5 Easy Tips for Framing Like Ansel Adams

Source:  By photo by J. Malcolm Greany [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

If you have ever been to an art gallery or museum and looked at a photography exhibit you may have noticed that the frames were much nicer than what you can buy off the shelf at a store like Target or Michael’s.  That is part of the reason why our company exists: to provide an easy way for photographers to frame their prints like the masters of photography.  

Below are 5 ways you can frame your photographs like the masters.  These tips can be used when framing small ready-made frames or working with a local custom framer.  

1.  Don’t use tape! 

There are two main reasons NOT to use tape to mount your photographs:

a. It is not archival.  Over time the adhesive of the tape against the print will cause the paper to break down.  Usually the first sign of this is yellowing of the paper and mat board.  Think of an old newspaper...  

b. It is not reusable.  If you ever want to change out the picture, you risk tearing your mat and print.  

Here are some cheap and easy to use alternatives that take care of both of these problems.

Mounting Corners.  Best used for smaller prints, these are triangles that can easily be used to mount your photographs.  The corners of the print fit into the triangle, and no adhesive comes in contact with the photograph.  This leaves the photograph untouched by any adhesive and in its original condition.  Lineco makes very good mounting corners that we use with our own prints.  

Mounting Strips.  Best used for larger prints, mounting strips are about 4 inches long and can be placed along the edges of the photograph.  Similar to mounting corners, no adhesive touches the print.  Lineco also makes very good mounting strips.

Our general rule of thumb is to use mounting corners for prints less than 12” and use mounting strips for prints above 12”.

2.  How to keep the photograph flat. 

I’m sure you’ve seen it - when you look at a framed print in a certain light you can see some ripples in the paper.  In addition to the mounting corners and mounting strips mentioned above, here are some easy tips to make sure this unsightly occurrence doesn’t happen to your work:

a. Print with high quality paper.  This can make all the difference in the world.  Spend a little extra money to get prints from a reputable vendor that uses high quality paper.  A couple that we use and recommend are MPIX, Richard Photo Lab, and Bay Photo.

b. Mat Overlap.  Make sure the mat overlaps your photograph.  This can be done in proportion to the size of the print, but our general rule of thumb is a quarter inch overlap for anything under 12 inches in length, and a half inch overlap for anything over 12 inches. Overlapping the mat will help ensure tension on each side of the print and help reduce waviness of the paper.

c. Dry mounting.  This is a permanent option where the print is mounted to the backing board of the frame.  This will cost a little bit extra but most local frame shops should be able to do this type of service.  The downside with this is that the print is stuck to the matting and if you want to replace the photograph in the frame you’ll have to go through the same process.

3.  For a more refined look, choose a thicker mat.

In framing lingo, the term ply refers to the thickness of the mat board.  Most store bought frames come with a 4-ply mat.  But matting also comes in various thicknesses, such as 6-ply and 8-ply (8-ply being double the thickness of 4-ply).  For a different look try out 8-ply matting.  While it seems like a small difference, the visual weight of a thicker mat helps to highlight the photograph even further.  Try it out and you’ll see the difference.  

4.  Save your fingers! 

Don’t buy frames with brad nails!  I have a personal vendetta against these little metal things as I’ve hurt my fingertips way too many times pulling these little nails up and then pushing them back down.  

If you do have a frame with brad nails, one easy tip to avoid this annoyance is to use a (dull) kitchen knife.  To pull the nails up, slip the edge of the knife under and lift upward  Do the opposite when securing the mat.  

As an alternative to brad nails, look for frames that have a solid backing.  In the case of Saw & Mitre frames, we use a wooden strainer.  This is a wooden frame within the back of the frame that securely holds the artwork and matting in place.  It also helps disperse the weight and strain (hence the name) of the hanging wire away from the frame moulding.  Thereby allowing for a longer life of the frame.

5.  Friends don’t let friends use colored matting.

I did it once. It was a great Art Wolfe print I purchased and had framed at local shop.  Now it sits in my closet.  Not that I don’t love the print.  I just don’t think the mat looks good on the wall.  Don’t let that happen to you :)  

Stick with several varying shades of white.  My preference is polar white or just plain white.  Also, the occasional black mat will work, depending on the artwork.  

Why stick with white?  There are several reasons: 

a. You’ll never get tired of white.  White is consistently the most popular car color in the world.  The reason is that when you make a long term purchase such as a car (or a frame), you don’t want to have buyers remorse so you stick with the classic, time tested option.  
b. It matches any wall color you may have.  Move to a new house?  Paint the wall?  The frame will probably still look great on the wall.It makes your photographs stand out.  There’s a reason the walls of photography galleries are covered with white mats. It’s because your eyes are immediately cued to look at the photograph and not anything around it.  
c. It makes your photographs stand out.  There’s a reason the walls of photography galleries are covered with white mats.  It’s because your eyes are immediately cued to look at the photograph and not anything around it.  

I hope these tips help get you on your way to framing your photographs like Ansel Adams.  Now go out and create so you have something to display! Have anything to add to the list?  Leave a comment below.


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