Compositional Techniques :: The Rule of Thirds & The Golden Ratio

There are several ways to create interesting images, even if you are using a point and shoot camera or your phone. Most of what makes an image wonderful, impactful, and interesting has nothing to do with the tool (the camera or the lens) but everything to do with the artist who is taking the image and how they composed the image. But here are a few quick compositional tools to help create stronger compositions in your photographs. Starting with the rule of thirds and the golden ratio we can explore these fundamental compositional elements. 

The Rule Of Thirds

In photography, there are several ideas enforcing the creation of a strong composition. The first of these is called the rule of thirds, which refers to breaking your frame into three parts either horizontally or vertically and weighting the composition along one side or the other and not fully centering every image. The rule of thirds is one of the first compositional techniques that I teach my high school students. It is, arguably, a slightly overused compositional technique that a photographer should not rely on. But it is also a solid technique that definitely still has merit.

When most photographers first pick up a camera they tend to center-weight everything. This is a great starting point, but soon you may want to explore ways to make your photos more interesting; enter the rule of thirds. If you think of your camera frame as a grid of 9 parts (psssst: most cameras actually allow you to set a grid in the viewfinder for this) then you want to place the face, eye, or important part of the photo in one of the 4 intersecting corner grid marks as seen below in red. Once this happens you are weighting the composition to one side or the other and adding interest to the overall image.

The Golden Ratio
using the golden ratio during family portraits

The second compositional technique to consider is the golden ratio (often called the golden spiral). The golden ratio actually gets its name from the mathematical ratio that represents divine proportion.

Because the golden ratio actually exists in nature, it tends to feels more natural than the stagnant grid lines created by the rule of thirds. When used in design the golden ratio is supposed to create a more pleasing layout of items in a composition, making it the prefect technique for a creative photographic composition. This works well for both portraits and objects, giving a similar pleasing effect to the viewer of the photograph.

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Are You Team Golden Ratio or Team Rule of Thirds?

Team golden ratio or team rule of thirds? Honestly, they are very similar. Both techniques rely on placing an important section of your photo in one of the corners of your frame—so it will either fall into the golden ratio or the rule of thirds category. There are many ways to start to push your framing and compositional techniques to add more interest to your images. As a portrait photographer, I favor center weighted imagery (because clients hire me to capture a clean portrait) but I still rely on these compositional techniques to add variation. As always, once you know the rules it makes it a lot easier to break them. With art and photography it is important that you are aware of your choices, especially with regard to your composition.



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I am a professional photographer & photo educator. I’m here to share with you my best (and easiest) tips and tricks for taking amazing photos. I’m sharing years of knowledge as a teaching artist to help you find a way to share your unique point of view with the world. Welcome to The Photo Method.

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