Photographer’s Holiday Buying Guide: Giving Photos as Gifts

This time of year's always a blur...

At one time or another, we’ve all done the holidays on a shoestring. Sometimes it’s meant buying less stuff, or less expensive stuff. It can also mean making something, from a batch of oatmeal cookies to something else that’s handcrafted. But since we’re talking photography here, let’s just assume for the moment that you’re considering giving photos as gifts. Here are a few commonsense guidelines to save you a bit of time and trouble, while also letting your potential recipient off the hook for having to display something that might not be quite their type.

The first rule of thumb: know the recipient well. Well enough, in fact, that you know their tastes. If it’s someone in the habit of wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with glitter accented, weepy-looking kittens and your primary subject matter is urban exploration, you might want to rethink your approach a little. Yes, I know, it’s your art, and you do it primarily for yourself. And if you were making yourself a gift, that’d do just fine. But if you’re going to give your work to someone else – and you genuinely want that person to enjoy it – consider what they typically hang on their walls.

As a codicil to the advice above, it helps to know how sincere your recipient typically is in their appraisal of your work. If they genuinely enjoy it, you’ve got a situation with potential. If, on the other hand, you strongly suspect that they’re complimenting your work because they’re too kind not to, you may want to consider your alternatives.

The second rule of thumb: Give yourself plenty of time. Whether you’ve got a long list of people who’d practically knock each other over to have your photos hanging on their walls, or just a small handful, you still want to pick out photos best suited to those people, which takes time. Budget additional time for any tweaks you want to make to your photos. Allocate still more so you have time to do a series of test prints (your monitor and printer of choice may have different views of how the finished photo will look). Then allow for the finalized printing, framing and matting.

Third rule of thumb: Don’t cheap out on printing. If you’ve got an inexpensive (read: cheap) photo printer and a stack of cheap photo paper,* you’re very likely to end up with cheap-looking results. That doesn’t mean you need to do canvas or metallic prints, but use a reputable place that’s going to use good (heavy, acid-free) papers and a colorfast print process.

Fourth rule of thumb: Choose a nice frame and mat. Matting supplies can be found at most craft shops, not to mention places that specialize in custom framing, while frames can be found nearly anywhere. Choose a mat that’s either neutral (in the white/off-white family) or complements the colors in your photo, and pair it with a frame that’s appropriate to what it’s going to contain. A frame that has the look of weathered wood or driftwood, for instance, would set off a beach scene nicely. Use a little imagination, and if that fails, go with an unobtrusive, plain black frame.

Fifth rule of thumb: know when not to offer photos as gifts, but don’t be afraid to use your talents. Maybe your starving actor friend respects your photography even though the subject matter isn’t quite her bag. Maybe your cousin’s walls are so spartan they’d make a Quaker meeting house look like Mardi Gras. Offer your services as a photographer, whether it’s for a headshot, a family portrait, or a shot of her dog.

There’s something else to consider, as well. If your recipient takes photos – whether they self-identify as a photographer or not is beside the point – and you’ve got a few extra bucks, consider a digital photo frame. Not only can you pre-load it with a few of your shots that you think they might like, they’ll have the option to display their own work without being tethered to a computer.

*Incidentally, I’m not knocking either of those things, and have both; we can’t all have the top of the line stuff. But if you’re giving your photos as gifts, splurge a little.

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