Software for helping with composition - February 2021 update

RoxyRoxy -
edited February 6 in General Discussion
Hi All,

A few years ago I wrote a small program to help with cropping and composing digital photos - its a simple grid overlay that you can use to judge whether lining image elements up with the rule of thirds, or golden sections etc. might help improve the composition. I find its a useful tool, though its only a guide, and often breaking the 'rules' produces better outcomes.

It's possible others here might find it useful too, so I thought I'd make it available. Its called Digital-Photo Crop Overlay (D-CPO) and you can grab it at There are some instructions on the page as well, though it is pretty easy to use.

Sorry apple-heads, its a Windows only program :)  


  • edited July 2017
  • I've just uploaded a new version with a number of bug fixes, and added some additional ratios (root rectangles & other orthogons -, and added a couple of templates for dynamic symmetry.
  • SummerSummer -
    edited July 2017
    @Roxy I love your program.  I wouldn't have mentioned this except that I see you are updating your program when bugs are found.  It is the spelling of Fibonacci.  I wouldn't swear which one is correct but can there be two spellings?  I was taught these theories in my younger days by a Harvard professor and he used "Fibonacci" which also seems to be the version used online.  Hope this helps.  Summer

  • Thanks for the feedback @Summer. Good pick-up with the spelling, its now corrected. Thanks.

  • I've made some major updates to the software. It now has smoother drawing, multi-monitor support, ability to rotate overlays, and ability to add extra overlays.

    This is likely that last update for quite some time, but let me know if you find any problems and I'll try and fix those. Here is the download link with some brief instructions:
  • Thanks, @Roxy. I have it on my machine now.  :)
  • @Roxy Thank you SO much for sharing this so freely! I am sure you spent a lot of time creating it. I was just trying to layout a portrait in which the subject has his head angled to one side and I did a horrible job drawing even though I measured everything out.  This tool will be invaluable!
  • For anyone who may be using this I have made a minor change if you want to update - added the ability to specify a custom aspect ratio. Still available at
  • Thanks, @Roxy. I've downloaded the new version. It's a cool little app. Very generous of you.

    I have a question. Tonight I was dickering around with a landscspe photo I took recently and I superimposed the grids for 'rule of thirds', 'Phi' etc over the photo until I found something I think works (the Golden Spiral). Is there a way of pasting your Golden Spiral over a photo so I can adjust the photo in my image editing software with the Golden Spiral supetimposed?  Also, is there a way of printing the photo with your Golden Spiral superimposed? I'm not very computer savy and apologise if there is an obvious way that I am just too silly to see.

    Thanks  :)

  • @tassieguy, that is a great idea. At the moment the software can't do it because it doesn't know what photo file it is sitting over, but I think I can make your suggestion work (by having a standard, and as option). There are a few programs like my one out there, but none that I am aware of that can embed the grid lines within the photo itself. I'd definitely use that functionality myself - in fact it would be even be useful to have an easy way to add a regular grid to the photo prior to printing out.. I'll have a look at the code and see what I can come up with...
  • Thanks to @tassieguy's suggestion I have now posted a significant update to the D-PCO software. You can now open a photo, explore the composition, do some straightening if needed, and then export the cropped area to a new file (either with or without the guidelines embedded within the photo). This is particularly useful for e.g. embedding a drawing-transfer grid on the photo prior to printing it out. There is also now a view option to mask out the surrounding clutter so the current cropped area can be more readily assessed. I've added some instructions and an example of how this all works to the webpage.

    Thanks again to Rob for the suggestion, and for doing some beta-testing over the last week!

    Any probs just let me know
  • This look neat, is there any chance of you turning this into an iPhone app on the future? 
  • How about light balance and autofocus? Never mind. I'll just use my dividers and color checker.
  • Thanks, @Roxy. It's a great little app. I need all the help I can get with composition.   :)
  • Thanks once again @Roxy for this great tool! Not only can I superimpose over photos but also over photos of any of my prep drawings, sketches, thumbnails, easier to rework and arrive at better compositions even before committing to canvas. Between what I've been learning from Kingston and everyone about composition and applying this tool regularly, like the color checker and proportional divider in oil painting, it works. This is fantastic!
  • Thank You @Roxy!  All my dreams are realized. I send You huge portion of positivly charged energy. Be halthy and happy.

  • I tried to run it but my Avast anti-virus was warning me about opening it so wasn't sure if the exe had been compromised..
  • I had no problem with it, Richard. Norton AV warned me, too, but I figured it would be ok and it was.
  • I'd ignore Norton as well.  This seems to happen to a lot developers of apps that are sole proprietorship.  Give them a call.  I've experienced that things can be ironed out.  
  • RoxyRoxy -
    edited January 2018
    Thanks for the feedback everyone - sorry @edavison, I wouldn't know where to start converting it to an ios app. I'm happy to make the code available if anyone wants to have a go though!

    Over the break I have fixed a couple of bugs (mouse control of resizing and rotating not working properly; some odd behavior with the masking), and added some extra functionality (it now has the ability to stack different patterns on top of one another, and also to replicate up to four copies of the same pattern side-by-side or on top of one another. The latest update can be downloaded at the same place -

    Re the virus checking warnings - understandable I guess when downloading .exe files from the ether - but I can assure you there is nothing nefarious in the code. if you are still concerned that it may have been tampered with, the latest version's zip file SHA-256 checksum (a kind of digital fingerprint) can verified using the calculator at (just drag and drop the zip file onto the webpage). The returned value should be 32489d8c076f1fe0f712ef99adea99bc3bab78b05b6c396d0b7833399f9a6894.

    [edited to update the checksum]
  • @Roxy I don’t even begin to understand any of this technical stuff, but I love the Fibonacci stuff, amazing! I will book mark this thread and see if my son can show me how to use it. Very generous of you :)
  • Can't wait to try this out. Thanks for the Reference to this thread!
  • Well, I missed all the drama over on @tassieguy's thread (thankfully, I must say, after just reading through it), however in amongst it all was a couple of references to a small program I wrote a while ago to assist with composition. A couple of members have found it useful, and given there are a number of new folks here I thought it might be worth bringing this post and the link to the front again - here it is:
    I think its all pretty self-explanatory and there is a bit of a guide on the site, but feel free to drop me a message if you have any questions or concerns.
  • Looks cool but sadly I use Mac and Linux. Nice to see another software engineer on the forum though :)
  • Looks cool but sadly I use Mac and Linux. Nice to see another software engineer on the forum though :)
    We're everywhere.
  • PaulB said:
    Looks cool but sadly I use Mac and Linux. Nice to see another software engineer on the forum though :)
    We're everywhere.
    #define PAULB "/*Engineer*/Painter"

  • @Roxy The checksum is different than what you list on the web page.  Is the software still safe?  I noticed your web page wasn’t secure so I have to ask.   (I too have a software eng background). 
    It’s a cool app and I would like to use it.
  • @GTO, I know next to nothing about software eng but, for what it's worth, I have been using the app for a couple of years and not had a problem - no viruses or malware as far as I can tell. It works a treat.  :)
  • I've been using it a couple years now as well, on vista and win10 no worries. 
    Thanks again @Roxy, I find this to be a gem!
  • Richard_P said:
    PaulB said:
    Looks cool but sadly I use Mac and Linux. Nice to see another software engineer on the forum though :)
    We're everywhere.
    #define PAULB "/*Engineer*/Painter"

    I'm not sure if self-taught Delphi hacker = engineer, but I guess it does have a ring to it.

    Thanks @GTO, I'll check out the file and checksum tonight and post an update
  • @GTO, I checked out the checksum and got the correct value. Though I see I was a bit ambiguous on my page - that check was for the zip file, not the .exe. The .exe SHA-256 is 10fd493ff57cec3446d04e890ed887788836edb6e20652960243c18812be2186. Let me know if you are still having an issue.

    @gar3thjon3s - I've recently been playing around with programming in Linux Mint (and also the Raspberry Pi, which was a lot of fun), and might have a play around to see if I can port it over - might be another interesting learning exercise. But I know nothing about Macs :# .

  • RoxyRoxy -
    edited February 6
    Hi all,

    Just got back from a holiday, and with a bit of spare time on my hands time I read 'The Painters's Secret Geometry' by Charles Bouleau.

    It seems some people think this is the bees knees when it comes to understanding composition; others seem to regard the author as a bit of a crank with a propensity to draw random lines on otherwise fine paintings. After reading it I guess I fall somewhere in between. I found some interesting stuff in here, but I did think he pushed the limits of credibility on a few occasions. I also found it quite difficult to read, partly due to many paintings being described in quite some detail but with no accompanying illustration, and partly I think to a pretty poor translation from the original French - with lots of convoluted sentences and grammar.

    Anyway, there were a number of compositional constructs described in the book that I decided to add to my program that I wrote a while ago for aiding in cropping and composing images - a pic of the new interface is below. This included 6 variants involving rabatment of the rectangle, which Bouleau treats in quite some detail, and also 12 variants of the intriguing idea that relates musical proportions ('consonances') with compositional proportions in paintings, that Bouleau argues was widely used in the Renaissance.

    The bottom line for me is that I think this is all good fun as long as you don't take it too seriously, and treat this stuff as guidance rather than rules that must be strictly adhered to.

    The latest update can be downloaded at the same place as the previous version -

  • Thanks, @Roxy.

    I agree that one can take this stuff to ridiculous lengths. And sometimes it's not needed. Often, if I see a good composition in one of my photos, I just know instinctively that it works and I don't need GR grids. But nature, although beautiful, is messy and rarely presents the artist with a ready made composition. Quite often I have a photo that contains elements I really like but which is a mess compositionally and It's hard to figure out why. It's in such instances that I have found your little app a great help. By superimposing the various GR grids on a photo I can see how best to crop it and what I need to eliminate, add or move in order to make a satisfying composition. All without having to do calculations and draw lines all over my photo. I've used the app to help me with many of my paintings. I think it's great and I'm looking forward to playing with the new bells and whistles you've added. Thanks for making it freely available to us here on DMP. 


    Rob  :)
  • Thanks @tassieguy - yes that's exactly how I use it too. Also, when I see a painting with a composition that I find particularly striking I often do a quick scan to see if there is any alignment with any of the classic 'armatures'. Just out of curiosity, more than anything.

    I hope you don't mind @GTO, but I did such a quick analysis of your latest painting and thought you might be interested to see the result. The yellow lines correspond to the so-called 'double diatessaron' that Bouleau talks about w.r.t the Renaissance (the lines are at 9/16 and 12/16 along each axis). I don't want to read too much into it, but the alignment with your window, and also the top horizontal line running across the top of the music and the lit part of the vase, is pretty much spot-on!


  • edited February 6
    Cheers, @Roxy. I did the same analysis on GTO's painting. There's definitely something in the Golden Ratio  that helps to make a composition stable and satisfying. I love the way the top of the music and the kettle fall  more or less along that horizontal GR line and the way the window fits so closely to the verticals. Something nice also happens with the gramophone and the golden spiral. It's what makes the picture so calm and peaceful. And it's subliminal -  you don't notice it consciously because your attention is irresistibly drawn to the beautiful colours in the curtains and the bright values in the sheet music and cup.

    Of course, one can overdo adherence to the GR and I guess the trick is to employ it with subtlety. If everything matched up perfectly it would look weird. I think GTO got it just right here.  :)
  • @Roxy @tassieguy I appreciate your analysis. I did not use the software to line things up.  I drew the gramophone and all the objects on the table except for the egg, lining them up until they felt balanced to me and spaced apart across the canvas.  I redrew and repainted the gramophone to fit with the objects on the table and angled in a balanced way.
    I did not have the window in the painting but had painted in a dark background instead.  But that left so much empty space.  I felt I needed to fill that space. Then one morning I was looking out the window of the studio and I thought of adding it and calling the painting my morning song.  That’s when I also added the egg and the tea bag  to add more “morning” symbols to the painting.  When I placed the window I sized it and placed it until it “felt” balanced with the rest of the painting.  
    So it wasn’t planned out but grew more as it went. 
  • edited February 6
    I think we subliminally refer to the GR when we're composing a painting. That's why when we arrive at a pleasing composition we can often find correspondences with the GR.  When I use it it's usually to help me with a problematic composition. I don't think it's a good idea to try to shoe-horn everything into a predetermined scheme whether it be the GR, the Rule of Thirds or whatever. The GR is just an aid and Roxy's little app makes it very easy to use if we want to. Whatever it is you do, @GTO, keep doing it because it works.  :)
  • Phi Matrix beat you to it by at least 5 years.

    When I was in school we were taught this type of composition. One theory we were was that much of these visual systems are engrained in the visual Zeitgeist. I didn't buy it. That was until I started my illustration major. There it was. Thats not to say that I don't use dynamic symmetry with every painting.

    The one problem you have is that your software is not cross platform.

    The Dover book 12.95 Amazon

  • Hi @GTO. What I think is interesting is how the human mind seems to gravitate to certain compositions as being 'pleasing' and others not so much. But if you rely too heavily on 'rules' there is a danger that they could turn into a crutch - I think its much better to do as you do and use your own internal vision to come up with what is pleasing - that's also much more satisfying than following any rules, and perhaps in some ways more authentic? (though that may be a controversial statement). Yeah @tassieguy I agree the golden ratio is common and that somehow we seem to instinctively gravitate towards it, but I thought the interesting thing with GTO's painting is that almost nothing lines up with the GR (overlaid below in blue).

    Thanks @KingstonFineArt, yes I'm aware of PhiMatrix and used it a while ago. The big difference of course is that PhiMatrix is commercial software whereas mine is just a hobby hack and distributed for free (with all the caveats associated with that). I take your point about it being windows based, but it was just something I wrote for my own use, then later decided to share. I know nothing about coding and distributing programs for the Mac, but if anyone does and wants to have a go at the translation (either for Mac or Linux) I'm happy to make the code available (its written in Delphi). Thanks for pointing out the Hambridge book -  I read that a while ago, and actually enjoyed it a lot more than the Bouleau book. You can also read the Hambridge book online at elements_of_dynamic_symmetry_hambidge.pdf (

  • OK  I've had Phi Matrix through three computers now, but it had fallen into disuse as I got more interested in Dynamic Symmetry.

    I also have the set of grid overlays that Tavis Leaf Glover of the Canon of Design Software website and book produced.  Those grids are what I've been using until now.

    I just downloaded and have done some preliminary testing on your software and it looks like it does exactly what I need!  

    Good job!!
  • Thanks @mstrick96, just let me know if you have any problems. 
  • I've had a look at Hambridge. It's all in there. But the language is archaic and it's a very dry read. It was published almost a century ago. Thankfully, apps like Phi Matrix and @Roxy's free one mean we don't have to read Hambridge and do all the arithmetic and measuring and ruling of lines to make use of the Dynamic Symmetry. Just open an image file and superimpose a matrix that allows you to edit your image to get the best composition out of it. But I would only do this if I was having problems getting it to work without such an aid. And I certainly wouldn't try to shoehorn an image into a predetermined matrix.  Just because a composition has correspondences with the GR or the Rule of Thirds or a rebatement or whatever doesn't mean it is going to work. It could still be monumentally boring. I may be wrong but like to think of dynamic symmetry as aid to refining a composition already arrived at rather than as a starting point. 

    Yes, Roxy's is a Windows only app  but he wrote it in his own time and generously offers it for free.  And if someone like @KingstonFineArt were to take the freely offered code and make it compatible with other operating systems that would be great.  :)
  • Well, there are some outstanding award winning professional artists who use Dynamic Symmetry as an aid in composing their paintings.  Of course, it isn't used without any artistic sense.  

    Michele Byrne is one example.  Every painting she does starts with hand drawing a dynamic symmetry grid.  Michele is a plein air artist who lives in Santa Fe and her paintings and compositions are terrific.

    Tavis Leaf Glover in his website on the Canon of Design gives many analyses of paintings and artosts both contemporary and classical who appears to have used something very similar to the Dynamic Symmetry grids.  

    I can't find the grids that I use in the PhiMAtrix software, but they are there in the software that @Roxy wrote.  
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