Project 13: The Golden Section

Project 13:  The Golden section

The golden section! Or should it read the clear as mud section, should you venture into any depth on this, I am sure you will become slightly confused (unless you are a member of MENSA).

the golden section -Fibonacci spiral

The Golden Section -Fibonacci Spiral

Golden Section (Golden Ratio) is a proportion, in which a straight line (or a rectangle) is divided into two unequal parts in such a way, that the ratio of the smaller to the greater part is the same as that of the greater part to the whole

I understand this has been with us since the beginning of time, I understand that its all about mathematics and geometry (not that I am up to speed with geometry), I understand that it is considered in architecture and some of our greatest artists of all times (Leonardo da Vinci and Salvador Dalí) used it in their paintings, I also know that, it is also known as the Golden Ratio, the Golden Mean and The Divine Proportion. I now understand (after some research) why… its all to do with aesthetics and its application to yield pleasing, harmonious proportions. What I don’t understand is why have the big names in camera manufacturers not added it as an on/off option in their systems, surely this will guide/steer/show/remind photographers of this principle at the time of capture, as appose to overlaying with a trace then cropping during post production, surly this is not the way forward.

What I have noticed is that the golden section does not line up with the rule of thirds (its close but there), which what is now becoming obviously clear, is probably the only rule of composition I knew before starting this course. So will I use it?.. well I will certainly bear it in mind before I press the shutter release button, but without the facility on my camera to guide me, for now I will have to prime my eye to identifying pleasing and harmonious proportions through the view finder.

So on with my images for this project.. because I have spent way too long researching this theory, I am going to pull some old images I have taken in the past, overlay them with my golden mean then analyse them…
Images to follow…


frame uncropped

frame uncropped

Obviously the same image, the image above is full frame as i seen it through the view finder, the flower head and the stalk are pretty central, and don’t really comply with either the rule of thirds or the golden section, however, the image below, after some slight cropping, the flower head and the seed pod fall nicely, maybe i should have rotated CW to bring the stalk in line with the vertical line and moved the image up a bit more?

frame cropped

frame cropped

For me this image has three main elements; the train the tunnel and the temple on the cliff top. (you may include the fence as a lead-in line) although only two of these elements fall on one of the lines, it is still pleasing to the eye, this is probably because of the balance of these three elements.


train balance

I found this overlay that I used in this project. Copy and paste it into Photoshop, it will open up a an object then insert your image into it but below the layer of the object, then free transform either until the outside edges line up with the other outside edges… Danahaa

the golden section

the golden section

After posting an image (the one above) on E-photozine lastnight, it stired up a question i thought i had put the answer to in this section, after reading what i had written, i decided to add to it as i felt it did not fully explain what i had learnt and what my understaning of it was, so this evening i have spent updating this section (still wanting to leave what i have already posted):

All images are divided by some feature, either a road running through the centre of it, or a moon in the sky, so far I have always tried to place these main features on one of the lines of thirds, why? Because a good friend (D) of mine told me about the rule of thirds when I first got interested in photography, this was later confirmed in almost all photography books, stating that basically, it is more pleasing to the eye, to have these features on these lines, and better still on the intersections, very easy. These lines divided the frame equally into nine parts.

rule of thirds

My first camera had a feature to show or hide this grid to aid me in selection of placement of features in the viewfinder before releasing the shutter; I also used it to check if my images were straight (my images were always straight, really…it was my camera that was lob-sided).

Now the golden section, dates way back to the Greeks (or should it read geeks) who studied geometry, so what? It doesn’t really mean anything to the photographer apart from its makes pretty patterns (stars, triangles bla bla)… well we like pretty don’t we? Of course we do, we don’t just go out and buy quilt covers straight from the shelf without going through the ritual of trailing around all the shops (including shoe shops) on the high street. Because some patterns to some people are more pleasing than other patterns are to other people, and that’s design (I sound like Louis Vuitton). Now whether we are designing quilt covers or photographs things need to go in certain positions for people to like them.
In the renaissance, the architects and artists created their buildings and artwork to the proportions of the golden ratio, why because they believed that it was pleasing to the eye

golden section

golden section

Another geek this time an Italian mathematician called Fibonacci, studying more geometry takes it further … or refining it, coming up the Fibonacci divisions then moving not away from straight lines but including curves giving us the Fibonacci spiral that can be seen in many examples of nature.

Fibonacci Divisions

Fibonacci Divisions

Fibonacci Spiral

Fibonacci Spiral








So how do we use them? The same way as we us the rule of thirds, the principle is that any of these sub divisions that meet or intersections, this makes (generally) a good position to place your points of interest or points of focus.
What are we going to do with it then? As I said in an earlier post in this section, its unlikely that we will get the facility from the camera manufacturers as an show/hide option, therefore read it understand it bear it in mind when you release the shutter, do not ignore them, there are after all pleasing to the eye, and that is what we are trying to achieve (well I am any way) in our pictures, but the majority of your lining up, cropping and rotating, will be done in post processing.


click here to to see my references for this project


4 Responses to “Project 13: The Golden Section”

  1. Fascinating stuff, I must say I’m finding your blog very interesting!

    • Thank you very much Natalie, I have just had a look at your site.. the cutlery blew me away… wizardry… it really is a fantastic series. I thought this course would get me out with the camera more, but i seem to be doing more reading than releasing shutters. As for the Golden section, i must have spent 2 full days researching what it was all about, many blogs i looked at either left it out ( i understand why) or they lightly skipped over it. I know there is only a short page on my blog, but the research work i had to do to understand what it really meant… was painful. As for camera manufacturers building it into their cameras with an option to show, hide, flip horizontal, vertical and rotate how good would that be? that aside, my biggest problem at the moment is uploading images, some times it will and some times the computer says no. but i am enjoying it. Natalie, once again thank you for dropping by, Paddy

  2. I think the fact that you are doing all the research and reading shows a healthy enthusiasm for the subject. I did the same when I was doing a home study photography course. I read a book or two on each subject covered, rather than just reading the course notes. Mind you, despite all that reading, I had never come across the Fibonacci Spiral before I read about it here. Anyway, good luck with the rest of the course Paddy, looks to me as though you’re doing really well.

  3. excellent explanation given to clarify the golden rule of composition. it is really very much helpful and it removes all the cloud in my mind about this particular rule of composition.

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