Silence is golden.
But unfortunately people brabble along all over. For example on the classical and honourable topic of the golden ratio. The problem, however, is that while the golden ratio is a fairly well-defined thing and one with plenty of history and examples to back it up, a very low percentage of people talking today actually know what the words they are using mean. Apparently, to the aspiring internet educated photographer the golden ratio is what used to be known as the ‘rule of thirds‘.
Things like that just drive me crazy. And they make it hard to even talk to people because they don’t know what they are talking about and change expressions like ‘using a golden ratio’ – which in my ears sounds like something that requires a fair bit of skill, care and experience to do well – to mean that they put the person not in the centre of the image but rather at about a third on the side, quite possibly right where some of those handy digital cameras draw a helpful line on screen.
And that’s great in a way. Because the ‘rule of thirds’ is a very handy way to make a picture just that little bit more interesting. But it’s just not a golden ratio and many people using these words today won’t even be able to point out golden ratios in pictures when asked to do so.
Of course there’s also a fair bit of beautiful mathematics lurking in the background here. But that’s not even my point, particularly as the people who brabble about golden ratios just because they picked up the word are usually the people who are overly taxed by using fractions and thus unable to see any beauty in whatever may come from them.
Just trying to convince people of their fallacy cost me a lot of energy. Unfortunately I only got the nice layout or arts books from the library (Tschichold was good) and don’t have copies around to point people to. So it was hard to spontaneously find harmless, easy to understand examples without any mathematics lingering close to them at home.
Let me also curse the internet in this context. You won’t believe how much nonsense on the topic you will find just by googling the term with some related words. While the plain Google search will even give you the number right there and even the English wikipedia entry is usable (though too obviously mathematical for people who fear formulæ) and even contains a few good and some rather unexplained examples, you don’t need to look far to see sites, possibly even owned by photo companies, selling people the rule of thirds as the golden ratio. The most extreme of them even seemed to tell people that the golden ratio is super harmonic, gave them the formula for that and then went on to tell them about splitting things 7:3 and using the rule of thirds. Frankly, I don’t get it.
Amusingly the aspect ratio of MacBook screens these days is 16:10 and thus quite close to the golden ratio (though not as close as the ratio of a mile by a kilometre). Luckily it never struck me as particularly æsthetic. Which hints that there’s more to art than just getting the numbers almost right.
Read more on the golden ratio along with some additional examples and comparison in a later post.
Personally, I intentionally break the rule of thirds whenever I can in photography and in life.
Things are so much more interesting that way.
I totally agree with you Dave.
Still, I think the rule of thirds is a fantastic thing for people with fewer photos under their belt. It’s easy to stick to, relatively risk-free and greatly improves the photos of beginners over the first intuition to just put things in the centre all the time.
So it’s a great first step, makes people more aware of that they actually can frame things in their pictures and a good starting point to go and look for more interesting framing.
Didn’t know about rule of thirds for life. Hope I didn’t miss anything. Will try a bit of free association on this topic…
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