The Divine Proportion: Balancing the Golden Rule

Nature created it; visual artists follow it.

From sea-shells and leaves to flower petals, and yes, a Gecko’s tail, using aesthetically-pleasing framing creatively draws your viewer into your shot composition.

Divine01Nature created it; visual artists follow it. From sea-shells and leaves to flower petals, and yes, a Gecko’s tail, using aesthetically-pleasing framing creatively draws your viewer into your shot composition.

It’s All in What You See

Whether dealing with ancient subject matter or the dozens of soccer goals your kid scores this season, how you frame your shots is crucially important to how your video will look.

Poorly-framed shots not only leave much of the important visual information out of the picture, but they can also subtly— or not so subtly—create unwelcome tension for the viewer. That’s fine if it’s a horror flick, but it’s not so great if it’s your kid’s fifth birthday.

Composing your shot is also an act of artistic expression. There’s power in pictures. Giving some forethought to how to frame your shot allows you to convey any number of emotions, from fear to peaceful tranquility.

An Age-Old QuestionDivine02For hundreds—if not thousands—of years, visual artists have been studying how best to frame their subjects and exactly where to plant the focus of their compositions. While there are no definitive rules about how to frame your shots, there are certainly tried and true guidelines that are well worth looking at. The rule of thirds is based on vertical and horizontal lines that intersect within the Fibonacci Spiral. In art and science, these lines are found in many places.

Divine03

The Divine Proportion

In 1202, an Italian mathematician known as Fibonacci published a book introducing to Western mathematics the numeric symbols we use today. In the same text, he also introduced a series of numbers, known today as the Fibonacci Sequence (see left ). The first number of the sequence is 0, the second number is 1, and each subsequent number is equal to the sum of the previous two numbers of the sequence itself.

What makes this sequence so special is that eventually, no matter what two numbers you start with, the sequence will settle into a ratio of 1:1.618, also known as the Divine Proportion. Curiously, these numbers and ratio show up throughout nature, from the measurements of the chambered nautilus shell to the number of spirals on a pinecone.

The idea behind using the Divine Proportion to frame your shots is that, since it’s found throughout nature, it therefore lends itself to creating intrinsically beautiful compositions. The formula to create a template using the Divine Proportion is fairly technical, so for our purpose, we will illustrate it graphically (above). Each rectangle is half the size of the previous one, tightening up to where the supposed sweet spot lies.

Divine04

An object of interest residing at the intersection of a vertical and horizontal third should be in focus (left). If it is not, in can create an unbalanced look (right).

This ratio shows up in architecture, paintings, photography and musical compositions. Leonardo da Vinci supposedly used it in many of his classic paintings and sketches, including the Mona Lisa and the Vitruvian Man. Salvador Dali used it in his portrayal of The Last Supper. And perhaps, now, you can get creative and use it in your masterpiece as well.

One interesting aspect of the Divine Proportion is that many visual artists naturally place the focus of their compositions in the sweet spot, seemingly without knowing it. In many cases, we’ll never know whether some of the great artists used these measurements intentionally or if the placement just felt right to them.