Sometimes, you just can’t beat canvas

Or, Consider The Substrate.
What a photo is on can be almost as important as what the photo is of. Finding the perfect gift can be a matter of matchmaking between image and medium.

While you’re thinking about finding the right material for your wall hangings, note that you can take an extra 40% off any order of canvas prints, through the end of the month! Use promo code 817 onlineor visit any of our stores to order.

Say what you will about the way social media is used in today’s world, but one thing these networks have provided is an unprecedented forum for photographers and photography enthusiasts alike to display their creations. A lucky contest win or sudden viral prominence could bring fortune and fame to the latter, but either way it’s a net good to have a way that spectacular photos by the “little guys” can get recognition beyond in-person album viewings. For pros, it’s a relief that there are new ways to “gain exposure” that don’t require doing real work for fake reward. With the ability to create increasingly better images in increasingly easy ways, I am glad the infrastructure for rapid consumption has more or less kept up.

This infrastructure also enables pretty neat, otherwise-impossible events. The example that brought this all to mind was a gift I brought to a friend I visited recently in Arizona. He and his wife are pretty adventurous and DIY-oriented, and they had taken their converted van out to the sun-twisted California desert south of Joshua Tree for a little time alone with the stars, sand, and one another. (Home was, of course, also a desert, but sometimes it’s a relief to walk for a few days in someone else’s dust.) Returning, he shared a photo of himself relaxing by the campfire, van door open enough to reveal that the inside was a living space, illuminated by peak golden-hour rays and surrounded by scrubby desert plants. Neither of them are especially photography-oriented—not that they dislike photography or wouldn’t go on a photo quest, it’s just not a primary hobby—and the intent was probably more to say something about how nice it is to be out there than to create art, but art it was, indeed! It was like something out of a camping lifestyle magazine, and I feared it might not ever see the life in the physical world that it deserved.

I also knew, immediately and without reservation, that the perfect presentation would be a print on a wooden block. The physical link to the fire central to the image as well as to the living but very brown trees and shrubs made a natural fit, and the warm brown tones of the material meshed perfectly with and enhanced the warm golden tone of the light. As an added bonus, the texture in the wood grain helped mask the fact that even the original I obtained was not very high-resolution. It came out perfectly, and they were both thrilled when we finally presented it to them.

I told you that to tell you this:

Print-makers like us don’t offer a mind-boggling array of ways to bring your images and designs into the physical world simply because people are addicted to having choices. Every substrate has its own unique effect on the presentation of an image, and every image lends itself to certain end products more than others. Speaking as the former manager of the central lab for Mike’s Camera, I can tell you that we folks in the back have opinions on things “normal” people might never have even considered—like whether a triptych of metal prints should have rounded or straight corners, or the ongoing battle for supremacy between matte and glossy printing. (Secretly, the answer is, “it depends on the image.”) We’re all enthusiastic about creating the best quality output possible, and a critical element of that process is choosing the right material for your image.

Certain aspects of that choice are obvious. If any element of your photo matches a possible substrate, that’s an immediate point in favor of that option. As I already noted, wood goes well with wood, and sharp, glassy architecture looks outstanding on an all-aluminum print or metallic paper, face-mounted to acrylic.

This classic Denver shot is begging to be put on metal.

It’s not all about making everything matchy-match, of course. In the majority of cases, it’s the mood that matters. The warmth of the campfire in my example was probably a more important match to the wood substrate than the actual wood that was in that fire pit.

You’re also not obliged to match “correctly,” just to be aware of the effect of a material on the visual impact of your final result. A cold, gray view of the harbor in Hamburg printed on wood will not evoke the same feeling for your viewer as being there did for you, but it might also be a cool aesthetic experiment, depending on the room for which you’re making the print.

Predating most of these novel types of material printing* is the classic: stretched canvas fabric. The old masters painted near-photographic images on stretched canvas, early photographic experiments included printing on chemically-sensitized fabric, and it didn’t take long to start enlarging those fabric prints and stretching them over a wooden frame in imitation of paintings. Canvas and photography fell in love hard and fast.

*Admittedly, some of the very first photographic processes were made directly on metal. The concept is a little different, however, from enlargement from a separate source onto a non-paper material.

Computer-driven inkjet printing democratized the process in a big way, and in many situations, you still can’t make a better choice. One great example? Family portraits! Canvas has enough serious gravity to make formal portraits pop, and they are so easy to hang that they’re a fit for any wall. With no frame or glass necessary (but still an option!), a light frame weight, and three depths to choose from (½”, 1″, and 2″), it’s a super-adaptable medium. Plus, like wood, the texture of the material goes a long way to hide imperfections. If a photo makes your heart beat, it deserves to look good printed even if it’s low-res or grainy.

Who knows—maybe it’s just because I grew up accustomed to a family portrait gallery printed on canvas, but I see no reason you and your loved ones shouldn’t be enshrined in just the same way as the barons of old once were. Hopefully you were inspired by last week’s Half-Week Homework and have an overload of print-worthy family photos, so what are you waiting for? Get to post-processing now! Grab your canvas before the end of the month and you’ll get an extra 40% off, too. Use promo code 817 online or visit any of our stores to order.

(Your family here!)

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