Few people invest in an heirloom portrait just to have it sit around in the attic, collecting dust. We want to show it off in our homes and pass it down to our children and grandchildren to do the same. The best way to preserve these priceless photographs is by framing them. Framing not only brings an artistic touch to photographs, but protects photos from dirt, light, moisture, and other environmental factors that can degrade the image’s quality. In addition, a frame can help a picture stand out from a wall and enhance its presence in a room, elevating it from mere décor to a room’s centerpiece.
There are two important components to a properly framed photo: the mat and the frame. A mat helps an image “pop” out of the frame and keeps the picture from touching the glass (and subsequently sticking to it). Mats come in three different types: paper, alpha cellulose, and rag. Paper mats tend to be the cheapest; however, the natural acids in the pulp can, over time, degrade and stain your photo. In general, you want to try and go with an “acid-free” mat that will not break down your photo. Alpha cellulose mats, for instance, are specially treated to maintain a neutral pH and are considered to be “preservation quality.” A step up is a rag mat, which is crafted from 100% cotton. Of course, these types of mats are more expensive than paper mats, but will last longer and better protect your portrait.
Next, you will need to determine the correct color mat to use with your portrait. You should choose a color that does not detract from the photo, but rather enhances or plays up a central element of the picture. For example, choose a color that is predominant in the photo’s background to provide a sense of continuity between the photo and the mat. Mats come in an array of colors; however, you may want to use a black or white mat. White mats go with most everything, from wall colors to home furnishings and décor; they project a clean look; and they can accentuate colors in your photograph. Photographers who use white mats with prints typically pair them with a black core to set the picture apart from the mat and make it stand out. Black mats paired with white cores, though more dramatic, are not suitable for all photos and should be used only when your photo contains a lot of black, white, or gray.
The other important component of a properly framed photo is the frame itself. A really good frame does not come cheap. Like an heirloom portrait, a frame is an investment that preserves your photo and transforms it from just an image into a masterpiece. Thus, great care should be taken in choosing one that not only complements the portrait but fits your personal sense of style. There are many types of frames to choose from. Antique or distressed frames go best with older photos or those treated to have a vintage look. Wood frames are substantial and rustic, and tend to enhance outdoor or nature-based prints. Plastic, metal, and polished frames are sleek, contemporary, and often times more affordable. When you go to purchase your frame, bring a copy of your photo with you, either an original or photocopy, to help you choose the best color and size frame.
Mating and framing your portraits, while not always cheap, can help you preserve precious memories captured on film for much longer than a shoe box or computer hard drive can. However, when it comes to passing along a cherished piece of your family’s history, it is the best investment that money can buy.
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