Presentation Matters: Make Your Photos (And You) Look Great

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A photograph, as an art form, is worthless if it cannot be seen by others.  So I don’t feel it’s too much to say that sharing your photos is potentially the most important thing that you do.  As much as I would like to say that a photo stands on its own, there’s a certain level of attention and finesse that is absolutely required in order to present your photos in a way that will make them stand on their own.  The goal is to present your photos in a way that will make the photos – and ultimately, you – look great.

Things To Consider

Presenting your work is not to be taken lightly, regardless of the medium.  For starters, it’s fair to consider the medium or mediums in which to present your work.  Your audience is a factor here, especially if you’re looking to sell or license some of your works.  We’ll of course go into the different mediums separately and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Personal preferences and branding are also significant considerations.  You want to make sure that whatever mediums you choose, your overall presentation fits into your personal branding and the style of your own works.  For example, photographs of dilapidated structures and abandoned buildings will not present well among colorful backgrounds and crazy fonts.  As branding and personal preferences are as unique to you as is your photographic style, I will not dwell on how these factors will affect your presentation.    Suffice to say that you will probably know what works and does not work with your photographs.

Money is sadly a factor as well.  Different mediums lend well to those on tight budgets.  Others may very well be out of your price range.  But in many cases, there are ways to modify the presentation to save costs, or at least build upon the presentation at a later date when more money becomes available.

Media Choices

Traditional Media

Traditional presentations would include printing, matting, framing and so on.  When it comes to traditional media, there are key elements to a well done photo print:  The printer and the paper.  No, we’re not talking about an Inkjet on your desk, we’re talking a print facility.  While photo printers have come a long way, they still do not rival the methods and quality that you can get from a good printing facility.  You really should find a printer that you trust.  The print quality needs to meet your consistent expectations and preferences.  Trial and error is really the only way to go about it.  I would start by asking your other photographer friends.  Once you get a handful of suggestions, it’s worth a little investment of time and money to test each printer with a few sample photographs.  Send the same photographs to each facility, order prints with equal papers and finishes, then compare.  If the quality is tied between two or more facilities, than use the one that makes your life easier or saves you some money (though I always prefer an easier process over cost).  As for paper, once you’ve found the facility you like most, get samples of all of their available papers.  Any reputable printing facility would be glad provide samples.  Some may be willing to provide samples using one of your own photos.  You may even wish to use the paper as a tie breaker between two otherwise equal facilities.

Modern Media

This is where I will admit my ignorance when it comes to printing.  I am mildly aware of a few printing houses that are now offering prints on aluminum.  Printing on things such as shirts, mugs, skins (for your laptop, phone, etc), ad nauseum, would fall in here as well.   I would also place canvas prints or other exotic papers into this category as well.  I’m sorry to say that I don’t have much to suggest here as this is not something I”m entirely familiar with.

Digital Media

Web sites, slide show presentations or even a short demo on your iPad (or other tablet) is all considered a digital media.  Clearly it’s advantage is cost.  Assuming you have the hardware to prepare such a presentation, the costs can be quite minimal, or you could take it as far as your wallet will allow.    On the cheap side, it’s possible to render some fantastic PDF documents or even a basic web page using free resources – your only expenditure would be time.  Moving up the cost scale, you can do wonders with some great resources such as PhotoBiz,  Blu Domain, Smug Mug or Zenfolio for complete solutions.  For those hosting for themselves, some great templates can be found at a site like Themeforest, but be prepared to stumble upon a site that might look similar.  If you really want a site that looks entirely unique, you’re best bet is to hire someone, even if you think you know how to create a web site.  Their experience is well worth it to avoid any frustrations down the line.

We must also not forget hardware when it comes to presenting your works.  Can you say tablet computer?  I knew you could.  Thanks to Apple’s iPad, presenting your work using a tablet style computer has become commonplace in a short amount of time.  It’s a cool, clean way to share your work with someone in lieu of a traditional print-media portfolio.  Again, one could spend a little or a lot of money depending on your needs.  The simplest presentations simply utilize the photo gallery to show off the photos.  I have also seen full-blown mixed media presentations.  As is the case with the websites, this may be a case where a professional consult may be necessary.

Key Elements of the Presentation

Photos benefit from paying close attention to the details surrounding the photo, and one should pay close attention to these other details.  I’ll go over a couple of these elements, but it’s fair to say that I’m only scratching the surface:  There are hundreds of things one might consider, and your persona preferences and branding will have the greatest impact on what really does matter in your specific case.

Size

The size of your presentation affects the initial perception from your viewers.  Small, dainty photographs are treated accordingly.  Large, overbearing photographs not only allow your viewer to stand back, but it could cause the viewer to feel insignificant (and this may very well be your desire).  In multiple-photo presentations, the relative size will be a factor as well.  You may wish all your photos to be exactly the same size for continuity and a refined look.  Or you may wish to vary the size between photos – maybe a little, maybe a lot – so as create a more playful atmosphere.   My only caveat – especially with print media – is that you must not go outside the optimal quality range.  A photo too large or too small could suffer from some detail or fidelity loss.

Space

The space around your photo can really help to set a mood.  Cluttered space may create unnecessary tension – though this may be the feeling you’re looking for.  Wide open spaces let the photos breathe and allow for total immersion into the photo.  Ever wonder why some photos are framed with a really fat band of matting around it?  The extra space allows you to immerse yourself into the photo without unnecessary distractions.  On the same accord, a gallery presentation may leave lots of space around each photo for the same reason.

Frame

The frame, be it virtual or physical, matters greatly.  An ornate frame might detract from a simple photograph, or vice-versa.  Bold frames might help to draw the eye into the photograph while a thin frame (or no frame at all) could place the photo on center stage.  The matting and space of the matting will be affected by your frame choice, and the two elements should be considered concurrently.

Colors

The color associated with your photo is as much of a factor as the photograph itself.  The wrong color could be distracting or it could affect the perception of the photo.  I may be old fashioned, but I personally don’t consider any colors other than black, white or gray.  You may be a bit more forward thinking, and so you may wish to use a color that is a bit out of the ordinary.  As a basic tip, photos tend to present well with contrasting colors.  A predominantly white photograph will pop off a black background.  A color photo with only a tiny bit of brown may look well on a brown background.  Whatever you do, make sure that the compliments the photo – you don’t want a black & white photograph on a neon green background.  A bad color choice could ruin your presentation.

Interaction

How does the viewer interact with your photo?  Will the stand back to observe the photo from afar, or do you want your work accessible ready for someone to examine it up close and personal.  Of course the presentation itself is the major factor here.  A gallery presentation, a portfolio presentation or a digital media presentation will all warrant different ways of interaction.  If you’re a digital media user, interface is going to be a big consideration.  You’ll need an interface that is unobtrusive and easy to use.  This is, in part, why the iPad is so popular – it’s interface takes the prize for simplicity.  Don’t neglect your own interaction as well.  A well tamed interface for the viewer is important, but you need to also be able to update your presentation down the line, it needs to serve well to you as well.

Final Thoughts:  Your Turn

In the end, the presentation is ultimately yours, and your own desires will reign as king.  It is your calling card and your identity.  As such, it’s worth spending significant time with it.  I”m only scratching the surface.  One could spend countless hours discussing presentation maters.  Clearly, I don’t wish to do that.  But many of you will have certain tips to share or elements that you like to consider when presenting your work.  If you have any thoughts, or links to some great resources, please share them with us and our readers by commenting below.

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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