The Luxury of Small Prints on Walls

Ålgård - 2010

There was a time when I worked in the dark: I had an unclear overview of what I was working on. I did look through new work at a regular basis, fine-tune the best ones, gather them into selected folders and judge them from time to time. But there was one simple, yet huge, mistake going on; it was all a digital process.

Then, one day at college David Bowen, one of my teachers at that time, let us in on a life changing experience. He started pushing us to get small prints (6″x4″s) of all of our best work, bring them to school and spread them all over tables, walls or even floors. For sure one of my biggest eye openers.

‘Life changing’?

It’s one of those things you won’t fully understand before you’ve actually tried it. But I can tell you that it’s easier to quicker spot the best ones. It almost seems as though the smaller pictures get, the easier judging the overall quality gets. If they have clear lines, you’ll notice. If they need to be cropped, dodged or burned, you’ll notice. If one doesn’t quite fit in with the rest, although you really wanted it to, you’ll force yourself to take it away. If you need to set up a specific order for a series/project, it’s easy. If you want to show your work for suggestions and critique, they’re perfect for it and easy to bring.

And so on.

Well, you won’t notice it all straight away. You need to be patient, look at them and play around with them on a regular basis. Find a wall at your working place or at home you can stick them on, or even better; a magnetic board or a fridge (like in the kitchen where I’m writing this), so you can use small magnets to easily stick them up with. By always having them available in your surroundings they’ll catch your eyes everytime you’re coming into the room and automatically force you to look and consider. Even it’s just for 15 seconds – it will help, they’ll be on your mind.

If you do feel you’re missing an overview of your best work, then I’d say this would be a really good time to get some prints and see what that might lead to.

It would be wonderful to hear about your experiences and thoughts on small prints below in the comments section.

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5 Responses to “The Luxury of Small Prints on Walls”

  1. db Says:

    i used to only edit from contact sheets where the photo was the size of the negative. i think you are right in a way – strong aesthetics leap out much more when they are small, and surrounded by lesser photos.

    it is always about keeping the bar high – take your best photos as the baseline and be strict with yourself about keepers.. :o)
    cheers for the mention bjarte.

    • Bjarte Edvardsen Says:

      I’m not sure about surrounded by lesser photos. I have a theory that the more photos, the higher chance of one photo screaming out. But on the other side; by constantly looking at a small amount, the very best, the standards for the project grow higher. So maybe you’re right…

      Thanks for commenting.

  2. Nikhil Ramkarran Says:

    I do think that there is merit in your suggestion, but it seems to me that what you might get from small prints you can just as well get from looking at your images on screen. You will obviously not get the overview that you will get from looking at all your images printed in front of you, but in my case I get enough on screen to judge things like composition and overall exposure.

    By the time I get to printing (even small prints) I’ve already narrowed the images down. And for me, the only way to narrow further is to make large prints; 8×10 and up.

    • Bjarte Edvardsen Says:

      We all have our ways of working. As long as we’re sure enough they’re the right ones for us. And I guess small prints are more important for projects, rather than single photographs.

      The problem with a screen is just that you will have to open a certain program and find the certain photographs every time you want to take the time to look/edit. If you have them on a wall or on a table, you just need to step into the room.

      Thanks for commenting.

  3. Sam Harris Says:

    Nice post Bjarte!

    back in the days of film i always used this method, especially on big jobs… it’s an excellent way of seeing whats what. I would then make my selections and do it all again with (less) 10×8 work prints, spread all over the floor. Seeing work in his way changes everything. The dynamics between certain images.. and the strongest shots will always sing out… prints have a tactile nature very different from a back lit screen –

    However in the digital world it easy to forget all this and rely on the screen. It’s just not the same… even with a big monitor… i realised this a while back when i was going through a box of old prints and i found a set of 6×4’s i’d glued onto sheets of A1 paper . At first i’d been using the 6×4’s to rough edit the job, but i liked the vibe so much, seeing them all together, that i decided to present them to the client (a record company) just how i was looking at them on my kitchen floor.

    It worked! they loved the presentation… it was easy for them to pour over the work, get a quick overview, an impression of the whole session and start picking out favorites… SO i started doing it again with my digital work…

    It’s so helpful and very different to editing on the computer.

    And you can stick them on the wall, always seeing them is very helpful, some shots are more subtle and only ‘appear’ after a while… some that at first you like become less good once you’ve lived with them for a while…

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