Composition In Portraiture

The Fibonacci sequence is the set of numbers aquired when one takes first the numbers 0 and 1 and adds them to get 1, and from that point on adds the the last two numbers of the series to get the next number in the series.

THE MAGIC RATIO

The ancient greeks somewhere knew about this certain ratio which had interesting properties. They defined it by taking a line segment, and dividing it into two parts, in such a way that the ratio of the larger portion to the original segment is the same as the ratio of the smaller segment to the larger. This ratio is 1.618 (give or take a few decimal places). If we look at the fibonacci sequence and divide the current result with the previous result, as we progress in the sequence, we can see that the answer quickly approaches the magic ratio.

• 2 / 1 = 2
• 3 / 2 = 1.5
• 5 / 3 = 1.66
• 8 / 5 = 1.6
• .
• .
• .
• 89 / 55 = 1.618
• 144 / 89 = 1.6179 etc.

Right.. so enough of the maths.

WHY DO WE CARE?

Well the magic ratio is a naturally ocurring number which was used in many places in the ancient world, including Da Vinci’s art to the great pyramids. Indeed even in todays modern world, clever marketing people use the magic ratio to lure people in (measure the ratio of the length of a credit card to the height of a credit card for instance).

So my first tip, is to crop pictures/portraits to 1:1.618

COMPOSITIONAL “HOT SPOTS”

Before you ask, I do know that the magic ratio violates normal printing ratio standards, but just try it and see. But there’s more to it than that. Next, let’s take a rectangle which obeys the magic ratio, and draw a line from one corner to the opposite adjacent corner. Now draw two different lines, from each of the remaining corners, at 45 degrees until the intersect the other diagonal. This will create two “hotspots”

Our eyes, dont only find the magic ratio crop natually appealing, but we’re also naturally drawn to these two points as points of interest. So if we’re doing a portrait and can put the subjects eyes in these spots, we’ll create a portrait that is naturally appealing to the eye

So my second tip is to frame a picture so as to ensure the subjects eyes fall on, or as close to a natural “hotspot” as possible.

FIBONACCI “HOT SPOTS”

Back to the Fibonnaci sequence…

The Fibonacci sequence, can be applied to a spiral structure (read more on it here). The resulting spiral can be seen below.

The spiral, appears naturally in nature in things like seashells, petals etc. As well as the spiral itself, we can see key intersection points, which again are hotspots which our eyes are drawn to. So by framing a photo where we place eyes close to or on these hotspots, again we create visually appealing portraits

So my third tip is to frame a picture so as to ensure the subjects eyes fall on, or as close to a natural “hotspot” on the fibonacci spiral

FIBONACCI SPIRAL

Finally, if we superimpose both diagrams over each other, we can see both the spiral and the golden mean share the same hotspot. Hopefully I’ve already shown that placing a subjects eyes on these hotspots leads to a pleasing portratit. But there’s one other thing we can try and do and that is to create a curve in the shot that follows the fibonacci spiral. Jawlines, hair, arms, backs.. can all be used to create the curve. In this last example I have framed the photograph so as the models hair and jaw line run parallel with the spiral.

So my final tip is to try and create a curve in your portraits using hands/jaws/hair that will run parallel with the fibonacci spiral

1. Great article. I’ve tried explaining this to people, but failed miserably. So I linked to your article from my blog – hope that’s ok.

2. Yup… no problem at all. I’m glad you found it useful

3. Very informative indeed! been seeing this tool on Lightroom 2 cropping guide but have no idea how to use this…Thanks a lot again for sharing, Cheers!

4. Hi Ciaran
I picked up on your blogs on Net Model where my ID is DesD. and I saw your reply to someone about flash use. Gradually going through your blogs with great interest. Also appreciated Alex above saying about Lightroom2 using the Fibonacchi ratio and have since tried it there.

Thanks for very informative articles.

Des
ps my web site is under a total revamp. In fact today I just about emptied it .

5. No worries at all Des, I’m glad they’re of use

6. Very nice explanation of something other than just the rule of thirds. I know this has helped me to understand those funky crop overlays in Lightroom

Great blog btw

7. The author has very much tried. I support the majority of commentators

8. I can see that having a focul point such as eyes positioned on these points work but I wonder why we find them asthetically pleasing?

ps.I also saw the thread on netmodel so came to check out this site.And what a great site it is!!!!!!!

Pete

• I have no idea why we like it and I don’t question it I’m very much of the opinion that if it works then don’t ask too many questions. As for net-model, I was banned from the site so no longer visit it, so I’m not sure what thread you’re referring to?

9. Also I think to bookmark, an interesting blog

Тоже думаю добавить в закладки, интересный блог.

11. Great article!! So now we have Rule of Thirds, Golden Mean, and Fibonacci Spirals, Leading Lines, and many others C,X,W,Z,S,Y. But are there other specific compositional techniques?

12. It sounds quite similar to the rule of thirds. If you divide the frame equally into thirds both horizontal and vertical planes you will get just about the same result. The number 3 is a much better number than 1.618 and easier to remember.

Cheers

13. Interesting slant on the fibonacci rectangle. This example only seems to work on Rectangles pertaining to the golden mean ratio and only provides two interesection points.

Still, I love the visual diagonals it creates.

If you create a sort of tic tac toe board with the horizonal and verticle lines spaced as follows: 1 to 0.618 to 1, you can always get to the four first order fibonacci intersection points.

For a list of 12 videos on composition in photography including fibonacci spirals see: http://glamourphotography.co/?p=719

14. Nice explanation about the fibonacci sequence. It’s the first time I came across this rule when other posts are usually focused on conventional hotspots.
good luck