Great composition is a numbers game and understanding the bunny rule.

Above: I photographed this image of the cast of “Fat Tony and Co” as a homage to the painting “The Last Supper”. This image was made famous by a guy called Leonardo, not the Titanic guy or the ninja turtle, but Leonardo Da Vinci, the original Renaissance man. He noticed the formula of beauty and symmetry and applied it to his paintings. When photography was invented a few hundred years later it made sense to also apply these rules or guides to photography.
Above: I photographed this image of the cast of “Fat Tony and Co” as a homage to the painting “The Last Supper”. This image was made famous by a guy called Leonardo, not the Titanic guy or the ninja turtle, but Leonardo Da Vinci, the original Renaissance man. He noticed the formula of beauty and symmetry and applied it to his paintings. When photography was invented a few hundred years later it made sense to also apply these rules or guides to photography.

I love binge watching cooking competitions. One of my favourites is The Great British Bake Off. I love watching contestants battle it out to create the perfect chocolate mud cake or custard tart. The best part about the show is that all the contestants are given the same ingredients to work with and their final creations are judged on technique and presentation.

I’m amazed at how many different variations of custard tarts can be created using the exact same ingredients. A few extra minutes whisking or a few moments longer in the oven can be the difference between success and failure.

I would love to see a photography version of Bake Off called “Snap Off”, where enthusiast photographers from around the world compete against each other to create the perfect image.

The format would be similar to Bake Off, there would be timed challenges and each photographer would be given the same camera, lens, lighting conditions and subject to photograph.

Just like Bake Off, each contestant would compete on a level playing field. The skill, the thing that sets the great photographers apart from the average ones, is knowing how to combine all the ingredients for maximum impact.  

A great baker knows intuitively when they have mixed the butter and flour together to the right consistency. The moment when a photographer decides to take a photo, that decisive moment will influence how much of an impact that image makes. The aperture and f-stop selected are important, but I believe it’s the composition, where the key elements of the image are positioned, that have the greatest impact on how an image looks.

Shifting the camera a few mm left or right, up or down can dramatically improve or detract from the overall impact of an image. A good photographer knows this intuitively.

If you are not sure where to position your camera for maximum impact, there are a few composition rules you can follow that will help you get a better understanding of what looks good and what to avoid.

There are many rules of composition worth learning and if you want a detailed description check out my podcast episode on composition here.

The rules of composition are mostly inherited from the art world and these rules or guides are based on mathematical formulas first discovered thousands of years ago.

They were made famous by a guy called Leonardo, not the Titanic guy or the ninja turtle but Leonardo Da Vinci, the original Renaissance man. He noticed the formula of beauty and symmetry and applied it to his paintings. When photography was invented a few hundred years later, it made sense to also apply these rules or guides to photography.

 

The Bunny Rule (a.k.a the “Fibonacci Sequence” or “Golden Mean”)

Above: In photography and art, if you divide an image according to the mathematical formula: 1 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 5 + 8 and place the important part of your image in the smallest square, you will have a visually pleasing image. Get your own free Fibonacci template here and test it out.
Above: In photography and art, if you divide an image according to the mathematical formula: 1 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 5 + 8 and place the important part of your image in the smallest square, you will have a visually pleasing image. Get your own free Fibonacci template here and test it out.

My favourite composition rule was invented by another guy called Leonardo. Leonardo Fibonacci discovered this mathematical formula based on being curious about rabbits making babies.

He devised a mathematical formula to calculate how many bunnies would be born if two rabbits got together and made baby bunnies. He studied the bunnies for a while and noticed a pattern.

  • after 1 month, 2 pairs of bunnies were born.
  • after 2 months, 3 pairs were born.
  • after 3 months, 5 pairs were born.
  • after 4 months, it starts getting out of control and 8 pairs were born.
  • after 5 months, 13 pairs were born.
  • and after 6 months, 21 pairs of bunnies were born.

I accidentally did a similar experiment with guinea pigs about 15 years ago when I bought my children two male guinea pigs, John and Tony. It turned out that John was actually a Jane and after three months we had guinea pigs galore!

It was later discovered that this number sequence 1  1  2  3  5  8  13 and  21 is also repeated in clouds, the way branches grow, shells and some of the most beautiful architecture and art in the world (oh, and guinea pigs).

In photography and art, if you divide an image according to this mathematical formula 1 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 5+ 8  and place the important part of your image in the smallest square, you will have a visually pleasing image.

In a portrait, if you place the most important part of the image where the smallest square is, your image will look more dynamic.

Download the Fibonacci template and overlay it on your images, tweak the cropping and see how the shot looks.

Once you are aware of this formula you will start to notice it everywhere.

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Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE