Spiraling under control

People may think that artistic compositions are grown out of an organic sense of aesthetics but there is one technique that is rooted in mathematics. It’s called the Fibonacci Sequence. Or the Golden Mean. Or the Phi ratio. Or the…it actually has a half dozen or so names. I learned it as the Golden Spiral.

It’s based on the infinite phi (1.618…) and takes in the sum of the 2 previous numbers in the sequence. There is a mathematical formula to the sequence, but since math was my weakest subject in school, I won’t try to explain it here.

Visually it is expressed in a line that spreads out exponentially from a central point in an ever expanding spiral.

The golden spiral is also found in nature. Think the spiral of of the nautilus and its spirally-shaped shell. It is also the corkscrew-shape of out Milky Way galaxy or scroll of the cochlea of the inner ear. Throughout the ages artists have used the Golden Spiral as a compositional aid in art.

Whereas the rule of thirds, where you place the subject in either the right or left third of the frame, can sometimes look a bit forced, the Golden Spiral can be a little more natural looking.

When you place your main subject or point of interest at the starting point and then place other things that have a relationship to the subject along the line of the spiral, it can help to lead the viewer’s eye to your central point. You can assemble elements of your photo yourself like in a still life or portrait using the Golden Spiral or you can use it in a found photo. The latter is a little more difficult because you probably won’t be able to move any of the elements of a found scene. You’ll have to move yourself, sometimes a lot, other times just as little an inch one way or another.

Like anything else, using the Golden Spiral effectively takes practice. Don’t worry about the math, it doesn’t really matter. Just imagine the spiral in your head. Slow down, look at the scene you want to photograph carefully. Sometimes can see it easily, other times it may be a bit more difficult. But over time you can go beyond the math and it can become second nature to you.

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