Possible Origin of the Rule of Thirds

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.

Favorite Books of 2014

On the advice of the authors, I read Dan Harris’s 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story followed by Sam Harris’s Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion. The combination of the two is the best book I read this year.

10% Happier is an introduction to meditation from a skeptical ABC News anchor who had a panic attack on air in front of 5 million viewers and sought ways to come to grips with the frantic nature of his mind. He questions everyone and everything in the process and has laughably horrible results at first. He stumbles into some successes and has become in his words “10% happier,” which is a pretty good return.

If 10% Happier is your introduction, Waking Up is your deep dive.

Sam Harris serves as a much more experienced, yet even more skeptical meditator. He’s an outspoken Atheist neuroscientist whose previous books helped spawn a growing Atheist movement in America after 9/11. This new book surprisingly posits that spirituality can be experienced without attachment to religious superstition.

Some may bristle at the mention of the word “spirituality,” but here it is looked at from a scientific view of how the brain works and how we can manipulate the brain through meditation.

Meditation works. Spirituality works. None of it needs to be religious. It’s a great message.

As an honorable mention, I also loved Greg Gutfeld’s Not Cool: The Hipster Elite and Their War on You.

Greg is rare creature. He’s a political reporter who doesn’t fight about politics. He makes a living laughing at it. He has best friends on the extreme right and left. He anchors two popular TV shows on the Fox News network, including the hilarious late-late night show, Red Eye. His regular guests include King Buzzo from the Melvins, Andrew WK and congressmen more interested in laughing at themselves than screaming at each other.

The thing I loved about the book was the primary theme (I disagreed with a few of the ideas), which is that the cult we’ve built around what’s “cool” is the source of a great deal of our modern political and cultural problems.

After reading the book, you may be tempted to listen to a lot of uncool music and read some uncool authors. Nothing could be wiser or more fun in these times.

Of course, I have to mention my friend Patrick Rhone, who helps us all once again, in his new book This Could Help. Sometimes, I don’t even remember him in lists, because he’s reliably great - he’s just always on a shelf ready to help.

The older the technology, the more likely it will continue to be useful. Find the minimum amount of technology that will maximize your options.
— Kevin Kelly

Complaining about dead trees when you see paper is like complaining about dead cotton plants when you pull on your socks.
Dr. Drang

The best sites are often designed with a paper and pencil. If your arm gets tired, you’ve probably overdone it.
— Seth Godin

Uses for Notebooks

I love notebooks, but I often have to justify getting so many while filling up so few. So, I’m keeping this ever-updating list of uses for notebooks to return to whenever I feel the need to put these works of office art to good use:

  1. Mind maps. I’m a mind mapping nut. Lately, whenever I have a nagging question in my life (which can be several times a day), I write out the question on a page and mind map the bejesus out of it until solutions appear. Solutions ALWAYS appear. The key is asking the right question. Which is probably also the key to life.
  2. Free writing. This goes by many names (AKA morning pages) but the idea is to set an alarm (for 20 minutes or so) and free write anything that pops into your head. The pen doesn’t stop moving until the alarm sounds. You’ll be amazed what was floating around in your head. I’ve harvested several useful ideas this way. Refer to The Accidental Genius for a deep dive into this technique.
  3. Pros/Cons. The age-old method of decision making still works. Draw a line down the center and debate yourself. Just be honest. If you’re not totally honest with yourself, this method can be a crutch for confirmation bias.
  4. Distraction-free writing. No minimalist app will save you from the distractions inherent in your devices. Paper does that well, as long as you can find a place to write that doesn’t have its own nagging distractions.
  5. The Foolscap Method. I’ve yet to try this method for conjuring an entire novel or movie outline on a single page, but if Steven Pressfield says it works, it probably does. He doesn’t mess around. He delivers.
  6. Sketchnoting. I’m horrible at drawing. I’ve always relied on words to paint pictures for readers. But I am trying to sketchnote. And I’m filling notebooks with my cringe-worthy practice sessions. I’m horrible at it, but it has enough disciples and enough science behind it to warrant an effort.
  7. Try out new pens and pencils. This is just fun. If you write as much as I do, having a great pen takes a huge amount of friction out of the process.
  8. Job interviews. I haven’t had a job interview in many years. If I ever have one again, I’ll bring a notebook to remind myself that I’m there to interview them as much as they’re interviewing me. I wish I’d thought of that in my 20s.

Help me add to the list!

Update: The Well-Appointed Desk: 13 Things to Do with All Those Blank Notebooks

I like Muji notebooks and Muji pens because they work well, yet don’t feel precious. In my case, the more I treasure a tool, the less likely I am to use it. I always scribble all over the first page because there’s no way I can make anything worse than that.
Frank Chimero

I’m not a Luddite. I just think paper and pen is a superior technology.
Austin Kleon

For thinking and tasking, nothing beats good old pen and paper and I should stop flirting with anything else.
Patrick Rhone

Paper doesn’t crash.
— Jason Fried