Most photographers shoot “from the hip“, so to speak, and spend little or no time mastering the essentials of good photography. They use the camera like a gun site, aiming at the center of their interest, instead of creating a visual piece of art. Some photographers are instinctively talented and artistic in their work, while others can learn from the masters.
Rule of Thirds vs Golden Ratio
So, the first “golden” rule is the Rule of Thirds or Golden Ratio, a useful tool to achieve artistic photography. It affects the ratio (1:1.618) of a picture size, as well as the placement of the main subjects in the photo. This ratio is close to the 35mm ratio, so you don’t need to change the size of the photo in most cases.
Rule of Thirds vs Golden Mean
You need to consider the composition: The main subject should be positioned on one of the four lines or four intersections, the subject’s eye for example. These two rules are not the same. The Rule of Thirds is a simplified version – Close but not exact! – of the Golden Mean.
Probably you are reading this because you would like to know how to improve your photo techniques. What is the Golden Mean? Look at the examples here, read some articles. Yes, most experienced photographers know the Golden Rule of composition and use it almost innately. But until you start to use these simple techniques without thinking, you need to practice, think what is better and apply these rules till you’ve refined your talents.
I am not going to describe the mathematical basics of these rules because they are well described in other sources on the web, but here you will find some examples that could help you. There’s a plug-in available for Photoshop that creates the Golden Section by a company called Retouche.
This techniques is also referred to as The Golden Mean, or the Rule of Thirds. The artists of old discovered it and used it extensively in their paintings and architecture. Good photographers routinely use it to improve their photo composition.
If you take a picture and divide it into thirds diagonally and vertically, you have come close to the proportional Golden Section or Golden Mean — the best spot for placing your main subject or object of interest and the focal point of your picture.
To find the real story behind the Rule of Thirds, we need to go back in time — not to the Renaissance, nor to the Greeks, and not even to Adam or Eve, but much further — to the creation of the universe. Why is that? Read “The Greatest Story NEVER Told, by Yours Truly Ron Watson.
Nature’s Harmonic Unity
There is a number that determines how a sunflower’s seeds grow, determines the path a hawk takes when diving at its prey; it is echoed in the breeding habits of rabbits, and it even determines how the spirals in a spiral galaxy are laid out. It’s all very simple in its beauty, and best of all – it’s all true. Interestingly enough, this mathematical principle has been seen in artwork as early as 400 B.C. Today, we refer to this line by several names: the Golden Ratio, the Golden Mean, The Divine Proportion, but whatever you call it, you should notice that it does not line up with the rule of thirds. Almost but not quite…
Beauty is Ratio!
The ratio of the Golden Section when applied to art, photography, or architecture fulfills a certain aesthetic need in a man’s search for beauty. What you’re learning here was reserved for the mystery schools of old from Pythagoris to Michelangelo to Leonardo da Vinci. The work by Leonardo da Vinci, “The Magical Proportions of Man”, shows the Golden Section as a basis of measurement on the human body. This sacred proportion is the governing ratio in the Great Pyramid that has five sides and five corners. Further study of the geometry of the pyramid will reveal additional relationships to the pentacle.
Believe it or not, our definition of what’s attractive is more a matter of math than a matter or taste. In other words, the immediate internal decision about whether we’re attracted to something or someone is, largely, a highly mathematical process based on certain formulas – in this case, something referred to as the Golden Ratio showing up all over the human body, such as the length of the arms and legs, compared to the torso, and it seems to define what proportions look best.
Moreover, artists and sculptors have known about the Golden Ratio for a long time and have used it to create sculptures and artwork of the ideal human figure. Today, surgeons and dentists use it to restructure the human face following the magical proportions of the Golden Rule. The head forms a golden rectangle with the eyes at its midpoint, while the mouth and nose are each placed at golden sections of the distance between the eyes and the bottom of the chin.
Within the golden section is also found a ratio that is known as the Fibonacci sequences, found throughout nature in frailest of a pineapple, an uncoiling fern, in the design of a chambered nautilus sea shell, the leaf distribution of various plants and ivy and the bee hive architecture, which is governed by the genealogy of the drone bee.
Thus, the ‘Divine Section’ can now be shown to be one of the greatest factors for the just development of the proportional spaces in all flowers, plants, and shells, and so much is this the case that on the basis of the series 3:5:8:13… etc., a theory of proportion may be advanced that will approximately supply the requirements of all students in the art of design, and added to photography it makes an artist out of a photographer and separates the pro from the novice.
All aspiring photographers and photojournalists: May this help guide you in a profession that has endless possibilities and which brings the world of laughter and tears to view repeatedly.
“Photography is a love affair with life.” Burk Uzzle, 1938
“Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.”
Don McCullin, documentary photographer
“It’s about reacting to what you see, hopefully without preconception. You can find pictures anywhere. It’s simply a matter of noticing things and organising them. You just have to care about what’s around you and have a concern with humanity and the human comedy.”
Elliott Erwitt, 1928 a master of street photography known for its heartwarming charm.
–Ron Watson, American Press Association