Picking the Right Size Print

I’m not an art consultant or interior designer, but I do know a thing or two about choosing and displaying photographs on walls.

Many people struggle over picking out the right art to enhance their living or work space. They focus on picking pieces with colors and a frame that matches their furniture or compliments their rug, often overlooking one of the most important aspects of buying art to fit a specific space – size and spacing.

In order for artwork to have a meaningful impact it needs to be the right size and have the right proportions. Art should complement the other objects in the room, either filling the space provided for it or purposefully juxtaposing the area in inhabits. A too small picture looks incredibly out of place over a giant couch, and a horizontal image doesn’t work well in a vertical space.

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Art that is the wrong size just doesn’t work, no matter how beautiful it is. This image of St Marys Falls is way too small for my office, and it looks out of awkward and out of place even though its nicer than the drooping banner and wrinkled poster on either side. The poster to the right is a much better fit for the amount of wall space and large bricks.

Photographs, like wall mounted TVs, also need to be hung at the right height. Too high and they make a space look unfinished and incomplete, too low and they are awkward to look at. In general, photographs hung on blank walls should be centered at around eye level. Since people vary in height, a good rule of thumb is 60-66″ from the floor to the center of the photo. This of course varies with artwork that is long and vertical or artwork hanging near or around other objects, such as furniture or over a fireplace.

My advice when purchasing a photo:

1) Don’t skimp on size. Too big is almost always better than too small. Unless you have a clutter free home and very minimalist decorating style where empty space is a thematic design element, art that is too small for the space it occupies will nearly always look cheap.
2) Prioritize proper proportions. Many people spend a lot of time matching colors when they should be focused on balanced proportions. If you are one of those folks who have a long sectional couch, don’t put an oddly tall rectangular art piece over it. This is where a panoramic image or triptych really stands out. If you are hanging artwork over furniture, it is generally recommended that artwork should be 2/3 to 3/4 the length of the piece of furniture in order to provide the right balance, although I think you can play around with those numbers a bit.
3) Don’t forget the frame. If you plan on matting or framing your art, keep in mind that this will not only add size to the finished piece, but will also change the proportions slightly. For example a 20×40 inch photo with has a ratio of 1:2 without a frame, but if you add framing that is 3 inches thick, the overall artwork becomes 26×46 inches with a ratio of closer to 1:1.4. Plan for the frame when buying your piece.

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Art that is proportional to other objects in a space makes the space feel balanced. This photograph has a similar amount of above and below it as it does from side to side and is a litle less wide than the small couch.

If you aren’t sure what size to buy, I suggest creating a mock up. It may sound silly and it certainly takes a little time, but the 10-15 minutes and inexpensive supplies this exercise involves are definitely worth it, especially if you are considering spending upwards of several hundred dollars on art for your home or office. Here’s what you’ll need:

1) Large piece of paper or cardboard. This can really be any material, as long as it is big enough to represent the artwork. If you are considering a really big piece you might want to use something larger or more durable, like a thin sheet of plywood, but for smaller pieces cardboard, foam core, or wrapping paper should be sufficient.
2) Measuring tape.
3) Straight edge.
4) Scissors, box cutter, or any tool sufficient to cut clean edges of the material you are using.
5) Hanging supplies. Painter’s tape is perfect for lightweight materials, because it leaves no residue on the walls.

You can go about this one of two ways. Either start by making the mock up the size of the artwork you are considering, or design the mock up to be the ideal size and then find art that closely matches. Essentially you are going to make a cardboard cutout of the art and hang it in the space you envision it. If supplies are limited, start big and gradually trim your stencil down until you get the ideal size. You’ll quickly get an idea of how the size of the artwork plays with its surroundings.

Adding art to your home is a beautiful way to make a space feel lived in and loved, and in a work setting art can help liven up dull spaces and make them feel welcoming. Resist the temptation to buy art you love in a smaller size to keep the price affordable. Make your investment count by choosing art that compliments the space it is given. If you really must stretch a tiny budget, buy something big, inexpensive, and mass produced from a box store like Ikea to fill the space temporarily, then save up for a truly incredible piece by your favorite artist in the right size that will last for years to come. You won’t regret it.

PS: I really love articles by interior designer Emily Henderson and she did a great one about hanging art. Check it out for many awesome examples of art that is the right size and art that isn’t, as well as additional tips on how to measure and select properly sized pieces.

For Sale: Lensbaby Composer + Close-up Lenses

Lensbaby Composer for Canon mount for sale. Includes lens cap, rear cap, kit with removable aperture discs, and close-up lenses for close focusing and macro shots.

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The Composer allows you to create blurred areas simply by moving the outer ring – there are no knobs or dials, and the magnetic aperture rings are easy to change. These particular products are discontinued from the Lensbaby line-up in favor of newer lenses with autofocus, integrated aperture adjustments, and other advanced features, but the original Lensbaby Composer with aperture ring set and close-up lenses will allow you to get the same affect at a fraction of the cost.

This setup is what I’ve used to capture a number of dreamy, close-up shots of flowers like the one below.

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Tulip Abstract : Prints Available

This is one of my favorite flower abstracts of all time. My mom had planted over 200 tulip bulbs in her garden, knowing they are my favorite. Wild deer ate all but a couple of them, and this soft yellow tulip was one of the few survivors. I photographed it near sunset using a Lensbaby Composer. The pink and yellow in the background are the only other tulips that weren’t eaten.

These items retailed for well over $200 when new. Willing to sell the whole bundle for $50 plus shipping and fees. Continental USA buyers only.

Using Websites to Sell Your Work Online

I’ve been selling photographic services and work for more than a decade. Finding a niche price point and marketing my photos to potential buyers has always been somewhat of a struggle. There are two general strategies when it comes to making money – you can sell fewer, more expensive items (generally with higher markup) or a greater quantity of lower priced products. Either way, people need to be able to know your product exists.

I know one photographer who has built his entire brand around limited edition, fine art collectors prints. He only sells large prints, mounted and framed, and operates his own gallery where he hosts fancy parties when he reveals a new piece and exclusive receptions for collectors complete with wine and hors d’oeuvres. His work is gorgeous and outrageously expensive, and he caters to the rich and famous; several of his clients are well known celebrities or socialites. He has won contests and appeared on local TV – his name is out there among people with money who want to spend it.

Then there are the photographers that sell a higher volume of lower priced work. Maybe they sell inexpensive post cards, calendars, and greeting cards at local gift shops, shoot school photos or toddler portraits at the local box store photo studio, supply photos to royalty free stock agencies for a small fee, or deal exclusively in online digital image sales. Buyers might not even know who they are, but their work is readily accessible and affordable.

Many photographers fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, hoping to sell their photos for a modest fee. How do you know which model is right for you? And how do you get people to find and buy your photographs?

While I’ve never demanded an exorbitant amount of money for my photographs, as I simply don’t have the ego to support the mystique of uniquely talented artist nor the temperament to indulge wealthy society types, over the years I have sold a number of larger fine art pieces for what amounted to a very nice unexpected bonus for me. Those buyers have generally found my work through my website. However those sales are few and far in between, and most years I generate very little revenue from photograph sales.

Last year, after a career of demanding strict control over my work, I decided to sign with the stock agency Tandem Stills + Motion and see if they would have any luck in moving my photographs to a larger market. One of my photos sold rather quickly and I was optimistic about more sales. I received a small check fro the usage of the image, then nothing for nearly a year and a half. While my work is no longer represented by Tandem (the relationship was a positive one and ended amicably), I suspect the single sale I got through the agency is one I would likely would not have gotten on my own.

Recently, I started to sell digital files on a website where amateur athletes can purchase photos of themselves participating in an event – the site I use, Roots and Rain, is for mountain biking but no different than websites I’ve seen that sell photos from obstacle course races, town 5Ks, or high school track meets. The price for each photo is very low (less than $10) and since the website takes a cut and payments are processed through PayPal I don’t get very much per image sold, but the visibility is high and in just one event I have made a profit equal to what I have made from selling art prints this year.

In the past I may have frowned on sales like this, but the reality is this: at this point my photography business is more of a hobby on the side than my career. I have another unrelated job to support myself and don’t rely on my income from photography to pay bills. Ideally each year I make enough money from photography so that the hobby supports itself. The less money I make from it, the less I put back into it, and if I have a particularly good year, I’m more likely to buy new gear or upgrade my equipment. So selling work, at whatever profit margin, makes it easier for me to keep shooting.

Also, the photos that I am selling on this website don’t have much other value. While good photos, they are mostly unremarkable – I won’t likely be selling them to ad agencies or winning any contests with them. I currently only sell 3000 pixel high resolution photos for personal use; my buyers are guys who ride mountain bikes and want to show off pictures of themselves racing, usually on social media, which has the added bonus of getting me more publicity when they credit me as the photographer. Since I’m already at these races supporting my boyfriend and taking photos of him, there is no added cost to take photos of other racers, and once those photos exist, why not sell them? While I do spend some time editing and processing the images before they go on the website once they are there the site handles everything for me – sale, distribution, and payment. Once the images are loaded and tagged, I literally have to do nothing but get a paycheck. Overall its a pretty easy way to generate a little extra money from photography and a great confidence boost to see others liking, buying, and linking to my work.

Every photographer needs to decide for themselves what works best. I’ve found that by being flexible with my image and being willing to try new avenues, I’ve succeeded in selling images I never otherwise would have. By giving up a little control, I’ve made sales through my stock agency and Roots and Rain, without the headache of handling every detail of the sale. For me, the reach to more customers and the efficiency of the selling process makes the commission I pay to these websites more than worth it.

Skunked!

I miss fall foliage pretty consistently. The season is usually pretty short, I’m often busy, and the colder temps and shorter days don’t motivate me to try to squeeze photography into my already packed schedule. Even though I live in one of the most beautiful spots in the whole country for fall color and landscapes are one of my main subjects, I’m good at making excuses why not to go shoot – the dog has been home alone all day and needs playtime, I’m carpooling, its too windy, too rainy, there isn’t a single cloud in the sky or the sky is completely overcast, the colors aren’t at peak, the colors are past peak, blah blah blah. I stare at the beautiful trees from my car and wish there were pull-offs near wetlands next to busy highways, but that’s often the extent of it.

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Well tonight on my drive home from work I noticed some wispy clouds in the sky. It was a warm, perfectly still, perfectly blue day, and I almost went straight home, but I thought it was possible the clouds would do something so I drove to the only spot I could think of with a clear view of the sky, maple trees, and no hike. I got there minutes before sunset and… got skunked! The sun went down without much excitement, the clouds never lit up with color, and the light was cold and blue. I could have went home disappointed but I decided to shoot a little anyway and got some decent, different new shots. Not every photo needs to be dramatic or have killer light or perfect foliage to work. Sometimes just getting out there and making due with what you find is good enough.

I guess my motto for today is “It’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.” Sometimes, you make out okay.

A Print’s Journey

When I moved to New Hampshire six years ago, I decided I wanted to decorate my first apartment with some of my own artwork. I had my image “Glowing Fern” printed and mounted 30×45 inch canvas gallery wrap and hung it above our $15 sofa bed in the living room, where my roommates and our guests could enjoy it.

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One of my best friends from grad school took a liking to the image and asked her parents to buy it from me for her as a graduation gift. It ended up being the gift that gave twice – I got a nice sale and Molly got some great artwork for her own place.

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Her first house after grad school was a quaint stone cottage in rural Pennsylvania, where the canvas not only looked perfect but accentuated the cottage atmosphere while adding a contemporary touch. Last year she moved into a house and brought her “Glowing Fern” canvas with her, this time hanging it in her dining room.

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Seeing the journey of this piece of art is pretty cool. I always ask customers to share photos of their artwork in their homes, but Molly is the only person to keep me updated on her canvas when she moves. It’s also incredible to see how well this particular piece has worked in different settings. One of the things I really like about canvas is that it’s super portable – stretched canvas wraps tend to be much lighter than prints framed in glass so they are easy to hang just about anywhere, even the bigger pieces. The lack of frame also allows the artwork to stand on its own, although I’ve had customers frame canvas as well and the right frame can really help the artwork stand out. It all depends on the individual piece.

Bad Light? Try Black and White

This weekend, I photographed a friendly mountain biking event called Broduro. The Broduro is a casual enduro style race between friends “just for fun” featuring with four timed downhill stages. As a photographer, I like shooting enduro because you get to explore different terrain and angles – the action is a bit more exciting and faster paced than xc style mountain bike racing but you generally get the opportunity to shoot the same riders a few times on different trails, unlike downhill where riders race and practice on the same course over and over again.

The not so fun part of shooting enduro is that the lighting isn’t always great. Sometimes it’s pretty horrible actually, and often the gnarliest and coolest features of the course are in areas with the worst light. This course was no exception, with super thick hemlock forests (meaning really dark) in some spots and small areas of direct bright sunlight between sections.

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Light like this presents a few problems. The most obvious one is dynamic range and contrast – most cameras aren’t capable of simultaneously capturing details in areas of really dark shadow and really bright light. When you try to fix that in post, using HDR software, blending exposures, or selective editing, you can recover some detail but the images start to get an HDR look about them, which isn’t always desirable. Anything involving multiple exposures is also a huge challenge when it comes to action photography.

The more subtle problem you run into with mixed light has to do with color balance. All light has a color temperature (measured using the Kelvin scale). Areas of shadow and shade have a cooler temperature and appear more blue to the eye whereas areas with bright, natural sunlight look whiter, and some sources of light, such as sunlight early or late in the day, candlelight, campfires, and incandescent light bulbs have a warm, yellow/gold hue. So when photographing a mountain biker riding between areas of sunlight and shadow, you can get some really funky white balance issues. Additionally, some lenses produce artifacts known as chromatic aberration (CA) which appear as a colored fringe around high contrast edges. I see this often in shots of riders wearing a flashy kit or where tree branches appear against an open sky. This phenomenon appears more frequently in photos with high contrast and harsh light.

I sent a colleague of mine some quickly edited photos from the Broduro, including some color images and ones I converted to black and white. He asked “Why do the B&W look so much better?”

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The reason is because sometimes the color funkiness from shooting with multiple light sources is really hard to manage, and even when we can’t name what is wrong with the photo, it clearly doesn’t look right. Taking out the color altogether eliminates this subconscious confusion and makes the image easier to accept. My photos from the event also have a bit of noise, because the low natural light forced me to shoot wide open with a pretty high ISO in order to get enough shutter speed to freeze the action. Since we are used to seeing grain in traditional black and white photos, monochromatic luminance noise doesn’t bother us as much as noisy color images, whether we realize it or not. Similarly, we don’t mind black shadows and blown out highlights as much in black and white, because it mimics the look of contrasty film; and muddy whites and faded blacks also are less offensive than because they replicate an antique or aged look. Our tolerance for noise and contrast imperfections in black and white images is much higher because they look similar to what we have seen before in history books and old newspapers. Most of us see our world in color every day, so we expect a higher level of clarity, perfection, and realism from color photography.

Next time you end up with a file that has potential, but you find yourself struggling with harsh, uneven light or balancing the color of light from different light sources, try converting your photo to black and white. Sometimes it beats the effort required to otherwise salvage your photo.

Moments Last Minutes

This morning I woke up, looked out my bedroom window into the backyard, and noticed how beautiful the light was shining in the trees looked. I snapped a single quick photo with my iPhone to share to Instagram. I knew the light wouldn’t last. It was early and I still had to run with the dog, shower, and do breakfast before heading to work.

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By the time I was dressed, the light had changed and the beautiful scene turned into something a little more ordinary. Pup and I went for a run like we always do, I showered, dressed, fed him and myself, and got ready. Sometime during that time, I looked out my front window and noticed some fog had rolled in. It was beautiful! I took a four iPhone snaps this time, trying to get a good composition without knocking over my TV trying to get the right angle. By the time I posted the photo I liked, the fog had burned off.

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Photography is all about light – and timing. The beauty of nature is that these things tend to happen in ways we can’t control, unlike studio or fashion photography where every aspect of the shoot can be controlled and manipulated. With nature photography, you have to be ready. You have to be able to anticipate when the right light may come, or the precise moment when all of the elements of the photograph come together in perfect harmony. The right light or precise moment can be brief. Moments last minutes if you are lucky. Be ready to capture them!

PS: Also, take a photo when you feel like taking a photo. iPhone, DSLR, whatever. These two images are never going to end up printed huge and hanging on the wall, but I will still treasure them years from now, when looking back on the time spent living in my beautiful home. Had I started fiddling with DSLR camera to get the perfect settings for the perfect shot, I likely would have missed these photos entirely or at least been late to work, and I would never have been able to share and post them so quickly. Not every photo needs to be a prizewinner!

Finally a GoPro that shoots RAW!

The GoPro 5 was just announced today (along with a GoPro drone that looks pretty sweet) and I’m so psyched about it! I own a first generation GoPro which I use very infrequently – it leaves much to be desired. Even though newer models are more user friendly and have better image quality, I held off buying an upgrade because I wanted the capability to shoot RAW stills. Now, finally five generations later, we have it!

RAW is an awesome tool. RAW files give you increased flexibility when it comes to processing images, and details such as highlights and shadows are much more easily recovered from RAW files than jpegs. You also have more latitude when it comes to exposure, sharpness, and color. With the GoPro, this is incredibly important because the wide shooting angle and field of view almost always guarantee a lot of sky and non-sky in your shot, which generally means a scene with a lot of dynamic range – bright highlights and dark shadows are super common. Wider angle shots are typically more challenging to expose for as well. GoPros are awesome because they have advantages big DSLRs don’t – they are small, portable, wearable, and can go underwater. Adding RAW suddenly makes the GoPro 5 a usable professional camera, all for just $399. I’m psyched!

Today GoPro also introduced a super cool Karma drone that comes with a game changing stabilizing grip, as well as an upgraded GoPro Session 5. File the drone and grip into “products I didn’t even know I needed” category of stuff. Of course now I want them. On the plus side you save $100 when you buy the Karma drone (grip included) and GoPro 5 together for $1099.

Now, I just need to find an extra thousand dollars of spending money between dog, car, and house bills and updating my website. Ugh! Maybe everyone I know can chip in and get me one for my birthday and Christmas.

Check out the new GoPro 5 family of products and Karma on GoPro’s website.

Take Mistakes

Sometimes shots that aren’t perfect end up being my favorite.

Yesterday, I was shooting a soccer game at the college where I work. When you photograph ball sports, one of the rules its to make sure the ball is in the frame. Generally, you also try to include the whole player in your shot as well. Turns out, one of my favorite shots does neither.

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Aftershock : Prints Available

Blades of grass glow in the evening sun after being kicked up by a player on Landmark College’s soccer team.

In this shot, a player had just kicked the ball clear out of the frame. The athlete was too close for my camera and lens combo (Canon 1D Mark IV plus 300mm 2.8), so the player happens to be headless too. Normally, one would delete this shot without giving it a second look, but I love it! In the absence of a ball, blades of grass fluttering through the air convey action, dislodged from their roots and made temporarily airborne by a strong kick. Warm sunlight, coming from the side, illuminates the grass against a shadowed background, literally highlighting its presence. The light also shows texture and movement in the players’ jersey, further emphasizing action. Together these two components – grass and light – make the image. Without either, it wouldn’t work at all.

I realize that this might not meet some tastes. The unusual composition, absence of the soccer ball, and dissection of the players’ body just won’t work for some. But I like this unusual shot. I like that its different. I like that its ambiguous – the player could be just about anybody from any team. It is interesting, and I want to keep looking at it.

That’s good enough for me.

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