Research point- The golden mean and the rule of thirds

There have been many theories about visual organisation across a picture plane that might be tested – but far too many to discuss in depth here. You may wish to do some brief research into the golden mean and the rule of thirds (and some other less well- known theories if you have time), and how they’ve been applied, to start you thinking about what works compositionally and what doesn’t – and why.

It is much less interesting if the centre of interest in a sketch is dead central and it is often advised to think about placing this and the vanishing point off centre, or off the page altogether, to encourage the eye to travel around the picture.  There are several theories to support this:

The Golden Mean

Rather than recount at length the thinking behind the Golden mean here is a useful link golden-mean-for-artists/.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a guideline which applies to the process of composing visual images and proposes that an image should be imagined  divided into nine equal parts, like a face of a rubiks cube, and that important compositional elements should be placed along the intersecting lines.  It is claimed that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject.

As an example here is one of my photos, where the “action” is taking place at the lower left intersection as described in the diagram beneath.



Another method for finding the best placement of a subject within a picture is to place the “action” within the rabatment of the rectangle.  This is the perfect square (sides equal to the short side of the rectangle) found inside any rectangle.

rabatment of rectangle

For each horizontal rectangle, there is a right rabatment and a left rabatment. For each vertical rectangle there is an upper and lower rabatment. Placing the most important subjects within either of these squares helps to create a composition that your viewers will perceive as unified, harmonious and balanced.

Other Rules to bear in mind:

An odd number of objects in an image avoids symmetry and therefore creates more interest.

Space can be used to suggest the illusion of movement  in the viewers mind, for example putting space in front of a moving object/person.

Simplification of the subject by good use of light/shade. Lighter areas in a composition draw the eye, as do lines and colour.

Geometry –  triangles are pleasing to the eye, eg; the eyes and mouth in a portrait form a triangle.

Movement – Good use of the line, space, motion, shapes, tone can keep the eyes moving around the image.

Other things to bear in mind are that there should be a focal point which should not be located dead central to the page.  the arrangement of the composition would ideally lead the viewer’s eye around the picture.  Sparkling contrasting elements create interest- as do a variety of shapes between objects.


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