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Aquascaping with the golden ratio

Tips for the layout design of aquascapes

The golden ratio is a division ratio of lengths or distances, which is used primarily in the visual arts, but also in architecture and even music. Even in nature, we find the golden ratio, for example, in the arrangement of plant leaves. An arrangement based on this principle is particularly harmonious for the human perception of beauty. In aquarium design and especially in aquascaping, the principle of the golden ratio can be used as a basis for structuring a layout and setting focal points. The three basic layout forms in aquascaping are in adherence to the golden ratio.

DIvision ratio

Basically, a line is divided according to following rule: The ratio of the larger line segment (a) to the total (a + b) is equal to the ratio of the smaller line segment (b) to the larger one (a). Visualized in our header picture. Put in numbers, this would result in a (golden) ratio of about 1:1.618. Looking at typical image formats, such as photos or monitors, they are also roughly based on the golden ratio (for example: 4:3 or the widescreen 16:9).

Golden ratio in aquascaping

Understanding the front pane of the aquarium as the screen, it is possible to divide it in adherance to the rules of the golden ratio. This creates four lines, which divide the total area into nine smaller areas. At points where two lines intersect, eyecatchers like pretty aquatic plants or striking hardscape such as stones and driftwood can be placed.

The rule of thirds

The so-called rule of thirds is by principle a mathematically simplified interpretation of the golden ratio. It is often applied in photography. The picture is mentally divided into nine segments, by drawing two horizontal and vertical lines, so that - unlike under application of the proper golden ratio - all segments have the same size. A single line is therefore divided exactly into thirds (hence the name). The following example shows a grid of the rule of thirds placed over an aquarium layout. It can be seen how the sand path unevenly separates the structures to the left and right. A 100% symmetrical separation would look very center-heavy and artificial. The sandpath does not exactly cross the left vertical line, but a general separation ratio of ⅓ to ⅔ is evident.

rule of thirds grid

Originator of the rule-of-thirds picture: Wiki-user Sub via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain. Superimposed over an aquascape by Aram Schneider.

Golden spiral

The golden spiral is another useful aid in image design, which is also based on the golden section. Their shape can be approximated by successive quarter circles, which rotate at 90 ° and get smaller by a certain factor with each iteration. This results in a particularly harmonious-looking spiral shape, reminiscent of a snail’s shell. If you orient yourself with the help of this curved form, objects and focal points can be placed in a unique way in a picture and it helps in reviewing your compositions. Due to the special shape, the handling is a bit more dynamic than with the classic grid of the golden ratio or the rule of thirds. Of course you can also rotate or mirror the golden spiral to experiment with this option.

golden spiral

Golden spiral. Originator: Wolfgang Beyer via Wikipedia.de - own work, license: CC BY-SA 3.0.

In the following aquarium layout, a golden spiral is used to check the harmony and lines of the composition. It is evident, how the root- arc and structure follows the outer line of the golden spiral. The thicker pieces of wood in the foreground of the right hardscape construct, form a focal point, meeting the inner lines of the spiral.

application of the golden spiral

Originator of the picture of the golden spiral: Icey via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain. Superimposed over an aquascape by Aram Schneider.

Application, setting of focal points

When composing a picture or creating an aquarium layout, you can use the golden ratio grid, the rule of thirds or the golden spiral to divide and define spaces in the aquarium. Above all, this avoids strong symmetries that would look unnatural, artificial or simply boring and static. With an orientation towards the golden ratio, a picture appears much more natural, because the structure looks less harsh, or, to put it bluntly, looks a bit more crooked and wonky.

Focal points, in other words: striking elements, are often placed at intersecting lines when using the rule of thirds or the golden ratio. With the golden spiral, the ever-smaller tail of the spiral circumscribes an area that offers itself splendidly to the placement of a focal point. In an aquarium this may be showy aquatic plants or hardscape elements like particularly dramatic-looking constructs made from driftwood or stones.

Source header picture: Wikipedia.org, Public Domain.