In the realm of photography, there exists a powerful standard for creating captivating compositions – the golden ratio. This elusive yet compelling principle guides photographers to produce visually pleasing shots that effortlessly draw the viewer’s gaze.

It’s as if the images hold a secret allure, guiding the eye on a captivating journey from one point of interest to the next. Known by various names such as the Fibonacci spiral or divine proportion, the golden ratio is a fundamental tool that every aspiring photographer must grasp to unlock the true essence of their craft.

By delving into the intricacies of this remarkable concept and learning how to wield it skillfully, you open the gateway to a whole new level of photographic mastery. So, let us embark on a journey of discovery together, unraveling the mysteries of the golden ratio and witnessing firsthand how it can transform your photography into an art form that mesmerizes and enchants.

Key Takeaways:

  • The golden ratio, also known as the Fibonacci spiral, is a fundamental principle in photography that creates visually pleasing compositions.
  • The golden ratio is a spiral pattern with a growth factor of 1.618, derived from the Fibonacci sequence.
  • The golden ratio can be found in nature, including the spirals of shells and the growth patterns of plants.
  • Utilizing the golden ratio and the phi grid in photography can enhance composition and balance in images.
  • The phi grid, derived from the golden ratio, offers a more precise and elegant approach to composition compared to the rule of thirds.
  • When using the golden ratio, consider your subject and determine the primary and secondary elements you want to emphasize.
  • Assess shapes, lines, and curves in your subject to effectively apply the golden ratio for capturing visually captivating images.
  • Many digital cameras have built-in overlays for the rule of thirds and the phi grid, making it easier to align subjects according to the golden ratio.
  • Practice and experimentation are key to mastering the use of the golden ratio and the phi grid in photography.
  • Landscape photography can benefit from aligning the main subject with the lines and intersections of the golden ratio grid.
  • In portrait photography, the golden ratio can help emphasize specific facial features or draw attention to particular elements of the composition.
  • Nature photography presents numerous opportunities to capture the beauty of the Fibonacci spiral found in various natural phenomena.
  • Architectural photography can showcase the intentional use of the golden ratio in modern architecture, capturing the curves, lines, and spirals with precision.
  • Famous artworks such as Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper” and “Mona Lisa” and Salvador Dali’s “Sacrament of the Last Supper” demonstrate the effective application of the golden ratio in composition.
  • Observing and studying these examples can enhance your understanding and application of the golden ratio in your own photography.

What is the Golden Ratio in Photography?

The mathematician Fibonacci is responsible for the inception of the golden ratio. He saw a repeating spiral pattern recurring in much of nature. This spiral, which is composed of the same predictable ratio, can be found everywhere around us – even in the spirals of our DNA!

While it may seem daunting that using the golden ratio in photography means using the work of a genius mathematician, it’s more straightforward than you might think. You won’t need to do any calculations to use the golden ratio yourself.

The thing to remember is that the ratio is 1.618 to 1 and that this ratio can be found everywhere you look for it.

What is the Fibonacci Sequence?

In mathematics, the Fibonacci sequence describes a series of numbers where each number is the sum of the two preceding ones. How is this relevant to photography or the golden ratio? Well, this sequence also describes the outward development of the Fibonacci spiral.

What is The Fibonacci Spiral Exactly?

The Fibonacci spiral, or golden spiral, is a spiral with a growth factor of φ. All this means is that this spiral expands outwards following the ratio and sequence that Fibonacci identified in his work.

What’s remarkable about the golden spiral and the Fibonacci sequence, is that it really can be found in all parts of the natural world.

Look at this diagram of the golden spiral below:


Now take a look at some of these real-world instances of the golden ratio:

Stairway using golden ratio
Shell using golden ratio

Looks familiar, right? The relevance of the golden spiral to photography is that balance and precision can produce images that all humans are naturally familiar with. Using the golden ratio means composing images with mathematical science to back you up.

When it comes to the golden ratio in photography, understanding this growth factor, and how it relates to proportion, can significantly improve the composition of your images. You may have noticed that the images above were composed quite effectively.

They’re not using the rule of thirds, but using the phi grid instead.

The Phi Grid

The phi grid is like the rule of thirds on steroids; it can produce images that are more balanced and well composed. Using it effectively can dramatically improve your ability to create pleasing images. The Greek symbol phi, Φ, is often used as the symbol for the golden ratio.

The culmination of Fibonacci’s spiral is a grid structure, hence – the phi grid. So how to you actually use the phi grid and golden ratio in photography? The idea is that the spaces in the phi grid where the lines intersect are naturally pleasing to the eye and should be prioritized when shooting.

The Rule of Thirds

The rules of thirds can be an excellent composition guide if you’re in a rush. The advantage of the rule of thirds is that the grid overlay is simpler and therefore easier to access. The main drawback is that this approach lacks the precision and elegance of the Fibonacci spiral.

This isn’t to suggest that the rule of thirds isn’t a good compositional tool, it’s just that it isn’t the only, or indeed the best, option out there.

Using the Golden Ratio and the Phi Grid in Photography

While photography is a vast discipline with an endless list of possible subjects, there’s a general approach you can use to make good composition choices.

Assess Your Subject

The first thing to consider is the nature of your subject and how this is likely to influence your shoot. Using the golden ratio effectively means understanding the person or thing you’re shooting. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the primary element that I want to draw focus to?
  • Are there any secondary elements that I would like my viewer to see next?
  • Are there any shapes, lines or curves that catch the eye in my subject?
  • Are the elements of my scene that could be distracting and draw focus?

These questions are designed to get you thinking about how best to compose your image. At this stage, you should decide whether the rule of thirds or phi grid will be more useful. If your image is very simple, with only the most basic demands, the rule of thirds will probably do fine.

If you’re capturing something more complex and want to take things to the next level, it’s time to use the golden ratio. This approach is especially useful for images that feature long curves or interesting lines. The golden ratio makes it much easier to capture these elements effectively.

Line Things up and Shoot

We appreciate that not everyone has a perfect image of Fibonacci’s golden spiral ready and waiting. With a little patience, however, it’s relatively simple to get started. Your first step should be checking the overlay settings on your camera.

Virtually all digital cameras made in the past few years come with a rule-of-thirds overlay and many also include an option for the phi grid. Failing this, you may want to consider finding a good reference image when you’re starting out.

Over time, you’ll become familiar enough with the grid that it becomes second nature to line things up. Once you’ve assessed your subject and determined which elements you want to draw focus to, use the grid to position these elements in the eye-catching areas where the lines intersect.

The key to this approach is trial and error. It’s about experimenting with different positions and tweaks until you’re happy with the end result. Practice makes perfect; once you’ve been using this technique for a while, you’ll soon become much quicker at using the golden ratio.

Golden Ratio and Phi Grid Applications

There are endless photography scenarios where the golden ratio, Fibonacci spiral and their phi grid can come in handy.

Landscape Photography

Say you’re shooting landscape image and want to focus on a mountain on the horizon. The golden ratio in photography dictates that the mountain should be placed in one of the areas where the lines intersect. For example, centering the mountain might be the best approach here.

In general, landscape photographs can benefit from the golden ratio and its grid. If your subject spans the width of your image, try to contain it within the central three squares of the grid.

Portrait Photography

Portrait photography is a broad discipline. As a general rule, the golden ratio can help you draw focus toe the features of your model that you want to highlight. It’s a good idea to experiment and get creative with how you frame the people you’re shooting.

A good portrait photographer understands that every model is different. Become familiar with which facial features are flattered by which elements of the grid.

Nature Photography

The natural world is packed full of examples of the Fibonacci spiral. Everything from huge crashing waves, to the intricate details of a flower can demonstrate the Fibonacci sequence. This means that when taking photos of nature, you can use your knowledge of the golden ratio to your advantage.

Say you’ve found a golden spiral occurring naturally in a nautilus shell on the beach. Using what you’ve learned on this page, you’ll be able to line up your shot and capture the shell effectively.

Architectural Photography

Modern architecture is full of fantastic curves, lines and spirals. Many of these intentionally recreate Fibonacci’s golden spiral. The complexity that can be found in architecture presents a welcome challenge for many photographers.

Identify the elements of a building you’d like to capture most prominently. Be sure to frame these in the “sweet spots” of the grid when working.

Some Great Examples of the Golden Ratio

Artists and mathematicians alike understood the importance of balance and proportion in imagery long before the modern camera existed. Below are some good examples of artworks that use the golden ratio. Some of these uses were intentional, others used the principles without realising it at the time.

In both cases, seeing the golden ratio in practice will make it easier to apply it to you own work.

The Last Supper


It’s argued that da Vinci used principles of the golden ratio when composing his painting of the last supper. Jesus and his disciples can be seen situated across the central strip of the phi grid. Jesus is positioned in the lower centre of the image with the dinner table just below him.

The eye is immediately drawn to God’s son and the people around him. Study the painting for yourself and see how many areas you can spot that use the principles of the golden ratio. Use what you notice in your own practice to improve your photography skills.

Sacrament of the Last Supper


Another depiction of the last supper that benefits greatly from the golden ratio comes from Salvador Dali. Virtually everywhere you look in this painting, the principles of balance and proportion are waiting to be found.

The dodecahedron in the background, the positioning of Jesus and his disciples and the landscape in the background are all positioned and proportioned according to the ratio laid out by Leonardo Fibonacci. Dali loved to use symbolism like this in his work and it’s effectiveness is self-evident.

The Mona Lisa


Art experts and mathematicians maintain that da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was painted according to the rules of the golden ratio. The positioning and composition of the image are in line with Fibonacci’s principles. Multiple areas of The Mona Lisa use the golden rectangle, or grid.

The mysterious woman’s face, eyes, body and position in the painting itself are all consistent with the golden ratio. It is argued that this is one of the reasons that the painting has gained such prominence in modern times.

Final Thoughts

As we delve into the captivating world of beauty and aesthetics, we uncover profound insights into how our minds perceive the world around us. Photography, being a medium that captures the essence of these subjective experiences, offers us a canvas to explore and express our unique perspectives.

In our photographic endeavors, it’s crucial to adapt our approach to suit the specific scenario at hand. While the rule of thirds can often suffice for simpler subjects, venturing into the realm of complexity can unlock new dimensions of artistic expression. Patience becomes our ally as we navigate the intricacies of composition, harnessing the power of techniques like the golden ratio and Fibonacci swirl to create images that transcend the ordinary.

Imagine embarking on a personal photography challenge, seeking out subjects adorned with captivating lines and curves. Applying the knowledge and techniques outlined in this article, you embark on a journey to capture the essence of beauty in its most intricate form. With each experiment, your skills sharpen, your vision expands, and your artistry flourishes.

So, we invite you to embrace these challenges, to push the boundaries of your photography. What hidden gems lie within the depths of your creativity? What stories can you tell through your lens? The possibilities are boundless, and the rewards are immeasurable.

Let this be your call to action. Step out of your comfort zone, explore the realms of beauty, and let your photography soar to new heights. The world awaits your unique vision, and your journey towards mastery begins now. Trust in the transformative power of experimentation, and watch as your photography blossoms into a reflection of your true artistic potential.