Tuesday, 10 November 2009

PROJECT 13: the golden section

The golden section, fibonacci spiral and rule of thirds have intrigued me since starting this course.  On other blogs and the OCA flickr forum I can see that it has for many other students too.  The golden section and rule of thirds are the two that I am trying decipher the differences between.  The fibonacci spiral on the other hand is visually very pleasing to look at and makes sense to me.  However, this is me, who is not a mathematical person in the slightest.  I have for some time used the rule of thirds to help compose my shots but using the golden section in addition will take some getting used to.  When looking back at images I can see how you can test if the theories are applied in an image, however, it is another skill altogether using the theories at the time, or before, you actually press the shutter button. The formulas are very specific and applying them in photography will for the most part be an estimate. Therefore in my mind the theories and differences between them  become less relevant and combined, they act as a helpful guide rather than a complicated law to abide by.  

So to start with, this is my broad understanding of the three compositional rules:
i. rule of thirds: a way of cutting up the frame in to thirds both vertically and horizontally with the intersection of these thirds providing a useful place to achieve a balanced composition. 
ii. golden section: a way of dividing the frame up so that the ratio inside the frame, from the small part to the large part, is the same as the ratio between the large part and the whole.  The lines of division this creates is different to the rule of thirds but not by much. The golden section seems to be less about the intersections and more about the balance and proportions between the larger objects and smaller objects within the frame and how they are composed.
iii. fibonacci spiral: this is another mathematical formula that develops the golden section and helps with the composition and harmonious proportions of an image as well as the points of focus in the frame.

Below I have applied both the golden section and fibonacci spiral to several of my recent images which were taken with the rule of thirds in mind.

Image 1
By following the rule of thirds, image 1 has applied the golden section and fibonacci spiral with uncanny accuracy.  Actually catching the feather in motion and keeping it in focus was not easy, so this composition whilst desired was more by chance.
Image 2
Image two is taken at Skipsea, East Yorkshire where the land is literally falling in to the sea.  It is one of my favourite places to photograph as every visit I make shows visible changes in the land.  In this picture I wanted to accentuate the straightness and continuity of the yellow lines and how they are abruptly interrupted where the tarmac has dropped in to the sea. I also used an nd1000 filter to add some drama to an otherwise grey sky. In terms of the above rules of composition, it doesn't illustrate the golden section accurately with the land mass taking up more of the image than the sky, although in terms of balance, I suspect it is fairly accurate.  However, by chance, the broken part of the road which is the intended focal point fortuitously falls in the centre of the fibonacci spiral. In addition the yellow lines are working as lead in lines that take a direct route to the centre of the spiral. Perhaps this harmonious division of the frame is instinctive after all.
 Image 3
Image 3 was taken very quickly (not really very good practice snapping on a railway track).  I wanted to build an image of an industrial landscape with the turbines and the railway tracks leading in to the distance. Set with the backdrop of the sunset.  Whilst not exactly following the lines of the golden section or fibonacci spiral, the centre of the closest turbine is centred at the heart of the spiral.

Image 4
This image was a reject from assignment one.  Again, the rules are pretty much adhered to in this image too.  This project has indirectly allayed any fears about the golden section.

Image 5

And finally in image 5 which is a vertical frame, the horizon sits lower than the rule of thirds or golden section.  The stones and their composition sit comfortably within the golden section lines and intersections. Would the image be improved by raising the horizon.  Yes, it probably would. 

Just one other observation when researching these subjects.  There are a number of famous artists known to have applied the golden section diligently such as Leonardo da Vinci, Georges Pierre Suerat and Salvador Dali. This got me thinking. The first image is the last supper by Leonardo da Vinci.  This image more than any other demonstrates to me how the golden section can be meticulously applied in constructing and organising a piece of art.

This painting by Georges Pierre Suerat is also of interest as it illustrates to me how challenging it is to apply the golden section when there are multiple subjects in the picture. What appears a random arrangement of people and surroundings seems to be the contrary. Suerat appears to have used each rectangle and intersection for placement of the subjects and horizons. It is orderly and planned. 

At the end of this post, I am already reconsidering how I feel about the golden section. Carrying out this project and writing my thoughts down has made me think again about art and therefore the art of photography.  Nothing is ever left to chance, coincidence or luck.  Like with most things in life, it is due to much planning, organisation and hard work.  I'm not sure yet how this will impact on my own humble photography, but I am in no doubt that it will manifest itself somehow.

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