The golden ratio

The golden ratio has always been an important rule in art and architecture. Pictures or buildings designed according to this principle have a harmonious effect. We enjoy looking at them. But why is this actually so? What role does Mother Nature play in this and how is the perfect photo created according to the rules of the golden ratio?

What is the golden ratio?

If you already have a new identity card, you know what makes perspective in a photo. We don’t really look that good in “biometric”, do we? In photos, painted pictures, in architecture, but also in fashion, the golden ratio is a popular means of making an object look attractive. With this technique, the object does not appear centered in the picture, but slightly offset to the side.

Nature sets the example: The Fibonacci sequence

The scene appears harmonious with pictures that are laid out in the golden section, we like to look at the picture. Scientists explain this preference by the fact that many forms in nature seem to follow this relationship. The shape of snail shells or numerous flowers, for example, remind us of this. They grow according to the so-called Fibonacci sequence or Fibonacci rule (=1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 …). In this sequence of numbers, the first two numbers are each given the value 1, and each subsequent number is the sum of its two predecessors. This results in the pattern shown here. The Fibonacci sequence seems to be a kind of growth pattern in nature. The interesting thing about it is that the quotient of two adjacent Fibonacci numbers is always close around the value of the golden number 1.618033… The higher the neighboring Fibonacci numbers become, the closer you get to this value.

Formula Golden Section

In order to create the perfect photo, an exact calculation of the golden section is normally not necessary, as the grid of a professional camera shows the ideal image distribution in the grid anyway. Nevertheless here is the mathematical background: mathematically, the golden section describes the division ratio of two distances a and b. If the ratio of the whole to its bigger part (distance a = major) corresponds to the ratio of the bigger to the smaller part (distance b = minor), there is a golden section. Or formulated differently: Two distances are in the ratio of the golden ratio, if the larger to the smaller distance is as the sum of the two distances to the larger.

The formal can be applied both horizontally and vertically. The value of this distance ratio (a divided by b) corresponds to the golden number Φ (the Greek PHI). The exact ratio of distance a to b is 61,8 % to 38,2 %. The golden ratio cannot therefore be equated with the well-known rule of thirds, which is also used in photography. Here, the image is simply divided by three and the object is placed on one of these three parts.

Create a photo in the golden ratio: How to proceed

Great pictures result automatically when you are lucky, in other cases you have to try a little bit and try different perspectives. The golden ratio gets the best out of every scene – of course only if the photographer also has the intention to create a harmonious picture. This is how you proceed:

A) Define location

First find a simple motif (a flower in a meadow, a bowl of fruit on a table …) Now look at your object from different locations and evaluate the respective view of the object. Crouch down or stand slightly elevated and look at the scene from above. You will soon notice that your motif can have very different effects on you, depending on your location. Include all elements that can be seen in the picture. Is something bothering you? Are certain parts of the scene distracting from the essential? Are there too few or too many picture elements? If necessary, tidy up a little more or, in the case of a landscape shot, choose a location with as few disturbing elements as possible.

B) Define horizon line

If the natural horizon can be seen in the image section (i.e. in an outdoor shot), you must also actively include it in your image composition. If it appears exactly in the middle of the picture, your subject may look a little boring, so photographers generally define it in a two-thirds rule in favor of either the sky or the earth. So if the foreground is interesting and the sky is less interesting, the horizon line can be in the upper third of the image, if the sky is more interesting, the horizon line is best in the lower third.

  • The horizon also plays a role in indoor shots, because the human eye always tries to make out one. If the natural horizon is not there, our brain forms an artificial one by means of other horizontal lines in space.
  • So keep an eye out for this imaginary horizon in the room and set the horizon line according to the same laws as for outdoor shots. As a rule, most people can do this instinctively.
  • So even if you are a layman and usually take good photos, you should listen to your gut feeling. A slanting horizon line, i.e. a tilted horizon, is only used as a stylistic device at best, because this usually has a rather disturbing effect.

C) Search for an intersection point

You have determined your location with the inclusion of a coherent horizon line. Now take your motive with the camera exactly in the focus. Move yourself and/or the camera back and forth a little – until the important picture element (a flower, a hill or a tree in a landscape, etc.) is approximately in one of the 4 intersections of the golden section. (Graphic: Please mark the four points!)

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