Presenting Your Photographs
By Nancy Hill
Did you ever notice how much more people ooh and aah over a gift wrapped in beautiful paper with ribbons and bows? A plain old piece of cake made from a mix set on a plate with an artful squiggle of chocolate syrup will invariably dazzle guests more than a cake made from scratch without any extra decorative touch.
Humans are a visual species, and how something looks strongly affects our perception of its value.
So it follows that photography, a purely visual medium, follows suit. It is truly worth the effort to polish off your photographs with a well-conceived presentation. So how do you do that? Here are some key things to keep in mind.
Know Your Audience
The first thing you need to do is to determine your audience. Let’s classify your audience into a few categories:
If you’re showing photos of your kids to your parents or loving siblings, they’ll focus on your pictures. They are the most forgiving of all audiences. This doesn’t mean you can’t take a few minutes to present your pictures nicely. For a gift, consider matting or framing the photo. There are many specialty frames available that can accent your receiver’s décor. If your father and your daughter share a love of sports, consider framing your daughter’s photo in a frame with a sports theme.
A frame implies the photo should be displayed, so do be aware of space. It can be presumptuous to think that even your parents or darling sister want to hang one of your photos – even a family portrait – on a wall.
A nice compromise is a photo in a photo folder (available through some photography stores and on various web sites). It gives the photo a polished touch, making it special, but leaves the choice of displaying it up to the person receiving the photo.
You can count on friends to tell you your photographs are wonderful. Be a friend in return and don’t assume they’re going to want to hang your photographs in their home or office. Be selective when you give them one of your pictures. Make sure it goes with their taste. Present the photograph in a simple mat or a photo folder to enhance your photo, leaving the choice up to your friend where they’d like to put it. If it’s a photo you know they love, a framed print is indeed thoughtful.
If you are submitting photographs for publication, find out how the art department wants your submission. There was a time when art directors only wanted slides, but many have other preferences now, including low-resolution images sent via e-mails, CDs, or tear sheets (pages with photographs you have previously published).
Regardless of how the publication prefers submissions, always make sure your presentation is professional. CDs should be clearly labeled. Don’t just scrawl your name with magic marker across the CD or case. Make sure the case is clean if you’re reusing one, and use the thinnest one you can find. Keep it simple; trying to be “cute” or “outrageous” to capture an art director’s attention is as likely to work against you.
If you are submitting tear sheets, don’t fold them and stuff them in a small envelope. Use an envelope big enough so nothing is bent and make sure you reinforce the envelope with mat board or cardboard (again, clean, unmarked) so it doesn’t get bent in the mail.
If you are sending slides, go to a photography store and get black presentation boards made specifically for this purpose. Anyone at a professional photo store (as opposed to most of the ones you find in malls) will be able to direct you to professional presentation materials. Lightimpressionsdirect.com is an excellent resource.
If you’re showing your work in person, present your photographs in a portfolio.
You’ll need a professional portfolio if you want a gallery to take you seriously. There are a variety of ways to present a portfolio. Check out this article that deals exclusively with building your portfolio.
Determine How Your Photograph Will Be Viewed
Once you know your audience, determine how it will be viewed.
Albums works well for family photos, but they can also work quite well for other images. However, I suggest that if you use an album or scrapbook to present your photographs, limit each one to a single theme. This maximizes the impact and shows you know your subject.
Scrapbooks can be wonderful or really, really tacky. Have a clear concept in mind before you begin to put a scrapbook together to help prevent tackiness. There are numerous stores now that sell specialty papers, special fonts and quotes, paper frames, and other themed items that can accentuate your photographs. Always make sure your photo has the lead role. The other items should only play a supporting role.
Handmade books can be astounding if you know as much about making books as you do about making photographs. If you don’t, you can find someone who makes handmade books online or in the yellow pages. I have seen some handmade photo books that are true works of art.
If your photographs will be displayed on a wall, there are several things to keep in mind.
It’s become a cliché, but there’s truth in clichés, so forgive me for using this one: size matters. But perhaps not in the way you think. Bigger is not always better. In fact, small prints are usually more intimate. A viewer has to get closer to see your photograph, and not much comes between the viewer and your print.
I also don’t believe in “photos by the inch,” as in an 11 x 14 should cost more than a 5 x 7. Sure, the bigger paper costs more, but what size best suits your image? Know that and stick to that size. You might want to print your photograph in several sizes to figure out which one really best suits your image. Don’t be discouraged if it takes time to get the hang of this.
If your images will be hung on a huge wall, choose images that work well in large scale. Sweeping landscapes, for instance, are particularly well-suited for this. But make sure your image can be blown up to a large size without losing the clarity you intend your photo to have.
If you have a large wall, you can also make a number of smaller prints and group them together. Don’t have more than an inch or two around each photograph or they lose the feel of unity.
Mats and frames can get pricey faster than you can shoot someone sliding into home plate, but if you’re going to hang a photo on a wall, I can think of very few instances where you won’t want to mat and frame your work.
You can get pre-cut mats at a reasonable price online and in craft stores, but pre-cut mats do limit the dimensions of your print. (Not everything is a perfect 5 x 7 or 8 x 10.)
You can also cut your own mats to save money, but make sure you know what you’re doing because a sloppy mat cutting job will not do your photographs any favors.
If your photographs will hang in a gallery or public place, I highly recommend you take your work to a frame shop and work with them. Some photographers seem to think that having someone else cut their mats means they’ve cheated. How absurd. The photographer created the image because that’s his or her art. Framers cut and mat art. That’s their area of specialty. Let them help.
You can have custom frames made and, if you can afford it, why not? But there are plenty of beautiful frames available online as well as in frame shops, antique stores, craft stores, variety stores, etc. If you shop around, you can find something you can afford. But make sure it adds to the statement you want your photograph to make. Never buy a frame strictly because it’s a good deal unless it works with your image. You might save money, but it will be at the expense of your work.
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