Golden Ratio and Photography Composition

golden rules

The Golden Ratio has been used as a powerful composition tool for centuries. It is a design principle based on the ratio of 1 to 1.618. The Golden Ratio can assist in creating images that have a strong composition, which will attract viewers to your photograph.

The Golden Ratio has also been called ‘natures number’ because it is said to appear everywhere throughout nature, from the nautilus shell to the sunflower. It allows us to create a photograph that is most pleasing to the human eye, it create a composition that is perfectly balanced from a viewer’s perspective, we naturally prefer to look at an image that is balanced and harmonized, and the Golden Ratio provides this.

In this post, I’ll discuss the different types of golden shapes and how to construct them and there will be another post to discuss how to use them in photography composition.


The number can be seen in the architecture of many ancient creations, like the Great Pyramids and the Parthenon. In the Great Pyramid of Giza, the length of each side of the base is 756 feet with a height of 481 feet. The ratio of the base to the height is roughly 1.5717, which is close to the Golden ratio.

Giza Payramids

Phidias (500 B.C. – 432 B.C.) was a Greek sculptor and mathematician who is thought to have applied phi to the design of sculptures for the Parthenon. Plato (428 B.C. – 347 B.C.) considered the Golden ratio to be the most universally binding of mathematical relationships. Later, Euclid (365 B.C. – 300 B.C.) linked the Golden ratio to the construction of a pentagram.


Around 1200, mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci discovered the unique properties of the Fibonacci sequence. This sequence ties directly into the Golden ratio because if you take any two successive Fibonacci numbers, their ratio is very close to the Golden ratio.


That magical ratio

Fibonacci series Series

If you start with the numbers 0 and 1 and make a list in which each new number is the sum of the previous two, you get a list like this:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, … to infinity–>

This is called a ‘Fibonacci series’.

If you then take the ratio of any two sequential numbers in this series, you’ll find that it falls into an increasingly narrow range. The number that this ratio is oscillating around is phi (1.6180339887499…)


Golden rectangle

These numbers can be applied to the proportions of a rectangle, (the ratio between its width and height) called the Golden rectangle. This is known as one of the most visually satisfying of all geometric forms – hence, the appearance of the Golden ratio in art. The following are examples of golden rectangles dimensions:

3 x 2

5 x 3

8 x 5

13 x 8

21 x 13

34 x 21

The following are examples of using the golden rectangles in ancient and modern buildings:




The Phi Grid (the golden sections)

In The Phi Grid, we divide the frame into sections resulting in a grid that is 1:0.618:1. This result in a set of intersecting lines that is much closer to the middle of the frame. The Golden Section Rule states that the eye is naturally drawn the points that lie within this ratio in a photograph. In order to achieve this, the picture is divided into 9 unequal but symmetrical parts with 2 horizontal lines and 2 vertical lines as a guide as shown in the following figure:


phi grid


The Fibonacci Spiral

The Golden spiral appears in all forms of nature and science. Examples are:

  • Flower petals: The number of petals on some flowers follows the Fibonacci sequence. It is believed that in the Darwinian processes, each petal is placed to allow for the best possible exposure to sunlight and other factors.


  • Shells: Many shells, including snail shells and nautilus shells, are perfect examples of the Golden Spiral.


  • Hurricanes: Hurricanes often display the Golden Spiral.



The Fibonacci Spiral is created from a series of squares using Fibonacci’s numbers, with the length of each square being a Fibonacci number. A series of diagonal points on each square will then create a path for which the spiral can flow through the frame. Using the spiral as a tool to compose a photograph will allow the viewer to be led around the image in a natural flow.


The equation form looks like this:

a/b = (a+b)/a = 1.618


The golden triangle

The golden triangle is constructed by drawing a line from one corner of the screen to the opposite corner. From this line draw perpendicular lines towards the other remaining corners. You will get 2 large triangles, and 2 small triangles.

golden triangle

Finally, I presented to you some golden tools and overlays that are used among other tools to make your photo composition much better. Also, I would like to inform you that using these overlays can be adopted during taking photos or they can be also used in the post processing when cropping and editing your final photos.

There are many software packages that provide overlays that can match any photos sizes, and lots of other options. A well-known software is PhiMatrix Golden Ratio Design. A screenshot of the software is shown below:

PhiMatrix menus

Product highlights:

PhiMatrix Golden Ratio Design Software for WINDOWS and MAC. Image design, composition, and analysis software. Make great composition decisions quickly and simply. Overlays any other software or image. Great compliment to any other image editing and illustration software. Customizable grids. Easy, intuitive interface.

  • Recommended for artists, designers, and photographers.
  • Includes all the best and most commonly used templates and features of PhiMatrix 1.618 Professional, as well as usability enhancements not yet available in Professional. Most important of these is the ability to create unique design templates that combine grids, diagonals and spirals at the same time.
  • Select program options by just clicking on the icons on the toolbar, or customize them by using the pop-up windows available from the Edit menu or by holding the Control/Command key while clicking.


There is another option: The Adobe Lightroom overlays

Adobe Lightroom allows you to overlay your image with several different guidelines, called Crop Grid Overlays. The seven available overlays are:

Grid, third, Diagonal, Triangle, Golden Ratio, Golden Spiral, and Aspects ratios. As shown in the below photo.

lightroom overlays

You can select the image you want to check against one of the available overlays and engage Crop Tool, which is found right below the Histogram.

Once the tool has been engaged, notice that the selected image is already overlaid with the default Rule of Thirds Grid Overlay. Hit “O” on your keyboard to toggle between all 7 available Grid Overlays. Use “Shift + O” (Windows PC) to rotate the guidelines. The following photos show some images with different overlays.

lightroom overlays

Lightroom overlays

Lightroom overlays

Grid Overlays are very useful to have. However, don’t go cropping all your images to suit any of the specific overlays just for the sake of it thinking it will make your photograph better.

In fact, the photo composition is something you need to think about as you photograph, not whilst post-processing. So the Crop Grid Overlays are there for fine tuning, not for composing post-capture.

To know how to use these golden ratios in photography composition, you can check the following post:
>>10 Rules for Photo Composition<<

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