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Yesterday, my sister shared an image on Facebook (shown below). I commented that it is a good photo, compositionally, but it has poor caption which doesn’t do justice to the nicely captured image. My sister, all her life immersed in music, has little clue about what I was talking about. She asked me to explain.

Boy and Girl Photo From Facebook My Sister Asked About Composition

I shall attempt this challenge. Please, readers, take this with a large grain of salt. Plus some.

First, let me opine to you what composition is. Composition is about the focus of any image. It is what the picture is all about. It directs, tells or even excites the viewer audience to look at what you want them to appreciate. It draws their eyes to the parts of the image you want them to focus on. Other things are secondary.

But, before we delve dizzily into the rules of composition, understand that rules are best meant to be broken, sometimes. What’s most important is for the photographer to capture the moments, to immortalize the intimate feelings as they occur without having to worry about balance and rules. In other words, no rules is also a rule.


Now, most artists, image makers and photographers, at one time in their artistic experience, have been introduced to the concept of The Rule of Thirds. This rule is a fundamental guide to composition based on an imaginary grid. The grid divides the photo into 3 parts horizontally, and 3 parts vertically, thus shown in the illustration (left).

It is said that where the lines intersect (bullet points), these are the locations where the key interest areas of your photo should be represented or shown, or thereabouts. Now, let’s see if the rule of thirds can be applied to the aforementioned photo.

For this photo, it is interesting enough that the boy on the left was positioned in the left vertical third, the girl, in the middle third and the blank “uninteresting” space in the background in the right third(such “blank” space is called negative space in art and design). If you looked at their heads, the boy’s head is in the top horizontal third (most part of it), and so is the girl’s head. Notice too, that both arms of the two children are snugged in the middle horizontal third, while the rest of their bodies fill the bottom horizontal third.

WOW! I’m impressed. Did the photographer actually do this when he captured this photo? Maybe. Or maybe during editing he cropped this photo for this Rule of Third compositional balance.


The Golden Spiral or Fibonacci Spiral

In many of human designs, from boats to airplanes, we copy nature’s blueprints for building the best man-made streamlined objects.

The golden spiral, also known as the golden mean, the divine proportion, and the Fibonacci spiral, became popular from around 400 B.C. This spiral is a mathematical formulation which mimics the swirls of the nautilus shell. In my opinion, it is nature’s most perfect symmetry (or assymmetry, asymptotic in nature).

As an image maker, I prefer the Golden Spiral as my compositional tool. The Fibonacci spiral leads our eyes into the photo and excites our imagination and appreciation for the image. This is partly due to our instinctive ability to notice pattern prevalent in nature, e.g. in the nautilus shell, roses, sunflowers, and even the cosmic constellations, etc. Images composed using the Golden Spiral are, therefore, in my opinion, dynamic, energetic and impactful.

Comparing The Golden Spiral and Rule of Thirds

Note that the Rule of Thirds and The Golden Spiral are quite similar in the divisions of compositional space. As an image maker, I gladly adopt the Golden Mean for its organic origins, which I shall illustrate with examples a bit later.

Now, let us place the Golden Spiral on the boy and girl photo we discussed above. Is this still a good picture? You bet. But, as you can see, it lacks a good focus (the start of the spiral being the centre of attraction). Nevertheless, encompassed along this spiral, you see both the boy and girl are deeply engaged in their play, their carefree smiles and laughter, making it a dynamic photo. Interestingly enough, the twigs or branches of the plant in the background are outside of this spiral, the negative space. How brilliant is that? I call that great accidental composition.

The Fibonacci Spiral superimposed

Now, what if you have a grid placed over your digital camera live view screen. And, you play God by asking the girl to lower her left arm a little and towards the centre of the tree trunk? You would get this near perfect composition.

What if you played God?

By now, I am sure you should be impressed with the organic, fluid, dynamic composition rule using the Fibonacci spiral. I certainly am.

Do bear in mind, however, that in nature things can also be chaotic. So, let’s not lose sleep if the image you are composing doesn’t fall on the key “points” along the slopes of the spiral, or on the grids of the Rule of Thirds. What matters most is you shoot lots of photos, regardless of these rules, for memories’ sake. But, if you have the luxury of time in your hands, why not try the Golden Spiral way of photographic composition? It is my preferred way.

Next, I show you a few photographs composed using this principle, by Jake Garn. I’m sure you’d agree with me the Golden Spiral makes great visual impact to images.  With this discourse, I hope you now have a better understanding of photographic / artistic composition.

© Jake Garn Photography

© Jake Garn Photography

In closing, I would like to ask if you knew Mona Lisa, painted by Leonardo da Vinci, also used the Fibonacci Spiral composition?  Try it for yourself. Google the Mona Lisa image, and superimpose the Golden Spiral over it. You will be pleasantly surprised. Why not take part in this conversation and submit your other images based on the concept of The Golden Spiral? And, please have fun while doing so.

© Jake Garn Photography

Dear Sis, I trust you now have a better understanding of artistic / photographic composition. Go and shoot lots of pictures. And, remember to print them too.

Photographic Rule or No Rule, This is A Great Photo.

Photographic Composition Rule or No Rule, This Is Still A Great Photo.