How To: Guide on framing photography – Part 4

General framing materials to use and conservation considerations

To be honest, these days most good framers will use the minimum standard conservation materials and practices.  My personal opinion is that it’s good practice to do so.

The term “conservation” can mean many things to many people but there are different levels of conservation and it doesn’t always have to be really expensive.  It really does depend on the piece.

A Framer would normally make recommendations and it is your choice whether or not to follow those.  Usually they will explain why they have made these recommendations, but if not, just ask!

Our framing shop, like many others, uses what is termed as “minimum conservation practices and materials” as standard.  This means that we apply the basic rule when it comes to “conservation” in everything, whether it’s a limited edition print or your child’s first picture.  The basic rule is: don’t let anything that might cause damage, touch the actual image showing.

When you bring a piece in for professional framing, it is assumed that you have brought it in because you want it done properly, thus the basic “conservation” rule will be applied.  However, we do understand that in some cases budgets do come in to play.  We can only strongly make recommendations to customers, ultimately it is their decision.

Depending on the piece and value of it, the rules vary after the basic one.  For example, if it’s a 100 year old Tapestry, apart from glass and other material considerations, whatever is done to the piece should be able to be reversed (i.e. return to its original state).

With modern Photography this is usually different because it can normally be re-printed and because of the differing qualities of inks and papers other factors apply.

If it’s an old Photograph though, there are steps that can be taken.  This can include all manner of options including taking it to a Paper Conserver who would normally be able to restore the actual original (up to a point).  This is a whole different kettle of fish and personally unless you are a qualified Paper Conserver as well as a Picture Framer, this should be handed to a professional.

Just as a matter of point, this is a bug bear of mine, people who take on work they don’t know how to do and potentially making the situation worse.  By all means take it in for “consideration” but don’t touch it if you are unsure.  As framers we would normally have the suitable and trusted contacts to use in this situation.  But please make sure that you are clear to the customer what you intend to do and how much it will cost.  Also make it clear that the piece will be going off the premises.

Right, moving on then …

So where do I start?

In my opinion there are a couple of basic rules when framing photography in particular.  They are; don’t allow the glass to lay straight onto the photo and please don’t just go for black, pale wood or aluminium every single time (unless the photo really lends itself to any of those that is!).

OK, so the latter is your choice, but there really is some lack of imagination when it comes to framing photography.  It doesn’t have to be a bold outlandish change, sometimes it might just take a very subtle change in tone or finish to give it a different feel.  For example, if you really have to have black, you might consider a “black wash” style frame.  This could just be a little softer than the sometimes heavy block of black surround.

Sometimes, the photo really lends itself to, say, Black.  But there are all sorts of different styles, shapes and finishes when it comes to Black.  Instead of just going for the obligatory melamine type look, why not look at a contemporary painted black finish or a deep style frame?

Framing photography can be quite hard to get right actually especially colour photography.  Then, if you start looking at black and white photographs, quite often they are not strictly black and white in tone.  Some are softer, some have a grey hue, some have creamy hues, and then there’s Sepia … and what about subject matter e.g. wildlife, abstract etc…Anyway, I digress!

NOTE: I have included some photos of work framed here and at the bottom.  I really apologise for the quality but usually the pieces are flying out the door at the time, so it’s a quick snap!  You should be able to click on the photo’s to enlarge.

The photograph’s below were a pair.  They could have looked quite stark and cold with a white mount and black frame.  If you look at the first photograph closely, the Sun produces a warm glow over the cold landscape, which we have reflected in the mount.  The frame we chose is a dark brown, contemporary frame, it also has lighter brown flecks in it (slightly distressed frame).  The frame picks up on the colours in tree bark and branches.


In this photograph below, the same toning was applied to branches.  The mount was already in black when it arrived, which actually worked well as there were some really dark shadows in the picture.

More examples at the bottom …

So, what’s wrong with the glass laying straight onto the photo?

Depending on what inks or paper have been used, or whether it’s glossy or matt etc. There is a risk that your photo could stick to the glass.  This can look unsightly or if you go to have it reframed and you want to change the glass, you might have to get it re-printed.  There is also the problem of glass causing brown marks on your photo’s (called foxing), you see this quite often on old photos.

This can happen to any paper that’s against glass.  There are a number of reasons why this happens including condensation and the acid in the glass eroding onto the picture (a bit like rusting).

So, what should I do to stop this then?

There are two ways of overcoming this problem.  The first is to put a mount (acid free of course) onto the photo (a card border).  In this situation a mount is used both as a practical and aesthetic solution.  As standard we prefer to use the Conservation White Core range.  It comes in a great variety of colours.

Once again, there are different grades of “conservation” mountboard and many different manufacturers. Depending on the piece we also use Museum Cotton Board, which is 100% museum quality.  Of course, costs will differ!

Secondly, if the photo doesn’t lend itself to having a mount, then you could use a slip.  This does the same job of keeping the glass away from the photo plus it can look really effective.  A slip can come in many forms.  Most commonly, we make wooden slips or slips from mountboard.  It’s also good if you want to keep the overall size of the photo under control.

I know the picture below, isn’t a photo, but it’s a good example of a slip in use.  This piece would  have lost it’s simplicity by adding in a mount.  The slip on the inside of the frame is  made from mountboard and is matched to the colour of the paper.

The print below is another example.  In this case there is a deep slip (if you look hard!). The slip is wooden and matches the frame (they are both plain Ash, then hand stained to tone in with the picture). Once again, adding in a mount could have added complication to the picture.

Here it is again in full view…

 Tape that!

I love it when a customer comes in and asks to buy a roll of tape from us, the look on their faces when we tell them the cost is amazing!  This is an important point actually, and it sort of gives you an insight into why framing costs what it does when it’s done professionally.

We don’t use Masking tape (or Sellotape for that matter!) to secure a picture to a mount or board.  We use a PH Neutral tape, once again it’s about not using damaging materials directly on your image.  I wish everyone knew all this, because once you get down to the details of picture framing, it goes some way to making people understand what’s involved and therefore why we charge for our skills and services.  Oh dear, I’m really on one today!

Acid free backing baby

Yeah, ok not very rock and roll but once again the rule applied is that any materials directly in contact with the image should be acid free.  This should include what lies on the back of an image.

Yes, you guessed it, once again there are many schools of thought and materials available to back your pictures.

For protection, the finished back that shows, in my opinion needs to be quite sturdy, so we tend to use MDF or Art Back.  It’s very important to note that we always use an acid free barrier board in-between the picture and the back.

Glass and Plastic

OK, so, if you have a fine art photograph, limited edition or just a photo that you think is worth conserving.  Then you also have to consider the grade of glass to use.

There are all sorts of options here including whether or not to use plastic on large pictures.  Rather than repeat myself, I have previously written an explanation on the difference between plain and non-reflective glass.

Mostly, people tend to go for one or the other on photo’s, but there are times when you need to consider it further.

Glass comes in lots of grades right up to museum quality glass which is the highest protection you can buy.  Then, it comes with a high percentage of UV protection and depending on which make you get, it can look as if there is no glass on it at all!  We use a lot of this type of glass.

I’m not going to go into a full explanation of the grades of glass here as I am intending to write a separate blog on this.

Glass also comes in different thicknesses.  If your piece is large or long and thin, you will need to use a thicker glass, otherwise there is a high risk of it cracking.  Yes, unfortunately this will push the price up to!

Contrary to popular belief, what is termed as “plastic glass” can actually be more expensive than you think, mainly because you are having to get it specially cut.  Quite often the usual framing equipment is unable to cope with cutting this material, so it may have to ordered in, already cut to size.

It can be a great option for large pictures as it obviously makes it a lot lighter and easier to handle.  There are still grades to consider here though.

The lowest and cheapest grade would be a Styrene “plastic glass” but this is easily scuffed and scratched and can be a nightmare if you want to clean it.

If you want something of better quality, go for a scratch resistant Acrylic “plastic glass” with UV protection.

I would apply the same rules when keeping the plastic away from the actual image, but I’m not 100% sure of the official line on this.

So, hopefully this gives you an idea and basic understanding of what is available in terms of the process and materials when framing photography or other artwork.  It is key to remember though, that each photo or piece is individual and therefore costs will differ.  I’m sure it’ll at least give you the ability to ask relevant questions.

The tones in the photograph below were quite silvery / grey.  They wanted to have a frame that looked distressed and slightly on the vintage side rather than ultra modern.  The black mount brings some drama, and we’ve used a white core to give it a crisp white line  on the inside of the mount.  The frame is a distressed silver grey.

Same principal on this photo but with a different frame, my camera has taken this in a bad light with an orangey hue, so below I have a close up of the frame chevron.

A neutral mount with a plain Ash wood which has been hand stained in Walnut, it matched in the colour of the Otters.  Plain woods are great with wildlife subject matters.

This black and white photo had quite creamy soft tones as well as silvery greys.  We used a double mount, neutral on the outside and sharp black just showing on the inside to give it some punch.  Quite a large outter border gives it some space from the frame.  This frame is a distressed silver with brush stroke type finish (silvery grey) on the outside and a distressed cream light gold flecks on the inside to pick up on all the tones. 


4 responses to “How To: Guide on framing photography – Part 4

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