The Composition Tool That Is Far Better for Landscape Photography Than the Rule of Thirds

Composition is one of the first lessons most photographers take seriously and its power over the quality of your images is undeniable. However, the "one composition to rule them all" mindset that is prevalent in photography is both limiting and boring.

The rule of thirds is a good composition, I'm not denying that. I still use it and most landscape photographers who are top of their game will use it too. It's easy to remember, easy to compose, and easy to spot scenes that fit the grid. What it isn't, however, is the only composition. One alternative is, as Mark Denney points out, more in keeping with our minds: the Golden Spiral. 

Not only is the Golden Spiral more pleasing to the eye in many cases, but it's also the more natural shape I believe. There are few straight lines in nature, but spirals are observable from galaxies down to sinkholes. In this video, Mark Denney — a fantastic landscape photographer — shows just how beautiful the Golden Spiral composition it can be.

My only real question, as somebody who doesn't take many landscapes, is how many times images actually fit the Golden Spiral composition. I agree, it's better and more interesting that the rule of thirds, but I think there are fewer true examples of it. Many of the examples I see (though not necessarily in this video) are more like wishful thinking when they overlay the spiral onto their image. What do you think?

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7 Comments

Chris Delisle's picture

Just started playing with this option because of this article. Wow. What a difference!

I played around with this Golden Ratio (rectangles) and Fibonacci Spiral found it to be pointless. I use the rule of thirds as a starting point of my compositions but move away in order to adjust for the imperfect landscape features. I think it's more important to shoot for the foreground, middle ground, and background. I always try to do an odd number of subjects like in 3, 5, and 7. Three is the best number. It simplifies the image so it's not too busy, but creates interest and tells a story. Too often I see photographers put the view we see in a box. I think it's our job as photographers to take the landscape out of the box the best we can.
As for other software, Capture One Pro 20 has the Fibonacci Spiral as well as the Golden Ratio and the Rule of Thirds. You can also make those grids follow the crop or not, as well as rotation but in the correct way. Quite frankly, I don't understand why people still use LR as C1-20 is soooo much better. C1 is closer to matching Photoshop than LR is to Photoshop in the tool and engine processor.

Randy Butters's picture

Interesting. I have tried using. this before & am having some fun with it now, doing as suggested: applying it to some images I've already taken. I like what I am seeing, but mainly I am wondering if anyone, including the author of this article, is actually applying this when out in the field? I am so used to visualizing according to the rule of thirds! My camera even will help with the overlay for that if I let it. I don't think this curve is an on-screen option for my camera.

Charles Mercier's picture

How about no rules? In my shots, I look for the most interesting part of the landscape, then I evaluate what's around it and weed out anything that's plain, boring, unnecessary or doesn't add to the story. Of course, in a rectangular format, you often have to keep stuff there that you can't wipe out but the less of the plain areas you have, the better the photograph.So my main subject can be anywhere from the center towards the corner, if that's what needs to be done.

Randy Butters's picture

I try not to take the "rules" term too seriously. I like breaking them myself, but they do give me some aid at times when visualizing the potential in a shot.

Simon Burn's picture

This "composition technique" is a crock, a scam. How does one suddenly like an image they've been on the fence about because now they've overlaid a spiral pattern on it? You either like it or you don't. It's actually a poor composition, he was correct in the first place. The only element that feels right is the house (rule of thirds). I think we have a case of Emperor's new clothes here.

Alexander Lauterbach's picture

The title of this article isn't really well chosen. I think it depends on the object what rules fit the best. Or whether if you really should use a rule at all.