Composition, The Rule of Thirds and The Golden Ratio
How do we know what looks good in a picture or design and why?
No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it, and is sure of his method and composition. — Claude Monet
The rule of thirds.
It is interesting and curious, how did we evolve into deciding what we like to look at? Color, form, lines, contrast, shape and intensity are some of the variables involved. Can you talk about what it is you like about the way a view of something appears to you? It can be on the internet, with text and images arranged just so.
Or, on the TV program you have going in the background right now. It’s defined on the art you chose to hang on your walls and maybe most importantly on the faces of those you love most.
Today, there only two established rules I desire to talk about. The Rule of Thirds and the Golden Mean or Ratio.
Good composition is like a suspension bridge — each line adds strength and takes none away. — Robert Henri
The image shown above is my newest of the Nations Capital in Washington DC at sunrise. I have placed a grid over it illustrating the 9 sections representing the rule of thirds. The rules asks us to place the important elements into the grid in thirds.
Although I’ve never heard anyone say or teach this, I believe the rule of thirds originated because people were all looking at each other.
Notice the rule of thirds grid here placed over the Courtney’s beautiful face.
I pay a lot of attention to composition in my art, and I will often shift myself or change a pose according to the golden triangle rule of photography composition — Sasha Pivovarova
Can you see how each spot where the lines intersect there is something of interest to look at? This is no accident in this portrait and neither is it inside our brains as it calculates and decides what is pleasing behind or Cornea before hitting the Retina.
I believe this is how we decided where the points of interest should be in anything we are looking at. Her eyes fall into the grid that cover the top third of the frame. Then look at how here mouth falls into the lower horizontal line and the edges of her lips just almost touch the vertical lines representing the thirds.
If you refer back now to the first image I posted about no rules you can see what I was illustrating there. The subject of interest is directly in the center of the frame. This is a rule, it should not be done like that in theory, but it works in the example. The center of interest is so strong, the rule does not apply. Our eye does not care what surrounds that little message , in this case.
Knowing how to use these rules, or break them is what makes the difference between a casual photographer or illustrator, and a professional who can attract high earnings.
The Golden Ratio
My father taught me to paint when I was young with watercolors and so I learned at a very young age the essential elements of the value of light and composition. — Matthew Modine
The Golden Ratio also refereed to as the Golden Mean can be explained with math. That’s where my brain says “we are out”, but I’ll try just for a minute.
Wikipedia says “ In mathematics, two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. The figure on the right illustrates the geometric relationship”
Let me explain it this way, no math, our eyes like to look at S curves and C curves. Can you see the C curve in the Golden Ration graphic place over my Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse photo? Can you see how the Sun is positioned right on the line in the left side of the image. The curved lines lead right down to another interesting part of the image, the light keepers house.
The main subject of interest, the lighthouse, is placed on the vertical line. To me, the lines indicate where my eye will naturally go in the image. It’s like a roadmap for my vision, when done correctly, the viewer is mesmerized almost unable to look away. The eye seems trapped inside the image following the lines in and around and around.
As an adult after years of making graphics and images and earning an Associates Degree in Graphic Design, I still can’t spell associates without spell checker. But what I found out was, I know these principles somehow intuitively, likely from my fascination as a boy with Mad Magazine and all advertising graphics.
I would visit the local grocery stores and dig in the trash pulling out discarded point of purchase promo materials. To my Mother’s dismay, I dragged these items home making interior design improvements in my room.
At one time, I had found the mascot for General Mills Foods the Green Giant as a life-size prop that stood on it’s own. Of course, I had to bring it home, placing it against the wall at the foot of my bed. Many times I woke up half way in the night and was scared out of my wits unable to move thinking someone was in my room, I finally had to say goodbye to Jolly.
Some cameras have a GRID function that allows you to turn on one or both of these layover graphics. In that way you can see them super imposed over your composition in the viewfinder. I have my thirds grid turned on all the time and refer to it as I scan over a scene while photographing.
Far more thought and care go into the composition of any prominent ad in a newspaper or magazine than go into the writing of their features and editorials. — Marshall McLuhan
Ok, it feels like time to fly….
I hope you found some value in this article, if you did please follow the links below for more of my recent work, maybe another will resonate.
© Christopher Boswell 2019. All Rights Reserved.
When Christopher isn’t writing from wherever, he can be found traveling or capturing photographs somewhere in the United States. He may be generating Graphic Design, building a website, processing images or video, flying his Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, wrangling dogs, or backpacking and kayaking. He lives in Tacoma, WA. We invite you to learn more about Christopher at Real Window Creative
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