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An Introduction to Golden Spiral Composition Method

by Sander-Martijn on 04/08/2011

The Golden Spiral Nautilus spiral and Ediely

The Golden Spiral Nautilus spiral and Ediely

Recently Chris Gampat wrote a great introduction to The Rule of Thirds, one of the most popular composition techniques. Today I am going to introduce you to another form of composition and the one I prefer, The Golden Spiral.

Serious Schooling

Used at least as early as 400 B.C., the Golden Proportion, based on the irrational number Phi has fascinated mathematicians, artists and architects for a couple thousand years. Fibonacci is best known for his use of it in the Fibonacci sequence. Da Vinci used it extensively as did Michelangelo and countless others. But what is it, and why is it so powerful?


Fatima Robinson dancing in a Golden Spiral

Fatima Robinson dancing in a Golden Spiral

Mathematically it’s a logarithmic spiral, asymptotic in nature. But we’re photographers, not mathemeticians, so I’d rather talk about it from a human perspective.

Golden Spirals and other logarithmic spirals capture our eye and imagination at least partly due to their prevalence in nature. Commonly cited examples include cross sections of a nautilus shell, sunflowers and other flowers, pinecones and the cosmos. I recently discovered that they are often not exactly golden spirals but the logarithmic nature of them still appears natural and sensible.

I imagine the Golden Spiral when I am shooting but that takes practice. Lightroom gives you the ability to see it when cropping your images though so you can fine tune it later. In crop mode Lightroom can show you various compositional grids. Cycle through them with O, then rotate the grid with shift+O. I accidentally discovered that the Golden Spiral is one of the options and was thrilled about it. Before I used Lightroom I would keep a file containing the Golden Spiral on my computer and would place it in photoshop to check my composition. How exciting to have it at my fingertips all the time.

Careful composition for a cognac ad using the Golden Spiral

Careful composition for a cognac ad using the Golden Spiral

Why do I prefer this technique? One reason is that millenia of masters of art can’t be wrong. Another is that images that follow this inherently look well composed while not being obvious why. They just look right. Most importantly I feel that using this technique to compose my images adds a dynamic nature to my images, a sense of energy and motion.

A final note on composition. Composition tells your audience where you want them to look. It draws their eye to the parts of the image you want them to focus on, as much as lighting and color do. Which one you use when shooting and cropping is not that important as long as you use one. Most images that follow one compositional technique will also follow another. If you compose using the rule of thirds there is a reasonable chance it will also fit into the Golden Spiral and vice versa. Choose one and work with it and your images will look better.

The Golden Spiral - notice me, and my guitar

The Golden Spiral - notice me, and my guitar

Read more about the history of The Golden Proportion in The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World’s Most Astonishing Number

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