3 Composition Guides for Creating a Beautiful Aquascape

Creating an aquascape that is effortlessly beautiful, resembling a scene in nature, often lies in embracing imperfections. While some may initially strive for symmetry when building a planted tank, it can result in an unnatural and less visually appealing outcome.

The key to achieving an exceptional aquascape lies in mastering visual composition, which refers to how an aquascaper arranges subjects and objects within their work. In the aquascaping world, the Golden Ratio and the Rule of Thirds play a crucial role in creating a natural and captivating aesthetic.

Even for those not well-versed in art, these concepts are simple to understand and can serve as valuable guidelines for crafting a stunning freshwater aquarium. With these rules of composition in mind, the possibilities for aquascape ideas are limitless.

In this article, we will explore three composition guides and discuss how to leverage them effectively in aquascaping. Additionally, we will delve into why these concepts work so remarkably well within the aquascaping hobby.

1. The Rule of Thirds

What is The Rule of Thirds?

The Rule of Thirds is a widely recognized art principle utilized by renowned artists and photographers to enhance their works. This principle suggests that focal points and elements of a composition should be positioned at or near the intersections of imaginary lines dividing the canvas into thirds. It is important to note that the term "rule" is used loosely here, as it serves more as a helpful guideline for creating visually appealing images or artwork.

In the context of aquascaping, applying the Rule of Thirds involves dividing your tank or canvas into three equal vertical and horizontal sections, resulting in a grid composed of nine rectangles. This division assists in strategically placing key elements within the aquascape for optimal visual impact.

[Fig. 1]: The Rule of Thirds grid serves as a foundation for positioning elements in a visually appealing manner. By overlaying this imaginary template on the front pane of your tank, you can strategically place lines and points of interest at the intersections and along the lines to create an aesthetically pleasing layout.

In art and photography, points of interest are often placed along the horizontal and vertical lines to draw the viewer's attention. These points can be objects like the edge of a wall or a tree along the vertical lines. The intersection points are commonly used for single points of interest, such as an eye, a subject's face, or the moon.

In aquascaping, we can apply the same concept. For instance, a foreground plant like Dwarf Baby Tears can be positioned along the bottom horizontal line, while the vertical lines can be utilized to place the first bonsai tree in a forest or create a border using a group of tall aquarium plants.

2. The Golden Ratio

What is The Golden Ratio?

'The golden ratio' is a ratio of 1 to 1.618 and it resembles the Rule of Thirds in appearance. By applying this ratio, we can create a grid similar to the one used in the Rule of Thirds, but with a smaller center section and larger outside sections. The middle section is scaled at 1, while the two outer sections are scaled at 1.618.

Just like the Rule of Thirds, the golden ratio can be used in aquascaping by placing focal points, such as aquarium driftwood or tall background plants, along the lines of the grid.

  • Pro Tip: Rimless aquariums are designed with the golden ratio in mind and offer a diverse selection of unique sizes that deviate from conventional dimensions. This allows for greater flexibility and unleashes the full potential of creativity in aquascaping. With the added space provided by these unconventional sizes, aquascapers can more easily achieve a sense of perspective and effectively showcase depth in their aquatic landscapes. By breaking away from traditional constraints, rimless aquariums open up new possibilities and provide a refreshing approach to designing captivating and visually stunning aquascapes.

[Fig 2]: In this aquascape, the growth pattern of the Dwarf Hair Grass perfectly aligns with line 2 of the composition. Line 3 elegantly traces along the edge of the hardscape design, enhancing its visual appeal. Additionally, the right edge of the stones roughly corresponds to line 4, creating a harmonious balance within the tank. At the intersection of lines 1 and 3, a small cave is skillfully formed through the strategic placement of the stones. These thoughtful arrangements highlight the meticulous attention to detail and artistic vision behind this aquascape, resulting in a captivating and aesthetically pleasing composition.

3. The Fibonacci Spiral

What is the Fibonacci Spiral?

The Fibonacci Spiral’ is derived from the Golden Ratio, where a series of rectangles gradually decrease in size based on this ratio, forming a spiral shape when connected by a line.

While accurately measuring such ratios in our tanks can be challenging, the underlying lesson remains the same. We can approximate this ratio as 1 to 1.5, or simply as "slightly more than one but not quite two." Nature's balance is not a perfect 50/50 split; instead, it thrives on an inherent imbalance.

By embracing this concept, we can create visually pleasing aquascapes that evoke a sense of harmony and natural beauty. The Fibonacci Spiral serves as a guide to arrange elements within our tanks, ensuring a balanced yet asymmetrical composition that mimics the captivating patterns found in nature.

[Fig 3]: If we examine the landscape design of this tank, we can observe that the border formed between the plants and stones aligns with the contour of the spiral.

While the spiral serves as a general guide, it is not necessary for elements to strictly adhere to its lines. For instance, the hardscape contours closely match the spiral despite not being precisely on the lines.

Take note of how the hardscape and aquatic plants near the highlighted red sections in this scape guide direct the viewers' gaze along the spiral. These serve as visual "checkpoints" that capture the viewers' attention, allowing their eyes to follow the spiral's path until it reaches its endpoint at the prominent dark shadow on the left side of the scape.

[Fig 4]: When the spiral is reversed, it draws our attention towards the empty space, highlighting the significance of negative space.

Now, let's shift our focus to Figure 4. Negative space, also known as empty space, is equally crucial alongside captivating and visually appealing elements. Have you ever come across an aquascape that felt excessively cluttered? Even if a photo or aquascape showcases numerous beautiful elements, the absence of negative space can be overwhelming and draining to observe.

The Balance of Nature

As mentioned earlier, the equilibrium in nature does not entail a perfect divide. In fact, seasoned aquascapers intentionally steer clear of equal balances, symmetrical designs, repetitive patterns, and rigid 90-degree angles.

When we observe elements that display a sense of order, it gives the impression of human intervention. It conveys a feeling that what we are witnessing is "man-made" because of its tidy and organized appearance. However, upon deeper reflection, it is the imbalance and imperfections that truly enhance the beauty of nature.

With this understanding of imbalance in our surroundings, we can effectively incorporate this concept into our aquascapes. The end result will evoke a subconscious perception of naturalness and enhance the overall beauty.

This imbalance can also be observed in wild populations as well as the fish we keep in our aquariums at home. Why is it that we often recommend a ratio of 2 males to 1 female for many fish species in our hobby? By maintaining this imbalance of sexes, we encourage the natural behaviors and interactions among a significant portion of the fish we keep. If there were an exact 1:1 ratio of males to females in their natural habitats, there would be no competition.

Without this competition, these fish would not have evolved their captivating colors, intricate patterns, and elaborate fins to attract and impress the opposite sex. Imbalance appears inherently natural because it is deeply ingrained in every aspect of the natural world.

When it comes to aquascaping, the Rule of Thirds, the Golden Ratio, and the Fibonacci Spiral serve as visual aids to create a more natural-looking aquascape. These principles aim to establish a subtle imbalance where one element slightly dominates its counterpart, without overwhelming it.

Aquascapes that adhere to these composition guides have the ability to captivate viewers for extended periods without experiencing boredom, fatigue, or a sense of completion. They provide a moment of relaxation, allowing viewers to silence the constant internal chatter and noise in their minds—an experience we all crave from time to time.

These composition guides artfully guide our gaze throughout the aquascape by strategically placing captivating elements along the 1/3rd intervals or along the path of the Fibonacci spiral. While we want viewers to reach a state of mental ease, we also want their eyes to remain engaged and in motion. In other words, the artist gently directs the viewers' gaze so that they don't have to actively think about it.

Are you ready to apply these guides to your next aquascape?

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