The "Golden Ratio" Applied to Photography & Art

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by sanford, Mar 3, 2012.

  1. Do photographers that employ the Golden Ratio scientifically "figure it out" before they apply it or is it one of those "ah, that looks about right" things. Is good composition just a matter of something looking or feeling right or something that needs to be thought through or maybe a combination of both.
     
  2. I think it comes intuitively for most experienced photographers.
     
  3. The Golden Ratio is not in the picture. It's in the brain.
     
  4. From a graphic design POV there's a visual language that follows along the lines of repeating negative/positive spacing, patterns and shapes.
    It becomes second nature for me when cropping for best composition and framing the scene through the camera's viewfinder. If I can see a golden ratio I'll go for it but if it throws off an obvious repeating pattern that's amplifying the main subject or emotion I won't use it.
    The example below is cropped and tilted to give the highway an arched slant to convey motion instead of a static straight line across that was in the original image. I cropped keeping the original 2:3 ratio of the frame coming in just enough to retain spacing between border and elements on all sides that repeated other similar dimensions in the rest of the composition. None of this is exact matches between repeated spacing, but only a guide.
    00a5qX-447327584.jpg
     
  5. This simple grid pattern below builds on a repeated small square pattern to become an elegant double page spread layout design. Just a cluster of same sized squares made into rectangular divisions.
    http://www.urlgreyhot.com/files/articles/cutting-grids/grid-site-example.png
    A photographer is not always given this type of image language out in the field. Most often it has to be sensed and then built upon.
     
  6. Sanford, I think you might find this book illuminating on this subject...
    http://www.amazon.com/Gyorgy-Doczi/e/B000APUERE
     
  7. Always nice to get that second chance in post-processing. With slide film you had to get it perfect, exposure & composition, then and there. Of course we had much better view finders in the old film cameras.
     
  8. In some of the galleries you will sometimes see photos where the photographer prints the edge of the film all around the outside of the print as a way of saying "I DON'T NEED TO CROP, I got it right in the field!".
     
  9. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    I carry a yardstick so I can make sure everything aligns properly with the golden ratio. It doubles as a prop in the fetish photos I shoot.
     
  10. I think the Golden Ratio, Rule of Thirds, etc, just codify what the brain already finds pleasing, not the other way around.
    If you ask men which of three girls have the nicer figure, you will pretty much get the same answer. This has been researched across cultures, races and national boundaries. Likewise, if you ask a woman what attracts her to a particular man, you will find that broad shoulders do it for her. I guess that would create the Rule of Triangles for sexual preferences.
    The point is that we have prejudices when it comes to shapes, geometric balance, sizes, colors, white balance and composition that appeal to us. The Rules of Thirds, Golden Ratios etc. are not so much rules but rather formulas that reflect the brain's prejudices already in our DNA. When I look back at some of my old photos, I see that I was composing with these rules long before I ever heard of them. I think they're helpful however because they make us think about composition when looking through a viewfinder. That's not natural. Also, we tend to center on the main subject because that's what are eyes are drawn too. Only when we stop and think about aesthetics, do we see that the photo could look better if we shift the camera. That takes awhile to get use too. The "rules" help you think about these aesthetic manipulations.
     
  11. Sometimes you have to get folks attention to communicate a concept with a 2D image. If repeating patterns or arrows pointing at what to look at or the reverse of these directional elements does it, then you've put your point across.
    There's more to an image than draftsmanship.
     
  12. "If you ask men which of three girls have the nicer figure, you will pretty much get the same answer. "
    Alan, I think you might have gotten a different answer had you asked men throughout history.
    I believe there is probably a healthy dose of Fibonacci sequence/ratio to be found in just about anything, everywhere, such that one can apply subject placement anywhere in the frame (in photography) and make it aesthetically pleasing.
    Although we often say composition is everything, there are undoubtedly so many influencing factors contributing to a photograph being perceived as pleasing that these contributing factors can not be ignored. In fact, I believe a "bad" composition can often be made beautiful by "simply" augmenting these factors even though we attribute a beautiful photo primarily to its composition.
    Here's an example I thought might illustrate the point: you can overlay snails, ferns, or any number of Fibonacci sequences found in nature and make it fit somewhere in the "composition". In the end, although not necessarily a great picture, it's all the supporting elements that (to me) make it pleasing.
    [​IMG]
     
  13. I think it is much like music. I know what I like and what I don't. However, now that Jeff has exposed his yardstick secret I may give that a try. I might even experiment with a meterstick.
     
  14. Alan, I think you might have gotten a different answer had you asked men throughout history.​
    Michael: As I recall the study it had to do with ratio between the waist and hips not with absolute weight. Woman can have different weights, but as long as their waist to hip meets a certain ratio, men will still find the woman attractive. Interesting, when I looked at your article it discusses this in the section called Waist-Hip Ratio. The scientific thinking is that certain ratios represent good qualities for reproduction so it becomes favored by men.
    The point related to photography is that similarly we find certain views aesthetically pleasing as well. This is codified in the various "Rules" we talk about in photography.
    By the way, that's a well balanced photograph you posted. Both kids balance in geographical area on the photo against one another preserving some rule. However, the exposure on each child are too far apart for lighting that you would normally see in real life so it doesn't appear correct (to me anyway). Does one have to know the rules to see these things? I don't think so. We see them automatically in our brain.
     
  15. The scientific thinking is that certain ratios represent good qualities for reproduction so it becomes favored by men.​
    I'd love to see men's reactions to studies about their penises and what women find to be "good qualities for reproduction so it becomes favored by" women. You talk as if it's all up to the man and the woman is or is not the mathematically correct object.
    By the same token, photography is not a fixed object. It's fluid. Knowing how to work with knowledge gained from the golden ratio would be a key to a creative mind. That would include knowing and sensing and feeling how NOT to use it as well as how to use it. It would be understanding its influence, not depending on it as a rule, certainly not composing to any sort of standard.
     
  16. Fred: I agree with you that it's not a "fixed object" that should not be altered. That's why I said: "The Rules of Thirds, Golden Ratios etc. are not so much rules but rather formulas that reflect the brain's prejudices already in our DNA."
    We are not robots of our DNA one would hope. Just as we can see past a certain kind of attractiveness in another human and select using other criteria, the same can be said for photography. However, that also does not mean we can discard the DNA. An out-of-focus picture is still out-of-focus. Arguing you refuse to be a "slave" to the Rules of focusing won't get it. You can only "bend" the "Rules" so far.
     
  17. You'd think if the golden ratio were so golden, the aspect ratios used by artists would be that ratio. However, they rarely are. I'm one of the rare exceptions, as I use a 3:2 aspect ratio for much/most of my work. (I must therefore be an uncommonly good artist! :p )
    I think it's human nature to think up rules and then to try to explain all of what we see/experience by those rules. However, the rules seem to apply only when we force them to apply. For instance, a lot of technical stock traders use Fibonacci retracements for their buy/sell indicators, so by being aware of these Fibonacci levels, one can anticipate which way the herd will move at which levels. However, WHICH of the multiple retracement levels applies is often/usually a craps shoot.
     
  18. Is anyone here a fan of Tim Burton movies?
    His work is beautiful and the characters he creates are oddly endearing, so much so that photographers know any Burtonesque creation is going to be a winner:
    [Link]
    I think we can gain much insight to expand the study of composition (and golden ratios) to include other art forms including sculptures, makeup, even handwriting.
     
  19. That men focus on women's behinds is genetic. Photographers don't organize square spaces instinctively. Creatures didn't evolve in square spaces. They evolved to spot the opposite *X&$#**X&$#**X&$#* quickly with very little information. Human experiments were done with subjects filmed in a dark room with small lights only visible on their shoulders and hips. Identifying their *X&$#**X&$#**X&$#* was a snap with only that clue. Hint: The guys have the narrower hips and wider shoulders.
    The GR is useful but rather intuitive. An easy trick is to imagine a diagonal line from corner to corner of a square. Rotate the line at the vertex to vertical or horizontal to get the side of a new proportionally pleasing square.
    There ARE useful formal elements for organizing space in a square that should be well understood. Pay a lot of attention to negative space and be conscious of the picture plane are two important ones. I like busy compositions with stuff going in and out of the scene - usually big rule-breakers.
    Laying out images for pubs is easier if they can be cropped to suite the layout. On the other hand, decisive framing is important for small sensor cameras as it is for 35mm film. Leaving the black frame edges was a 35mm shooter's conceit. You had to be there.
    00a66m-447559584.jpg
     
  20. There ARE useful formal elements for organizing space in a square that should be well understood. Pay a lot of attention to negative space and be conscious of the picture plane are two important ones. I like busy compositions with stuff going in and out of the scene - usually big rule-breakers.
    Why does this happen. While we can explain how it may be genetically advantageous to find women's derrieres attractive to a man or a man's broad shoulders to a woman, what explain some of the Rules in photography as to how it is genetically advantageous. When one decorates a square room, usually you arrange the furniture around the room somewhat balanced. You don't stick it all on one side of the room. Or on one side of a plate if it's food. Same with a photo.
    But why? If our brains have these natural preferences for balance, focus, Rules of Thirds, etc, what genetic advantages do they give us so we prefer them? Now that would be an interesting discussion.
     
  21. Alan (Klein), I think the inherent attraction between sexes is skewed more toward youth than form although in most cases they are interconnected. Another interesting statistic: Fully 2/3 of Americans are overweight with half of them obese, yet they are all loved by someone [Source].
    "When one decorates a square room..."
    Decorating a room has a strong functional component where photography does not. It's also debatable whether "these natural preferences for balance, focus, Rules of Thirds, etc," are in fact learned behavior - would you find typical East Indian or Dutch decor to be aesthetically pleasing?
    I would suggest our standard definition of aesthetics are mostly Western ideas and not necessarily globally shared. I think mankind have a unique need for attention and the desire to express it just as Bowerbirds, but our needs go further to include a higher level desire for acknowledgement which governs our behavior in which every individual expresses differently.
    You might find this interesting if you haven't seen it:
    [David Attenborough on Bowerbirds]
     
  22. If I remember the ratio, it is about 1/1.6. When the Golden rule repeats itself throughout the image, the image seems to gain extra force. The following photograph was made of some well worn steps near the cathedral in Leira, Portugal. If you move from top or middle right and down into the image, this ratio seems to reappear two or three times, encompassing different and increasing size elements. While I had been studying examples of the golden rule in art before making that trip, the perception of this subject matter and the framing chosen were not particularly influenced by the rule, but more by the textures and forms and their interrelationships. I think we are inhabited to some degree by the attractive proportions of the golden rule and simply apply them without particular intention in making photos.
    http://www.photo.net/photo/14943795
     
  23. Alan K,
    Your question is certainly stimulating to explore. Need to pose it on the Philosophy Forum.
    You want to wonder about the wonder of human aesthetics see the Werner Herzog film "Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Its one of the most stimulating films I've seen in years. It invites all sorts of speculation.
    Or read this:
    http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/chav/hd_chav.htm
    That we seem to have an in-born ability to depict our world in convincing two-dimensions may be the most human of all abilities. I'm still inclined to believe that for modern humans our culturally reinforced, intuitive feeling, for the GR prevails over natural impulse. Paleolithic 3-D art is also astounding in its sophistication. I'd like to know when and where geometric forms originated. Astronomy?
     
  24. Michael: I'm not so sure that it's a cultural thing. Maybe some culture plays a part. But I believe the golden ratio, rule of thirds, geographic balance in a picture has genetic components first that are later use when composing or editing a photograph. My "room" example may have been something that a person would do to make it easier to find things when needed. If you put everything in a "lump", you'd waste a lot of time looking for one thing when you need it fast (like a knife to protect yourself). So from that survival requirement that is in the DNA, one distributes the furniture in a room in a balanced way and would do the same in a photo.
    This is just speculation on my part, of course. But it interests me a lot to understand what are the genetic advantages in our makeup that are just brought out aesthetically in our pictures? Can you think of any reasons?
    On the other hand, do you have any examples where culture plays a part in the "design" of a photo?
     
  25. When I teach photography I do a session on 'Compostion and Content'. I go through all the 'rules' of composition. Then I show the students some photographs. The photographs are by 'big name' photographers, e.g. Henri Cartier-Bresson etc. but I don't tell the students that. I ask them to critique the picutres in the light of the 'rules'. They tear the photographs apart - figuratively speaking! Then I reveal that these are all photographs by 'big names'. Then there is much head-scratching - but I think they get the point. To me, composition is intuitive - I just move the camera around until it 'looks right'.
     
  26. The need to be somehow spatially "balanced" would have to be millions of years in the making. That we have aesthetic sensibilities is likely a combination of natural selection factors that individually are unrelated to form. We are culturally imprinted with spatial conventions. Ours happens to be square for now.
     
  27. Maybe the ability developed out of a need to recognize something that didn't belong or look right in the landscape, like a Sabertooth Tiger.
     
  28. Jeff's comment reminds me that I need to find my pica pole. It had a nice, whippy action.
    "I think it comes intuitively for most experienced photographers."​
    This.
    Awhile ago when this question came up on the beginner forum, James Dainis observed that when you look at the photos taken by folks who claim they don't bother with traditional rules for composition, their photos often fall right in line with those same compositional standards.
    "The Golden Ratio is not in the picture. It's in the brain."​
    So true. The physical world provides all the examples naturally. I suspect most of us just incorporate this unconsciously.
     
  29. Maybe the ability developed out of a need to recognize something that didn't belong or look right in the landscape, like a Sabertooth Tiger.​
    Sanford; That really true. While I never discovered a tiger, I go nuts when my wife moves the furniture (or my photos) around. I know immediately that something is wrong. I can no longer find anything (like in the refrigerator) when she moves things to a different shelf. It drives me nuts.
    So that's it. We have the Rules in photography from what is nature's method of keeping peace between husband and wife. :)
     
  30. Alan K.
    This pertains to our discussion in an amusing way:
    http://dsc.discovery.com/life/how-leaving-a-room-affects-your-memory.html
    Ever wonder why you go to the kitchen and stand in front of the cookie jar, yet can't remember what you went there for?
    "Orangutans are skeptical Of changes in their cages, And the zookeeper is very fond of rum."
    S&G "At the Zoo"
     

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