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Photography exhibition advice from a pro photographer

Exhibiting isn't easy but Patricia Fenn's back with some advice to help you out.

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Photographic exhibition advice - be consistent with the colour of your prints
All B&W: be consistent. B&W, Monotone or colour. If you mix them it will just look as if you ran out of prints.
After working through part one you will have a list of several possible venues for the exhibition. You may have told a photography friend of your plan and heard mutterings of: “Gosh, you are brave!” “Do you think you are ready to exhibit?”  And doubt may set in but don’t be put off. After all, you're not claiming to be the greatest photographer in the area, you're simply entertaining the eye with a collection of images of the world as you see it. If everyone waited until they knew everything and considered themselves perfect, I guarantee there wouldn’t be a single photographic exhibition on the planet.
To dispel the second doubt that may be lurking in the back of your mind: “What if nobody wants to display my work?” Let me tell you I have never known a photographer with a well prepared collection of images be turned down.    
When it comes to choosing the images to display in an exhibition, there are five main factors to consider: 
  1. Available funds
  2. Print size
  3. Colour
  4. Theme
  5. Size of display area
1 and 2: Available funds and print size are related.
A3 costs more than twice as much as A4 when you consider you will need A2 mounts and frames, and the dreaded printing mistakes, of which you can be sure there will be plenty. If you're hoping to break even with a few sales you'll have to price your images at least four times the actual cost.
Be practical and keep a small notebook. Write in everything you spend on the project including ink, exhibition print paper, trial run print paper, certificate paper, card, frames, mount cutter, spirit level, portfolio, electric wire detector, new business cards, comments book & pen, and all the smaller items such a sticky tape, double sided tape, sticky-pads, blades, glass cleaner, string, nails, hammer, tape measure, pencils, staples, notebook, and a tube of toothpaste (explanation later). Keep all your receipts and staple them onto the back of each page. If you haven’t been able to decide on a price for your works of art, then add up the total cost when you are ready to hang, divide by the number of images, multiply by four and round up to an acceptable figure.
There are many advantages to A4 prints. You can print them yourself on a regular printer. They are better accommodated in a smaller space but also look good in A2 mounts and frames if a larger area is available.

3: Colour.
The overall colour of the images is an important factor to consider. The images should not only work well together but also compliment the décor of your target area. For example you would not take a set of psychadelic abstracts to hang in a Victorian restaurant, but they might work well in a sports hall.
All the images should come together as a set. Ten sepia and two black and white just looks as though you ran out of images, regardless of how good they are.
The colour of your mounts and frames is also very important. Black, white or cream are the classic colours that compliment most images. The purposed of the mount and frame is to concentrate the eye on the photograph, so regardless of how much pink there is in that fantastic sunrise, a matching pink mount will only serve to dilute the image.
4: Theme.
You will need to decide on a name for your exhibition, such as: Narrow Boats of Ellesmere Port and print a short welcome note, hand signed, to glue inside the cover of your comments book.

Be consistent. If you choose a subject that genuinely appeals to you, you'll produce a set of images that work well together and that you will be pleased to hang in your own home long after the exhibition is over. Again, continuity is important. Telling a story, whether it is simply the diversity of the flora in your local park, or an evocative collection of local buildings, will add interest to the display.
Go through your images and, using cheap photo paper, print off all the shots that tie in with your theme. Scrutinize them. If you have any niggling doubts, post the image in the critique section of ePz, or ask for a pro critique. If you are going to take fresh images then I recommend doing it several months before your exhibition date. Edit, save, and put them away. It takes time to see an image objectively and you’ll need fresh eyes to be really critical.

5: Size of display area.
Visit the places on your list of possible venues to see how much space you have to fill with a display. This will tell you how many images you are going to need.
Whatever print/frame size you have decided on, the images should be spaced between one and two frame sizes apart and at eye level. If space if very limited then two rows of A3 frames one width apart is the maximum.
Now you are ready to start printing. Even if you plan to have the images printed for you, you will need to make a set of test prints to check for mistakes, and to decide on the order of the display. Scrutinize for colour casts and over/under sharpening. When your test collection is as perfect as it will ever be, print a set of A4 images on best quality paper and mount them in a display portfolio. 

The Secol mini portfolio available from the ePHOTOzine shop is a good one to use, it looks professional and costs £21.52. The A4 photographs slip into clear envelopes for presentation, which means they can be replaced when you are working on your next exhibition. Don’t be too hasty at this point. Give the prints 48 hours to dry before putting them in the folder. Buy all the things you will need to mount, frame, and hang the images and add up the total cost.
Perhaps the hardest part of exhibiting for the first time is going out there and selling yourself. Take heart that every photographer who has ever exhibited will be with you in spirit.
Find out the name of the person you want to see before you go. Even if you know the person, your doctor or dentist, approach them in a business like manner. Be five minutes early, dress smart, shake hands, introduce yourself clearly and give them a (good quality) business card.
Quell those nerves. Bear in mind, you are not asking for favours, you have a great collection of images that will enhance and entertain. As in all business, even if it’s none-profit making, total honesty is very important. Don’t pretend you are a world famous photographer; explain it’s your first exhibition. The proprietor may be of the “what’s in it for me” ilk, so be prepared to make him want you. 
What are your assets?
  • You will enhance the décor of his establishment.
  • You are a local artist displaying interesting images from the immediate area.
  • Your work will entertain his clients.
  • It won’t cost him anything.
  • The local press will almost certainly be happy to write a piece on the exhibition giving his premises some free publicity.
  • If he asks for a commission say you are happy to oblige, state how much it has cost to put the exhibition together and then add the amount he wants onto the price of your images.
  • Look on this as an exercise in promoting yourself. You may be turned down for various reasons. Perhaps the owner is leaving, decorators coming in, whatever. Don’t be discouraged, go back to your list of possible venues and try again.
Before long you will have your venue sorted out and an opening date to work towards.
In part three, Patricia Fenn will cover mounting, framing and hanging.
Visit Patricia Fenn's website for more details.

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andmolliethedog 14 120 11 United Kingdom
11 Nov 2009 12:02PM
Very good advice....but to get in a established gallery is not at all easy,just for your info..there is a great little gallery in Eton High st called Rhubarb and Custard...very friendly and they take on approved work[if they like it]however it needs a commitment to fund for the month..each artist can have a veiwing and advertising done...not cheap including framing[loan of frames]about 400.00....

From little acorns and all that!

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