The "Golden Section" versus the "Rule of Thirds."

jamesbjenkins

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They're all just tools in a toolbox, IMO. There's no much thing as universal "rules" in photography when it comes to things like composition. For things like exposure and white balance, obviously there are...

This discussion is akin to a beginner asking, "WHATZ THE BESSST LENZ?", the only answer is "it depends on the situation."
 

Scatterbrained

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He's saying he can spot the difference between 61% and 66% visually in an image where the subject could easily be several times larger than the difference in placement?

Sounds suspiciously like a blowhard trying to sound like he knows something.

Every example I see explaining why the golden ratio is better than thirds, the difference in composition is really influenced by something else entirely, like the cropping out or intentional including of some other element.
I can tell the difference between 10, 12, 13, and 14mm bolt heads and nuts by looking at them. Why? Because it's what I've been doing for years. Most people can't. There is a distinct difference between Golden Mean and Rule of thirds composition. Not everyone can tell. What's really bad is when someone is so slavish to the R.o.T. that they literally just compose their images to have something on each "eye" with no thought for the movement and dynamics of the image; resulting in a very "rigid" composition. Personally, I like to compose on diagonals via the golden section.

Personally, I like to compose on a canvas where the space is used intentionally for foreground and background elements, moving things or the canvas around until it "works".

In the discussion jw posted, the example image was better on the thirds than the golden ratio... why? Because it (sorta almost) finished cropping out the half cropped out guitar player on the left. But it would have been even better with the guitarist left in and the singer centered. But hey, then it wouldn't be a golden composition, it would just be a shot that works.
You can "move things around until it works" or you can arm yourself with the knowledge of visual language to know beforehand what does and doesn't work and why. You can see the scene and know how things will weigh the composition and effect it's balance; how different points and lines will effect the flow of the image, how subject placement, angles and patterns will effect the energy and strength of an image. There is a visual language to art. Some choose to ignore it, call it hogwash, and move on without it; not realizing that even their instincts about what "works" are influenced from the art and media they've been subjected too their whole lives.
 

imagemaker46

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In the grand scheme of producing good images what difference does it all really make if someone came up with golden rules or rules of thirds, or any other rules. I grew up not knowing any of this stuff and if I did, would it have made my images better, I seriously doubt it.
 

Scatterbrained

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In the grand scheme of producing good images what difference does it all really make if someone came up with golden rules or rules of thirds, or any other rules. I grew up not knowing any of this stuff and if I did, would it have made my images better, I seriously doubt it.
You learned to talk without having to get it from a textbook. It's cultural. You have been subjected to visual media your entire life. Movies, magazines, painting, photos. You taste for images didn't develop in a void.
 

nycphotography

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I didn't say there is nothing to learn from the "rules". Of course there is a visual language... And the more adept you are with it the faster you'll get to what "works" and the more reliably you will get to what works. But the more you are bound by it, the more you will miss out on "what works unxpectedly", and that is also an important part of the language of art.

But say that one should prefer one compositional "rule" over another compositional "rule" because it's universally "better"? Hogwash. It's like me saying you should like green instead of red because it's a more universal color that occurs more in nature. Same exact logic as it being used to support the golden ratio as the correct composition. And just as redonculous.
 

Overread

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I wonder if we could keep this discussion on the lines of comparing the theories of composition and leave the utterly done to death "should you learn rules/you shouldn't learn rules/I don't use rules/I don't like rules/I'm bacon" out of the thread for once. It's tired and repeated and we've done it to death many a time - if you want to do it again please by all means start up your own thread on the subject, but leave this one to actually have a discussion on the merits of different compositional theories.
 

nycphotography

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Sounds suspiciously like a blowhard trying to sound like he knows something.

You mean much like yourself?

Absolutely. I say we should always fill the frame. That's the rule we all should use. It it's good enough for sports illustrated it should be good enough for everyone.

The problem with discussing the merits of compositional theories is that its very much akin to discussing the merits of religious theories. Ultimately, they are all valid and valuable. But relative merit is a very subjective thing.
 

The_Traveler

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Every example I see explaining why the golden ratio is better than thirds, the difference in composition is really influenced by something else entirely, like the cropping out or intentional including of some other element.

^this
 

amolitor

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In the 19th century they used a theory based on ideas with names like:

Breadth, Unity, Balance, Repose, Harmony, Variety.

(all these words still carry their artistic definitions in a good dictionary, perhaps around definition #3, but it's there)

All were qualities of a picture, easily seen, not so easily described. Certain things were well understood to tend to contribute to one or more of these properties, certain things were well understood to contend against one or more of these properties. A "good" picture was one which exhibited these properties in suitable degree so as to produce a pleasing picture.

Now, the 19th century conception of art did not include such things as edgy, unbalanced, off kilter, cramped, awkward, pictures which used these qualities to good purpose. Still, it's an easy extension of the 19th century ideas to arrive at this sort of thing. The point is that they viewed the frame in a holistic way. Everything in the frame works together, change anything and the picture changes. They had no obsession with subjects, there was simply a hierarchy of importance in the objects and visual features in the frame. Usually whatever we think of as the subject was the most important object -- if there was a "subject" in the sense that we think of these things.

This isn't the only theory of composition out there, but it's an actual complete and functioning system. It requires that the artist supply taste and skill, it requires that the artist have looked at a lot of pictures and maybe copied some, and taken them apart in some sense to understand these properties of Breadth, Unity, Variety, Balance, and so on, in a useful and applicable way.

I have literally never found a web site about photographic composition that provided a useful *system* as such. They offer up the same bunch of tips that work some of the time and don't at other times, with no understanding, and certainly no explanation of, why and when they work and when they don't. It's also rare to find such a web site that doesn't contain at least one glaring error even according to its own standards. Photographic web sites on composition are, to offer an analogy, like a web site that says "Use a faster shutter speed to freeze motion, and a slower one to create blur" without mentioning aperture or ISO, and without offering any systemic approach to exposure as a holistic thing.

It is utterly maddening.
 

vintagesnaps

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Using just the rule of thirds could be limiting I think if that's mostly what's used to compose images; it's one concept that could be used to get a nicely balanced photo but there's more to composition than that.

The golden ratio (and golden section, and golden rectangle, etc.) seems familiar so I must have learned it in art in school but I've had to look it up because I can't say I remembered the specifics. But I do remember learning in drawing classes how to get good proportion in a drawing, and I think that's what it relates to - having a 'golden' proportion can give a good balance to your composition because it seems to be a proportion that can be pleasing visually.
The Fibonacci Series - The Golden Ratio - The Golden Ratio

Apparently it's found in nature - in us, in plant life, etc., and has been used in architecture going way back. I wonder if someone who has an eye for photography is seeing that proportion in what they photograph without realizing there's a mathematical basis to it. It seems to occur in ourselves and in the world around us more than we might realize.
The Beauty of the Golden Ratio
The Golden Ratio in Nature

Maybe your friend is seeing a good bit of the use of thirds in your photos and is trying to suggest that you look at other concepts as well that can be useful in composition.
 

DiskoJoe

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You guys should think less and shoot more. Both of the rules will give similar output.
 

Patrice

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As a designer of furniture some of these artistic 'rules' do come in handy as a point of departure. As well as the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio I also use and teach the Hambridge progression. An understanding of the 'rules' and how and why they are used is essential in developing a design 'eye'. Not to say that these 'rules' must be followed at all times but they do provide a departure point.
 

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