Using Multiple Moulding Widths In One Frame

Last updated on July 23rd, 2019 at 10:48 pm

In this article, the first of the “Weird Wood” seriesintro, we show how to build a picture frame using four strips of moulding that aren’t all the same width. In Figure 1 we have three different sizes (only because I couldn’t find four different sizes in the same moulding family).

Multiple Moulding Sizes
Figure 1: Building a picture frame with different moulding widths (drawn to scale)

First The Math

Warning: This discussion includes a little trigonometry.  Do Not Panic! It’s not as bad as it sounds.

Corner Close-up
Figure 2: Close-up of the lower right corner of Figure 1


Definition of “Tangent” (skip ahead To Next paragraph if you still remember this):

There are three sides to any right triangle (a triangle with a 90° corner), which I will call the height and the width, which both touch the right (90°) angle and the hypotenuse, which is opposite the right angle and is the triangle’s longest side. You can use the ratio of the lengths of any two of those sides to find the size of the other two angles. Each possible ratio has a name, but we are only interested in one of them today. Probably the most common ratio and the one we will be using is called the tangent. The tangent is defined as the ratio between the height (the length of the side opposite the angle you are interested in) and the width (the length of the shorter of the two sides that create that corner that you are interested in). If you want to know the angle of corner α in the above drawing (Figure 2), for instance, you would calculate its tangent by dividing the height (3 inches in this case) by the width (1¼ inches), which is 2.4 this time. Then you would use your calculator (or phone app – I use RealCalc Plus by Quartic Software (even though it cost $3.50)) to find the angle corresponding to that tangent. On your calculator, the tangent is abbreviated “tan”.   If you enter 45 (degrees are assumed) and hit the “tan” button, you will get 1 because for a 45° angle the height is the same as the width, so their ratio is 1.  To go the other way (to find the angle), like we are trying to do, we need the inverse of the tangent. Look for the “tan-1” button (it could be the same button, in which case you may need to hit a (yellow) shift or second-function key, and then hit the “tan” button).  In this case, once we have the tangent of 2.4, we hit the inverse tangent button(s) to get 67.380135…. (the calculator is obligated to give you 8 or more digits – that doesn’t mean they mean anything.  In Figure 2, I rounded that answer to 67.4 degrees and even that third digit is suspicious.)

The Process

All you have to do is take the ratio between the widths of your two moulding pieces and take the inverse or arc-tangent to get the angle.  Here are a few things you need to remember:

  1. Which angle – the tangent gives you the angle that was touching the side whose length was used for the denominator (the width, which would be the second number in the division). The simplest way (but certainly not the only way) to get the other non-90° angle is to just subtract the first from 90° (since the two angles are complementary). Also remember that if the tangent was greater than one, the angle will be larger than 45°; if it was supposed to be a smaller angle (less than 45°), then you may have divided the two lengths in the ratio backward. Don’t worry, you just found the complementary angle and all you have to do to get the right answer is subtract what you got from 90.
  2. It is up to you to keep track of whether that angle you are cutting should be to the left or the right.  Making a drawing of your frame design might help.  To be useful, the drawing doesn’t even need to be that good. This should also tell you if you calculated the complement (the other angle in that corner (for the other piece of moulding)).
  3. Your saw may be measuring angle backward.  My miter saw calls a cut perpendicular across the board 0°, not 90°.  If that’s the case, just subtract the angle you calculated from 90.

As an exercise, go ahead and check the rest of my calculations in Figure 1.     😁

Make The Cuts

There is more than one way to make these cuts and more than one set of tools to help you. Which set of tools you should use will depend on such factors as how much of this work you intend to do, your skill set, what your budget is, and what tools you already have on hand.

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
Looking through the Framers’ Corner, the forum of the Professional Picture Framers Association, I found recommendations for the following tools for this application:

12-pc Precision Angle Block set (1/4, 1/2, 1 to 5, & 5 to 30 degree)

Incra MITER1000SE Miter Gauge Special Edition With Telescoping Fence and Dual Flip Shop Stop.

You would only need one of these (if any), not both.

(The Amazon.com descriptions are only used here as a reference. Although frequently competitive, Amazon isn’t always the only or the best place to buy something.)

Our workshop includes all of the tools listed in www.BeeHappyGraphics.com/about.html#BruceEquip, along with a number of other regular hand & power woodworking tools that Nancy has accumulated over the last several decades. For this project, I used our compound miter saw, but not without complications.

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
The precision on this saw looked fine; you should be able to get within ¼° of your target. The first picture (Image A) shows me trying for 22.6° (which would be one of the angles between a 3″ and a 1¼” moulding).

Miter scale indicator for 22.6 (or 67.4) degree cut.
Image A: Peparing for a cut of 22.6°.

After cutting the 3″ piece, I ran into problems trying to cut the complementary angle (67.4°) on the 1¼” piece, as shown in Image B.

Miter scale limits
Image B: Trying to set up a cut of 67.4° exceeds the capabilities of the equipment.


I am not claiming that mine was the best path to reach our goal. In fact, I would love to see your ideas in the comment section about how to improve my techniques.

How I Did It

  1. Working with one corner at a time, I cut both pieces of moulding square just a tad longer than their overall/outside measurement according to your diagram (you will see why in Step 4). If you don’t already have one, this is also when you would put a perfectly square cut on the alignment block you’ll see in Figure 5 to the left of the moulding. I grabbed a 2″ by 4″, but the wider the better.
  2. I set the saw for the smaller of the two complementary angles, rechecking my diagram to confirm whether it should be to the left or right. In the setup shown below, the 3″ moulding would be clamped to the right of the blade.
Saw Setup For First Cut
Figure 3: Setting up for the first cut
  1. I made the cut.
sighting along saw blade
Figure 4: When you don’t have a reliable laser guide you might have to sight along the blade to line up the cut.
  1. Without adjusting the angle of the saw, I set up the second cut. I positioned my (newly cut) alignment block to the left (opposite the side we placed the moulding for the cut (in Step 2)) so that I could also place the 2″ moulding to the left of the blade and perpendicular (at a right (90°) angle) to the miter saw fence. After clamping down the alignment block, I added a support block to the right of the moulding to keep it in place. I could still move the moulding in or out to position the cut. You can see why I needed to precut this piece of moulding.
  2. I made the cut.
Saw Setup For Second Cut
Figure 5: Set up for the second cut
To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
For those who noticed that the color of the moulding in Figure 4 was different than in Figure 5, I had to make two different frames while doing research for this article 1) to confirm and refine my techniques and 2) because I didn’t get enough pictures the first time.

  1. Always check your work. If, when you put the two pieces of moulding together, the miter edge on one piece is longer than the other, that is the angle that should have been larger. The angle on the other piece of moulding should have been smaller (by the same amount).
If the angle is a little off
Figure 6: Example of cut with angle error ε.

Figure 7 shows the second setup from the right side. If you look close, you might notice that I didn’t cut enough to make a sharp corner and needed to recut.

Side View Of Second Setup
Figure 7: Side view of the second setup
  1. Moving to the next corner, I precut at least one more piece of moulding and repeated Steps 2 through 6.
  2. I repeated Step 7 two more times. The second time (when working on the last corner), I used the first two pieces of moulding I just finished cutting to mark the next cut by matching the inside edges, as shown in Figure 8.

Finishing

As with my normal (45° miter) frames, I would next need to make sure the inner lengths on opposite pieces of moulding matched, and the outer lengths as well. Figure 9 shows a way to check to see if the outside and inside corners of the opposite sides match using two carpenter squares (or equivalent).

Some of the tools we normally use next to finish putting the frame together, namely our Logan Precision Sander and Logan Pro Joiner, are worthless for this application. After gluing (and clamping the pieces together until dry) we had to pound the V-nails in by hand (interestingly, the simpler Logan Studio Joiner can be adapted).

Nancy pounding V-nails into frame.
Figure 10: Nancy pounding V-nails.

The Back Side

For completeness, the left figure below shows what the backside of the lower left corner would look like.  The gray section represents the rabbet, the equal-width (¼”) cut-out that holds the glass, mats, image, and backing of the picture inside the frame.  Some of you might be surprised to see that there is a triangular notch in this rabbet in the corner along the miter cut.  This notch has no effect on the functionality of the rabbet.  To solve this “problem”, however, you could make a compound cut 45° in from the inner edge to the edge of the rabbet and 79.7° in from the outer edge to the same point, as shown in the right figure below (as an exercise, you can check my math on these angles also).  But there is really no need to make these cuts. If the gray were to represent an equal-width feature on the front of the moulding, it might be worthwhile to take the extra trouble. Otherwise, don’t even think about it.

The End

Congratulations, you now have a fancy new picture frame. Of course, you still need to find a picture, cut mat(s) and backing, mount picture to same, cut glass, assemble the pieces without showing any annoying little specks, and apply a dust cover and hanging hardware, but all of that is beyond the scope of this article. Good luck!

As mentioned, this article is just the beginning of a series about “Weird Wood” that I announced months ago. Up next, we will look at handling moulding that is not of uniform width. You won’t find this moulding in any store; it is only an exercise to prepare you for our final project. But if it stimulates your creativity, that’s not always a bad thing. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading! Your comments are welcome and appreciated.

All Rectangles Are Not The Same (or even Similar)

Last updated on July 23rd, 2019 at 04:52 pm

Our friend, Ibis Hillencamp (whom you may remember for the advice she gave on our FAQ page about becoming a better photographerlink) thought people might need an explanation of a photograph’s aspect ratio and why you need to consider it when enlarging or cropping your images.

When you enlarge a picture, unless you want distortion, you have to increase the width the exact same ratio as the height. For example, a 4″ by 6″ image might be enlarged into an 8″ by 12″ image, or a 10″ by 15″, and so forth. For each of these examples, the aspect ratio, which is the height divided by the width (or vice versa, as long as you are consistent), remains the same (\frac{4}{6} = \frac{8}{12} = \frac{10}{15} = 0.66667  ). Mathematicians would call the three rectangles in this example, and all others with the same aspect ratio, “similar”. When placed at the right distances, you would not be able to tell them apart. SLR cameras, starting with the analog 35mm and continuing to the digital versions, have an aspect ratio of 2:3 and can make prints the size of any of the above examples with no problem. Other cameras have different aspect ratios. If you haven’t already done so, learn your camera’s aspect ratio.

And Now The Bad News

The problem starts when you try to put your picture in a standard-sized frame. They routinely have a different aspect ratio. If you want an 8″ by 10″ print, for example, you will be changing the aspect ratio to 0.8. An 11″ by 14″ print has an aspect ratio of 0.786. The simple answer would be to crop your original image, which means you are going to lose part of the picture. That could be a problem. The other option is to fill in any missing parts. That is almost always a problem. Let me show you.

Cropping options with a different aspect ratio
Nancy in an image with a 3:4 aspect ratio and a couple possible ‘crops’ with a 2:3 aspect ratio.

For those of you who do not recognize her, the above picture is of my wife, Nancy, the nature and wildlife photographer (No, this is not a selfie). This image has an aspect ratio of 4:3. Suppose we want to put her picture in a mat with a 3:2 aspect ratio. The easiest thing would be to crop to the red rectangle, which is the largest such rectangle we can get from the given material. But as you can see, there is no breathing space around the hat. So we could enlarge to the orange rectangle to use the original picture’s entire width, but we will need to get creative and fill in some along the top and bottom edges (by the way, can you guess why the top and bottom voids created by the orange rectangle are not the same size?). While the techniques to fill those voids are beyond the scope of this article, I would like to share a few thoughts. These thoughts apply not only to the case where you need to add material to change aspect ratio but for other causes also, like when you inadvertently cut off some body part.

Suggestions

  • The first moral to this dilemma is don’t get too tight on your subject while shooting. Start leaving yourself a little more edge room when you take your pictures. Besides not inadvertently cutting off body parts, which are harder to bring back after-the-fact, you might actually capture the subject’s whole reflection, which you didn’t even notice in the excitement of getting this unique subject.
  • The first step in processing this change in aspect ratio is to go back and check the original file. Maybe you had previously cropped the image for compositional purposes and the original might still have at least part of the now-missing material that you need.
  • Small, uncomplicated additions are easy enough with Photoshop’s Clone Stamp tool (and although I’m not a huge fan, sometimes Content-Aware Fill might even work), but it gets trickier as the size of the addition increases. It would be no problem to fill the new space above Nancy’s head with sky, and maybe even throw in an extra cloud or two, but if for some reason, we had wanted to extend the left edge of this image an inch or so, finding enough water to fill the gap without people noticing repetitions could be an issue.
  • Sometimes you can create more usable material from within the image itself by copying some of the waves, for example, and flipping them, or rotating them, etc. But you will have to judge the effectiveness of these actions on a case-by-case basis.
  • Look at the photograph you took just before this one and just after this one for more material. Especially if you are shooting wildlife, I know you had your camera on rapid-shoot. The neighboring shot that you didn’t select for this image may have ‘new’ material that would be useful for your current extension project.
  • Continue to expand your search area. Even if you didn’t get another picture of your subject squirrel that day, you might have other squirrel pictures you can use to replace that missing body part.

Send Your Ideas

Well, that’s all I have for now. Although I have no intentions yet of following this article with more detailed information on the Clone Stamp or other tools, I am pretty sure there are plenty of tutorials out there, both by Adobe and by several third parties. If you do have your own hard-earned techniques or suggestions on any of the material I’ve just discussed or even a horror story that’s relevant, I’m sure my readers would love to see your comments below. Thanks.

Minor Milestone Yields Thoughts On Cataloging

I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop since before we started this endeavor but didn’t buy Lightroom 3 until December 2010. I bought Lightroom so I could catalog and keep track of Nancy’s growing collection of photographs (I still do virtually all of our photo editing in Photoshop). At the time, Nancy already had about 15 thousand digital images (we won’t even talk about all of her slides and negatives). After a number of unsuccessful campaigns, I can now report that essentially all of THOSE photographs have been entered into Lightroom. In the process, I have also cataloged some of her more recent work. Altogether, I’ve now cataloged 29 thousand of her 64 thousand digital photographs (and counting). I’ve identified 360 species of bird, 45 species of butterflies and moths, about 100 mammals (including eleven types of squirrels). In her digital era, we have made eleven trips out of the country to five different continents (the other two continents haven’t been visited since the days of film). So you are probably wondering what I learned about cataloging.

Well, I’m still learning. Part of the problem is that we cater to some discriminating classes of consumer, like birders (and others), who want to know about the specific type of bird or butterfly. But not being an expert, I’ve not always been successful at identifying those subjects, even after spending quite some time doing research. This is part of the reason you may have noticed I have actually lost ground so far (if you’ve done the math). But I have learned a few things.

In The Beginning

First, some background. Before Lightroom, I thought it would be good, as some experts had suggested, to put our photographs in folders based on content. I think I had a folder (they may have called them directories back then) for dogs and another for people, each of which had subfolders, but it soon became apparent that some images had both dogs and people and the whole system became a bit of a mess before I realized a need to move on to a better system.

Our Workflow

Now, at the end of a day of photographing I upload the pictures to the computer into a folder labeled with the date, which is in another folder labeled with the year. It’s simpler this way. If we are away from home, they get uploaded onto the laptop and immediately backed up onto an external hard drive before formatting the camera’s memory card to be ready for the next day. Then when I get home I transfer the laptop copies to my desktop. I also regularly back up our whole portfolio to one of our larger external hard drives on a basis that is never quite as regular as it should be, but that part is beyond the scope of this article. And then when I get around to it, I sit down and import the pictures into Lightroom one daily folder at a time. I already have a metadata preset giving Nancy’s contact information but before each upload, I update the preset’s location. We don’t religiously get GPS data, but at least try to add sublocation, city, and state. After importing, I go through and add keywords. It is the keywords I’m relying on to find the pictures I’m looking for years later. As far as the other parts of the workflow that people write about, like rating and weeding, that’s Nancy’s job; she will decide to look through a day’s work and together we will evaluate how to handle each picture. She has “the eye”; generally I’m there just to remind her of what is possible and what isn’t feasible and to take notes on how or if she wants each one edited. But when I’m cataloging, I only cull the obvious – the hopelessly out of focus or those with the cut-off (or missing) subject, for example. There are good reasons for not being too aggressive with the delete button at this stage (which I may get a chance to comment on in the near future so stay tuned).

My Lessons On Keywording

So here my current thoughts:

  • Embrace hierarchical cataloging. If somebody is looking for just a butterfly picture, that’s fine, asking for ‘butterfly’ will bring up all subcategories. but if they specifically want a giant swallowtail, you can search for it directly.
  • Your categories should follow your own needs, not official scientific classifications. Under ‘woodpecker’ (which is under ‘bird’) I have seven different species, but ‘northern yellow-shafted flicker’ is listed separately (under ‘bird’). If someone looking through the results of a search for ‘woodpecker’ could be expected to ask “where are the flickers?” then I made a mistake. But it is easy to move things around. Which brings us to the next point-
  • Develop your hierarchy organically, or as needed. Start with simple categories, like ‘amphibian’ maybe, and subdivide as the number of amphibians makes searching for your favorite species of frog more time-consuming. Or if flowers are your specialty and you listed each individual species under ‘flower’ (or even if you didn’t start with the ‘flower’ keyword), combining all roses into their own subgroup of ‘flower’ (and/or supergroup of the individual varieties) might someday be appropriate. Being too detailed may be overkill at first, but those details can become more critical when you are searching through tens of thousands of pictures. Although we have a ‘bird’ category, which is well developed with many levels of subcategories, I don’t yet have ‘mammal’ as a separate category. As I mentioned, we do have ‘squirrel’, which has 11 subcategories and other things like giraffe are also subdivided. I don’t expect somebody to ask to see all of our mammal pictures, but if it does happen I can adjust.
  • Not all of my subcategories of ‘bird’ are individual species (or genus, or family, etc). Some of the subgroups are based on the type of bird or likely habitat; I group them with other birds they are likely to be confused with. For example, I have ‘shorebird’, which to me means all those little birds that run back and forth at the beach just ahead of the waves to feed in the sand (and includes a number of scientific families). This way if I use up my allotted time without identifying the species I can throw it in the ‘shorebird’ class and maybe identify it later (perhaps as a bonus when identifying another bird in that class). Things like moorhens or spoonbills that would never be confused with those guys would not be part of the class. Sometimes even when you cannot identify the particular species, it helps to narrow it down.
  • As another example of mixed classification types, under ‘people’ I have individual names. If I have pictures of related people, I might throw them together in a group by their last or family name, or add the last name as an intermediate group between ‘people’ and the individuals. But maybe more important for search purposes, I have other ‘people’ subclasses based on what they are doing, like ‘surfer’, ‘cowboy’, or ‘tourist’.
  • Your strict hierarchy alone may not always be the best answer. You may well wind up with a hybrid scheme. Sometimes within a species, if I have a lot of pictures (or if I expect people to ask for a particular subset of the group), I may subclassify. For example, I have both ‘male painted bunting’ and ‘female painted bunting’ under ‘painted bunting’, and for some animals, we have another subgroup for ‘immature’. But both butterflies and moths, which are separate classes in my scheme, have caterpillars. I could have ‘Species A caterpillar’, ‘Species B caterpillar’, etcetera as subcategories of every species for which I have caterpillar pictures, but this makes it difficult if someone wants to see all of my caterpillars. In this case, I made ‘caterpillar’ its own independent category and I add it to the keywords of both butterflies and moths.
    To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
    Of course to complicate things, the caterpillar of some moths, like the Carolina sphinx moth, have their own distinct name (e.g. tobacco hornworm), so in those cases, I kept the hornworm keyword and still added ‘caterpillar’ to the picture’s keyword collection (even though it seemed redundant).
  • Another nice thing about keywording is the synonym list for each keyword so that one can add scientific names, or other local/common names to all of your animals, or strange nicknames to crewmates (those are the ones you will most likely remember when you do try to dig them up later). Each of those synonyms is searchable.
  • Keep in mind, the main purpose of cataloging/keywording is to be able to find that picture years later. The first secret would be to have a good idea of what characteristics will need to search for (and hope those requirements don’t change over the intervening years).
  • A secondary purpose is to record notes that would be useful in those later years. For example, having a keyword for everyone on your cruise that happened to find their way in front of your camera might not seem important now (since you won’t likely be searching specifically for them later), but if they do wind up in front of your favorite humpback whale you may need their name later and it’s best to get it down while it is still fresh.

Final Thoughts

These comments just show my current method for this process. My scheme will probably continue to evolve, and even if it doesn’t, I give no guarantee that is the best plan for you. I hope I’ve given some ideas that will be useful and maybe even save you the time of learning everything the hard way, but in the end, the most efficient cataloging scheme is probably the one that most closely matches the workings of your own brain. Whether you list individual species of plants under ‘purple flower’ or just add ‘purple flower’ as an independent subcategory of ‘flower’ (or ‘plant’) depends on how your brain normally processes these attributes. Thinking about and/or understanding how you think could be the hardest part of this process.

Tell It To The Judge: In Defense Of Photographers & Canvas

Last updated on June 21st, 2019 at 08:10 pm

To be transparent, I must say I’ve developed some theories about the biases of art critics and the judges of art festivals, based mostly on their selections of art to be awarded prizes at these festivals (and maybe my own biases).  I’ve noticed certain patterns that I was hesitant to discuss here until I had taken the time to formally learn something about art.  That hasn’t happened yet, but we did have an opportunity to discuss photography (more specifically, nature and wildlife photography) with the judges at one recent art festival and I feel compelled to address one aspect of that discussion.  My comments on the other aspects may wait until I satisfy my original goals/requirements.  Today’s comments involve canvas.

The Judges’ Remarks

One of the judges said, “I’ve Never Seen A Photograph On Canvas That I Like”. There were three judges at the table when Nancy approached them. Their views were all consistent. Other remarks included “When I see a photograph on canvas I think the photographer is trying to impersonate a painter” and ‘When I see a picture wrapped around the edge of the canvas, it makes me think they are adapting a larger picture to a frame that is too small.’ One judge pointed out that painters don’t paint the side of their canvas.

Our History

Those familiar with our website know there are already two places where I’ve referred to painters as pre-photographers:

You also know I’ve even chided fellow photographers for not keeping up with the times Stop Thinking Like A Film Photographer!.

A Dose of Reality

Painters like Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452-1519) and Georges Seurat (1859-1891) (see the first note in “A Question About Pixels”) are just two examples of artists who led society into the future, not followed. I’m sure if Leonardo had a camera, he would have used it in a flash (forgive the pun, I couldn’t help myself). These two and their peers would be saddened (or worse) to think that painters now feel unable to keep up with society and judges feel a need to artificially reserve materials and techniques specifically for painters in an effort to level the playing field.

My Responses

Now I’d like to address some of their remarks individually.

“When I see a photograph on canvas I think the photographer is trying to impersonate a painter”

A few months before this conversation, a painter at another prominent festival in Florida won Best Of Show and $10,000 for impersonating a photographer. I know another artist who uses pencil to imitate black & white photographs. This is called realism, which apparently artists have tried (with varying degrees of success) throughout history, most notably in the Realist Movement of the mid-nineteenth century.

So here’s a question: if canvas-using photographers are impersonating painters, whom was Leonardo impersonating when he painted the two versions of Virgin of the Rocks in oils on wooden panels? A sculptor, maybe? Maybe a carpenter like the protagonist in his famous mural
“The Last Supper”? Or maybe that particular impersonation has been reserved for the judges.

“When I see a picture wrapped around the edge of the canvas, it makes me think they are adapting a larger picture to a frame that is too small.”

Well maybe that’s why painters do it. After all, contrary to the one judge’s declaration, some painters do paint the sides. But have you ever see a painter warp the image around the edge so that at some angle it creates an illusion and looks like a continuation of the front image (as described in the Canvas section of our Services page)? While we are at it, have you ever seen a painter camouflage their signature to make it less distracting (which solves a problem some critics have complained to photographers about)? Here’s how we do it ( Our New Technique For Signatures & Titles). Come on, painters, try to keep up!

“I’ve Never Seen A Photograph On Canvas That I Like”

I recently heard from another wildlife photographer about a time when a judge took a liking to one of her images, but then left without comment. When the judge came back the second time, he asked if she had another copy of that image that wasn’t printed on canvas. Fortunately, she did, because that second copy won her the second highest award in the festival.

In our booth and online, I’ve discussed the magical properties of canvas. When people see one of Nancy’s images on canvas they are more likely to ask “Is this a painting?’ or are more likely to comment that it looks three-dimensional. For some strange reason, it is also perfectly acceptable to print a particular photograph larger on canvas.

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
People have offered a couple of explanations for this. The first argues that the texture of the canvas disguises any lack of resolution. The second, getting psychological, suggests that canvas invokes some painting mentality, making the viewer less critical (nobody ever asked an eighteenth-century master how many pixels were in his/her brush). Both explanations sound plausible to me, but being a pragmatist, I just run with what works.


So it is especially disturbing, and sad, that a judge would make a statement like this. Photographers follow the same rules of composition and the same principles of art, but for a judge to admit that these are not important, to me is an admission that the judges don’t really know what makes a piece of art special and are just grasping at fads or straws.

At least that’s how I see it (I guess now is a good time to remind you that the views expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of management). So what’s your view. If any of you can make better sense of these judges’ remarks, your comments are also welcome.

Thoughts On Mat Layout

The easiest and most common mat layout is one with the widths of all four borders equal. If you are forcing a picture into a standard-sized frame, however, that’s not always possible. And then there’s the matter of bottom-weighted mats.

Bottom-Weighted Mats

Bottom-weighted mats, or mats with the bottom edge wider than the others, were introduced long, long ago. Some say that pictures centuries ago were hung very high on the wall and the bottom width of the mat was increased to compensate for the ‘distortion’ of that perspective. Unfortunately, that story makes no sense; top-weighting would be required to correct for the top being further from the viewer than the bottom. Another explanation involves the notion of a difference between the visual or optical center and the geometric center. Yet others claim it is to compensate for the drop of the mat in the frame due to tolerances necessary to account for expansion, etc. For whatever reason, bottom weighting could be seen as an attempt to fool your audience or overcome optical perceptions, whichever you prefer. As commonly practiced in “finer frame shops everywhere”, the bottom width is generally increased ¼” to 1″, depending on the size of the pictureref.

Using Standard Mats

But how would one incorporate bottom weighting while fitting an image into a standard-sized mat? For example, if the vertical difference between the hole size and mat size is greater than the horizontal difference, and assuming the left and right borders will be the same width, is it better to:

 
 AMake the top and bottom borders equal,
 BMake the top the same size as the left and the right and put all of the extra width on the bottom,
 CMake the bottom larger than the top by some fixed amount,
DMake the differences even more subtle by making the difference between the top border and the side borders the same as the difference between the top and bottom borders?

Let’s clarify your choices with an example. Suppose you want a 4″-high hole that’s 7″ wide in a standard 8″-high by 10″ mat. The horizontal difference between the mat size and the hole size is 10″ – 7″ = 3″, so if you want the left and right borders to be the same, each will be 3″ ÷ 2 = 1½”. The vertical difference between mat and hole size is 8″ – 4″ = 4″.

Choice AWould make the top and bottom borders the same, making them each 4″ ÷ 2 = 2″.
 
Choice BWould make the top 1½” like the left and right borders, leaving 4″ – 1½” = 2½” for the bottom border.
 
Choice CUses the customary bottom weighting, which the one reference I give above lists as ¼” for an 8″x10″ mat (personally, a ¼” bottom weight isn’t worth the trouble). That means the top border would be (4″ – ¼”) ÷ 2 = 1⅞” and the bottom would be ¼” more, or 2⅛” (notice as you check your work that 1⅞” + 2⅛” = 4″). Finally,
 
Choice DIs a tad more complicated. Let’s call the difference between the left or right border width and the top border width “d”, such that
 1½” + d = T (for top border width).

Then the bottom border (B) would be

T + d or (substituting the last expression for T)
(1½” + d) + d = 1½” + 2⋅d.

Since T + B = 4″, then (substituting for T and B)

(1½” + d) + (1½” + 2⋅d) = 4″, meaning
3″ + 3⋅d = 4″ or 3⋅d = 1″, meaning d = ⅓”,

so (substituting back into our equations for T and B)

T = 1½” + ⅓” = 15/6” and
B =15/6” + ⅓” = 21/6

(again noting that 15/6” + 21/6” = 4″) .
Mat Weights
Our Four Mat Choices (drawn to scale)

The choice you make would be an artistic decision, but I think A is the most common answer. Choice C could be used for traditional bottom-weighting, as in our example, or could be used for some other more artistic value. Technically, both Choices B and D are possible results of that equation. B would be exactly what you get when you want bottom-weighting and are not restricted to standard mats; it would work best if the resulting difference between the top and bottom borders is not too much greater than the customary bottom-weighting distances mentioned above. In our example, it yields 2½” for the bottom border, which is an inch larger than the other three borders and may just be too much.  In our example, C and D are very close, and remain close when we change the amount of weight in C from ¼” to ½” (as shown by the lighter blue opening).  D is more subtle than C, but may only be worth the effort when the difference between the left and top borders is small enough to fool somebody.  In other cases with different numbers, results may vary. 

With Larger Side Borders

If the horizontal difference between the hole size and the mat size is greater than the vertical difference, you could face up to the same number of choices as above, but you are working with less material for the top and bottom borders and I think it is usually better to keep things simple and make those borders equal.

Differing Left And Right Borders?

Do the vertical borders always need be the same size? Although I can’t say I’ve ever seen or read about different-sized side borders, I’m not convinced that uniformity is strictly required. For example, in photography, as in older art forms, there a “rule” of spaceref that says, among other things, that there should be plenty of space on the side of the subject into which it is looking. If you have a “perfectly” centered and close-cropped picture of your mother looking to your left, could a mat with a wider border on the left side create the space that’s lacking in the image?  Maybe you could even choose a mat color that is a pastel version of the background to her right (your left)? Maybe a contrasting outer mat could be added with traditional (identical) vertical borders.

 I present the above thoughts to give some background and (more importantly) stimulate your own creativity. If you think of other possibilities, I’d be thrilled to have you add them to the comments. Thank you!

Working With Weird Wood: Preface

A few years ago, Nancy took a photograph of her junior-high-school best friend JoAnne’s father on a tractor at his northern-Florida homestead and gave it to JoAnne. After he died, JoAnne brought the picture back, along with some of the old fence pickets from the property, and asked if we could use them to frame the picture. After a lot of research, planning, and experimentation, this is what we came up with:

From Fence To Frame

The pickets were thin, dilapidated, warped, and dirty. The few articles I did find were about “barn wood” which, although it had a slightly distressed surface, was still thick and sound with straight, flat, parallel and perpendicular sides – none of which applied here. The articles were not all that helpful and not all that well written. I thought this project could be an opportunity to learn something new, and to share it with you. I hope I took enough notes and pictures to show you exactly how this frame was made. At least that’s the plan.

But First . . .

From math class, you may remember that one problem-solving strategy is to solve a simpler problem first and then use that answer to help solve the harder problem.  With that in mind, I have an idea to write a series of short articles on working with weird wood to make frames, so that I can draw on that information in the final article about this project.  The first article will be about working with pieces of moulding of different widths in the same frame.  Then I see a discussion of moulding where the inside and outside edges are not parallel.  Maybe then we’ll work with wood with a wavy inside edge.  Following that may be a discussion about what to do when your moulding is curved (but with uniform width).  But even before the first article, I may have to give a short post about matting techniques.  My hope is that by doing all of this it will expand your view of what’s possible and it will stimulate those creative juices of yours.  These articles will probably not be consecutive blog posts; another art festival season has just begun and other things will invariably come up as I am writing these pieces.  So please be patient and stay tuned.  Thank you!

Adding Size-Appropriate Objects To Your Image

Last updated on December 19th, 2018 at 10:13 am

I’ve had a few opportunities lately to help people edit their photographs where they wanted to combine two photos into a composite and were worried about the relative sizes being proper, especially when the camera settings and/or the scene were not identical.  Based on these experiences, I’ve created a couple of scenarios to introduce certain concepts.

A Safe Selfie

Suppose you need to add part of a wild animal behind you – to make a safe selfie, if you will.  Most of your composite shots, where two objects are moved around in an image with plenty of other size reference points, fall in this category.   Generally, combining subjects is a two-part process:

Resize One Picture To Match Pixels Per Inch For The Two Subjects

First, you must know the physical size of the two objects.  In the selfie case, you probably already know your own size, but suppose you want to place the head of an animal (whose picture you took from a safe distance) right behind you.  In one case, I Googled an animal to get size information but could not find the size of the head of an adult male of that species.  They did list shoulder height, however.   So then I found a picture of this type of animal online that showed the head and enough of the animal to measure its shoulder height (since my client’s picture of the animal did not have all of these features), and by comparing the two measurements on the picture, found the size of the head.  Fortunately, it’s not always that hard.  Now, measure the subjects in your two pictures in pixels.  Divide the number of pixels by their length in inches.  Resize  one of the images so that the pixels per inch that you just calculated are the same in both pictures.  For example, let’s say your 6-foot height (72″) measures 792 pixels in the first picture.  That’s 11 pixels/inch.  The alligator  or bear’s head, which you found to be 24″ long, measures 192 pixels in the second picture, for 8 pixels per inch.  You can either enlarge the ferocious animal or downsize your likeness.  If you want to reduce your size, open the first picture in Photoshop.  Click on “Image” in the menu, and then “Image Size…”.  Make sure the “Resample” box is checked.  Multiply the pictures existing resolution (say 300 Pixels/Inch) by the target pixels per inch calculated above (in this case 8 to match your animal) and divide by your starting pixels per inch (11).  That gives you 218.182, which is what replaces the existing 300 in “Resolution”.  Hit “OK”.  Now, you and your animal head are the appropriate sizes, if you plan to put them side-by-side in your picture.  If you want to move one in front of the other, its size will change.

Use A Vanishing Point To Resize One Subject For Changing Distance

Now you can use vanishing points to maintain the correct sizes as you move your objects into place.  We’ve already explained that process in Using The Vanishing Point To Keep
The Size Right When Moving Wildlife Around
.  I would like to point out that as long as your object stays the same distance from the camera, or in the same focal plane, you can move it up, down, and all around without changing size.  If you move it closer to the camera, it should get larger.  When you move it away, make it smaller.  Once you resize it for its new distance, you can again move it up, down, and all around within that new focal plane at no extra cost.  Also, once you find the horizon in your picture, it doesn’t matter which point along that horizon line you use as the vanishing point; all of them will resize your object correctly.  Pick a point that is conveniently off to one side far enough to make long enough construction lines to give you some precision when changing size.

A Beach Scene

I also helped somebody with a beach scene that invoked two simpler special cases of the resize problem.  The base or background image was a wide-angle beach scene and the photographer wanted to add objects that they took with a zoom lens at the same scene that same day.

Floating Objects

The photographer’s intent, in this case, was to shoot objects floating on the water near the horizon with a strong zoom lens and add them to the picture so that they looked closer.  An object floating in the water is restricted to a specific plane in such a way that its distance from the horizon is directly related to its distance from the camera (within a camera’s normal field of view), which is the determining factor in that object’s relative size.  As long as the horizon is in the picture, this is no problem.  Whether you add that object at its original pixel size (as magnified by a telephoto lens) or even if you scale it further in Photoshop (by holding down the shift key to preserve the aspect ratio as you move a corner of the selected border while using the Move tool, for example), as long as you keep the horizon of the added object directly on the same line as the horizon of the background, the invisible construction lines from an invisible vanishing point will ensure the size and placement of your object are in agreement.  If the horizon is not in the picture, then you need to look for other size references and handle as in the first general case discussed above.

Flying Birds

Birds (or other airborne objects) are even easier.  Their position is unrestricted and, more importantly, there are no other size references in view so there is really no way of knowing how large the object really is or how far away, meaning that if it were a ball, there would be no way for you to tell if it is a large ball far away or a smaller ball up close.  If you are familiar with the object and know how large cooper hawks are, for example, then your brain will automatically assign the hawk an appropriate distance based on its size when trying to make sense of the picture.  You can put that hawk just about anywhere and the viewer won’t know the difference.  Obviously, if you put a pigeon in a hawk’s talons then each would act as a size reference for the other and at least their relative sizes would have to match.  If they were not touching (or near enough to imply an interaction), there would be no such restriction.

Other Considerations

Lighting

There are other positional clues besides size to think about.  On a sunny day, an object’s shadow provides positional information, namely the object’s relationship to the sun, which must be consistent throughout the image (for best results).

Perspective Changes

When you shoot someone’s face with a wide-angle lens from a close distance, it will not look the same as when you shoot the same face from far away with a telephoto lens.  An example of this is shown in the fourth image from the top at Choose the Right Lens to Make Flattering Portraits (the only image that’s in color). I’ve seen some experts blame this on lens distortion (as the guy in this otherwise great video at Focal Length for Storytelling – How Lens Choice Affects Your Images, but I don’t consider that lens distortion.  There is such a thing as lens distortion, but in this case, the subject’s nose really does look bigger and the ears really do disappear behind the cheeks if you were to close one eye and look at that person from 3″ in front of their face.  I call that a perspective shift and it is strictly a matter of angles and geometry, not lens issues. The “distortion” occurs when you take that image out of context by changing the perspective, which happens quite noticeably when you move an object from very far away to very close (or vice versa) in your image or if you take a 180° panorama, for example, and print/display it small enough to cover only 15°.  This perspective shift is virtually impossible to correct in Photoshop, so don’t go too wild while moving things around in your picture.  (Interestingly, it is by a lack of any perspective shift that you can catch somebody who created a reflection in their picture by just adding a flipped subject in post-processing.  The explanation of this tangent to today’s topic would require a separate article, however.)

To see the Note click here.To hide the Note click here.
As it turns out, I am not the first to call out the lens distortion theorists. See Daniel Baker’s blog Face distortion is not due to lens distortion.

 

Well, that’s about everything I know on this subject.  Please feel free to contribute your own hard-earned understanding of this issue for the betterment of photography in the comment section below.  Thanks.