Using the Golden Ratio in Photography
Photo by Juliana Malta

So, you’ve learned and mastered the rule of thirds (if not, do so at once), and you are ready to get a little more advanced with framing and composition. You’ve heard about the golden ratio in photography and want to give it a try. My, you are an ambitious one. 

The rule of thirds is pretty straightforward and intuitive, after all. It’s a simple rule that says the main elements of your photo should appear about one-third of the way into the frame. This visually divides your image into three equal parts, ultimately making your image more pleasing to the eye. It’s as easy as one, two, three. 

When it comes to the golden ratio, otherwise known as the divine proportion or golden mean, the math gets a little more complicated. Below, we’ll explain what the golden ratio is, how you can use it, and take a look at some golden ratio photography examples.

What Is the Golden Ratio in Photography?

An example of the golden ratio in photography
Photo by Frank Busch

In short, the golden ratio is 1 to 1.618, also expressed as 1:1.618. To explain where that oddly specific number comes from, we have to dive into some history.

Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio

The golden ratio comes from the Fibonacci sequence, named after a 13th century Italian mathematician. To get the sequence, he started with 0 and 1. He added 0+1 to get 1. Then, he added 1+1 to get 2, 1+2 to get 3, 2+3 to get 5, 3+5 to get 8, and so on, always adding the previous two sums.  

The Fibonacci sequence continues like this for infinity. But wait, what does this have to do with the number above? 

Well, it turns out that when you divide any two consecutive Fibonacci numbers (at least, those higher than 2), you come away with something close to 1.618. For example, 89 divided by 55 equals 1.618.  Additionally, when you divide the total of the two numbers (89 + 55 = 144) by the larger number (89), it also equals 1.618. Math can be pretty cool sometimes, right?

When visualized geometrically, the golden ratio is (arguably) visually pleasing. While its use in art and design is sometimes exaggerated, there are some notable examples of artists using the golden ratio as a composition technique. The surrealist artist Salvador Dali specifically used the golden ratio in The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955), one of his most celebrated artworks. Below, we elaborate on how you can apply the golden ratio in photography.

How to Use the Golden Ratio 

There are different ways to use the golden ratio in photography. The two standard means of applying it as a composition technique are the golden ratio grid and the golden spiral.

The Golden Ratio Grid

The Golden Ratio Grid

The golden ratio grid, or the phi grid, cuts your frame into a series of 1:1.618 lines. While the rule of thirds divides your frame into three equal sections, the phi grid creates three irregular yet orderly sections. Just as with the rule of thirds, placing your objects at the intersections of the lines results in an effective shot.

The Golden Spiral 

The golden spiral is a logarithmic spiral with a growth factor equaling the golden ratio
The golden spiral is a logarithmic spiral with a growth factor equaling the golden ratio.

To use the golden spiral method, first visualize your frame as what’s called the golden rectangle. Like the golden ratio grid, the golden rectangle features straight line segments using the 1:1.618 ratio, dividing the rectangle into squares of different sizes.

The golden spiral or Fibonacci spiral curves up from the corner of the largest square to the opposite corner, then continues curving into each smaller square. In all, it forms a logarithmic spiral similar to what you might see on a snail shell. 

Just as framing a photograph using the rule of thirds can make your image more compelling, so too can framing the objects or focal points of your photograph along the golden spiral.


An example of the golden ratio in photography
Photo by Léonard Cotte

Using the golden ratio in photography is less intuitive than the rule of thirds. However, if you’re not afraid of a challenge, try applying the golden ratio as a composition technique during your next shoot. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that a simple mathematical equation can help you produce more visually interesting imagery. 


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