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What Is the Best Way to Hang and Display Your Photos?

What Is the Best Way to Hang and Display Your Photos?

You've made that perfect print and are now ready to proudly display it in your apartment, house, or studio (you do display your art, don't you?). What options are available to you for displaying and hanging your work?

I've written before about transforming your own photos and breathing life into them by moving them from the digital realm by making analog prints (or acrylics or canvasses), as well as using digital frames to display work. In fact, don't think of photos as single, dormant entities, but rather a rich range of life that is a representation of your creative envisioning and that combine and live in new and exciting ways. It's no longer a single photo, but (to quote John Berger), "a new way of seeing."

Your Space

Taking that a step further, photos are about communication, so when you take the time, trouble, and effort to present your own work in your own space, you create a billboard for the images you hang. These living, breathing, messages change as you change the photos meaning that it is the space that is pivotal. They are the ornaments garnishing your work, the book cover to your story, the record sleeve to your LP. It is the space you should prepare, a shrine to all that you hold sacred.

So, when it comes to displaying your work, what do you need to think about? Here are four key points for starters:

1. Location

You need a place to present your work, and the main considerations are the number of people (foot traffic) and space available. Is it in a place where people will actually get to see it? For many, this will mean the lounge. So, what is this "space" actually like in your home? Photos need to speak for themselves, unencumbered by what is going on around them. It's noticeable that galleries are spacious, neutral, and quiet. Or, to say it another way, they are often large, white warehouses! Pictures are displayed in an open space, with no images or sounds to interfere with your viewing. Clutter is the bane of visual simplicity, which means that literally living by the maxim of "less is more" will not only create a space you can relax in, but also allow people to concentrate on the messages your images are communicating.

2. Printed Medium

In a digital age, it is easy to forget the importance of presentation, as an image is more than simply the pictorial representation. The medium it is on plays an important supporting role, so choosing an acrylic, gloss print, or canvas says as much about the photo as the image itself. Where appropriate, mounting and framing can be key as the example below shows from a recent display of Rembrandt's work. Given the stature of his reputation, the size of the work is perhaps a little disappointing. But then, size isn't everything!

3. Hanging

How you hang your work plays a subtle role in its visual perception. From a more practical perspective, hanging should ideally be flexible, non-destructive, and invisible. Attaining all three of these criteria is usually impossible! The simplest option is to hang each frame individually from picture wire on the back. You can use a nail in the wall, which will work in brick or wall board. However, it leaves a hole in the wall and, more importantly, can't be loaded heavily. Aligning grids or rows of photos can also become painstakingly fiddly. The alternative is to move to a thicker screw with a plastic wall plug. This solves the loading issue (they can take heavy frames), but not the hole in the wall. Of course, the greater the number of frames, the greater the number of holes!

This is a familiar problem to renters far and wide, who have a number of non-destructive ways of attaching photos to walls. The best-kept secret is the Japanese washi tape. Essentially a multi-colored masking tape, you can stick prints directly to walls and then peel it off when you are done. In similar fashion, the branded 3M Command strips (and unbranded alternatives) provide a more adhesive fixing that is entirely removable. Use it to attach sticky pads, hooks, or strips of Velcro. They can take moderate loads and provide an effective alternative to an afternoon with your hammer drill!

I happened upon my final hanging system while visiting a friend in the Netherlands, which is just a rail running along the top of the wall. You can then hang frames on wires directly from the rail. This allows you to interactively hang your pictures, moving them around until you have them in position. You can hang as many or few as you want, being restricted only by the number of wires you have. You can also hang multiple frames on a single wire, positioning them in groups if you so want. It also means that changing displays is a simple and quick affair. While not completely non-destructive, you only need about one screw per meter of rail. It's a cost-effective, flexible, and intuitive method. Below is an example from my own installation.

4. Light 

In the same way that you use light in your photography, you also want to use it on your photos! The same rules apply, so you want high-quality light, which means controlling the strength, color, and softness in any installation. However, that subject is for another article!

Over to You

Image capture is only one element of the whole photographic workflow; however it's the one, as photographers, that we concentrate most of our energy upon. That's not surprising, because we are in the trade of image-making, and we get immense satisfaction from capturing what we have imagined. We also get that dopamine hit from positive comments on Instagram, Facebook, or our own social media channel of choice. However, those channels let you burn the star brightly (or crash and burn in flames!) before being forgotten. I'd rather my photos lived 1,000 years as a sheep rather than one day as a tiger.

Do you print your work and if so, what are your top tips for presentation?

Lead Image courtesy of PIRO4D via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons. Body image copyright Niels Anders and used with permission.

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13 Comments

Dan Donovan's picture

"Sometimes, but would like to do it more" would have been a good third question on the survey.

David Pavlich's picture

I thought I'd mention that I voted, but the poll states that there are 0 votes so far.

Mike Smith's picture

Thanks! I'll check out what the problem is

Mike Smith's picture

It appears crowd signal have changed their T&C's in last 2 week which is why it doesn't how the result. I'm looking for alternatives

Mike Smith's picture

The friend is crucial! Very frustrating when you realise it is wonky or not Central

RT Simon's picture

Hang lighter works using rails, and quality earth magnets.

Mike Smith's picture

Great tip! Thanks

PETER RYAN's picture

Can you please advise the name/brand of the rail system you saw when visiting the Netherlands.

Mike Smith's picture

I'm sure not sure about the Dutch systemi saw, however in the UK the STAS System crops up in searches (https://www.hangingsystems.com/). i used this company who were well priced https://picturehangingdirect.co.uk/

Eric Mazzone's picture

If you're using wooden frames for your images, take a look at the beehive picture hanger system. It was created by a photographer in NW Indiana and is super easy to get your images perfectly aligned when you hang them.

Keith Gooderham's picture

Although I would love to mount my photos on acrylic or aluminium these options are usually too expensive for me, especially as I like to regularly change the prints that I have on display. So, instead I spray mount my prints up to A1 size on white foam card and then use 3M "Command" picture hanging strips to mount them to the wall - fast, simple and enduring but easy to remove when needed and above all cheap.

Chris Jablonski's picture

I decided to standardise on a framing and hanging scheme that enables prints to be moved around, swapped within a frame, and switched from vertical to horizontal format over time, within my own hanging spaces - home and office.

I decided to standardise on A2 prints, with a nominal 5" (125mm) mat, in a very pale grey. The print aperture in the mat is raised by 10mm, so the actual border widths are: top 115mm, sides 125mm, bottom 135mm. This means that the frames are the same size for all these A2 prints, and all landscape and all portrait orientation mats are the same. Wider panoramas on roll paper use the same sizes except for overall width, to suit the print in question.

This is not IDEAL framing for each image, but adequate for all. (I think of books, which generally display photo images alike.) I often find that the usual white mat is a bit stark, especially for colour prints.

I standardised on matt anodised aluminium channel frames when these were popular, in a mid-grey like pewter. Now the colour range is limited, so recently I use silver for colour images, and black for B&W, with a white mat in the latter case.

The big advantage of the aluminium channel is that the hanging wire can be adjusted in height, so a single fixing point for the self-tapping screw I put into the wall (with a plastic plug and silicone caulk in masonry) can be used for landscape and portrait format images, arranged so that the mid-point of the final framed and hung image is at my eye level. Also, these frames can be disassembled and reused, or even swapped in orientation (with the right mat).

So far, this has proved satsfactory. I am wondering about how to keep these practical features in the more attractive timber frames, but have yet to sort out how this could be done well.