Fine Art Photography, Black and White Prints

Reference: Size Matters and "good frames wont save bad paintings"


The print size does matter, but not in the way that most will initially think. What I am arguing for here is a general shift toward appropriate print sizes. Many photographers offer their prints in a variety of sizes, leaving it up to others to decide. They likely believe that the bigger the print, the bigger the impact. And to some extent, they are right. A giant print, will give a big impact; even if it has nothing to offer other than its sheer size (and I believe many photographers count on little more than this). I have even heard of a photography instructor telling his students that "if you can't make a good image, make a big image." However, the size of a print, the size of the mat, the location of the print in the frame and the frame choice all have a powerful, though often subtle effect on the final impact the print leaves on the viewer. The print size is just the final aesthetic choice that the photographer must make. The size of the print must compliment what the image has to say, size says nothing by itself. Big prints wont make up for bad images, or "good frames wont save bad paintings."

Many a beginning photographer has suffered from the idea that bigger prints means better work. For some reason they believe that only great photographers can make the big prints, and that if their work is printed big, it somehow equates them with those greats. It should be noted here that Edward Weston rarely made prints larger than 8x10.

I, myself remember the first of my own images that I thought was good. I took it to the lab (this was before I had my own darkroom) and ordered up 4 16x20”s. I framed them in cheap metal frames with no mat, but I thought, “wow, look at the size of that picture.” Truth is I hate seeing that print now. Its embarrassing, and looking back I now think that it would have been much better suited to a 5x7” print size.

Fred Picker once said something along the lines that “prints should not be sold by the square foot.” And I tend to agree with him. After all, this isn't wallpaper we're selling. The size of the print is something that the photographer should determine, just like exposure, contrast, and composition. And for any photographic vision there would be but one ideal value for each variable (regardless of whether or not the photographer actually gets it right). This in turn suggests that there is but one size to which any given image is best suited. Just as it would be bizarre for a photographer to sell an image with varying levels of contrast, so too is it when they sell an image in different sizes. The image size is but one of the many parts of the overall esthetic impact of a particular image. It is the image which is being purchased, and the price should reflect the value of the image, not its sheer magnitude. This being said, the cost of mounting materials (especially the glazing) can increase quite rapidly as print size increases, and adjustments made accordingly are quite acceptable.

For my personal work, I generally print in a size (within an acceptable range of enlargement) that corresponds with the original subject. That is, big objects or views tend to look better when printed bigger, smaller subjects almost always feel best when printed in smaller sizes. This is the closest I can come to quantify print size selection for my own work, but of course this is not something that can be left to a hard set of rules. Sometimes an image just wants to be a certain size regardless of what I may have had in mind for it.

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