Many people say composition is the most important thing in photography. While I don’t necessarily agree (because light is the no.1 thing for me), I do believe that a photograph can’t be good unless the composition is proper. Framing an image might seem easy at first glance to the untrained eye, after all, all you have to do is move a rectangle around, right? There is certainly more to it than that. Composition is essentially the arrangement of certain elements in a visual field in order to produce a harmonic relationship between them. Having good composition skills comes with practice and some understanding of geometry (not too much, don’t worry). The most commonly known composition rules are the rule of thirds and the golden ratio. I’ll explain both of them so that you can understand how they work, and which is better in a certain situation.
The Golden Ratio
There are a number of derivations of this ratio, in the form of golden spirals, triangles and other geometrical shapes. In photography, these principles can be applied in many situations, and the early masters, such as Cartier Bresson understood this. It’s probably one reason why their work has remained timeless and continues to be a reference for all of us.
Henri Cartier Bresson
The rule of thirds
It’s the most common rule in photography. I think it’s due probably to the fact that it’s easy to understand by anyone. Some say it is an expanded form of the Golden ratio. It is basically a method of imagining a frame divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced vertical lines and two equally spaced horizontal lines. It is used by aligning the subject with the guide lines and the intersection points and allowing the linear features to flow from one section to another.
Source: Wikipedia commons
So which is best?
There isn’t a straight, simple answer, however the golden ratio seems to be best used in portraits and photographs with people, as their face is usually placed in the golden spiral.
Landscape photography however prefers the rule of thirds. The intersections are usually placed over the important elements of the image. Also, it’s best to usually divide land, water and sky into three, equal parts.
Keep in mind, you should know these rules and for that you need to practice. However, you should also be able to break them, because there will come a time when that will be necessary. Be sure to know what you’re doing and not go all rebellious in your compositions without a particular reason.
*While Fibonacci's equations are definitely connected to the Golden Ratio, he was not the first to use it in equations and there is evidence of the Golden Ratio in very ancient architecture.