Tuesday, November 27, 2012

“I bought it for the frame”

DO YOU THINK that your photography is good? Do other people — people that aren't your friends or family  — think that it is good? How would you feel if one of your photographs found its way into a junk shop or a flea market, and someone purchased it only because of its frame?

Ultimately, we must be humble enough to realize that no matter how much artistic vision and effort we put into something, a buyer simply might like our photograph only because it is nicely framed.

When I did a Google search for the phrase “I bought it for the frame,” I got over ten million search results, with many people telling of some print or painting they found at a junk shop, but which they discarded, simply because they liked the frame. Now we mustn't jump to the conclusion that the frame-buyers are ignorant, tasteless philistines. Perhaps your photograph isn't all that good. Perhaps the frame is really good. [NOTICE: I must admit to having a bit of anxiety whenever I go to a book fair or used book store, thinking that I might find one of my own books being sold cheap.]

Apparently, according to the same Google search, lots of people also buy bicycles only for their frame. They plan to strip the frame of all the seemingly more critically important stuff that actually makes the bicycle work, such as the wheels, gears, and chain. Certainly these working components are more important than the frame? Doesn't the frame just sit there? The answer is that in many respects these components are more important, and the components that just happen to be attached to the frame may not be all that good or fitting for the purchaser. The brakes and tires on a bicycle become gradually worn with use and slowly become less effective over time, and a bicycle rider can choose to replace them whenever it is convenient. But a bicycle frame must be perfectly durable, and it must not ever fail during use, for it cannot be repaired in the field: a frame does not slowly lose its functionality over time, for the welded joints on a frame are either rigid or are broken with no significant intermediate state. A frame, of course, can be repainted as needed.

So what kind of framed photograph would be more valuable to most any given person: an excellent portrait of someone else's child, or a cheap snapshot of their own child? We ought to realize that prints and paintings are more important than a frame, but they tend to be more personally important. If someone buys a framed print at a flea market and then discards the original print, that is because their print is more important than the original. Likewise, someone may purchase a used bicycle, but they might replace the seat for one that is more comfortable for them; they might replace the brakes because they are worn, but if the frame isn't good, they won't buy the bicycle.

A photograph or painting may be chosen because of a particular style of a room, or because of a particular mood expressed, or its use of particular coordinating colors. The subject matter may spark the imagination of the buyer, or the subject may invoke particular memories or devotions. An image may be discarded because it no longer fits the decor of the room, or it may invoke unpleasant memories: maybe it is faded or worn, or it is no longer interesting, or it is out of style.

Now, there are some artists, particularly in the past, who strove to make images that have a more universal, timeless character, that expressed objective beauty and the sublime. This is rare today because modernity rejects the eternal and universal in favor of that which is transitory and cheap. This means, perhaps, that contemporary works are more prone to being quickly discarded.

People may buy a print because of its frame, but the frame is not bought for its own sake, no matter how well it is made or decorated, but because it is ultimately intended to enclose a print or a painting. I know of no museum or gallery that is dedicated to the presentation of frames as objects of art (although this might be an exception), but there are vast numbers of merchants — including art galleries — that sell frames in a wide variety, and the cost of these frames may equal or exceed the cost of the image that is presented within it.

Frames are works of art in themselves (as is anything intentionally well-made by man's intellect), but their purpose is mainly in relationship to the fine art contained within them. The word ‘fine’ in ‘fine art’ is related to Aristotle's understanding of the “final cause” or ultimate purpose of a thing. The final cause of a frame is to support, display, protect, enhance, and delineate the work of art contained within it, as well as provide a visual transition between the work of art and its location. The buck stops at the image contained in the frame, as it is the final cause of the art: the job of art is complete and the viewer's job of looking at the image begins. But this does not mean that the frame is unimportant, for it has important functions, but it is subservient to those things, the images, which are greater. Even though we have differing opinions on what makes a good print or painting, we should not be surprised that most of us would largely agree on what what makes a good frame, for frames have a more definite purpose.

Getting a good understanding of composition is difficult, because it involves human psychology. The many proposed rules of composition seem to rest on shaky theoretical ground, and many of the supposed examples of the use of the rules are unconvincing. However, one element of composition is concrete and objective, that being the framing or the specific crop of the image. See the article Composition, Part 1 - the Frame for a more in-depth discussion of this. The objective framing of an image, due to a specific crop, can be be a powerful tool of composition if used well, and bad framing can certainly harm an image.

As the vast majority of images are rectangles, this suggests the good use of harmonic proportions between the length and width of the image with the proportions of the matting and size of the frame. The common standard print, matte, and frame sizes do express proportions that harmonize well with each other. Attempts at making custom frames and mattes for a non-standard print size will generally be expensive and error-prone. Custom sizes may also look awkward if the maker does not apply the mathematics of proportion ahead of time: for example, it may be possible to harmonize an image with a large aspect ratio within a frame with a smaller aspect ratio if the margins or matting are well-chosen, but if the ratios are not chosen well, the final object may look ridiculous, cheap, or inartistic.

For all these reasons, I think that it would be prudent if photographers give serious consideration to framing, since, after all, nearly every print that will be displayed on a wall needs a frame, and for the simple fact that a purchaser may buy your print because they like its frame.

Monday, November 12, 2012


YOU CAN NOW PURCHASE my photographs online:


Please see my announcement here.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Ancient Wisdom about Photography

SOME PHILOSOPHY, often paradoxical, for your enjoyment…

A bad camera can be the best tool for making a good photographer.

The best photographers can make the best photographs with even poor cameras. For this reason, the best photographers use the best cameras.

A poor photographer blames his camera; a good photographer blames himself. For this reason, good photographers use cameras they cannot blame.

Many good photographs are due to luck. Good photographers are luckier than poor ones.

You must not care what master photographers think of your photography, for they are prone to envy. You achieve this by carefully following the advice of master photographers.

Any person with minimal aptitude can become a good photographer if they spend thousands of hours learning. Some people have a natural talent for photography; they develop this talent by spending thousands of hours learning.

If you desire to be creative above all else, then your photographs will have a boring sameness. Do what has been done thousands of times before, but strive to do it better, then you will find yourself to be creative.

A bird song may be pretty, but the song is not art. Find inspiration in the work of the masters, but strive to be a master in your own right.

The business of photography is not the art of photography, for the art of selling a photograph is different from the art of making a photograph.

You have mastered photography when it is graceful, effortless, and joyful. Your tools ought to appear to be a natural extension of yourself.

Cameras change and technologies change, but art never changes, for art is inside and flows from above.

Being a good photographer does not mean that you are a good person. It simply means that your photographs are good.

[Post-processing is the work done on digital images using a computer image processing program such as Photoshop; also, this will include traditional darkroom work for photographic film.]

All photographs are post-processed; one just has to understand the meaning of post-processing.

If you capture a good image in the camera, then that image needs no post-processing. In order to do good post-processing, you need to capture a good image in the camera.

To master photography, you must master post-processing. You have mastered post-processing when it appears as if you did not use post-processing.

You must master Photoshop by mastering its functions. You master Photoshop’s functions by never using most of them. Likewise, the worst Photoshop books are those that explain all of its functions, and the best are those that explain only a few.

In order to post-process a photograph of a subject, you must bring out the subjectness that the photograph failed to capture.

To sharpen a photograph in Photoshop, you should not use the Sharpen function, but rather use the Unsharp function.

To achieve utter freedom and creativity in post-processing, you must enslave yourself to the logic and mathematics underlying post-processing.

The sRGB color space is worst color space because it represents the narrowest range of colors of any standard RGB color space. For this reason, sRGB is the best color space to use in post processing.

Do not trust your eyes, for they deceive you, and so you must measure the color numbers to ensure that they are good. But you must trust your eyes, for if the image does not look good, then the color numbers must not be good.

You must spend thousands of hours post-processing images in order to post-process images quickly.

If you must ask if Photoshop is the right post processing software for you, then Photoshop is the wrong software for you.