The Golden Ratio as Basis for Harmonious Photography

Michael • updated July 18, 2022 • 7 min read

The Golden Ratio as Basis for Harmonious Photography

The subject is sharp, the details are clear, and the colors are well-balanced, but the picture is missing something. Then it’s probably because of the golden ratio or, better, because the photographer didn’t take the rule into account.

Here, you’ll find out what it’s all about and how to take good photos without much work.


 

How do you explain the Golden Ratio?

What sounds scary and hard at first is actually pretty easy in the end: the golden ratio is just the division of proportions. This method comes from geometry, where it is used to describe the ideal proportions of a mathematical body, such as the lengths of its edges.

If you look at a geometric figure, its sides need to be in certain proportions to each other for it to look natural. If they aren’t, it looks strange. The golden ratio is very important in architecture, art, and, of course, photography because of this.

Illustration Golden Ratio Formular
Illustration Golden Ratio Formular

Especially if you are just starting out as a photography beginner, this rule can help you learn how to divide an image better. Over time, you’ll learn how to put important parts of the picture in the right place and how depth of field affects how well you can focus.

If all of this is going too fast for you, this guide has a short explanation of the basics of photography and the most important technical terms.

But now we’ll look in more detail at the Golden Ratio and how it can help you take photos that look good.

Learn the basics about the Golden Ratio

You may remember learning how to figure out the golden ratio in middle school math. If you don’t remember, let’s refresh your memory and explain why this geometric approach can help you in everyday photography.

The golden ratio has been around since ancient times. But it is still just as important today as it was then. It divides each body’s parts into the most pleasing way to look at them. You can see what this ratio looks like for a rectangle in the picture.

Illustration Golden Ratio example flower photo
Illustration Golden Ratio example flower photo, @1195798

It is especially important in art, which means that it is also important in photography. There, it helps painters, sculptors, and photographers break up their subjects into parts that look good.

When you put the two rectangles from the last example on top of each other, you make a grid. This grid shows how to divide an image so that it looks good in any composition.

This grid can be used for any shot, no matter what the subject is or where the camera is. Whether you’re taking pictures of people, landscapes, or other things, the golden section will make sure that your pictures are perfectly balanced and eye-catching.

This rule is especially important if you want to make a picture with a person and an interesting background that has a lot of atmosphere.

Here, it’s hard for many new photographers to know where the person should be in the picture and how much of the background should be on the lens.

Finding the golden ratio

Since the golden ratio is an old mathematical idea, we all learn about it at some point in school. But after graduation, people tend to forget about it again. Still, it can be very useful in everyday situations.

It can help you take beautiful photos, whether you’re using a DSLR camera or a smartphone. This will almost certainly get you a few more likes on Instagram. In general, it can be used in a number of ways.

The rule of thirds

It’s not the only thing out there. In photography, many rules have come up about how to divide and put together an image. The so-called “rule of thirds” is one of them. With this rule, each image is split into three equal-sized parts across and down. 

Calculate golden section

If you want to learn more about the golden ratio ahead of time, you can use the Internet to find calculators and suggestions for calculations.

These websites are especially interesting for kids and students because they give exact information to four decimal places. But this is less interesting in daily life, especially for people who like photography.

Illustration Golden Ratio example macro photography bee ob blossom
Illustration Golden Ratio example macro photography, @Alexas_Fotos

Fibonacci spiral

The so-called Fibonacci spiral is a type of the golden section. To get this, you need a rectangle with sides that are 1:1.618. Using the golden section to divide this, the larger area is a square in which a quarter circle is drawn.

If you do the same thing with the other surfaces, you end up with something that looks like a spiral. You don’t have to make your own templates because you can find them on the Internet.

Then, use a photo editor to place the template over a photo so that the main subject is in the middle of the spiral and crop it to fit. If your photo has a lot of empty space and you don’t know how to crop it to make it look right, the Fibonacci spiral can help.

Illustration Golden Ratio example street photography
Illustration Golden Ratio example street photography, @kantsmith

How do I get the best results?

Do not get too close to the thing you want to photograph. Leave some space on the left and right sides of the image so that you can set up the “golden section” or “rule of thirds” on the computer later.

This is much more flexible than having to pay attention to the perfect image composition while shooting. When cropping, you can choose an image composition like the golden section and an aspect ratio like 3:2 at the same time.

Don’t stick to the rules of composition too strictly. The rule of thirds or the golden ratio are not always the best ways to put things together.

For example, don’t crop the main subject too closely and make sure the whole picture looks good, even if it doesn’t follow the “laws” of image layout.

Illustration Golden Ratio example landscape photography
Illustration Golden Ratio example landscape image, @Bessi

Display the grid on the camera

If you find it hard to imagine a pattern and find the right camera position by looking at the diagrams above, you can set your camera to show you a grid. Note, though, that this pattern is not the golden ratio in a direct way.

Most of the time, the so-called “grid lines” are different and divide the image into several parts, sometimes into thirds and sometimes into quarters, depending on the manufacturer.

Still, they help people who are just starting out with photography line up their pictures straight and learn to tell the difference between important and unimportant subjects.

So you can line up important parts of the image with thirds or fourths, place them clearly on lines that cross, and get a better idea of how to hold your camera and line up the zoom to get what you want.

Show grid lines on Nikon

On Nikon DSLR cameras, the grids are always hidden in the same place. So it doesn’t matter which camera model you own, you will always find the function via the following path:

  • Turn on your camera and press the menu button.
  • Navigate via the arrows to Capture.
  • Press the right arrow in your navigation pad to switch to the fine submenu at Capture.
  • Now click through to Record and View and select this menu by pressing the Play button.
  • Now you will be presented with several options. Here you will find the option to display grid lines. Switch to On here.
  • Depending on the camera you have the possibility to choose between several grids. However, this option is different for each model. 

Show grid lines on Canon

Unlike Nikon, Canon does not offer the option to display grid lines in the viewfinder. However, you can use this method in Live View. To do so, proceed as follows:

  • Switch your Canon camera to Live View. This means that your image is captured via the display and not via the viewfinder, similar to a compact digital camera.
  • To do this, simply press the Live button on the housing. This is marked by a small camera and a red dot.
  • The camera now automatically splits the image and divides your display into even thirds using fine lines.

Show grid lines on Sony

Sony cameras allow the insertion of grids in several formats: 3×3, 6×4 and 4×4. In this way, the camera manufacturer tries to make it easier for beginners to get started with photography:

  • Navigate to Menu. On newer models, this is often also displayed via a small gear.
  • Go to Grid line.
  • Now make the desired setting. Try out a little here which grid helps you best and best combats your problems with image composition.

Use the viewfinder grid

If your camera doesn’t have grid lines in the viewfinder, you can still use the focus points as a guide. Every viewfinder has a grid of small dots that show which parts of the image are in focus and which are not.

If you have autofocus turned on, the camera will decide for itself what part of the picture to focus on. The small red dot briefly lights up at that point.

If you quickly look at the other points, you can mentally draw lines between the focus points. This creates a grid in your mind that you can use to get a good sense of where you are when taking photos.

Perfect for people photograhy

What seems like a good idea in theory doesn’t always work out in real life. But things are a little different with the golden ratio. Here, a slight change to the rule of thumb gives the photo a nice perspective and makes it work.

Illustration Golden Ratio example people photography beach
Illustration Golden Ratio example people, @adamkontor

The picture shows a person standing in front of a skyline. In the sense of the golden section, he is standing at a point that is almost ideal. The lines of the rule of thumb meet about in the middle of the person’s body.

This makes sure that the person is in focus without taking up the whole picture. More than a third of the picture is taken up by the city skyline, which adds to the balance between the busy background and the calm sky.

If you choose a different crop for the same image, the way it is put together no longer makes sense. The horizon of the city is too low, the person is not in the right place, and the sky takes up most of the picture as a whole.

The lines of the golden section move away from the person and toward the empty space in the picture, which makes the picture look bad.

The golden ratio in Photoshop

You can still use the golden ratio after editing an image in Photoshop as long as you put a grid on top of your image as a layer. Align your main idea with one of the four corners, and then fade out the grid.

You can cut away the rest without worry. At the end of the article, you’ll find a transparent.png file that you can open in Photoshop or another image editor.


Frequently asked question

What proportions correspond to the golden ratio?

The golden ratio is a design rule that tells you how to divide a distance or other size into two equal parts. The ratio is 1:1.618, and many people find it to be very harmonious. Because of this, artists, architects, and designers often use this rule of proportion.

How did the Golden Ratio get its name?

Euclid was the first person to give a clear description of the Golden Ratio (325 to 270 B.C.). Since then, it has been found in math, works of art and architecture, music, and especially in nature. During the Renaissance, the golden section was at its best.

Why does the golden Reatio appear harmonious?

The ratios of small parts to large parts and large parts to the whole are always the same. The proportions are all the same, which gives the impression of perfection and makes us think that the parts are all the same, even though they are not.

For readings on the Golden Ratio:

The Grid/Golden Ratio
The Golden Ratio and Fibonaccin Ratio
Applying the Golden Ratio to Layouts and Rectangles
This Is Also The Golden Ratio
Golden Ratio in Pascal’s Triangle


Conclusion

The golden ratio helps us make pictures that look good and fit together well. This makes sense, especially if you take a picture of a similar theme. But you can also choose to do something different.

The only thing that matters is being aware of how you take pictures. Here, faded-in lines in the camera or later in an image editor can help. At some point, though, you will have learned the golden ratio so well that you won’t really need the guidelines anymore.

 

What is your take on a Golden Ratio as Basis for Harmonious Photography? Let us know in the comments.

By Furoore team member Michael
Furoore Team is here to assist you in capturing the most significant moments in your life. To create exciting photographs, discover photography guides, find unique photo ideas, and limitless image inspiration.

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