that this came naturally to you but, for some like me, it has to be learned over time. I'm certainly going to try to incorporate this into my picture taking from now on if possible.

    Thanks for the tips!

  • Jim Hubbard December 24, 2010 09:22 am

    I hate to put a damper on this whole thing, but I think that this is a load of crap. For example, I overlaid your surfer photo with the curves and graph and nothing matches the primary figure. But, the composition of the photo is still excellent.

    I think that people are (like the guy asking for a fibonacci viewfinder) looking for a formula for good photos (or layouts for websites or ads or whatever) and there really isn't one.

    Even if there were one, people would grow tired of seeing it everywhere and the images that stood out would become the images that did NOT use the golden ratio.

    No...it isn't as easy as placing a graph or a curve on your paper (or lens) and laying your subject on the dotted line.

    You seem to be blessed with an eye for composition. Personally I don't think this can be taught. It's like trying to teach someone to have good taste in art. They may be able to imitate good taste once taught, but the moment they are exposed to new art they will be exposed for the imitator that they are.

    The golden ratio is seen in nature, but not everywhere in nature (how boring would that be?). And the golden ratio is even seen in great compositions - but not all great compositions.

    Some people even try to use the golden ratio to playing the stock market (they are the broke people).

    While it is certainly human nature to try and see patterns (even where none exist) trying to be creative using a template is a sure recipe for disaster.

    Create things that are pleasing to YOUR eye. If others like it, great! If they don't, it's still great!

    You have to be happy wit the art that you produce.

    This is the measure of great art - did it make you smile? If it did, you nailed it.

  • ygelman December 21, 2010 09:11 am

    Yikes. Enough with following this rule or that. What counts is your perception as a photographer -- not how closely you have to find the golden spot!

    If you want to learn, then shoot first and compare later. By comparing later you'll discover what it takes to see in general. . .then you'll be influenced somewhat at the point in time when you snap the shutter. By adhering to rules, you'll place the "subject" at "that spot" and not even look at what you're photographing.

    If you need one rule, then just keep the subject off center -- and even that rule can sometimes be broken with good effect.

    This stuff about golden rule, golden ratio, golden rectangle, fibonacci this and fibonacci that is beautiful stuff to know, but it will strangle you if you are tied to it. Just relax.

  • Ibrahim Husain December 21, 2010 03:22 am

    I was wondering about adding the spiral to the viewfinder of my DSLR as well. Anyone heard of this being done. I shoot with a Nikon D5000.

  • GG December 20, 2010 09:55 pm

    I think it'll be good to know some facts too, instead of only "mumbo jumbos" : http://bit.ly/hk8RW4

  • Latente December 20, 2010 08:49 pm

    Andreas Feininger - Principles of composition in photography

    Feiningen recommended 5-8 as mnemonic relation (divide the image in 13 parts and take 5)

    I use a very convenient software: http://www.atrise.com/golden-section/

  • Jonas Congo December 20, 2010 01:12 pm

    if someone made an iphone camera app with those golden ratio grids layered over the regular screen.....that someone could make some serious money!

    every amateur i know is lacking the skills of right proportion and angle. if people could move the iphone around until the grid lines are congruent with certain parts of the desired photo, they'd instantly get way better looking pics just as described above....

  • JJ December 17, 2010 01:26 pm

    I really like this article. I guess I had taken some pictures following this rule without even realizing it, it was just the look I wanted, but now that I know it, I think that I'll look for it more.

  • Yucel December 17, 2010 09:17 am

    Hmmm, When I look at the focus points for a Nikon D90, by eye they seem not so far off. Then when I try taking photos of the image samples above, I can see that the focus points are just outside the intersections...

    Then there is cropping... What we shoot in camera may be cropped differently, which makes the location of the points in focus screen apply only to the frame as shot...

    Yes?

  • Rob Bixby December 17, 2010 06:36 am

    I've been using LR since the first release of 1.0 and never knew you could change the crop ratio overlays. That will be something I will use a heck of a lot now that I know of it. Thanks

  • Luiz Paulino Bomfim December 17, 2010 04:44 am

    Nature could not be build, the way it is, without some rules. Fibonacci rule is no different than the spiral that shows in every arrangement of branchs in a tree or petals in a flower. I wish some day I will be able to take a photo of a tree right above the axis of it's main trunk and show that spiral. The flow of movement of the wings of a bird is very similar, if not even more beautiful, than the movement of the arms of a prima ballerina. Living in tropics, how often we forget that fact, we have a mmore exuberant nature around us so these facts are more into eyes of those that want to see, mane people pass all their life looking but seldom really seeing the nature. That is why I like photography, it helps to capture what I see, but I still have a lot to learn.

  • tjmurph9 December 15, 2010 10:32 am

    Firstly, this is a terrific article with very clear explanations.

    A number of comments ask about grids for viewfinders and screens, which got me to thinking about my own DSLR, a Pentax K-m. There is a grid in the viewfinder which I thought might be fairly close to golden sections. So, I took a couple of test shots with a vertical edge aligned with the grid and with a horizontal edge aligned with the grid. Then I used GIMP's Golden Sections grid on the selection tool to see whether there was any alignment.

    The following image is a mock-up, but it illustrates what I found.

    [eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/murph_s13/5261681905/' title='Golden sections grid' url='http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5085/5261681905_9e174fcf78_z.jpg']

    Gimp's Golden sections selection grid is imposed here on a (fairly accurate) representation of the K-m viewfinder. I now find I have a pretty accurate means to check whether my intende composition complies with the golden ratios.

  • Yucel December 14, 2010 05:50 am

    Jazzed by this article, did some research and found video demos on photo composition techniques.

    These use Fibonacci, Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines, Framing Cards, etc ...

    12 videos on composition ( see list here: http://glamourphotography.co/?p=719 )

    The Framing Card is interesting in that in reality, it's how lots of us shoot.

    Other than Rule of Thirds grid guides some cameras have, we mostly have to go by what is pleasing to our eye when shooting the picture.

    N'est pas?

  • Iain December 13, 2010 09:46 am

    Unfortunately Fibonacci's number is subject to a lot of misinformation and things which are not true are often repeated. If you look at art, architecture, and nature, it does not come up as often as you would expect, and probably only comes up by chance rather than design.

    this pdf file covers some of the misconceptions

    One of the things stated in the article is that, when asked to pick the most pleasing one from 48 rectangles with ratios varying from 0.4 to 2.5 most people picked one with a ratio of 1.83. That nowhere near the golden ratio.

    So really what we can say is that your subject does not have to be exactly at the rule of thirds point to make a good looking picture.

  • Yucel December 13, 2010 02:34 am

    Fabulous article. While rule of thirds is readily avail in focus screens and crop tools and very well known as a composition tool, this is the best treatement I have ever seen of this compositional tool.

    Love that you put the available downloads, especially the spiral. I have tried the rule of thirds in both composition and cropping http://glamourphotography.co/?p=255 .

    Looking forward to use this tool. In effect, since it is not avail as a screen, I feel more released to use my eye and sense of composition and harmony when shooting.

    Will advise after I use the soft version on a few crops.

  • Aaron Sivertson December 10, 2010 03:43 pm

    Also note that you CAN get this overlay in Lightroom - it's built right in. (Lightroom 3 for sure - not sure about Lightroom 2)

    In the Develop module, enter the Crop Overlay (keyboard shortcut "R"). Now, click on the "Tools" menu at the top, then point to "Crop Guide Overlay" and you'll see 6 options, including the default, a grid, and BOTH the Golden Ration and the Golden Spiral options. (and 2 others - diagonals and triangles). Also in that menu is the option to rotate the orientation of the overlay.

    For the keyboard shortcut fans, with the crop tool active, simply tap the letter O on your keyboard to cycle through these options, and Shift-O will rotate the orientation.

    Enjoy!

    Aaron Sivertson
    Winnipeg, MB, Canada

  • Christopher Connell December 10, 2010 09:36 am

    Fascinating. Thank you.

  • Don December 8, 2010 06:06 am

    Well done! This is an interesting post that easy to understand. I use the rule of thirds, loosely. I am interested in seeing some of my photos with the overlays. I think some will be on the money. Thanks!

  • neurodoc1 December 8, 2010 01:16 am

    Just from a technical point of view, how does one actually apply these overlays in Photoshop Elements 9?

  • jellyfish December 7, 2010 04:52 am

    @James Brandon - that was really helpful, short and to the point. Thanks a bunch.

  • ana @ i made it so December 7, 2010 01:30 am

    hi there! this is a fantastic explanation. thank you so much for sharing. i've always "sensed" when a photo looks great because of the placement of the objects or people i'm photographing. glad to have an explanation (and something to work towards) beyond the rule of thirds.

  • ROJI JACOB December 5, 2010 05:39 pm

    Great Article... AN eye opener for a novice like me.

  • Gdwsr December 5, 2010 11:58 am

    I am glad you posted this article James. I have seen many photographers strictly adhering to the "rule of thirds" because that's the "rule" when in fact it is a bastardization of a concept: the Golden Rectangle. Ever wonder why pictures are usually in rectangles eg. 5x7? Do the math. I also like that you mentioned that the ration is not just used as a proportion in a grid but spirals (actually rectangles with an arc through each opposite vertex) but it also includes, arcs, angles and diagonals. (the second Youtube reference does a great job showing many, many possibilities).

    I had the privilege of being given permission of reviewing about 10,000 posted images of a photo group I belong to to look for these ratios in their work. The exercise was very interesting. The photos that had the least viewer tension in them had proportions and elements composed in a way that followed one of the Golden ratios. (Incidentally, we seem to call that lack of tension as "Pleasing to the eye".) Photos that deviated from the ratio had more tension (therefore the ones that followed the rule of thirds had slightly more tension than if composed with the rule of thirds. I also found that, by far, the most pleasant (low tension) photos were composed with multiple applications of the Golden Ratio. For example: the horizon at a grid line, a diagonal element fitting the Golden Diagonal, a point of interest at the center of the Golden Spiral, etc.

    Finally, I think we should not be trying to create an image that follows the rule because it is "right" or more "pleasing". We should ask FIRST what mood are we trying to convey then use the ratio CONCEPT to create that mood. One example I used to demonstrate this was to take the same photo of a snake looking into the camera. In one image I placed his head at the intersection of the Golden grid lines, in the other I placed it dead center. The effect was that the one at the ratio intersection was kind of a "cute little guy" while the one centered felt menacing. If I wanted the viewer to feel threatened I certainly wouldn't place the snake in the "pleasing" spot. It also worked with other animals and even people but that involves a whole different level of complexity.

  • Andy December 4, 2010 11:50 pm

    Thanx James for this article (plus the many others you've authored) and the Phi downloads. Much more sensuous than the Rule of Thirds.

  • Nicole P. December 4, 2010 04:51 pm

    Is there any way that I can get those grids, to use as the default camera grid, onto my Android camera phone? I think that would be so awesome.

  • Alex Marino December 4, 2010 08:50 am

    Some of you might find this program interesting. I found it a while back and use it quite frequently.
    It overlays over ANY Windows program.
    http://www.atrise.com/golden-section/

  • Amy Schemmel Keller December 4, 2010 07:13 am

    Great mathematics application! Can't wait to share with my collegues!

  • Saud December 4, 2010 05:05 am

    Thank for a very nice article, it really opened my eye's ( I am still very young to a photography), Yes I understand the technicalities that's being discussed above but in general this is something to keep in mind when taking or post processing your photograph. Thank you again for an interesting eye opening article, I love your educational e-mails.

  • Saud December 4, 2010 05:04 am

    Thank for a very nice article, it really opened my eye's ( I am still very young to a photography), Yes I understand the technicalities that's being discussed above but in general this is something to keep in mind when taking or post processing your photograph. Thank you again for an interesting eye opening article, I love your educational e-mails.

  • Jeff O December 4, 2010 04:44 am

    Yes, that answered it. I had a feeling that would be the case but wanted clarification. Again thanks for taking the time to reply.

  • Efrain December 4, 2010 04:29 am

    Here's the thing, Jeff O:

    As ygelman pointed out, the spiral works better as is. In other words, if you are going to stick by this rule, you have to maintain the aspect ratio of the overlay in 1.618 (the aspect ratio of 5 x 7 is 1.4).

    If you don't want to crop you picture to fit the new ratio for whatever reason, one thing you could do is frame the spiral overlay dead center inside your 5 x 7 picture. Another thing to try is to actually crop the image to the new ratio and fill as you need to fit your 5 x 7 ratio with a white o black space. This works wonders to print rectangular pictures to square frames, for instance.

    You can find a lot of examples of this last method following two guys in Flickr:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sylvain_latouche/5108410915/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/sylvain_latouche/5115310219/in/set-72157624331156455/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/wefwef/5182085737/

  • James Brandon December 4, 2010 04:10 am

    While there is a "proper" rectangle by the golden ratio standard, the ratio 1:1.618 can be used on any size rectangle, it is scalable. You can take any length in the world and create a dividing marker at this ratio. So this will work on a 5x7, 4x6, 20x30 and so on. Is that what you were after?

  • Jeff O December 4, 2010 04:03 am

    To add on to Efrain question to you James, btw thanks for the reply to my first question. When using the overlay and the points others are making on this. The true representation of the overlay is in the 1.618 ratio. If I have an image that is 5x7 and I put the overlay on this image, does it matter that I distort the overlay to FIT my dimension or do i leave the overlay in it's more rectangular shape and shift it left/right or up/down to keep it's original dimensions? I hope you understand what I mean, as I want to use this as a tool, and can do what theoretically I want, just wondering how you and others use the overlay during post.

  • Efrain December 4, 2010 01:53 am

    that's right, ygelman... I just didn't want to go all Sheldon about it... :D

  • Efrain December 4, 2010 01:47 am

    That's right, ygelman... I just didn't want to go all Sheldon about it... :D

  • ygelman December 4, 2010 01:41 am

    efrain comments that ".. the proportion is 1 to 1.618, though…"

    Well, the amazing thing about the golden ratio is its internal symmetries -- which may help explain its pleasing character in art.

    For instance, let's divide both of efrain's numbers by 1.618.. so the ratio stays the same.

    We get .618.. and 1 -- amazing! In other words, 1 / phi = 1+phi .

    By the way, the reason Fibonnaci enters this picture is because the limit of the ratio of two adjacent numbers in his series is the golden ratio. I feel that artists really use the ratio, not the series.

  • James Brandon December 4, 2010 01:19 am

    jellyfish - Once you have an image opened in photoshop, just go to file --> place... and select which overlay you'd like to use. The overlay will drop in as its own layer.

    Then hit command (control on PC) T to resize the overlays to fit your image. Does this help?

  • Jellyfish December 4, 2010 01:07 am

    Can anyone give a step-by-step instructions on how to use the downloaded PNG file on photoshop?

  • James Brandon December 4, 2010 12:52 am

    Thanks for all the comments everyone, we've got some good back and forth going on here! Let's keep it nice though!

    Jeff- Great question. I always have things like Phi in the back of my mind when composing in camera. I don't have a phi grid viewfinder or anything like that. When I start editing the image in post, I use the grid overlay and crop down to line the image up along those lines.

    efrain - Very well said! This isn't a rule that has to be followed. It's just something to keep in mind and play with from time to time. With any rule or law, it's just as fun to break the rules at times as it is to follow it. In the end, this stuff is just about making an image that YOU like. Have fun with it.

  • wbmartin December 4, 2010 12:43 am

    hello, Using the fibonacci / golden rule , rule of thirds is formalistic and rules out the sensitivity of the artist that makes for outstanding images and forms... after all the artist and the artist's eye, are too, natural elements in the scheme of things... its that little tweak that a true artist makes that separates" the men from the boys", the unique from the common denominator.... its fine that you point out the golden rule davinci used it , however, I suspect if you studied his work closely you'd find some "tweaking".
    with great respect and
    regards for your insights
    and professional commentary!
    wbm

  • Jeff O December 4, 2010 12:27 am

    James, I am curious, in the examples you have provided, are these all CROPPED images to make the composition or they SOOC? If this is SOOC frames, then what trick do you use to position in the viewfinder since this is not an option for the viewfinder?

  • Efrain December 4, 2010 12:15 am

    @ygelman & @toomanytribbles:

    Both of you are right... the proportion is 1 to 1.618, though... but that's the less important thing to take notice here, in my own opinion, anyway.

    The exact number doesn't matter, if you (all) think about it, the rule of thirds that we all live by is a rough approximation of this number, as demonstrated by the grid posted by James. ygelman has a point though: the spiral works better in a rectangle with the golden ratio in the same way that the rule of thirds works better in a photograph with proportions of 2 to 3... or 1 to 1.5... this is the approximation I'm talking about.

    Besides, in photography, I don't think we should call them rules or laws at all. After all, being this a form of art, who is to say something is good or bad, ugly or beatiful? I think of them more as a guideline, a proven working suggestion that you have to look for in the beginning, maybe to help develop an "eye", maybe to make things easier.

  • toomanytribbles December 3, 2010 10:52 pm

    i didn't say i apply the spiral while i'm composing. i compose by looking at the subject and shooting.

    i superimposed the spiral yesterday, after reading this post, out of personal interest and it seemed that i was gravitating towards the spiral. i find that interesting because it suggests to me that the spiral is pleasing to human perception. i wasn't anal about getting it exactly right because i'm not interested in it being precise.

    additionally, i think that if you think too much about spirals, lines and triangles while you're shooting, you're bound to destroy a lot of shots.

  • ygelman December 3, 2010 10:48 pm

    toomanydribbles applies the spiral to all of her images in her grid. But The Spiral is applicable ONLY to rectangles that have their dimensions in the ratio of the golden mean, namely 1 to .618... . This ratio is hardly ever listed as a choice in standard cropping tools (maybe it would be nice to have it), and I'd be surprised if all of her images had that ratio. (See below*.) Her spirals are then mostly ad hoc.

    My point is that proper composition is an artistic choice, not a mathematical choice.

    For a crutch, you can start with the "thirds" rule because it applies to images with any dimensions-ratio. Then "squeeze the center box" and play with the resulting possibilities.

    *Note that in photoshop you can set the cropping dimensions to 1 and .618 inches -- just to see how it looks as you expand the box and move it around.

  • the candy trail ... | Michael Robert Powell December 3, 2010 08:42 pm

    As useful as this is ... it is simply photography 101 - but I hope novices will take something from it; as it's not that easy to compose a great shot - being subject-totally centered ... until you know the rules, and how to break them.

    Regards - MRP | the candy trail ... a nomad across the planet, since 1988

  • toomanytribbles December 3, 2010 07:57 pm

    i used old wold's online tool to check through some of my images (thanks!) -- and i created a little grid of some images with the curve superimposed here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/toomanytribbles/5228734736/

  • Surendra December 3, 2010 07:30 pm

    Very interesting and useful article

  • David December 3, 2010 03:18 pm

    What a great article. Made even more so with the downloads. Thank you.

  • Mohamed Ghuloom December 3, 2010 02:51 pm

    Salam,

    I use the golden ratio on all my photographs and I believe this is the secret of beauty to my works. Of course this is another divine secrets of Allah, the creator of all universe. You could look up for Goden Ratio & Islam as well on youtube. For example, Kaaba (in Mecca) is the golden mean of the earth.

    I have one question though:
    Using Adobe Lightroom 3, which one is more accurate to use? The Golden Ratio Grid? Or the Spiral?

    [eimg url='http://www.abulphoto.com/Artworks/Free/AbulPhoto-022-wwwlens-bhcom/1108185035_M7VVN-X2.jpg' title='1108185035_M7VVN-X2.jpg']

  • Ricardo December 3, 2010 01:55 pm

    I cant download the overlay, the link sends me to Google docs :(
    But anyway, great, great article!

  • Art of Concept December 3, 2010 11:30 am

    Excellent! Very useful! I knew about Fibonacci's ratio but not of its use in photography...and I regret it!
    ...I was glad to find the PNG so we can use it, awesome! Thank you!!

  • TomB December 3, 2010 10:52 am

    James, On the Key West photo, contrary to your statement that " if you lined up the horizon with the Rule of Thirds, you would "leave a bit too much of what isn’t the subject in the image," you would actually have more sky.

  • Jeff Ponce December 3, 2010 09:38 am

    The overlays you can find in Adobe Lightroom. Under crop tool you can cycle through different cropping overlays, among them are these 2 composition guides.

    I didn't quite expect the Fibonacci spiral can be used in portraiture. that's quite an eye opener. Wow.

    Thank you for the informative discussion

  • Bob Gillen December 3, 2010 08:17 am

    Phi received a very full explanation, from the worlds of art and nature, in a recent novel. I think it was Davinci Code, but not sure my memory is right.

  • ygelman December 3, 2010 07:59 am

    Mr. Brandon, I have to say that although the intent of your article is good, you make it appear simpler than it really is. For instance, in the photo where you actually draw the spiral, you are already using a photo with dimensions that are in the right proportions. If instead, say, you started with a very wide panorama, you could not draw such a spiral.

    What can still occur, of course, is to draw any "pleasing" grid in which the central segment is shorter than the outer segments. The ratio of phi is only one such ratio. Then place the main focus of the photo similarly at the intersecting lines. The "best" spot, however will depend on a judgement call.

    Fibonnaci is beautiful and powerful; let's not misuse it.

  • Robert December 3, 2010 07:52 am

    A great article for young photographers. I was taught about the "Golden Mean" in my 1st year at the Ontario College of Art" way back in 1960. Throughout my career as a designer I have used it to help create pleasing proportions in product, packaging and graphic designs. The ancient Greeks were keen observers of nature and used it's laws to elevate their art & architecture to an extrodinary beautiful and elegant standard. In this technology age the focus needs to return to natures rules.

  • Mark December 3, 2010 07:34 am

    I have normally cropped with the "thirds rule" in mind, but have never been a stickler having found minor variations more pleasing to my eye. I shoot primarily wildlife pictures. Going back with these overlays, I find that the variations that pleased me FIT THESE OVERLAYS in some way or another!!! I knew that they were better to my eye, but NOW I KNOW WHY! Thanks!

  • ratkellar December 3, 2010 07:30 am

    Greeks knew the golden ratio and it is designed into the Parthenon. I had not applied it specifically in photography, but I have cropped to it naturally because sometimes the R of 1/3s just does not seem "right." My good shots are generally by luck anyway, but now I know another rule to compose around.

  • John Pogue December 3, 2010 07:29 am

    I used this ratio for a cover for a photographic collection of images of the cameras I have used in the past 58 years, the cameras that form the heart of an antique camera collection of some 30 or so cameras.[eimg link='http://www.flickr.com/photos/39250372@N06/3962764698/' title='My camera collection' url='http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2655/3962764698_de26dee08a_z.jpg']

  • Snug Photography December 3, 2010 07:22 am

    Great article. Thank you!

    Is there a way to "flip" the spiral overlay in Lightroom? The sweet spot is always in the upper right and I would like to be able to switch it to the bottom left if possible. Thank you in advance

  • Antonio Rodriguez December 3, 2010 06:38 am

    Thanks James. Its a great article =)

    I never Uniderstood the proportions on my Nikon D90 viewfinder grid.
    It have anithing to do with this Phi grid?

  • saud December 3, 2010 06:35 am

    Excellent article ! Thanks a lot for sharing..

  • Rajal Sanathara December 3, 2010 06:33 am

    very nice article..!! thanks james.. from now on i'l keep this in mind. :)

  • Old Wold December 3, 2010 06:18 am

    Here's a good online tool:

    http://www.dcolegrovephotography.com/photo-tools/composition-guide.html

    No, I'm not the author of that page. I found the page perusing some other forums a while back.

  • Pat December 3, 2010 06:01 am

    It is named "Phi" to honor Phidias, the Greek sculpter who was the artistic director for the construction of the Parthenon - just in case anyone was wondering!

  • Ronnie Saini Photography December 3, 2010 05:57 am

    Really awesome article! I've been reading about the Fibonacci Series a lot lately and yes, the new Twitter Design is a very recent example. But I wasn't aware that the photos could be taken keeping this in mind, definitely an eye opener for me, and results from my photos will be different from now on, thanks a lot James!

  • jm December 3, 2010 04:36 am

    This has been the most useful and insightful article on DPS all year. Everything else in 2010 could have been found, and normally explained better, via a simple Google search.

  • Shariq December 3, 2010 04:08 am

    Peter, you made my day! Thanks for the Lightroom tip...

  • Bryan Grant December 3, 2010 02:22 am

    Beware the dreaded bulls-eye. easiest way to spot a beginner. As a teacher, i teach the rule of thirds over and over again.

  • AR Cherian December 3, 2010 01:44 am

    Are there any cameras that are currently out there that have an overlay for the spiral or Phi Grid, either on the LCD or through the viewfinder? My D90 only overlays the thirds grid on the lcd and in the viewfinder.

  • St Louis Photographer December 3, 2010 12:30 am

    I remember doing a survey in one of my high school math classes where we had people pick their favorite proportioned rectangle, and overwhelmingly the one that people picked was the one that was golden proportioned. I hadn't really thought about using this for photography. Thanks for the reminder.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck December 2, 2010 02:01 pm

    Hi

    This is a very relevant article and explains why The Rule of Thirds is just a crude interpretation of how the eye and mind work in relation to the ways of nature. I try to incorporate this into my everyday compositions - just wish my D90 had an on screen overlay. This shot uses upper third rule

    http://wp.me/p11Vpv-99

    Regards, Erik

  • sumphotons December 2, 2010 10:46 am

    Nice article. This may be of interest to Photoshop users - http://goldencrop.sourceforge.net

  • toomanytribbles December 2, 2010 10:37 am

    here's one with the curve superimposed:
    http://img528.imageshack.us/img528/4323/silversounionfibonacci.jpg

    original on flickr here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/toomanytribbles/4478743475/lightbox/

    (it looks like the embed image feature isn't working.)

  • juan December 2, 2010 10:36 am

    Does anyone sell a Fibonacci grid to put onto the viewfiner?

  • toomanytribbles December 2, 2010 10:35 am

    here's one with the curve superimposed:

    [eimg url='http://img528.imageshack.us/img528/4323/silversounionfibonacci.jpg' title='silversounionfibonacci.jpg']

    original on flickr here:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/toomanytribbles/4478743475/lightbox/

  • James Brandon December 2, 2010 10:05 am

    Thanks for all the kind words everyone, glad you enjoyed the article! Now show me some of your images that you used the ratio on!

  • Kiran December 2, 2010 09:31 am

    Amazing article. Very studious :)

  • Efrain December 2, 2010 09:05 am

    furthermore... if you lookup for "steroids" the "oid" part has an ancient greek root... so the article screams "Greeks" all over the place. (Thank God it's not "geek").

    In other words, Toomanytribbles: we won't let go so easy!!!

    P.S: Just kidding... I just felt the need to clarify that up. :)

  • toomanytribbles December 2, 2010 08:45 am

    ah... you see... read on, and James Brandon understood the spirit of my note.

  • toomanytribbles December 2, 2010 08:43 am

    @lori waller

    wow -- what a reaction.

    of course that's not all i got from the article. i liked the article... it was very well written, informative and the images were great. i wasn't criticizing the article at all...

    i was just clearing up a tiny point, as it sounded funny to me.

    i'm not trolling, so chill.

  • AR Cherian December 2, 2010 07:52 am

    Such a helpful article. Thanks for taking the time to write it and improve photographs worldwide! The videos really helped me understand.

  • Henrique Lopes December 2, 2010 05:15 am

    You can also make use of the golden spiral and golden ratio if you use Lightroom.

    While in the Develop Module, click the Tools Menu then "Crop Guide Overlay and pick Golden Ratio or Golden Spiral. Note that you have to lock your crop aspect to a 2 x 3 in order for it to be correct.

    Also you can use the "O" to cycle through the different overlay options while the crop tool is active.

  • George Drakey December 2, 2010 03:59 am

    Kudos to Mr. Brandon - this is the best article I have read this year.

  • Marie Glynn December 2, 2010 03:42 am

    Marvelous article. Thank you so much!

  • Peter December 2, 2010 02:55 am

    FYI: Lightroom already has The Golden Rule overlay as a grid and spiral as well as rule of thirds and diagonals. When in crop mode press o and scroll through them all.

  • Tim Drumm December 2, 2010 02:42 am

    This was super helpful! Thanks!!!

  • Ashley Gillett December 2, 2010 02:08 am

    Never mind. Just looked it up. I hadn't realized that I could toggle through a whole bunch of crop overlays. Too cool. :)

  • Ashley Gillett December 2, 2010 02:02 am

    Is there a way to do this in Lightroom (a cropping overlay or something)?

  • Efrain December 2, 2010 01:45 am

    Yeah... and neither they invented the test releases for new software version... hehe

    What I meant (sorry for the "probably") was that greeks (Pythagoras, Euclid) were actually the first ones to discover this ratio... they didn't name it "Phi" though.

    Anyway, I think the contents of the article are worth more than a discussion about dates and origins of what not...

  • Hank December 2, 2010 01:43 am

    It is especially present in music, too. Especially in the Baroque era. The "Hallelujah Chorus" has a solo trumpet, descending back to the original key of D Major at exactly .612 of the total number of measures in the movement... truly amazing! Was it planned? Or just a result of a genius in composition....

  • James Brandon December 2, 2010 01:36 am

    Lol, sorry for the B.C. blunder, duh

  • James Brandon December 2, 2010 01:33 am

    Yes this is interesting toomanytribbles. From my research, it was really put into use during the Renaissance. I mentioned the parthenon because it's believed that this ratio was used in it's architecture, however there is no record of that being done. The architecture of it just adds up to the ratio. Thanks for pointing that out!

  • MillerP December 2, 2010 01:28 am

    Just being a stickler for details: Fibonacci should be dated to 1200 A.D. (not B.C.) *wink*

  • Andrius December 2, 2010 01:21 am

    Thank you for great article.

    Can you explain please how should I use your overlays in Photoshop?

  • Kat December 2, 2010 12:56 am

    Loved this article -- thank you. Trying this out is just the inspiration I needed to pick up my camera again.

  • lori waller December 2, 2010 12:34 am

    what an incredible article James. Thank you so much for writing about this! I'll be thinking about this from now on when making a composition!

    toomanytribbles - are you kidding me? all you took from this entire article was the parthenon was built before the renaissance? stop trolling the article for minor things and look at the big picture.

  • fortunato_uno December 2, 2010 12:34 am

    I've been shooting with this in mind for some time (found it came naturally). I know it is in play when I watch people as they look at my photos, you can actually see thier eyes go in a spiral around the image.

  • John A. December 2, 2010 12:29 am

    Velocity divided by the speed of light is called beta, but I'm pretty sure the ancient Greeks didn't discover the theory of special relativity.

  • Michael Petersheim December 2, 2010 12:24 am

    Sorry, that's a minor detail; love the article, it was illuminating for me and the overlays will certainly be useful to me, as well. Thanks!

  • James December 2, 2010 12:23 am

    Thank you, I have been interested in this for some time, but it has seemed a very complex subject to get my head around. This makes things a bit clearer!

  • John A. December 2, 2010 12:22 am

    1200 AD, actually.

  • Efrain December 2, 2010 12:22 am

    Yes but, if you think about it, one of the number's name is "Phi"... which probably means greeks found out about it before renaissance.

  • Michael Petersheim December 2, 2010 12:20 am

    Ehh... I think Fibonacci was 1200 AD, not 1200 BC. Right?

  • toomanytribbles December 2, 2010 12:03 am

    note: the parthenon was built before the renaissance.

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