Preparing your photo for an exhibit

I’m getting inquiries about how to prepare for the upcoming Somerset Photography Meetup group exhibit at the Adult Day Center of Somerset County.

There are a few things to think about before making your print: print size, matting and framing.

First, are you cheap and want to do the matting and framing yourself or pay someone else to do it? I’m cheap and do it myself, it isn’t that hard if you stick to standard sizes.

How big do you want your print. For me, bigger is better, as long as the quality holds up. For shows, it should be at least 11X14. Depending on file size, you’ll start losing quality if you get bigger than 16X20, so I suggest something in that range.

If you aren’t printing it yourself, then you need to prepare your digital file to be sent out for printing. Keep the file size as big as it came out of your camera, don’t reduce the size except for any cropping you might do to make the image better. If you are cropping your photo and it is no longer a standard aspect ratio of 2X3, 4X5 or 5X7, then you are going to have to do custom matting. You’ll be sending a jpeg file, so keep the quality setting up around 9 if you are converting from a raw file.

Decide what size frame you want and the style. For exhibits, you want the photo to be the center of interest, not the frame, so stick with something simple but pleasing. A thin, less than 2”, wood or metal frame is best. I suggest sticking with black, again, you don’t want the frame taking attention away from your photo. For this show, the frame size should be bigger than 16”X20” with the largest side not being longer than 36 inches. Stick with standard frame sizes like 16X20, 20X24 or 24X36, it will hold your costs down and make things much easier if you aren’t doing custom matting and framing.

You want to have a mat around the photo, at least two inches on each side. I suggest a plain, white mat, colored mats, especially bright colors can detract from the photo. I don’t suggest putting a 16X20 photo in a 16×20 frame, it just doesn’t look good.

So here are my recommendations:

The cheap way: Have a print made at Costco (amazingly good quality, but not archival) or one of the cheap online places like snapfish.com or smugmug.com, say an 11X14 size. Go to Michael’s (stop at their website first and print a 40% off coupon for any one item) and buy a white 16X20 mat with an 11X14 opening and a 16X20 black wood frame. They may have a frame that includes the right size mat. When you get home, open the frame, tape your photo into the mat window and put the mat and photo in the frame. Put on a wire for hanging. Pretty easy and cheap. But you won’t be able to sell it for as much as an archival print. Remember, if you are buying a pre-cut mat at a store, your print will need to be a standard size. You’ll spend under $40 if you have the coupon.

The best quality and most expensive: Have an archival print made with a high quality printer. Locally about the only place that does it is Taylor Photographics in Princeton or Klein & Ulmes in Middlesex or you can send to Mpix.com, Adorama or Bay Photo. Then take your print to a local frame shop where they will talk with you about the right frame for your photo and do all the work. It won’t be cheap, expect to pay over $150 for a 16X20 frame. But it will last a lifetime and you will be able to sell it for more money because it is archival.

In the middle: Get a quality archival print made and frame it yourself with an archival mat. Or have Michael’s do your framing. I’ve heard they do an OK job, not as good as local framer but they are cheaper too.

I’ll probably kick myself for saying this, but I can print and frame your photo using the same archival materials that I do mine. I can do prints up to 16X24 which go nicely in a 24X32 frame and I can cut custom mats. Contact me and we can discuss price.

If you are wondering what price you should put on the print, join the club. It depends on whether it is archival, the image, size and quality, but for an 11X14 print in a 16X20 frame, I’d say between $200 and $400.

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