How to Exhibit your Photography, Part 1

There's lots think about when exhibiting your photography but this guide should help you through without any surprises.

So… you’re on board with the idea? Great! What now? We’ll move on to where you can exhibit but first the how to prepare an exhibition.

1) Decide on a theme and curate your images.

Do what now? An exhibition is far more cohesive when themed. Some photographers shoot projects that centre around a theme but some of us just get on with it and don’t plan (Guilty as charged!). But that’s ok!

You will likely have an idea of your best images. If not, start the crawl and put your best images to one side e.g. flag it within your photo editor or copy to another folder. Review your strongest images and start to explore if there’s a commonality in style. My images were seascapes and landscapes of Sussex, long exposures, abstracts etc. Tricky.

Reviewing my shortlist I wondered what had prompted me to make each photo. A theme became clear and I realised how important photography was to me, both as a creative outlet and as escapism. My images, in my eyes, showed peace and serenity with the occasional splash of drama. Think about the composition, shapes, colours, and how I felt at the time. What unifies your photography? e.g. is there a single colour, or recurring shape within the composition.

The chances are, your photography says something about you as a person. Dig deep to understand why you took the photo and find the unity between images. Ask others to describe your style if you get stuck.

Now, you have a selection of images that fit a theme. Depending on the exhibition – aim for a shortlist of 30-40 images and whittle down to 20 or so images. Use fellow photographers, artists, friends and family if it helps. Objectivity will come easier from others than it will to you.

Of those images – choose 4 or 5 hero photographs alongside the 15 or so other final images. These heroes are your proudest achievements and need to take centre stage.

Finally – create a title that reflects the theme. Mine was ‘a moment of peace’ to reflect the calm and serenity experienced at the time. I hoped others would also see the serenity in my images.

2) Print your photos

You now have a final selection of photographs and an exhibition title. To complete the realisation of your photography you must consider the potential minefield of printing and framing. I’ve made plenty of mistakes for us all, so you won’t have to!

Where will you print your photos?
On your own printer or by using a photographic print provider?

How will you ensure prints are accurate to what you see on the screen? There’s nothing more upsetting, and frustrating, than reviewing a print and discovering it looks horrific. Where has all the shadow detail gone? Why does the image look flat? It doesn’t look very sharp, does it!?

The answer here is to use a colour profiling device to calibrate your display for accuracy. Then use soft proofing (e.g. in Lightroom) to simulate the print on-screen. These topics are articles in their own right. Search online for detailed guides.

Printing proofs is also not a bad idea – at least the first time you print. A decent print provider can print small photos or narrow strips of the image to compare to your screen.

Printing with framing in mind
Before you hit print or place an order – please stop for a few minutes and ask how will I frame my prized photographs?

Always include a plain border (circa 8mm) to allow overlap with a window mount, or opt for a larger white border instead of a window mount. This looks smart but keeps down cost and effort and can usually be selected when ordering your prints. The small downside is the photo will be in direct contact with the glass and may lead to condensation forming in some cases.

3) Choose Paper & Finish

Ask your print provider for a sample pack of different paper and print types. It’s worth having a conversation and learning from the printer’s expertise, often they are happy to talk through your options.

C-Type is developed as per a traditional film but from a digital file. Available finishes are matt, gloss, or lustre. The latter being somewhere between the first two. The subject matter, style and personal preference all play a part here.

Giclée prints look beautiful in certain situations and are common in fine art. Pigment-based printing offers a choice of different papers – including many that are lightly textured and can give a luxury feel. In some cases, the texture can reinforce the image you’d visualised all along e.g. textured subject matter.

I started off with C-type gloss and a small number as Giclée print on textured cotton paper. I soon realised the reflective nature of gloss prints is prone to heavy reflections in direct daylight or artificial lighting. Paying for more expensive anti-reflective glass quickly showed the problem up. I now use a matte finish paper when choosing C-type print.

Exhibiting different finishes side by side can work well without standing out or jarring. Don’t worry too much unless they’re vastly different.

4) Choose Sizing

Now for the size. Hmmmm. Large can be very powerful and some images scream out for it. But small can work well for many images and will save on costs. I would recommend a mix. A selection of large hero images and smaller images can help to maintain balance and manage costs.

Off the shelf or Bespoke Frames?

Off the shelf frames or custom made? This could become a big topic. If you need to keep costs down and see a finish to fit your style – this is likely the best option for you, at least initially. Keep in mind that your choice needs to suit your future customers. Fluorescent frame colours will limit your audience!

It can be difficult finding frames that fit the standard 3:2 picture ratio of most DSLR / mirrorless cameras. Many frames will only suit 4:3 as is used on compact cameras. Off the shelf frames will often use Perspex instead of glass. Perhaps that’s ok, but again, think about who your customer is and the price point you’re pitching at. No one appreciates flimsy Perspex when paying hundreds for a photo!

Choosing a frame

Decide on either the desired frame or the print size and work from there. A 2″ mount around the image is a good starting point. Framing always looks better when the bottom of the mount is deeper than the rest e.g. 2.25″; it feels anchored and just looks right. Small touches can make a big difference.

Mounts can be provided by the framer, made yourself with the right equipment or ordered online. Keep sizing consistent where possible to avoid many different mount and frame sizes.

In Part 2 we’ll cover where to exhibit and the remaining details that can make all the difference…

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