A.J. Feather

Journalist, Developer

I'm a Missouri native currently seeking a dual masters in computer science and journalism from Columbia University in New York City. Every week I also host an awesome podcast called "Integrate" with my friend Mikah, which you can find at Integrate.FM.

Before moving to New York, I obtained undergraduate degrees in journalism and economics from the University of Missouri-Columbia. In Columbia, I hosted a weekly show called "Talking Politics" for KBIA, the local NPR member station and produced, wrote and anchored video for Newsy.com way too early in the morning.

There has never been a political column I did not enjoy reading or an Apple product I did not enjoy using.

Is the Rule of Thirds just a rip-off of the Golden Ratio?

In J2150 this week we discussed a number of important techniques for taking pictures that allow photographers to create strong visual statements like this…


(Source: pxleyes.com)

and this…


(Source: alexsjournal1.blogspot.com)

In class, we learned to pay attention to every picture's use of lighting, emotional value, looking room and most importantly, the Rule of Thirds.  The Rule of Thirds states that an image should be divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines.  The subject or action should then be placed on those lines.  (Placing the subject or action on the intersection of those lines is considered even better in many cases.)


(Source: timberwolfphotolounge.blogspot.com)

The first record of this rule was written by John Thomas Smith in 1797.  Smith said this is not just for dividing the frame.  It's also for the division of masses, straight lines and groups.  However, Smith never never alluded to the intersections of the lines being especially great for subject placement, which is now a generally accepted idea. (as displayed in all the pictures above)

Though after some research, I found that the Rule of Thirds might not be such an original idea.  In particular, photographer Jake Garn posted here about why he thinks the Rule of Thirds is "just a lazy man's sham."  Garn says that the Rule of Thirds is actually a simplified version of the Golden Ratio, which is a mathematical principle that has been seen in artwork as early as 400 B.C. (This is also refered to as the Golden Mean, Golden Section, Divine Proportion, etc...)

(Source: JakeGarn.com)

The Golden Ratio frequently appears in geometry.  It's important to the structure of regular pentagrams and pentagons, but its constant appearance in nature and its seemingly unintentional use in architecture and art is what has fascinated intellectuals for centuries.  Adolf Zeising, a 19th Century psychologist, wrote of the Golden Ratio as a universal law of sorts, saying it is "...the ground principle of all formative striving for beauty and completeness in the realms of both nature and art..."  One of the most recent discoveries of the Golden Ratio in nature is its appearance in Human Genome DNA.  (cite)

However in my opinion, the most important place the Golden Ratio appears is here:

(Source: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/golden%20ratio)

I should be fair and say there is a lot of controversy over whether the Golden Ratio is actually as prevalent as many claim it to be.  Studies that tested whether the human mind prefers shapes formed using the Golden Ratio have been inconclusive at best. (cite)

Regardless, the Golden Ratio and the somewhat-related Rule of Thirds seem like great places to start when beginning photography, and I'm excited to experiment with them.