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Golden mean (Golden ratio)

Definition: The golden ratio which is also known as the divine proportion, golden mean or golden section is often encountered when taking the ratios of distances in simple geometric figures such as pentagons, pentagrams, decagons, etc. This is the mathematical definition.

In photography the principle behind the golden mean rule is to provide geometric lines which can be followed when viewing a composition. This rule has been used as a major guideline by many artists and it wouldn’t do you any harm as a modern photographer.

History of Golden Mean

Going back to the 12 century, which was the golden age for mathematics, is the era in which the golden mean was developed or invented. All the credit goes to an Italian gentleman known as Fibonacci. So, how does mathematics and photography relate to each other? The one thing keeping these two as relatives is composition. Fibonacci discovered the Golden ratio or Divine proportion from his mathematical studies. It is kind of weird that the main source of this discovery was the breeding habits of rabbits. What he noted was that the ratio he had discovered with the rabbits was applying in most of the aspects in nature. This ratio is 1.61803:1.

As photographers, when we are shooting pictures our eyes are naturally accustomed to seeing the divine proportion. However, if we break this natural ratio the image will appear uncomfortable to our eyes. Rule of thirds is one of the most common techniques in the world of photography – though it is not entirely a Fibonacci rule. It works in such a manner which is very close to the divine proportion. However, if you wish to take your compositions you can apply the Golden mean rule, Golden Rectangle or Golden Spiral.

The Golden Rectangle

It is very similar to the rule of thirds. The difference between the two is that; in the rule of thirds each third is at an equal distance to each other while in the Golden rectangle Fibonacci ratio is used to determine the distance between them. To expand on this statement, if we split our image into three using vertical lines, the distance of the first line from the left in comparison to the second line will be at a ratio 1.618:1. Therefore, the outer boxes will always be larger than the inner boxes. A better composition would be achieved if we use the intersection points of these rectangles. Practically, this might appear a little complicated but when you are shooting you can simply visualize the image on the regular thirds, then simply move those thirds a little more to the center.

The Golden Spiral

This is a very powerful composition rule but is more complex. It uses the principle of increasing the size of a series of boxes using the Golden ratio. The origin or focal point of the composition begins at the corner of the smallest rectangle. A spiral is usually visualized moving out from the smallest box intersecting through the larger boxes and stops at the corner of the largest box. From the intersecting nature of the spiral intersecting through the rectangles creates an appealing image which gives our eyes an easy time in flowing through the image. As stated, this can be quite hard to visualize while shooting a photo but once you locate the primary object, the rest is just a piece of cake.

The Golden Triangle

This is a very important compositional guideline which comes in handy if your photograph has strong diagonal objects. Here you will only need to split your photo into three triangles which have the same angles. The Golden Triangle is very simple and is most efficient with lines.

One diagonal line will pass across the frame from one corner to the next. Another diagonal line will be created from one of the other two diagonals to intersect with the first diagonal.

What makes the Golden mean better than rule of thirds?

The rule of thirds is the most applied rule in photography and it is taken as a manifestation of the Golden Ratio. It is usually claimed that the Rule of Thirds was invented to make it easier for photographers to locate the sweet spot – the eye-catching point.

Even though the rule of thirds works well in most of the situations, the Golden Ratio can offer a better composition. This is simply because it creates a more balanced image.

Take a situation in which you wish to shoot a landscape photo. In most cases, when you use the Rule of Thirds certain elements like the horizon will be left in an awkward position. By simply dividing the frame into thirds will imply that placing the horizon line will be too straight forward. However, with the Golden Ratio the balance will frequently appear more natural and less static.

Composing for the Golden Ratio

The easiest way in which you can compose an image and apply the Golden Spiral is by imagining a small rectangle from one corner of your frame and then bisect it from one corner to another in such a way that an imaginary diagonal line crosses your frame. This line will touch some of the focal points of the Fibonacci Spiral within the rectangle.

You can always perfect your composition by using software such as Adobe Light-room during post processing. This software has a wide range of crop overlays and one of the crops called Golden Spiral is based on the Fibonacci Spiral.


As a photographer it is very important for you to know what makes a photo appealing to the eyes and strong. There are many things which you should have at your fingertips when shooting. Some of them include; color, lighting, shape, composition and more. Therefore, it takes a variety of aspects in creating a fascinating image but if your main concern is just one aspect you can always use the Golden Ratio. Note: There are no strict rules in photography, there are only guidelines to help you become the best photographer. 


Go over your portfolio and look for examples of the Golden mean in your current work. In the situation of a very powerful image you have taken that does not appear to follow basic rules of composition you may be surprised to find that it fits into the use of Golden Mean.


In this example Shannon’s head is in the first lower left section. The next section moving up and to the right contains her left breast and is completed by the junction of her thigh and torso. The final section moving in the same direction is filled with Shannon’s thigh, which travels the length of the final section ending at her knee.