Understanding the Golden Ratio in Photography


Making a photograph is undoubtedly a creative process. But like in any other field of art, there are also rules and principles. Although these days, they are very often violated or ignored. However, to create hyper-avant-garde photographs, you still need to know them. One of the most powerful compositional rules of photography art is the golden ratio. You may also have heard it referred to as "divine proportion." According to it, you should divide a frame into nine parts:

  • two lines horizontally;
  • two vertically. 

At the intersection of the lines are four points. These are the so-called attention nodes. They are the most active areas of photography. They attract the most attention. You should place the main objects and accents there and on the lines. Everyone wants to know how to take good photos. Read our article to learn more about this technique.

What is the Golden Ratio in Photography?

What is the Golden Ratio in Photography

The golden ratio is the basis for constructing geometric proportions for:

  • drawings;
  • paintings;
  • architectural structures;
  • images;
  • photographs. 

Knowing the rules of the golden ratio allows the photographer to compose the photography work "Elements". He wrote it about 300 years B.C. There he applied the principle of dividing a segment into:

  1. extreme ratios;
  2. average ratios.

He used this to construct a regular pentagon called the golden ratio.

  • According to another version, mankind should be grateful to Pythagoras. He made this discovery and told others about it. But Pythagoras was not only a famous mathematician but also a mystic. Therefore, the discovery of this rule encompassed mystical meanings and otherworldly meanings. The great thinker's followers did not think about such speculations. They used only this rule to create beautiful sculptures, structures, and bas-reliefs.

Mathematical interpretation

We can know what the golden ratio is.The golden ratio is the proportional division of the segment AC into two parts. Its larger part AB refers to the smaller part, BC, in the same way, the segment AC refers to AB. The brief notation of this proportion is as follows: AB: BC - AC: AB. When writing the proportion in fractions, it would look like this: 5/8. This figure is close to the frame standard: 24x36 mm = 5:7.5 = 2:3.

Using The Golden Ratio in Photography

Using The Golden Ratio in Photography

The power points formed by the intersection of the lines in the grid attract the most attention. So put accents on them and emphasize the main figures and objects.

The golden ratio in photography is a classic. Therefore, every photographer should be aware of its features. If you place these photos in your portfolio, you will show professionalism. You can apply it to pictures of different genres. If you want to master your craft professionally. The most difficult thing here is to arrange all the objects in the frame in harmony. Do not overload the photo with a lot of objects that you want to stop your attention. It will be enough to highlight two or three moments. At the intersection of the photography balance, place the most interesting and important moments in your picture. It is also important to position the obvious center of the composition correctly:

  • the lonely figure of a person;
  • a tree;
  • the brightest car. 

It should be at the intersection of the grid so that it is a third from the bottom or the top of the frame or a third from each side. Read more about applying the golden spiral below.

Shooting people with a golden spiral

In a portrait, it's best to emphasize the eyes or lips. Position them at the points where the lines intersect. You should focus on the person's emotions, showing their character and temperament.

In a waist-length portrait, you can apply the same rules for the eyes and the lips. But sometimes the arms are also an essential part of the picture and can have different states: 

  • crossed;
  • spread out;
  • in any other poses.

So you can put them on the line of section. Let them play an important role in the frame, too.

Leave space in the photo that comes after the person's gaze. So, if the person is looking to the right, place them on the left sectional line. 

You can position a full-length model on the far right or left split line. In this way, the viewers will have a background. So they may convey the setting and atmosphere around the picture's hero. Such photos one wants to look at and catch the fine details.

When taking pictures of multiple people, placing them in the center of the frame is not necessary. You can also use the golden ratio art rule. It can make the shot more original and interesting. Position the people in the frame so that each falls on two lines or grid points.

The same rules apply to taking pictures of animals and even still lives - don't be afraid to experiment!

Landscape Photography

There are two nuances in landscape photography that are worth knowing about first:

  • First, the presence of the horizon line divides the photograph into two parts. The horizontal line separates the sky from the ground. You often hear the phrase, "the horizon is tilted."  It means that the boundary line does not conform to the golden ratio rule but is slanted to one side. You should not allow it. In the end, you will get real photography balance.
  • Secondly, the location of the horizon line. It can be either in the upper or lower third. You have to decide whether to leave more space for the sky or the earth. It all depends on where you place the more interesting and colorful objects. By shifting the horizon down, you open up the view of the sky: 
    • you can do it with beautiful clouds and stars;
    • have a beautiful sunset or color combinations. 

By placing the line higher, we accentuate the earth. We show details of the landscape,   beautiful nature, buildings, and other objects. 

  • You can break the second rule for the golden ratio photography, but be very carefull. Do you want to make a mirror image where the sky will be visible on the surface of the ground? Put the horizon line strictly in the middle. So that you don't miss anything unnecessary and accurately convey the mirror effect. So you can show both the beauty of the sky and its reflection.
  • You need to get rid of excessive monotony in the frame. For example, when the image shows a combination of calm water surface and the sky, that does not stand out. Learn to make accents with extra objects: look for a shot with a boat, people, or a beautiful building on the shore. Don't forget about using vertical section lines. It is essential in golden ratio art.
  • The composition should have bright elements that attract attention. A good technique is using contrasts: 
    • a lit fire in an evening landscape;
    • bright lanterns on a gray street;
    • a large standing-out object against a desert landscape. 

Such accents will serve as an "anchor" to which the viewer will cling while viewing the images.

Shooting in motion

Dynamic shots, like the rest, should follow the rules of composition. The most commonly used scheme is when you position a moving object:

  • vertically to the right or left;
  • offset to the side.

And there is a free space in front of it. This method is the best way to show dynamics. Shoot cars, animals, and people at slow shutter speed to achieve the effect of movement.

We recommend placing your subjects along the left vertical of the golden spiral. That way, you show them moving forward. Autofocus is an incredibly handy thing for taking pictures of moving objects. We recommend that you first activate the focus by not pressing the shutter button all the way down. And then lower the shutter fully at a convenient moment. Before shooting, you need to make sure that your camera is stable. It is best to use a tripod, as it is extremely difficult to shoot this kind of scene handheld. A remote control or timer is ideal. 

What are the rules of the diagonal golden ratio photography?

There is another kind of golden ratio - diagonal. Applying a diagonal grid to the picture is necessary. Especially if you want to build the composition according to this rule. You should locate the main objects of the photo in large segments formed by this grid.

  • First rule. Divide the lower and upper edges of the frame according to the golden ratio rule. Draw a line to the right edge of the bottom of the image. Start from the golden ratio point on the right side of the top of the frame. From the golden ratio point on the left side of the bottom edge of the image, draw a line up to the left edge of the photo. Draw a diagonal line from the upper right edge to the lower left edge. All the main objects should be in the two largest sections. Use this golden ratio art rule;
  • Second rule. In the rectangle, we draw a diagonal. Then you have to draw a perpendicular from the vertex. You draw it to the already drawn diagonal. The result is three triangles of different sizes. You will see significant objects in them. This rule is usually used when several areas in the frame differ in meaning.

Use The Most Important Composition Rules On-The-Go

Use The Most Important Composition Rules On-The-Go

At all times, artists have painted their masterpieces using the rule of the golden ratio art. The study of many famous works found that some composition points attract the eye. You locate four such points at a distance of 5/8 and 3/8 of the respective edges of the composition. Draw a grid and get these points in the intersection of lines. The eye is always focused on these points, whatever the format of the image.

Applying the Golden Ratio principle in photography is extremely easy. In the settings of most modern cameras, there is such a function as "Grid." It is enough to turn it on and observe the following recommendations for photography balance:

  • At the points of lines intersection of the golden ratio are the most significant element. Suppose the frame has an obvious center (the brightest flower, a tree, a single boat on the sea waves). In that case, you need to position this object on one of the four intersections of the grid so that it is a third from the bottom or top of the frame or a third from each side;
  • You can apply vertical grid lines to divide the frame vertically. For example, when shooting a building between trees, it is better to position it one-third back from the top edge and one-third back from the left edge. This way, the viewer's attention will be focused exactly on the building, bypassing the trees;
  • Horizontal grid lines are usually used to define the location of the horizon line. It is better if the horizon line goes along the upper line of the grid.  If it is necessary to highlight the scene's foreground.  As a result, you get the landscape ratio: of 2:1. If you want to emphasize the sky, it is better to place the horizon line along the lower grid line.

Bottom Line

Now you know what the golden ratio is. Remember that just putting a significant object in the right place is not enough. You'll only create the right accent when it's properly highlighted. Whether to apply this rule depends on each individual situation, but it's something every person interested in photography needs to know. Works made by the rules of the golden ratio can greatly decorate your portfolio. This will show potential buyers your professional approach to work. After all, when people can see the high quality of the result of your work, they are more likely to turn to you.

With the Portfoliobox, you will be able to create your masterpiece using all the acquired skills of a photographer! Place your works in visual order, and use accented photos in the center of your portfolio! With an easy site builder, you can show everyone that you know how the golden ratio works! So do not hesitate to contact our staff. They are always happy to help talented creators.


How do you apply the rule of thirds in a composition?

You should divide the frame into three even parts, horizontally and vertically. It should produce the grid shown in the image below. The essence of the rule is that the most visually receptive objects are at the intersections of the lines.

Which standard photo size is closest to the golden ratio?

The 111 × 180 mm photo format is the closest to the golden ratio as it is made based on this phenomenon. You can use it for different styles. However, it works best in landscape photography.

Why is the golden ratio better than the rule of thirds?

The Golden Ratio is a bit more challenging to use, but when you use it to align basic objects (such as a facial portrait), it can produce the most pleasing compositions. That's why it's the best perception for the human eye.

How do I adjust the golden ratio for my phone camera?

To master this technique, mentally draw four lines through the viewfinder or LCD screen to make a 3 x 3 grid. Position the subject in the right or left a third of the frame, not directly in the center. It makes for a more interesting and attractive photo than one with the subject in the center. 

An online portfolio made for Creatives

With all the tools a professional needs

  • Dynamic Grid
  • Even Rows
  • Golden Ratio
  • Square Ratio
  • Align Center
  • Puzzle
  • Random
  • Horizontal
  • Horizontal 2
  • Horizontal 3
  • Vertical
  • Two-One
  • Three-One

Get started for free

Create your online portfolio website now

Build your own portfolio