Help me pick 3 photos that will look awesome together in one frame!
July 19, 2010 9:35 AM   Subscribe

PhotoFilter: I have a picture frame that will display 3 large photos. Can anyone offer basic advice/criteria for picking 3 images that will look good together?

I've recently come into possession of a big, nice, matted picture frame which will hold three vertical 8-1/2 x 11 photos. Both frame and matting are black. My boyfriend once spent a lot of time backpacking through Asia and has a lot of cool pictures, and I'd like to select 3 to put in this frame as a birthday present for him.

I realize this is a pretty broad question, but are there any visual guidelines for selecting a "series" of photos that will look good together? As in, I don't necessarily think they all need to be from the same place (... or do they?), but compositionally speaking, should I be looking for 3 where the area of focus is in the same area of the photo? For example, if I have a picture showing a building in the lower right-hand foreground and some sort of vista rising in the background (so the focal pt is the lower right), should I look for two others that are similarly arranged -- or maybe one that's "opposite" and one with a low-center focal point so that the eye tracks in a long "swoop" across the set?

And is it weird if images of city and countryside mix? Perhaps that's really more a question of: city images can be very busy, and most countryside images are more foggy & tranquil -- should I stick to one "type"? Just non-busy photos, since there's a lot going on in the frame?

Or is it better/easier to pick very disparate pictures so that there's no visual theme at all?

I do realize that this is going to depend very much on the actual images themselves. I have an OK eye and think I could eventually get to a decent set just by lining everything up next to each other, but since there are SO many and they're all in electronic form now, I'd appreciate any rules-of-thumb that can help me winnow through the overall jumble.

(Also -- I'm thinking of doing them all as B&W, but shout out if you think color could be more awesome, and have thoughts about color schemes. Or if this is a terrible overall idea and I should just frame things separately! Whatever. All thoughts are welcome. Thanks as always, MeFites!)
posted by alleycat01 to Home & Garden (5 answers total)
Or is it better/easier to pick very disparate pictures so that there's no visual theme at all?

This is impossible. You may be able to pick photos with no "theme" to you, but individuals looking at them will develop a theme around them. The main concept here is juxtaposition. Scott McCloud (and probably some semiotics genius before him) states that the human mind can't encounter juxtaposed images and not attempt to create a context explaining their placement and order. One you put several images in a series, they begin to tell a story (although not necessarily with characters or plot) whether you've intended them to do that or not. I can't tell you anything about the aesthetics of photography, but pick the images in such a way that the individual looking at them will understand their progression.
posted by griphus at 9:55 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I guess I should add a for-instance. An example would be three images, each arranged by the distance of the subject from the camera. The first one, a scenic vista, stretching out for miles beyond the camera. The second, a tighter shot of a village, a detail of its busy-ness -- something along the lines of a bustling street market. The point is that it is depersonalized and shows the village itself as an organic being. The third, a photo of an interesting person -- a villager or street worker -- preferably zoomed in with no indication of a background, emphasizing the person themselves and not their context.
posted by griphus at 10:02 AM on July 19, 2010

I think you're on the right track relative to formal, compositional strategies (visual guidelines) for a grouping. If a composition is weighted to one corner (as you describe), I recommend placing that photo so the weighted corner is toward the inside of the frame. Find a similar, mirrored composition for the other side. Find a centrally composed composition for the center.

Finding three compositions with horizons that align will unify a group. Or, using the mirror technique again, two high horizons flanking each side of a low horizon, et cetera.

I have to say though, 3 portrait oriented rectangles doesn't bring to mind landscapes. If you wish, you should be able to easily rewire the back to make a vertical column of landscape oriented rectangles.
posted by xod at 11:29 AM on July 19, 2010

Almost anything by the same photographer, especially if its a resident of the house, will go together. You can also get away with monochromatic color schemes or, depending on the geometric relationship: natural color/monochromatic/natural color in the same general theme, like landscapes. You can also tell the viewer a story about you with your choices, just be prepared to tell it when you're asked.
posted by Mertonian at 12:43 PM on July 19, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, guys. No best answer, since they all have useful bits, including the most-useful which is basically "there are infinite variations that would work."

I ended up just paging through his entire gigantic set, pulling all decently-composed vertical shots, then winnowing down through a series of culls until I got 6 of the best. After color-correcting and printing, it was pretty easy to choose among them once they were held up together. Tedious, but the end result looks great! Plus I have 3 random other nice shots to frame if we choose.
posted by alleycat01 at 11:32 AM on September 13, 2010

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