The Ideal is Undependable

The dream is to display our images under ideal conditions. This isn’t always possible, so we need to design photographs to hold beauty no matter what.

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If you go through my blog, you’ll see that I’ve talked a lot about ways to think about your photographs, construct them, and display them so that they show the subject material and the message you’re trying to get across to the best effect. And it’s true that a lot of thought should go into this. Some photographs work best as 5x7s, others are astounding as 16x20s. Different aspect ratios may suit one photograph better, and different colored backdrops may help enhance the way an image looks when you display it.

But there is one fly in the ointment with all of this, so to speak. The problem is, we can’t always display our photographs in the ideal situation. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could always guarantee that our photographs are displayed exactly as intended, under ideal lighting for prints and everything?

Those ideal circumstances are actually few and far between. They’re definitely not something we can rely on all the time. What’s more, “ideal” differs from one photographer to the next, and even from one print to the next. For one photographer, the ideal display might be a pure white gallery wall under spotlights that highlight each image in a series perfectly without glare. A news photographer might find that ideal conditions are on the front page of the paper, in a full-color spread. Landscape photographers dream of seeing their images above mantelpieces and sofas.

Again, whatever type of photographer you are, those opportunities for the perfect display are comparatively rare against the number of photographs you’ll end up creating over the span of your career.

So, it is important to consider the ideal display for an image and to design that image to fit the display. But it’s also important to not sweat it too much. Essentially, what I’m saying is that it’s best to strike a balance.

How does one go about striking this balance? The easiest thing to do is to go on, business as usual. Keep designing photographs with their ideal display situation in mind, whatever that may be. But also understand that in many, if not most cases, you won’t be able to show your photographs this way. If you intend to sell landscape prints, for instance, then the ideal display might be a gallery wall or in someone’s living room. But to market them, you’ll likely be showing smaller versions of prints to gallery owners, or directly to buyers through online displays of some kind. It’s tempting when showing images in these less-than-perfect situations, to hold doubts or even to explain to the viewers that really, this particular image will look so much different when displayed as intended. The truth is, though, the people looking at these images already know this. So to strike that balance, the key is to cast these worries aside. People looking to buy a photograph to hang on the living room wall are already imagining how that image will look in its chosen place. Gallery owners know quite well that images are at their best on a gallery wall. Keep designing images with their best display circumstances possible in mind. But also, make sure that you don’t forget that your images are good enough to hold beauty no matter how you display them. The perfect showcase is a wonderful thing, but it just isn’t always possible.


About the author

Will Moneymaker

I love making photographs and exploring my surroundings through my lens. Follow along as I share my thoughts and adventures in the art of photography.