It’s not often that we get contributions from readers that contain top-tier analysis of modern photography, but Dr. Elliot McGucken proved to be the exception to the rule. He sent us his analysis of the golden ratio in use in images from National Geographic’s best photos from 2016, and it’s pretty shocking how nearly every image puts the ratio to use.

“Not long ago, I came across a wonderful book titled The New Art of Photographing Nature: An Updated Guide to Composing Stunning Images of Animals, Nature, and Landscapes, featuring the epic photography of world-renowned National Geographic nature photographer Art Wolfe,” he told us. 

On page 38 of Art’s book, he read:

Art composes many of his images instinctively close to the ideal ratio the Greeks called the golden mean.  It was considered the perfect spatial proportion for sculpture and architecture and works out mathematically close to a ratio of 8:5

“In fact,” Dr. McGucken goes on, “the ratio of consecutive Fibonacci numbers, such as 8:5 or 13:8 or 21:13 approaches the irrational golden ratio 1.618… as the sequence augments. As the golden ratio informs the optimum mechanism for growth in nature, the Fibonacci numbers are often found in nature, as well as within our very own bodies, which of course are elements of nature and thus subject to nature’s ‘rules of composition.'”

But why? Why does the golden ratio exalt beauty? While conducting research for his book The Golden Ratio Principle, he came up with a theory:

Dr. E’s Golden Ratio Principle: The golden ratio exalts beauty because the number is a characteristic of the mathematically and physically most efficient manners of growth and distribution, on both evolutionary and purely physical levels.

The golden ratio ensures that the proportions and structure of that which came before provide the proportions and structure of that which comes after. Robust, ordered growth is naturally associated with health and beauty, and thus we evolved to perceive the golden ratio harmonies as inherently beautiful, as we saw and felt their presence in all vital growth and life—in the salient features and proportions of humans and nature alike, from the distribution of our facial features and bones to the arrangements of petals, leaves, and sunflowers seeds.

As ratios between Fibonacci Numbers offer the closest whole-number approximations to the golden ratio, and as seeds, cells, leaves, bones, and other physical entities appear in whole numbers, the Fibonacci Numbers oft appear in nature’s elements as “growth’s numbers.” From the dawn of time, humanity sought to salute their gods in art and temples exalting the same proportion by which all their vital sustenance and they themselves had been created—the golden ratio.

“As a master National Geographic photographer such as Art Wolf makes use of the golden ratio (as did great artists including Michelangelo, Vermeer, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Raphael, Picasso, Monet, and Ansel Adams), we should not be surprised to find the golden ratio in many of National Geographic’s ‘Best Photographs of 2016,‘” Dr. McGucken told us. 

As proof, Dr. McGucken overlaid the golden ratio on many of those images from the Best Photographs of 2016. Whether the artists were planning the composition on purpose, subconsciously, or by accident, it might explain why they are seen as so good to just about anyone who lays eyes on them.

Excited by the idea of Golden Ratio in photographs? Dr. McGucken has written a book on the subject and also has a Facebook page dedicated to the topic.

Head over to National Geographic’s Best Photos of 2016 and see if you can spot any more Golden Ratio images. Those featured above aren’t even all the ones Dr. McGucken sent to us… so we know there are more to discover!