Mounting and Presentation

Creating A Workshop Portfolio

Sawhill Cottonwoods. Boulder, Colorado, 2013
Sawhill Cottonwoods. Boulder, Colorado, 2013

This coming weekend we have a workshop with the accomplished photographer Cole Thompson. Among a couple of other things, he has asked each of the participants to bring ten prints. (That is PRINTS, not just an image on a laptop–I love the idea!) But…Aaaack! Talk about a most difficult difficult task! How do you edit down all the work you have ever done into an abbreviated portfolio of ten prints!?

You could…pick ten on the same theme…ten from a specific photographic project…ten from your latest trip to the world’s largest ball o’ twine…ten in color…ten in monochrome…ten portraits…ten that you think are your best overall…ten varied works that show your wide range of interests…ten random images…ten that a friend picks out for you…and so on.

The so-called “experts” always council that, when putting together a portfolio or a show of any kind, there be some uniformity of style and theme throughout and it should be designed with the intended audience in mind. It is not seen as a good thing to randomly throw together a still life in color, then an abstract monochrome, then images of wildlife, then sports car action, etc–it wouldn’t make sense to the viewer. It should be what they often call “a cohesive body of work”.

The experts also council that, editorially speaking, you should become a cruel and heartless Genghis Khan as you slice your digital scimitar through your image collection. Be absolutely ruthless about throwing out the bad stuff, they say–and even the good stuff that doesn’t quite make it to excellent. For a portfolio, keep only your very, very best.

So, what to do…what to do? How do I whittle down what I do with the camera into just ten images? Also, this is just a workshop–I am not trying to sell myself to a gallery or a client–so how might that affect my selection?

My personal problem related to image selection for a portfolio is that I am sometimes too attached to particular images to be able to judge them in a neutral way. I also sometimes don’t think I know what a good image is, at least when it comes out of my camera. Maybe it is that my emotional investment or even my physical investment (dude, it was a mega-epic hike to get there!) can confuse me about what is truly a good image.

Because of these issues, it is a great idea to enlist the help of a spouse, friend, relative, fellow photog, photography club, your cat, even a stranger on the street…as long as they are capable of telling you the truth! A different, honest, perspective can reveal things about your images that never would have occurred to you working solo.

So, I have picked my ten images. I went ahead and matted them, too, as I think presentation is very important in how one views a photograph. I have chosen pairs of images that relate to five different themes–sort of the mini photo essay idea. All are monochrome, except one which has somewhat muted colors (I am taking a risk here, mixing in a color with B & W!).

We will see how it goes. And it will be interesting to see the different ways in which the 15 participants have approached this assignment of bringing in ten prints. I will report back after the workshop.

Oh, and I completely reserve the right to change out my portfolio images right up until this Saturday morning!

Additional Information: For a great summary of the nature of a photography portfolio and how to create one, see 10 Steps for Building a Photography Portfolio to Be Proud Of by Simon Bray.


Sawhill Reflection #10. Boulder, Colorado, 2013
Sawhill Reflection #10. Boulder, Colorado, 2013

A Framing Idea

Winter Stroll, Flatirons. Boulder, Colorado, 2015
Winter Stroll, Flatirons. Boulder, Colorado, 2015


First, before I forget: change your clocks if you are in a Daylight Saving Time combat zone. Remember: “Spring forward; Fall back”, so roll ’em back an hour. For those lucky ducks without DST…just look at your clocks and sigh heavily.

OK, now the framing idea…This assumes you are trying to frame a matted photograph in a way that emphasizes the image and not the frame. Naturally, different styles of photography will dictate different styles of framing. The following idea works great for my monochrome images which are typically printed at 12″ x 18″ on 13 x 19 paper, then matted to 18″ x 24″ outside dimensions. (See my previous blog post, On Matting and Mounting, for suggestions on archival mounting and matting.)

Here is the recipe:

1) Order your frame based on the outside mat dimension. Try the Nielsen Profile 15 style in anodized aluminum and matte black, from Frame Destination. This particular frame has a 3/8″ width and a 19/32″ rabbet. (This latter term refers to the depth, to accommodate the combined thickness of your backer board, mat, and metal frame clips.)

2) Order your glazing to fit the frame. Frame Destination has a great discussion on glass versus acrylic and the various types of each: see Acrylic Picture Framing Information. I personally like acrylic for its lightness and unbreakability, but it does scratch easily. (Do NOT use normal glass cleaners on acrylic. A damp micro fiber cloth will work just fine in most cases.)

[NOTE and UPDATE (Dec, 2015): I am seriously reconsidering the type of acrylic I use. I have been using UV-protecting/anti-glare acrylic, but…the anti-glare makes the print behind it look slightly soft and the UV acrylic gives the print a slight yellowish tone. Plain acrylic works better to show off the print more accurately if you don’t mind the reflections. I am also printing on wood and canvas a lot more using Duraplaq products and I have been very satisfied with the results.]

3) You’ll also need a thin, archival, filler board to fit behind whatever your photograph is mounted on as well as polyester tape.

4) Assemble the frame following these instructions/video.

5) The order of all framing items, from front to back: the picture frame, the glazing, the window mat, the photograph itself, the backer board, then a filler board, the polyester tape to seal the frame, and finally the wire hanging hardware. Consider a stamp or seal of authentication with signature on the back of the filler board so it is easily visible in addition to signing the actual photograph and/or mat.

6) Note that there is a filler board behind your matted photograph and that polyester tape is used to seal the gap between the frame and the filler board to keep out dust and bugs. On wooden frames, this is usually some sort of paper that is stapled into place to seal the artwork. Make sure that the entire thickness of your matted photograph, including the glazing and the filler board–along with the metal frame clips–will all fit within the depth of the frame (rabbet). If you use 8-play mats, as I do, this can make for a tight fit.

Frame Destination also has some great educational information about the various ways of mounting and matting your photographs. Try this link, for example. Another online frame source you might check out is American Frame and they also have framing tutorials on their page, Framing Basics. A third option for price and product comparison is PictureFramesdotCom.

On Matting and Mounting

Approaching Storm, Red Rock Lake. Near Brainard Lake, Colorado, 2013
Approaching Storm, Red Rock Lake. Near Brainard Lake, Colorado, 2013

There are as many opinions on matting and mounting photographs as there are warts on the schnoz of the Wicked Witch of the West. Well, maybe even more.

For some time now, I have been studying and experimenting with the various methods of how I might present my prints and I’ll outline my conclusions below.The big internal debate I had was between dry mounting and hinge or corner mounting the images. I don’t like a photograph that curls and warps, thus the appeal of dry mounting. I understand the arguments of the “curators” who say dry mounting is not archival as it essentially glues the photo to a backing board–BUT, I see the backing board and the photograph as an integral unit and the board (assuming it to be acid-free) can actually serve to protect the photograph. What finally pulled me away from the dry mount route were two things:

–Dry mounting requires more heavy equipment–like a Seal 210 press, for example.

–The difficulty of the process–especially centering the image on the backing board.

On the other hand, with hinge or corner mounts, it is relatively simple to center the print and I can put together a matted photograph in just a few minutes.

How to prepare a photograph for presentation or for framing

Here is my procedure, in a baker’s dozen: Click here for how to mat a photograph.

The Workflow

Geometry. Denver, Colorado, 2013
Geometry. Denver, Colorado, 2013

It’s all starting to come together. Here is the flow:

D800 image capture – Lightroom – Photoshop (with Nik Plugins) – NEC monitor/Epson 3880 to print – Seal 210 press for dry mount – final matting – clear archival bag

This fits my style. Each of those steps, of course, has its own individual learning curve. Mastering them all will be a never-ending journey.

[UPDATE: Yes, it’s a journey, and things change along the way. For example, nix on the dry mounting as stated above. See my blog entry on Matting and Mounting, dated October 4, 2013.]

What size to crop?

Ice #130. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2013. Cropped to an approximate 2:1 ratio.
Ice #130. Boulder Creek, Colorado, 2013. Cropped to an approximate 2:1 ratio.

I tend to crop most of my images to 18×12, a 3:2 ratio which basically matches the proportion of my camera frame. With a one-inch white border added, this makes the image 19×13, a common and manageable print size. (The idea is that the white border gets trimmed away along with the overhanging edges of the affixed dry mount tissue so that the tissue fits perfectly, or simply covered by a mat.) This 18×12 dimension will also fit nicely inside the standard frame size of 24×20. Now and then, I’ll crop square, at 12×12 (1:1 ratio), or 20×16 (5:4 ratio), again with the same white border. Click here for more.