19 August 2009

I've always loved to take photos.

When I was little my Dad had an old camera (well, I suppose it wasn't old at the time) and he was always doing the coolest things with shutter speed and exposure and such. I even have a photo of a 4-year-old me sitting in four different spots on a picnic table carrying on what appears to be a very important conversation with myself.

In 8th grade I received my very first camera for Christmas. It was a digital camera because that was the latest thing to have. But it was capable of absolutely nothing close to the amazing photos my Dad took with his old 35mm which I'm pretty sure didn't even have the word 'Auto' anywhere on it.

In college I studied Housing and Environmental Design, but also jumped at the opportunity to add as many courses as I could from the Art department to my already busy workload. I took Ceramics, Photoshop, 3D Design and Drawing (oh, I was miserable in that class, but it was a good stretch to try). Most importantly, though, I had the opportunity to finally get my hands on some fantastic cameras in a handful of basic 35mm and advanced digital photography classes. I even signed up to be the darkroom TA for a semester so I could be paid to spend time in that stinky room practicing my dodging and burning techniques. The wonderful world of SLRs was once again opened to me, and it felt great!

Now I'm married and busy with a 2-year-old who is not always so patient to hold still for me to set the aperture on my camera before the perfect 'kodak moment' has passed me by. That to say, the Auto function turns out to be a pretty faithful friend in natural light for everyday use. It's turned out some pretty lovely photos for me, so I cannot speak too disdainfully about it.

Photography is a huge part of my life. Capturing memories of my family and friends, photographing a friend's new baby, enjoying a quiet, artistic moment in my backyard alone with my camera, or snapping shots of my garage sale loot to share with all of you - it's a part of me. Rarely does a day go by that our camera goes untouched.

So naturally, our home is filled with these snapshots of our lives. And, for me, even the display of these treasures is a part of the artistic experience. I can't just take a photo, print it in my inkjet printer and slap it in a frame for my dresser (although, I confess, it has happened in a pinch and I'm not proud of it).

That said, and in honor of the newest addition to our family (a Canon EOS Rebel Xsi), I'd like to introduce you to one of my favorite places in our home. It is the wall leading up our staircase - the space in our home where I display my favorite shots from over the years.

Many of you have asked about this wall and, specifically, for tips on how to effectively create a great photo wall. I've thought it over, and assembled this handful of tips which I hope will be useful for you as you display your own masterpieces:

  • Repetition - Choose one element of your display that you want to be carried throughout. I chose for all of my frames to be black and, when I use a mat, for it to be white. (Note: You may choose another constant altogether. It can be very interesting and artistic to use varying mat or frame colors, but then it would be important that your photographs themselves all have the same color tones or feel.)
  • Variety - this is just as important as repetition. There has to be some interest. While I chose to have all black frames, you'll notice that every frame is different in width, thickness and texture.
  • Structure - this is a simple rule, but just make a plan before you hang your photos. I began this wall with only ten photos and have added since then. But, for the beginning structure, especially, make a plan. The best way I have found to do this is to tape pieces of printer paper (or newspaper, really) together to match the exact size of each frame you plan to hang. Label each frame and matching paper with corresponding letters so there's no confusion later on, and mark on the paper where the nail hole will need to be as well. Arrange the "paper frames" on the floor first to get an idea of what will work, or go straight to the wall, taping them in various arrangements until you have a design you like. (It's quite handy at this point to drive your nails right through the nail mark in the papers, tear the papers down and hang the real deal in their place.)

  • Repetition, part 2 - (Isn't it only fitting that I make two points about repetition?) From time to time it's nice to have pairs of things. In the midst of my wall of varying shapes and sizes, I added two frames side by side with the same mats. This creates visual interest as well. (By the way, that's my Grandpa - I love him!)
Photo of flower taken by Claire Wise Photography
  • Matting - Get creative with white space! Just because you have a beautiful, 11x14 frame, doesn't mean that you have to fill it with an 11x14 photograph. Or, an 8x10 for that matter! I love to fill my 8x10 frames with 4x6s, and my 11x14s with 5x7s. There are tiems, though, when I like the photo best with no white space at all. You'll notice in the photos above and below that it's not even necessary to mimic the shape of the frame or even center the photo. Grandpa's picture is a 3x3 square in a 5x10 frame. Below, Oliver and I are a 12x12 square in a 16x20 frame with a ton of space at the bottom. Just as your photography is an opportunity to be artistic, so is the display of your photography!

Photo of me with Oliver taken by Claire Wise Photography

Closing thoughts:
A beautiful photo wall does not have to be expensive. There are certain areas that are worth investing, and others which can be surprisingly economical.

Nearly every frame on my wall was purchased at a yard sale - the first ten in a single day! My best advice is to only buy frames that are interesting, have the glass included, and that you know you can use. In my case, the colors didn't matter, I painted them all black with an oil-based satin paint (and, in a pinch, spray paint). Square frames are a real treat, as is anything with a frame thickness of 2" or more.

And finally - and I'm totally serious when I say this because it can make or break your final look - have your photos printed at a proper lab where they use proper paper and proper techniques. I have literally held side-by-side black and white photos printed at a drug store and at Mpix (who I am constantly raving about because they use true black and white paper), and have been floored by the difference. It make me feel like becoming a photo lab evangelist!

I contacted Mpix last night and told them I'd be putting this post together today. They were so sweet and have actually offered 15% off all black and white and metallic print orders (for colors, the metallic paper will absolutely rock your socks off!!) until 8/26 for anyone who uses the code "giftofbreath". You can also go here to follow them on Twitter.

And, if you're worried about sacrificing the speed of drug store photos for the quality of a proper lab, you'll be glad to know that with Mpix, you can shoot today, upload tonight and they'll ship tomorrow! (And, you'll feel quite special when your package arrives and your photos are carefully wrapped in wax paper and foam like you're somebody important!)

So, there you have it! Now go - take lovely photographs, display them well - be artistic!


Claire Wise Photography said...

That wall has grown since I saw the paper version :) does my heart good to see it - you did a lovely job!

ps that photo of you & Oliver is still one of my all time favorites.

Janeen said...

Mpix is awesome!! Professional quality pics with very quick shipping. Makes me feel like my pictures are getting professional attention.

Love the picture wall. We did something similar with black and white frames and color pictures, but I love the classic look of the black and white. Might have to find another photo wall.

Sonya said...

I love MPIX!!! And they are really fast. I ordered a 10x20 last Tuesday and received it on Wednesday. When I delivered it to my customer on Thursday he was VERY impressed!!! I can't wait to order some black and white shots. B&W is my absolute favorite. That is all you will find in my living room!!!!!!!!!!

Christine said...

Whoo-hoo! This is a fun post.

Fanks for the oil-based satin hint. I know you've preached that to me multiple times, but I forget and then get all scared by oil-based paint. I'll have to get over my fears some day.

Also, marijuana. That is all.

The Queen of Chaos said...

Absolutely beautiful. I have a Picture wall that I need to redo and update. Before I do that, I have to repaint the wall, which means I have to repaint the door, and ... well you see where this is going.

Brittany said...

BEAUTIFUL is all I have to say! I signed up to take a photography class as an elective for my sophmore year and I am really praying I get it. It love photography!

Erin said...

I am going to try Mpix . . I would love a photo wall and have a wall like that going up our stairs. I want to do that. I am worried about frame prices. Hopefully next year I can get some frames at yard sales!

Are all your pictures black and white?

Katy said...

Looks so cute! I saw a picture in a pottery barn magazine that looks just like that, even the wall color! it looks fabulous!

chesley said...

love your wall & love Mpix! they really do a great job! Thanks for the code! Can't wait to order some new pics!

Raechel said...

Erin: Yes, the are all black and white! I like the look of black and white when I'm displaying lots of pictures all together. Plus, I like the non-commitment to color :)

Michelle said...

Love it!

I have a smiliar but simplier photo wall going up my stairs in my house. 6 8x10's total all in black and white frames, some black and white, some color photos. I have never thought of expanding but it is an interesting idea. I have SO many pictures I don't have hung up just because I don't have the space. In this new house I am going to a simplier and sleeker design and like it a lot so far. Now for my bedroom design...

Erin said...

I thought of a few more questions. Is it ok to mix black and white pictures with colors pictures if you have all the same colors frames? Do you do that? Whats the largest frame you have and the smallest frame you have up?

Heidi said...

Any recommendations on where to get mats? It would be a bonus if they were inexpensive! I've found I can't get anything other than 11x14-to-8x10 style mats locally, or some other "standard" size. I can't find premade mats for frames in standard sizes with odd photo shapes/sizes.

Raechel said...

Erin: Hm... I haven't displayed the combo together - I think I may stick to one or the other, but that's my opinion. My largest frame is 16x20 and the smallest is 5x5, I believe.

Raechel said...

Heidi: I have all my mats cut at Hobby Lobby. For the standard sizes, you can hit them when they're 50% off and do pretty well. Otherwise, the mats are often (and surprisingly) the most expensive part of the project.

If you want interesting shapes/sizes, you'll definitely have to have them custom cut anyhow. I have seen stacks of matboard at yard sales before - that'd be something to jump on for sure!

Raechel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathleen said...

You are so creative it's unbelievable!!! BEAUTIFUL!

Sarah Robbins said...

My photo wall is very similar- following the line of the stairs, black and white pictures, black frames. My frames are varied, and I also have black, white and taupe mattes. . . But similar ideas.

Great post!

stb said...

Great post - thanks for sharing! I have a mini photo wall so this is inspiring :-)

Alison said...

thank you so much for posting this! I just ordered a ton of prints online and they came back terrible! I wanted to cry they looked so bad! Your post came just in time for me to order more!

Captdonswife said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Seems like a pretty simple project but with huge results! Can't wait to do this on my stairway!

Stephanie said...

I love it! I just got a canon rebel camera and am excited to learn how to use it! So hopefully, I can create a wall like yours soon. It looks great! :)

gillian said...

you are so talented! thanks for the info on Mpix, never heard of them before, will definitely check them out!

Shannon said...

Awesome. Just ordered some enlarged pics for my Niece's first Birthday Party. Never used MPix before, but seems like they will turn out great! I hate going to Walgreen's they frustrate me. Thanks!

Lexie Loo & Dylan Too said...

That is beautiful! I plan on doing that in our living room after we get it painted!

purejoy said...

i'm inspired. i have a wall of angst. dining room/living room. empty space. cannot touch it.

i shall chronicle.
stay tuned.

thanks for the link

did i say i'm inspired?

oh happy day. now to go collect some frames. and photos.

oh wow!

JD said...

Beautiful, brilliant, inspiring.


Candi said...

Wow! Thanks for posting this. I have two stair wells in my house. I've hung some pictures in one, but the other is empty!