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Possible Origin of the Rule of Thirds

CJ Chilvers
CJ Chilvers
1 min read

I’ve spent hours researching the origins of the rules of photographic composition at my local library. There’s very little hard evidence offered to support most claims of one composition being superior to another. It just “looks better.”

This drives my science-loving mind crazy.

One such rule is the rule of thirds. There’s no real evidence that this rule inherently makes for better photos. After all, if your home was on fire, you’d reach for the family snapshots whether or not they obeyed the rule of thirds. It’s unimportant in the grand scheme.

Nevertheless, the rule of thirds is the most popular rule of composition and perhaps in all of photography. Why?

Most texts point to the origin of the rule being The Golden Ratio.

From Wikipedia:

Euclid’s Elements (written in 300 BC) provides the first known written definition of what is now called the golden ratio: “A straight line is said to have been cut in extreme and mean ratio when, as the whole line is to the greater segment, so is the greater to the lesser.”

Here’s what it looks like:


The Golden Ratio has devotees in every arena of the arts and sciences. It’s one of the few things everyone agrees is a big deal. But, no one really knows why (and everyone seems to have a theory). It’s a deep rabbit hole.