Analyzing “The Catch” Using the Golden Ratio and Rule of Thirds

The Catch” is one of the most famous plays in American football history, and Walter Iooss Jr.’s photograph of Dwight Clark leaping into the air is one of the game’s iconic images. Paul Lukas of Uni Watch has published an interesting analysis of the photograph and why it “works”:

I’ve been fascinated by the famous photo of the Catch for years and have always thought it to be the greatest photo ever of NFL action, and possibly the greatest sports photo, period. The photo has always been very visually pleasing to me, so I recently decided to find out why.

Out of curiosity I applied the golden ratio, the rule of thirds, and perspective to the photo, and I was completely blown away by the results. Now I know why this photo has always been so visually stunning to me: Compositionally, it is divine. I’ve prepared a series of exhibits to support my points.

If you aren’t familiar with these two rules of composition, check out this article.

Deconstructing the Catch (via Coudal Partners)

  • lloyd

    that seems like quite a cool shot, if i had to be picky i’d say it would be nice to move the flag posts in the background to the other size, but its not a big deal

  • Richard Ford

    Problem is – any game that has 4 teams and requires 10 min breaks all the time is not a sport.  Great sport photo’s aren’t about the actual sport at all.  It is about the atmosphere and the incredible.  To catch a good photo of something that happens all the time is one thing.  To catch a good photo of a one in a million event – that is what it is all about.

  • Dmitri

    I can’t see the damn picture behind the diagram.

  • Tran-Shawn Yu

    but his toes are cut off!!!


  • icie

    Do you think that Walter Iooss Jr. really analysed his frame for the golden ratio and other “rules” of composition when taking a shot of a decisive moment? How much of it is instinct, or post-production cropping?
    I guess the questions I have with applying the rules of composition after the fact, especially for an action photograph, is that unlike landscape photographers, who can painstakingly analyse their framing before taking the shot in perfect light, great sports photography is more about the moment than anything else. If the composition falls into place (or is perceived to have done so), it’s more due to luck  than conscious decisions. 
    Composition-wise, the arrangement of elements is not something they can change easily — the best they can do is to pre-frame their shot in anticipation of the moment happening, and having the timing just right. The angle of the bodies, the jump, etc, are all subject to factors outside of the photographer’s control.

  • Anonymous

    I admit I know nothing about American Football, but I like to think I can spot a good image, and this just isn’t one.  Why is it even considered to be so “great”?

  • 9inchnail

    Because it follows the rules. Americans love following rules. Easier than thinking outside the box.

  • Sunny16

    It is a great pic because it captures an iconic moment in the game. That catch is part of the lore of football. I yield to no one in my admiration of Walter Iooss Jr. – I have a collection of his baseball work in front of me as I write – but I don’t think he composed this pic with the rule of thirds or the golden ratio in mind! Also, I doubt he cared that they could be overlaid in this fashion.

    Again, the photo works because of the importance (in sporting terms anyway) of the event.

  • Matt Rush

    I believe you miscounted. Two teams, each with different units. Ten minute breaks? No, 20-30 seconds, which follow plays of all 22 people on the field going 100%, not just a few. And appreciating this photo comes from understanding the situation and the effect this moment had on the outcome of the game. It IS an incredible photo, and very possibly the best sports photo of all time.

  • Matt Rush

    Exactly. Photos tell a story, do they not? And that is part of their significance. The effect this moment, this catch, had on the outcome of this game and the pressure to make this catch happen is what makes this photo great, outside of the fact that it happens to follow the rule of thirds, without the subjects being directed.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry but to me it just looks like a crappy snapshot.

  • Optimo

    Really? Fuck You.

  • Anonymous

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  • Robert

    What a load of old horse!
    You can slap a ‘golden spiral’ on any busy photo and find plenty of hands, twigs, faces, footballs, whatever… that intersect with ‘special’ points on the spiral.

  • RKB

    Clearly you aren’t a sports photog. For anyone who has ever taken photos of a game or even video you know that there is an art to capturing the right moment. This picture was taken within a second and the beauty of it, is that there will be no re-doing of the play. Pro athletes aren’t going to recreate that exact moment ever again.

    The whole applying the rules of thirds is a load of crap though because I’m sure this guy was just snapping away while following the action beautifully. 

  • DDP

    I shoot sports – and it really isn’t an art, sorry. Can you royally screw up images by not knowing what your doing? yes of course, but shooting sports isn’t as hard as people make it out to be. 

    I rather submit 3-5 photos from each game then 75 ones that show all the “highlights” – honestly sports photography is overrated in the sense that week to week its the EXACT same images…it gets boring. I do sell a decent amount of prints when I shoot youth sports so its why Im still doing it. 

  • DDP

    Agree 100%

  • Ridgecity

    An american football game has an average of 11 minute of actual play.