Brief

Take three or four photographs in which a single point is placed in different parts of the frame. When composing the shots use these three rules: the place of the point shouldn’t be too obvious (such as right in the middle), the composition should hold a tension and be balanced (the golden section or rule of thirds) and the point should be easy to see. Evaluate the shots according to these rules and select which one you think works best.
Then take a few more shots without any rules, just being aware of the relationship of the point to the frame. Without the rules, how can you evaluate the shots? That will be a key question throughout the whole degree programme.
Add the photographs to your learning log together with brief observations.

Initial thoughts

It seems for as long art exists, there are ongoing discussions about what clinical and non-emotional rules can be projected onto the art-subject as an explanation (rule) for its visual aesthetics to the human eye and brain. As an active photographer, I’ve read numerous books, articles and magazines on the subject and never have I read a conclusive answer. I do not expect this (small) exercise will change my opinion radically. The rule of third is easy to use in framing and in-camera. Besides, most cameras have this as an overlay available. The golden section or golden rule is less easy to define in camera and definitely too complex or time-consuming on most compositions without endless time to compose and therefore, more suitable in cropping or cutting to get it spot on.

Below Fischer in his article in “Leonardo” on the application of the golden ration in visual arts, however, the amount of articles and books is almost endless on the subject, this single citation is just one of many.

There are several conclusions that I believe can be drawn from the above examples:
(1) It is not possible to conclude by means of measurements that an artist used the Golden Ratio as the theoretical basis of his work; documentary evidence is required.
(2) It is easy to confuse the use of simple proportions, for example the ratio 5/8, with the use of the Golden Ratio, for which the numerical values are close to one another.
(3) There is nothing significant about the Golden Ratio from an aesthetic viewpoint.
(4) Practising visual artists might as well abandon complex proportions, such as the Golden Ratio, in favour of simple ratios, which are
easier to work with.

Fischler, R. (1981)

An article in PetaPixel by FineArt photographer compares the rule-of-thirds and the golden-ratio rule clearly with sufficient examples and differences in overlays.

Sparkman, Jon. “Why The Golden Ratio Is Better Than The Rule Of Thirds.” PetaPixel, 25 Oct. 2016, petapixel.com/2016/10/24/golden-ratio-better-rule-thirds/. Accessed 31 Aug. 2019.

‌As an example, the article also indicates the neverending discussions on what rule should favour the other. Furthermore, I watched:

Tavis Leaf Glover. “YouTube.” YouTube, 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=AJ7fahM5sBQ. Accessed 31 Aug. 2019.

Glover sums up ten reasons not to use the rule of thirds but use dynamic composition rules, based on, e.g. Phi and the Golden Rule instead. His main argument is possibly the fact the rule of thirds is without sufficient reason the most used and therefore reduces the uniqueness of an image.

The few things Henri Cartier Bresson wrote about composition as a response to experts analysing his photographs and compositions, this short paragraph always comes to mind:

“Composition must be one of our constant preoccupations, but at the moment of shooting it can stem only from our intuition, for we are out to capture the fugitive moment, and all the interrelationships involved are on the move”. In applying the Golden Rule, the only pair of compasses at the photographer’s disposal is his own pair of eyes. Any geomet­rical analysis, any reducing of the picture to a schema, can be done only (because of its very nature) after the photograph has been taken, developed, and printed – and then it can be used only for a post-mortem examination of the picture. I hope we will never see the day when photo shops sell little schema grills to clamp onto our viewfinders, and the Golden Rule will never be found etched on our ground glass.” (Cartier-Bresson,H.)

Execution

In my present camera’s I always have the Rule-of-Thirds grid on (unfortunately it is the only one available, outside a fine raster view). This overlay makes me always aware of this rule in the frame. I also know, the Golden ratio is never far off there to the outside, so either I guess this Golden Ratio or I define it in post/crop.

I knew it would be more difficult for me to ignore the rules than to compose by the rules. After shooting this long and much with grid-on and fully aware of the rules, ignoring them without reason, just for exercise sake, felt a bit sloppy and almost unnatural. On the other hand, I also know one rule is never far away from the other. The rule of thirds, Golden Ratio and some variations like Golden Circle/Fabonacci, Dynamic Ratio’s based on square root, diagonals, and so on. If you search long enough, a specific point in an image will probably always line up with some rule.

I also interpreted the “point” to be a single isolated, easy to define object in the frame, possibly the main subject by intention or by interpretation of the viewer.

The first series was shot on the Dam Square. The Red Hotdog car stands out and forms a lovely contrast against the Royal Palace in multiple ways. One of the Shots was intended to be just on an intersection within the rule of thirds grid. By placing it slightly to the inside, it also covers some other rules intersection points.

 

The shot here seems to work. The positioning of the point (Hotdog Car) feels balanced and visually attractive with sufficient tension in the frame. The discussion could enter the area of what rule makes it work most? I other words, Is, e.g. the rule of thirds more appealing in compositions than the Golden Ratio?

The second Series is the same “point” but composed differently in the frame. Although it is still on one of the lines within the Rule of Thirds, it misses every intersection-point.

 

In this shot, the composition loses its tension and the negative lower space, by placing the subject in the verticle middle, reduces it even more. By looking at the composition rules-overlays, this image misses almost every rule.

Despite the fact that the brief in the exercise advises not to place the point in the obvious middle, it happened more or less by accident on the request to take shots without any rules (in mind). In this shot, indeed, all rules seem to be missed. A centred composition is usually lacking tension. However, the people on the right, even in a blur, bring back some balance and I’m not fully convinced this is the lesser working one of the three, or become the blurred persons suddenly the point? They now seem to share the attention, to say the least.

 

When it comes to composition, monochrome images might be more useful to visualise the effect of placement of objects within the frame.

 

On my way home, I’ve noticed this cow standing on a pile of sand. It might be perhaps normal in the Alps, a cow on a mountain, but in the flat Dutch landscapes, although plenty of cows, it is a very strange spectacle. I used this special “point” as the base of my final series in this exercise.

Within the left image, the head of the cow (point) is placed on the low left intersect of the rule of thirds grid . The image on the right nothing is composed without any rule. Here the difference is perhaps clearer. The position of the cow/point and the horizon bring a nice balance into the picture with a sense of space. The right one feels somehow incorrect, despite the height of the cow’s position is better articulated, it is less balanced and feels uncomfortable.

Conclusion

It remains difficult to select the best working image-based exclusively on a compositional rule. It’s a very complex mixture of elements that make an image work and individual perceptions (taste?) make it even more complex. Studies also indicate that despite the golden ratio is visually highly rated, it is not always the highest-rated (Budimir, Ivan. 2015) for instance in an aesthetic rhythm where uniform rhythm is preferred over Golden Ratio Rhythm (increase/decrease). In his study, Budimir also suggested: “The reasons of such aesthetic preferences of the respondents may be related to the cultural heritage of the respondents, their view of the world, the inheritance and the process of socialization of accepted norms or with the lessons of aesthetic values and attitudes”.

On the other hand, one could perhaps more easily state the opposite: An image will hardly ever become less by following proper compositional rules.  As in the brief already mentioned: “Without the rules, how can you evaluate the shots? That will be a key question throughout the whole degree programme.”, this is precisely my main reason to do this degree course, let’s not try to answer this in chapter ONE.

Bibliography

Fischler, Roger. “On the Application of the Golden Ratio in the Visual Arts.” Leonardo, vol. 14, no. 1, 1981, pp. 31–32, www.jstor.org.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/stable/1574475, 10.2307/1574475.

Sparkman, Jon. “Why The Golden Ratio Is Better Than The Rule Of Thirds.” PetaPixel, 25 Oct. 2016, petapixel.com/2016/10/24/golden-ratio-better-rule-thirds/. Accessed 31 Aug. 2019.

Luca Pacioli. De Divina Proportione (On the Divine Proportion): Facsimile (in Black and White) of the Original Version of 1509. Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014.

‌Budimir, Ivan1, ivan.budimir@grf.hr, Mikota, M. and Budimir, Iva1 (2015) ‘The aesthetic value of the golden ratio and rhythm of the photographs’, Acta Graphica, 26(1/2), pp. 46–52. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com.ucreative.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aft&AN=109002465&site=ehost-live (Accessed: 15 September 2019).

FLETCHER, R., 2006. The Golden Section. Nexus Network Journal, 8(1), pp. 67-89.