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  • Oct

    Divine Proportion or Golden Ratio in Adobe Photoshop

    by Chad Neuman

    Leonardo da Vinci used a design rule that we can use today. One design principle to consider when creating online or print media is using the correct proportion of elements. The balance of elements—whether basic colored shapes, photos, or blocks of text—should be considered alongside other aspects like color, typography, contrast, and consistency. The proportion of objects on a page can affect the aesthetic appeal of a layout. Whether you’re designing a photography web site, travel brochure, or promotional poster, consider using the divine proportion. The divine proportion, also called the golden ratio, can be seen in nature, art, and architecture. I’ll go over a few examples in these three categories, explain how to compute the golden ratio, and then we’ll go through an example using Adobe Photoshop.

    In nature, a few of the many examples include the design of patterns in moth wings, the structure and location of dolphin fins, and the spirals of some sea shells, where the proportion is at least close to or exactly the same as the golden ratio. Some have even used the divine proportion to use an algorithm to see how rabbits multiply! Seen below, the nautilus shell is often cited as an example of the golden ratio.

    Photo credit: Courtesy Chris 73

    After discovering this proportion in nature and mathematics, artists started using this principle and have been implementing the divine proportion in their works for millennia, from Renaissance painters to impressionist painters such as Georges Pierre Seurat. Renaissance painter Leonardo da Vinci used the divine proportion in some of his works, including Mona Lisa.

    The divine proportion can be seen in architecture as well, from ancient pyramids to Greek architecture, including the Parthenon, to the design of Notre Dame in Paris, France.

    Courtesy Sebastien Bertrand

    Computing the Divine Proportion/Golden Ratio
     The divine proportion is often referred to as the Greek letter phi. In order to use the golden ratio in a design, we first need to know how to compute phi. In the golden ratio, the entire length of a line is to the larger section as that larger section is to the smaller section. This causes the division between two sections in a design to be between one half and one third of the design. If you look at the equation below, consider that the ratio of the length of b to the length of a is equal to the ratio of the length of a to the length of a+b.

    Related to this equation results is what scientists call the Fibonacci sequence, where each number is computed by adding the previous two: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, and so on. We can visualize this sequence by looking at the chart I created based on it.

    This sequence computed visually leads to what is called a Fibonacci spiral, which is seen in the nautilus shell. The adding of the previous two numbers approaches the divine proportion.

    One way to compute a golden ratio is to use the the Phi calculator, or phiculator, free software for both PC and MAC at, but we’ll go over how to manually compute it for designs.

    Creating a Golden Rectangle in Adobe Photoshop
    In order to apply the divine proportion to a contemporary design, let’s first compute a golden rectangle. We could use the equation:

    This turns out to be 1.61803398875… (and many more digits). A shortcut to approximate a golden rectangle is to multiply by 1.618. To get technical, and if one has a compass or use a circle as a compass, we can compute a golden rectangle by drawing a perfect square (holding Shift when using the Rectangle tool whether you’re in Illustrator or Photoshop to maintain square proportion instead of a rectangle). Then divide the square in half with a guide (click-and-drag from a side ruler). Then draw a circle which has a center at the half-way point of the square and the top point of the circle will be the top of the rectangle.

    This seems a bit complicated, so here’s an easier way that can help create a golden rectangle. Hopefully this hands-on practice will help solidify the idea of the golden rectangle and show how we can use it in designs.

    Step 1
    Open Photoshop and open a photo to use for this project. I opened this stock photo.

    (c) Eva Serrabassa

    Step 2
    Next, click the Crop tool and change the settings above to a uniform width and height. For example, I set the width and height to 200 px. Note: be sure to type “px” after the number, otherwise Photoshop may make it “in” for inches by default, which would create a huge file. This will set our crop area to a perfect square. Click-and-drag an area to crop and double-click.

    Step 3
    Now let’s add some pixels to make this a golden rectangle. Use a calculator and multiply the new width of this file by 1.618. Since mine is 200 pixels wide, I multiplied and got 323.6. Go to Image>Canvas Size and click on the left-middle arrow so that once we expand the canvas it won’t expand from the center but from the right-hand side.

    Step 4
    Next, change the width to the new number from the calculator. In my example, I’ll change the width to 323 pixels. Change the Canvas extension color on the bottom of the Canvas Size palette to the color for this new area. I set it to white.

    Step 5
    Now we have a design with an area for text or another photo at the correct divine proportion, or golden ratio.

    Step 6
    With some examples, instead of using the crop tool to create a square first, the photo may already be a square, such as this example stock photo. I then added the correct proportion to the right-hand side and added some text.

    © Sam Burt

    Step 7
    Of course we can also add to the height instead of the width by clicking the top or bottom arrow on the canvas size and after making a photo a square. Multiply the height by 1.618 to get the new canvas dimensions. Also instead of text, try adding another photo or shapes.

    © Lee Pettet

    Step 8
    Implement this proportion in advertising designs, brochures, or web sites, with the added portion being on the top, left, bottom, or right. Of course this can also be use in Illustrator and InDesign as well, by creating shapes, placing photos, or adjusting the width of text box areas. Perhaps Leonardo da Vinci would be proud!

    © Mark Aplet

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