The golden ratio is a mathematical representation of, what is widely considered, the most harmonious and appealing ratio. Its numerical value is equal to 1.618 and is represented by the Greek letter phi. If you were to represent the ratio on a grid, it will appear similar to the rule of thirds. However, as you can see below, the divisions are more heavily weighted towards the center as opposed to being equally divided into 3 sections like the rule of thirds. Even though the lines are more compressed towards the center they are still not smack in the middle. Like the rule of thirds, by placing your subjects on the intersecting lines you will be placing them slightly off center thus channeling more attention towards them.
Because this ratio is a mathematical formula, it can be visualized in various other ways besides a grid. For example, below you can see a crop of the same rose with a golden spiral and golden rectangle overlay. Notice how the horizontal line on the right is aligned perfectly with the image above? Regardless of which representation you choose to use for the application of the golden ratio, the underlying mathematical formula that determines the placement of the grind or overlay will always be the same.
The above diagram is also indicative of another interesting quality of the golden spiral. It is often found in nature. The spiral of some galaxies, the spiral of seashells, flowers and even the human body can contain this ratio of proportions.
Since we are discussing a bit of math and have already covered squares, rectangles and circles it seems we are still missing something. Oh that’s right, we can’t forget about the triangle, the golden triangle that is.
The two midpoints that create the intersecting lines in the above image are the same two points that create part of the square in the grid on the first image of the rose.
TIP: While each golden shape reflects the same underlying principle, thinking of the right one with regards to the subject you are photographing will make it easier to imagine what your frame should look like. For example, the golden triangle can be really useful in shots with strong lines such as industrial areas, bridges, staircases, architecture and even in portraits where you want to create angular effects with different poses.
Thank you for reading!