The Golden Ratio in Photography

Aim: To learn and use The Golden Ratio in Photography.

The golden ratio is applied to our images in many different ways and is known by many different names.  Some of the names are: the golden mean, phi, Fibonacci spiral, or the divine proportion.


  • To learn a new composition technique in photography
  • To experiment with the golden ratio.
  • To apply the golden ratio to participants compositions in many different ways, with the goal of creating a naturally striking composition.

Duration: 80 min.

Number of participants: 5 – 15

Materials: computer, stable internet connection, camera


You can find the golden ratio everywhere in nature, from a nautilus shell to the waves of the ocean. Even parts of the human body and our DNA are built based on it.

By using the golden ratio, you can create a photo that is more pleasing to the eye in a natural way.

To start, understand that the golden ratio is applied to your images in many different ways and is known by many different names.  Some of the names you might be familiar with are: the golden mean, phi, Fibonacci spiral, or the divine proportion.  You may be familiar with one or more of these terms, but don’t be confused.

Each of these uses the golden ratio in a different way to create art, images and architecture that is pleasing to the human eye.

The golden ratio is a ratio of approximately 1.618 to 1. Artists have used this ratio for centuries to create works of art from paintings to architecture. Beethoven uses it in his famous fifth Symphony. It truly is all around us, including in our own bodies.

In photography the most common name is the Golden Spiral. For the golden spiral to work, it should be applied to an image with the dimensions of the golden rectangle. In other words, an image (rectangle) whose long side is 1.618 times longer as the short side. Think 10×16 for example.  Applying a spiral inside an image with dimensions of a different ratio wouldn’t have the same natural appeal.  The golden spiral depends on the golden rectangle as it’s canvas. Without it it’s just a spiral, and not ‘golden’.

The facilitator can choose if they want to explain more about the Golden  Ration by themselves or play a video through shared screen.

If they choose to play a video, they share their screen and show all or one of the following:

If they choose to talk and show photos on their shared screen, they should follow the next text:

What Is the Golden Ratio?

The golden ratio is a composition guide. Some people call it the Fibonacci spiral, golden spiral, phi grid, divine proportion, or the golden mean.

It helps to lead the viewer through the entire photo. The composition will be more pleasing and balanced for the human eye.

The golden ratio existed well before the modern camera’s birth. When the Egyptians built their pyramids, they used the golden ratio. Famous art pieces such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper are also following the rules of it.

But it does not stem from painting techniques. The golden ratio comes from mathematics. The Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci came up with the idea when he arranged a series of numbers.

Following the sequence of his numbers can create an aesthetically pleasing art composition.

Don’t let mathematics scare you off though! You don’t need to apply any numerical calculations to use this technique.

The golden ratio is 1.618 to 1, and it is based on the spirals seen in nature from DNA to ocean waves.

Even if you dislike maths, this concept can change your composition from good to excellent.

There are several ways to use the golden ratio. The Phi Grid and the Fibonacci Spiral are the most common ones applied in photography.

What is The Phi Grid?

The Phi Grid is another way of considering proportion in photography. It looks like the Rule of Thirds, but you are not dividing the frame into equal thirds. The grid consists of a 1:0.618:1 ratio instead of the usual 1:1:1. The centre lines are closer to each other.

Using this method means that your subject is located a bit more central.

This way, your composition will be more unique and draw the viewer’s attention quickly to your subject.

What is The Fibonacci Spiral?

The Fibonacci or golden spiral is built from a series of squares that are based on the Fibonacci numbers. The length of every square is a Fibonacci number.

Imagine placing the squares within a frame. If you draw arcs from opposite corners of each square, you will end up with a curve resembling the shape of a spiral. This is a pattern that appears everywhere in nature and resembles the shell of a nautilus.

The curve flows through the frame and leads your eye around the picture.

It looks something like this:

So how do you use the golden ratio in photography?

You should place the area with the most details in the smallest box of the coil. This does not have to be in one of the corners. It can be anywhere in the frame. Some say that the face of the Mona Lisa is also placed within that crucial area.

Try to position the rest of the subject within the curve too. This will lead the eye of the viewer through the image in a natural way.

Even if you use different composition guidelines, the subjects’ position is very similar.

The golden ratio encourages photographers to consider not only where the subject is. It also matters where you place everything else in the picture.

Experiment with different composition methods and see which technique works for you. There is no right answer when it comes to creative composition. It all depends on your subject and its surroundings.

How to Apply the Golden Ratio in Your Photos

Both golden ratio techniques can improve the composition a lot. But how do you know which method to apply?

Step 1: Check the Scene

How you use the golden ratio depends on the scene in front of you. Composition techniques are there to help you think about the scene. Use them before pointing and shooting.

You know the different composition techniques. Now you need to select the right method. To do that, start asking yourself questions about the potential image in front of you:

  • What is the subject of the photo? That’s where you’ll want to lead the eye.
  • What other elements can you include in the scene? Look at everything else in the scene and determine if it distracts from the subject or enhances it.
  • Are there any leading lines or natural curves in the image? Leading lines work well with the grid, while natural curves are just asking for a golden ratio spiral.

Step 2: Determine Which Composition Method You Want to Use

Next, choose between the golden spiral and the phi grid. You can’t contort a straight object to fit inside a spiral, so if your scene has great leading lines, try the grid.

If your scene has more natural curves, the golden spiral is a better fit. From the shape of a tree to the curve of a cheekbone, anything can work in your favour.

The golden ratio is a more advanced version of the Rule of Thirds, but it’s still okay to call on the Rule of Thirds again. If the scene works best with that composition technique, use it!

Step 3: Imagine the Overlay and Shoot

Imagining a complex spiral aligned over your photo can be tricky at first. If you simplify the concept, it’s a bit easier to manage.

Check which built-in grid overlays your camera has. You can find the options if you go to the settings. Most cameras will have the Rule of Thirds. Even if that isn’t the composition guide you are using, it’s helpful to enable the feature.

Next, choose which corner of the image to use. You’ll want to place the subject on the intersection of the lines with the grid, or in the smallest part of the spiral.

Adjust your composition to any leading lines or curves that you identified in the scene. Position the elements on the remaining grid lines or along the spiral.

You can exaggerate lines and angles by adjusting your position. Climb to a higher viewing point, kneel or lay down on the ground. You can also move closer, farther, or step aside to adjust the lines.

Explore your possibilities! The goal is to place other elements of the scene on that spiral out from the subject. If you use the grid method, you should try to place the elements on one of the unused lines in the phi grid.

Then, you shoot. Take a few variations if you’re unsure and you’re not working with a fast subject. Change the composition a bit between the shots and see which fits the best the golden ratio rules. 

Once the facilitator finishes with the expiation participants take their photos and present it to the group. The facilitator ends the activity with a discussion of what they learned and how they felt taking and watching the photos.

Expected outcomes:

  • Participants have learned a new composition technique in photography
  • Participant have taken photos and experimented using the golden spiral.
  • Participants have learned how to apply the golden ratio and golden spiral to their compositions in many different ways.