Today's photographers take a lot more pictures than photographers did just a couple of decades ago. But on average, fewer of those images ever get seen. That's because storing digital photos is easy, fast and requires virtually no extra space. We take photos, we offload them onto a hard drive and there they sit, waiting for us to make good on a vague promise to "have them printed" when time allows. So how can you break out of that rut and get your photos off that hard drive and out into the world?
If it helps, think of those digital images you're storing by the thousands as the modern equivalent of the film negative, and think of your hard drive as an old shoebox. Back in the golden days of film photography, you would never just develop your negatives alone and then toss them in a shoebox. You would have them printed, you would put them in an album, and if they were particularly good you would have them enlarged and framed so you could display them in your home. Which is, of course, exactly what you should be doing with your digital photos.
Some modern ideas ...
Almost every home has a few framed photos on the wall; they're a very standard way to display a favorite image. There are many, many ways to mix up this old idea, though, and finding some new twists on this traditional display technique can add a lot of interest to your home and to your photos.
- No room for all those photos? Pick up some inexpensive gallery shelves, which act as sort of disembodied fireplace mantels. You can display a larger collection of small, framed images this way, and several rows of them will give you the best use of space. Or, you could try displaying a big collection of 4x6 images in one oversized frame. Such a display would dominate one wall of your home but would also allow you to display a large number of photos at once.
- Frame your black and white images in vintage frames, taking care to use modern photo mats and backing that will protect them from any chemicals in the paint or the old wood used to make those frames. Vintage frames can give your photos an antique look and create a sense of family history, and will look best in a traditionally-decorated home.
- Have your images turned into wall coverings. Yes, that's right, you can get customized wallpaper made using your favorite photos. Or, if you don't want to go that crazy with the idea, simply have your photos blown up to mural size (hint: you'll need to shoot at a very high resolution with at least an 8 megapixel camera to create photos that look good at those sizes).
- Clotheslines are another great way to showcase a lot of photos in a small space. Yes, you read that right--clotheslines. Just string a piece of cord up in a prominent location and use clothespins to hang up and swap out your favorite shots. Bearing in mind, of course, that this is a great way to display quick prints but not a very good way to display shots you'd like to preserve for a lifetime. The clothespins will damage your photos, and since they will hang there unprotected your dog and your toddler probably will, too.
- Digital displays can't be ignored of course, and though they are far from the only way to display your digital pictures they are certainly a solid and convenient choice. Photos displayed digitally won't deteriorate (at least not before the digital frame does), and depending on the quality of the user interface they can be quickly and effortlessly swapped out for new images. Many digital photo frames are wireless, which means you can email photos to them (which is particularly handy for grandmas and grandpas) or even connect them to your favorite photo sharing website. The cost of one of these frames is often less than the cost of a large, quality custom framing job, so they are a worthwhile investment if you're frequently adding to your collection of framed photos. Digital photo frames are great for small spaces because they scroll through a series of images, thus allowing you to display many photos in one frame. The drawback, of course, is that they make it difficult to show off that one great shot you took last week ("Wait for it, wait for it, it's coming, just two or three shots to go ...")
- Create a photo grouping. A large collection of photos organized geometrically on one wall can look very dramatic and engaging. This can be a very modern way to display the otherwise traditional framed photo, and the possibilities for creative groupings are endless. For inspiration, try Googling "photo groupings" or "photo grouping ideas" or do a similar search on Pinterest.
- Photo books are almost embarrassingly easy to put together and print. Most online photo printing services such as Snapfish or Shutterfly will assemble a book for you automatically - all you need to do is add captions and maybe change the theme. Or, if you have the extra time, you can get as creative and custom as you like. A photo book is a great quick gift for a relative or a very easy way to get your photos offline and onto your bookshelf.
... and a traditional one
Albums are, of course, the old favorite way to collect and display your photos. While a photo book or an iPad can make an OK stand-in for a traditional photo album, nothing really compares to sitting with your family on a cold evening looking through photo albums. And you don't have to go all-out with a time-consuming, over-decorated scrapbook, either. You can buy premade scrapbooks or just stick with a slip-in album that will let you quickly assemble and protect your favorite photos.
Displaying photos for the long term requires some basic knowledge of photo preservation and those invisible but life-shortening dangers that your images might be exposed to on walls or in albums. Have you ever opened up an old photograph album and found black and white photos that were fading or turning yellow, or color photos that were taking on a heavy brown or orange cast? Those old slip-in and magnetic albums were the culprits. Their pages were made with acid, bleach, glue and other chemicals that would leach into the photos over time and cause deterioration and discoloration.
Fortunately, most manufacturers no longer sell albums made with harmful chemicals, but just to be safe make sure to look for the "acid free, archival, lignin free" label on any album you purchase. The technology used to print photos is more sophisticated, too. For example, when processed correctly, modern black and white images are pretty tolerant of moderate light levels--but you still need to take care that your framed images are protected from other hazards. Keep them off of walls that receive daily doses of direct sunlight, for example, and make sure they're under glass--preferably anti-UV coated glass. All framed photos should be matted, too, not necessarily because they look nicer that way (though they often do) but also because the mat keeps the photo from sticking to the glass.
And of course keep your original digital files safe, so you can reprint your photos if (or when) necessary.
There really are endless ways you can display your photographs, which is great since there are also endless opportunities for taking photographs now that digital has given us freedom to experiment, play and over-shoot. But a great photo is only great if someone is looking at it--so don't let it collect virtual dust sitting there on your hard drive. Get it out of its electronic shoebox and, one way or another, put it somewhere it will be seen. How do you display your photos? Let me know in the comments below!
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