About Me

My photo
Spofford, New Hampshire, United States
Jeff Newcomer had been a physician practicing in New Hampshire and Vermont for over 30 years. Over that time, as a member of the Conservation Commission in his home of Chesterfield New Hampshire, he has used his photography to promote the protection and appreciation of the town's wild lands. In recent years he has been transitioning his focus from medicine to photography, writing and teaching. Jeff enjoys photographing throughout New England, but has concentrated on the Monadnock Region and southern Vermont and has had a long term artistic relationship with Mount Monadnock. He is a featured artist in a number of local galleries and his work is often seen in regional print, web publications and in business installations throughout the country. For years Jeff has published a calendar celebrating the beauty of The New England country-side in all seasons. All of the proceeds from his New England Reflections Calendar have gone to support the Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program at the Cheshire Medical Center. Jeff has a strong commitment to sharing his excitement about the special beauty of our region and publishes a blog about photography in New England.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Matting & Framing

Sue and I are heading to DC to visit with our daughter Abigail, so I am getting this weeks blog out a bit early.  Although the Apple Blossoms are past,  I hope to have some nice spring pictures to share next week.

Recently I had one of those hectic transition periods. Last Thursday night I had to take down my show at the Works Cafe in Brattleboro Vermont and then hang the pictures at the Colonial Theater in Keene, New Hampshire the next morning. The overlap doesn't always work this perfectly but this time I didn't even have to take
Bad Name for the Show
the pictures out of the car. From the time I started taking my photography seriously, I have been both a photographer and a print maker. My first attempts at showing and promoting my work were all through the hanging of physical prints in shows and galleries. Today I sell many more images electronically than in the form of fine art prints. With so many electronic avenues to display and market my work, physical or "dead tree" prints seem almost an anachronistic luxury, but I still believe that there is something uniquely magical about being able to hold an image in my hands. It is exciting to see my pictures on magazine covers and on web sites, but these are always secondary renderings of my work. They are altered by the limited gamut and color balance of the specific printing process or by the color balance and resolution of each individual monitor on the web. The only time that I feel that I can show the full expression of my vision (I know, I promised I would never talk like this!) is when I have complete control of the image from camera through to the final print. The problem is that framed prints can be prohibitively expensive to produce. I tend to keep my
Colonial Theatre Gallery
pictures rotating between my home, two offices, three galleries and various shows. I never seem to be able to do a complete inventory but I have well over 60 framed prints scattered throughout the region. This all got me thinking about the difficulties of producing a sufficient collection of framed prints for public display. If you have ever investigated the cost of custom framing you know that it is a significant investment that can limit the number pictures that photographers can afford to show. There are various approaches to this problem, but my solution has been to do almost all of the printing, matting and framing myself. This requires a significant commitment of time, but it has provided me the greatest possible flexibility and control over the my work. It has allowed me to build a inventory of pictures that are much less costly to produce and sell, and It also allows me to respond quickly to special orders.

So, how do you produce a collection of your best images suitable for display without flirting with bankruptcy? It all comes down to a perfect print, neatly matted with archival materials and framed to compliment the image.

The Print

There are many inexpensive photo labs that can handle the printing of your images with excellent quality and consistency. Recently I have been very happy with the work of White House Custom Color for my over-sized prints, but, I still prefer to use my Epson R3000, 13 inch printer, to maintain full control over the print. I have always been happy with Epson's profiles, which, when combined with a calibrated monitor, allow reliable and reproducible color management.


When I started out I investigated the cost of having my work matted and framed at our wonderful local art store, I quickly determined that I could not afford to produce the number of pictures that I would need for even a modest showing. I had to figure out how to do it myself. I first tried cutting mats using a small hand-held device but quickly became frustrated with the impossibility making clean, straight and consistent cuts. Once I made the commitment and bought a good mat cutter the rest was relatively easy. My Logan 450 Mat Cutter
Mat Measurement Calculator
still only costs about $150 which is probably less than what it would cost to have one picture framed at a shop. With just a little practice it is possible to create mats with a clean and consistant bevel. I routinely cut double mats with a black undermat below a cream white top. The result is a neat finished look that accents any image. Measuring the mats requires a small amount of lower order math,
Mat Board
but I have created a simple spread sheet tool that does all of the calculations flawlessly. I'll try to share the program on a future blog. You will find that there are lots of great places to buy bulk mat board and foam core backing. I have used framingsupplies.com for most of my materials. I am at a point now where I buy full boxes of 25, 32x40" sheets. It isn't cheap, but you can pay for the whole box with the sale of one or two pieces. If you want to dip your toe into the market, many companies sell pre-cut mats in standard sizes. 


For most of my pictures I use brush black aluminum frames that can be bought in lengths online. I will occasionally use wood frames, but I like the clean look of the black metal. 
The metal frames can to bought in pre-cut lengths online and are easy to assemble. They are also easy to disassemble when you want to rotate your display images or clean out that fleck of dust that invariable shows after the piece has been displayed for awhile. I would recommend using UV blocking glass, but, unless specifically requested, I avoid the "anti-glare" glass that tends to dull the image. 

On the Wall

Matting and framing your own work is certainly not for everyone. It requires careful attention to detail and a significant time commitment. Framing also requires space to do the work, and store the materials. When my daughter left home for school and work, I kept her room untouched as a shrine to my lost little girl, but I recovered from that in about 3 months. Now her room has been completely transformed into my hopelessly cluttered studio and Abby will just have to sleep on the couch.

Many photographers will tell you that they would rather spend their time out shooting, and I am completely sympathetic with that feeling. Someday I may be able to charge enough to be able to have my pictures framed by others, but I think I will always enjoy having the ability to control my work from the field to the final physical piece of "art".

So just a couple of recommendations.

First it is best to keep your matted work in standard sizes. If people are planning to frame the picture themselves it is helpful to have pieces that will fit standard frames. As I prepare images to print I start adjusting the composition to fit within 11x14", 16x20" , 18x24" or 20x24" mats. I can usually, but not always, fine a crop that works and doesn't compromise the image.

I quickly abandoned the use of colored mats. It is impractical to
have enough choices to work with different images. I now stick exclusively to a cream white mat with a black under-mat. I think this creates a clean, professionally finished look. If you are planning on selling your images it is important to use all archival, acid free materials. They are more expensive, but nothing suggests unprofessional work like seeing the white in the bevel cut turn to brown after a few months. No one will respect your work until you respect it yourself.

So, if you are interested, get out there and get your hands dirty (and occasionally cut). Build that inventory. You can't show the work until you have the work to show. Beyond all the challenges and practical benefits of matting and framing, you may discover that the control of the full process provides a sense of validation as a practitioner, not only in photography, but also in the craft of print making.

Check out the images in Colonial Theatre Show on my Flickr Set.

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