The Golden Ratio vs. The Rule of Thirds: Which is Best?

Two terms, one more frequently heard that the other, are the golden ratio and the rule of thirds. But is one really better than the other? In this short video, you’ll learn what they are, how they impact your images, and how you can use them in your compositions:

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a very common rule of composition, one that has been in use pretty much since the dawn of photography. The concept involves imagining two sets of lines, one running from left to right and one from top to bottom and cutting each other at four points, thus dividing the whole frame into nine equal boxes.

how to use the rule of thirds in photography

The Rule of Thirds

The four intersecting points are considered the “sweet spots.” Placing the subject of focus at any one of those intersecting spots or along the grid lines makes the whole composition appear a whole lot better.

Golden Ratio

The golden ratio, on the other hand, is a slightly technical concept.

“The golden ratio is an irrational number roughly approximated to 1.618.”


The Golden Spiral

Imagine a line A. Now, divide that line into two unequal parts. Let the larger part be B and the shorter part be C. The golden ratio states that if A/B is equal to B/C then those two numbers are in the golden ratio.

“The golden ratio gives birth to the golden spiral. It is a logarithmic spiral which is found all over the place in nature but with a growth factor that’s equal to the golden ratio. Meaning that for every quarter turn the spiral makes, the line gets one golden ratio further away from its center point.”

what is the golden ratio?

Examples of the golden ratio abound in nature.

The golden spiral exists in nature all around us. The nautilus shell and the arms of a spiral galaxy both demonstrate the golden spiral. This golden spiral is what governs the concept of the golden ratio rule of photography.

using the golden ratio in compositions

Here’s an example of how the golden ratio can be used in your compositions.

The golden ratio rule of photography warrants that the subject of focus be overlayed on one of the intersecting lines as shown in the image above. An extension of this is the phi grid. The phi grid looks almost like the rule-of-thirds grid. Except in this case, the parallel lines are closer to each other and to the center of the frame, and the nine boxes are not all the same size.

phi grid photography composition

The phi grid is marked in red.

Some landscape photographers argue that the phi grid (and the associated golden ratio rule) is a better guide for composition than the rule of thirds. The phi grid, they say, makes photos look a bit more interesting and more natural.

What do you think? Is the golden ratio a superior compositional rule?

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  1. Scott says:

    I picked up on the Golden Ratio reading “The DaVinci Code” by Dale Brown. The Parthenon was designed and built to this concept. As a fine art landscape photographer I strive to print and frame my work in frames that match this 1:1.6 ration. I get the nicest results matting my prints to 20 x 32. Granted this method does not match standard mat sizes available but it well worth experimenting with.

  2. Cesar Grossmann says:

    There’s a lot of myths about the golden rule. One of then is that the Parthenon was designed and built according to it. Or that the human body has the PHI as the proportion between some of its parts.

    I would love to see a study, with people that doesn’t know about rule of thirds and golden rule, showing that it really appeals to some intrinsic aesthetic sense. One idea was to show a series of triplets to people and asking what they liked more: the same subject in three different positions, one according to the rule of thirds, one to the golden ratio, and a third with the subject centered.

    For now, I only have opinion articles like this:

    Sorry for the bad english.

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