Golden mean in Fine Art Nude figure study photos

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.

The eBook featuring Shannon Purdy is here

I am very excited to announce the release of my first eBook/pdf. It is currently available in my store for $3.95. This book details the elements of composition from Shannon’s first shoot. This shoot was unexpected and took place near the small town of Madrid, New Mexico. You purchase the book by going to

Thanks everyone and have a great day,

JW Purdy

Organic nude in New Mexico

Good morning everyone,

I am happy to have a little time to finish our discussion on Shannon Purdy’s first shoot in the mountains of New Mexico. In this last photo we will cover a few different elements of composition present.  

Principals of composition: The first element of composition I would like to talk about is the strong presents of the diagonal rule. As you can see by my overlay, Shannon’s figure as well as the tree to the right of the frame both follow the diagonal lines and are located on the thirds of the divided frame.

would also like to point out the second element of composition in this photo. Many of you have already seen it, having read my previous posts; Shannon breasts are located on the left Rule of Thirds line as well as the bottom third line. She has been positioned on a Golden section of the photo giving the viewer a sense of peace in the photo.

The final element I would like to talk about today is the Golden Spiral. My overlay is not exactly prefect but you can see that with a slight shift of the spiral Shannon’s figure makes up the extent of this very strong element of composition. The Golden Spiral is a principal of composition we see in nature all the time. It is very appealing to our eye and draws us into a photo. An example of a Golden Spiral in nature would be a flower with all of the pedals opening in a pattern being displayed very close up. I’m sure at some point you have seen one of these photos and really thought it was a good photo.

Notes of this photo: In your photos try and find creative uses for negative space. As you have seen in this photo I utilized the tree to fill the negative space and due to the angle of the trunk was able to strengthen my composition. This pose is very organic and based on the surrounds it would have made a powerful image without the tree having been there; however, taking a minute to look at our surroundings we can find something that may enhance our photos. It only takes a few seconds and will get you in the habit of being more observant and will improve your photography skills in the long run.

Thanks for reading everyone. Sorry my posts have been off a little later than I have wanted lately. We have really been working on the "My Nude Year" project. It has been fun but it is also very time consuming. 


See you next time and until then,

Figure it out JW Purdy

Balancing Shannon on the mountain

This is another photo from Shannon’s first shoot in the mountains of New Mexico.

Principals of composition: In this photo we see another example of the Golden mean. You will notice with the lines I have overlaid on the photo that Shannon’s bottom is in the first section of the lower frame ending just at her lower back. The next section contains the majority of Shannon’s mid/lower back and is sectioned off by her right arm and left shoulder. The final portion of the image contains Shannon’s upper back and head.

Notes on this image: Elements you want to appear larger in your photograph should be placed closer to your camera lens. In this example I wanted to show off Shannon’s beautiful backside and therefore it has been placed nearest to the camera lens. This photo was somewhat of a miss due to the low amount of lighting on my subject. The difference in texture is very nice as well as the contrast in shape but the overall lighting makes for a less powerful image.    

We are getting close to the end of the month and I’m working on a couple of different new tasks. I will be sending out my newsletter at the end of the month and encourage you to sign up.

Next week we will be discussing a photo in which Shannon bravely started to scale the coal tailings in the driving wind. I will be discussing the diagonal method as well as contrast in texture and color.

If you haven’t already signed up for my newsletter please take the time to give me a little info about you. You can find my sign up by going here Spring is almost here and my first giveaway is drawing closer as the days pass.   

Thank you and see you next time,

JW Purdy

The Golden Mean within the photo of Shannon Purdy titled "On the Rocks."

This is the final element of composition I concentrated on within my photo of Shannon titled "On the Rocks." 

Principals of composition: One of the most difficult concepts in visual art is the Golden Mean also called the Golden Ratio.  The Golden Mean has been used in composition for centuries. It is a design principle based on the ratio of 1 to 1.618. The Golden Mean can assist in creating images that have a strong composition, which is perfectly balanced from a viewer’s perspective. Creating a photograph that is most pleasing to the eye using the Golden Mean can be difficult. We naturally prefer to look at an image that is balanced and harmonized, and the Golden Mean does this. The Golden Mean/Ratio is actually a mathematical term and can be broke down into simple lines. If you were to put points on a horizontal line A and B you can better visualize the Golden Mean. If line A was longer than Line B by almost double B you would notice that nearly 2XB would nearly equally segment A. Therefore this would nearly put a vertical line bisecting your original horizontal line on the third of the frame. The balance of this ratio is found in many things in nature. The most prominent is the human body. I believe this is why it is such a pleasing and strong visual queue to viewers when utilized.

Notes on this image: 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.   

We are getting close to the end of the month and I’m working on a couple of different new tasks. I will be sending out my newsletter at the end of the month and encourage you to sign up. (

Next week we will be discussing a new photo. I am trying to get a video together which I hope will demonstrate these concepts a little easier. I’m going to put a few together and see how I do. If they come out okay I will post them online but if not forget I ever said anything about it. I am really going to give it my best so we can cover more ground in one lesson and I can describe the concepts we are working with better. I will also try to film a shoot or two and let everyone see how I work with models and give you a sense for the flow of a shoot.   

Thank you and see you next time,

JW Purdy

Joshua tree

This is the final photo from Shannon Purdy’s first shoot in Madrid, New Mexico and its my personal favorite. Shannon had climbed up into a Joshua tree and the wind picked up momentarily causing her hair to cover her face. The way her hair blew and only partially covered her face and eyes really made me stare at the image and get involved in it. We have this on hanging in our room printed very large, 20 X 30 inches. I know it is one of her favorite images and brings back fond memories.


In this photo of model Shannon Purdy she is hanging from the bottom of a rail bridge built in the late 19th or the early 20th century. One of my favorite aspects of this photo is the sundog or lens flare near her right shoulder. The symmetry between her round butt and the round lens flare make an implied triangle. It doesn’t hurt that her butt is slightly out of focus and the sharp contrast really grabs the eye. 

On the Rocks

Today we are beginning to get to some of my favorite photos from Shannon’s first shoot. As a matter of fact I have this very image printed 20” X 30” in my office. It is the largest print in my office and the focal point from my desk. I love the tack sharp detail of Shannon and the rock she is lying on while the background is allowed to fall into soft focus. Shannon has been placed near a diagonal third and several implied triangles make up the photo. Having Shannon’s eyes so near to the edge of the image grab the viewer’s attention and then lead them through to the body and out to the distinct scenery.

Dark eyes

The boldness of the pose along with the slightly over-exposed models skin really grabs the viewer’s eye in this image. Speaking of eyes, since I was shooting in the mid day sun just out of the shadows Shannon’s eyes appear very dark, giving this photo its name. This image is slightly off center with the models body facing the camera yet her eyes are looking toward the center of the frame build tension in the viewers mind. Overall the harsh sunlight really makes this image and gives it a dramatic moon-like feel.

Texture and contrast

This is another photo from Shannon Purdy's coal tailing shoot in Madrid, New Mexico. There are a few things that really work well for this photo. The first and most striking element of composition is the contrast of Shannon's skin tone to that of the jet-black coal. Second, the contrast between the textures of the skin to the jagged environment really grabs the eyes attention. If you allow your eye to break the image down into parts you will notice several triangles or implied triangles throughout the image. From the large implied triangle of the coal mound itself the to small triangles created by the breast they are everywhere. In the background the elements of the tree and the sky give the photo depth. 

Flat photo

This is another image from our mountain shoot in New Mexico. I was trying to use some very basic rules of composition, which I did not have a very good understanding of yet. I tried to fill the frame but did not capture what I was expecting. This photo features descent side lighting and the parallel flow of Shannon’s arms and the nearby foothills works very well. The most notable part of the photo is the contrast of texture. The smooth lines of the model to the rugged surrounds really make her figure pop to the viewer’s eye. There are a lot of potential fixes to this image. The easiest and most notable would have been to have the model twist toward the light source while bending down a bit more. This would have placed a triangle of light on her breast and a little patch of light on her right butt cheek giving a little more depth and eye appeal to the photo.

Madrid, New Mexico

Just a short fifteen days after my first shoot we, my family, had a trip set to visit my parents in New Mexico. Prior to leaving I posted a few ads online looking for models to work with during our stay. I was able to find two interested in shooting with me. My wife and I traveled to Madrid, an old coal mining town, to meet one of the models I had confirmed for a shoot on the nearby coal tailings. We set to meet at The Mine Shaft Tavern est 1899 which is a local hot spot. During our meeting the amateur model stated it was too cold to shoot and we parted ways. Disappointed I asked my wife if she would be willing to give modeling a try. Shannon had always wanted to model but never got the opportunity. Now the chance was staring her in the face and she decided to give it a go. It was after a few photos I knew I had married the best women in the world and now had a new muse. We had so much fun together and still work together as photographer & model as well as photographer & assistant to this day. It has become our way of getting away from it all and spending quality time together. Shannon has gone on to be a very popular local figure model and has worked with some really talented photographers. It has been a fun journey.

In this first image I was concentrating on the rule of thirds as well as the contrast of texture. The thing that made this photo stick out to me was the beam of sun that by chance illuminated Shannon's left nipple.