Tutorial: My Gallery Frame

Out of a desire to give my shots a consistent look in my NAPP Portfolio I developed my own framing technique – based on a couple of ideas I had come across before – that both displays my name and doesn’t distract from the image itself.

Over the past year I have received a number of comments about my frame and requests to learn how I did it. My most favorable comment actually came from NAPP Executive Director Larry Becker when one of my shots was selected as an “Editor’s Choice.” He said, “We…think your framing technique and signature is the BEST of all member portfolios!”

So, here we go.

  1. Because images in the NAPP member portfolios section must be no larger than 800×600 pixels at 72ppi start off by creating a new document with those dimensions. I just used a transparent background.
  2. Fill your background with black. When I was in college I took a course called “Learning to See” where we analyzed how we look at the world around us. One of the things we found is that our eyes are generally drawn to the bright parts of an image first. By using a black background, we lead the viewer right into shot without overwhelming them with a white border. Plus, I feel it’s a little more classy than white or another color.
  3. Next, add a stroke to the inside of the black layer with a size of 1 and use a light gray (#cccccc). This is to keep the viewer within the frame (since the background of the protfolio page is also black) and also to make the edge a little more subtle so the eye isn’t as drawn to a bright white line.
  4. Place a photo onto the black background. I use Place for two reasons: 1) If I need to do any resizing to make the shot fit properly I don’t have to worry about losing resolution, if I don’t make the image larger than the original, of course. And 2) when I go to use this frame again, instead of recreating it I can just replace the contents of the Smart Object with the new image. (Just a note: I tend to keep my photos in the same aspect ratio as they come out of the camera or constrain to these proportions when cropping which makes this step all the easier.)
  5. Placing your photo will automatically position it in the center of the image so that it will fit entirely within the bounds of the frame. While holding down the Shift and Alt keys to constrain the proportions and keep the image centered, shrink your photo to a reasonable size within the frame. When you are happy with the size, click on the checkbox in the Options Bar to commit your changes.
  6. With the Move Tool selected, nudge your photo up so that the photo is in the upper portion of the image. (You may want to arrange it so that the top margin is equal to the side margins. Just follow your judgement.)
  7. Ctrl+click on the thumbnail of the Smart Object in order to make a selection around the image. Then go to “Select>Transform Selection.” While once again holding down the Shift and Alt keys, enlarge your selection a few pixels and then click on the checkbox to commit the change. (If you use “Select>Modify>Expand” the resulting selection will have rounded corners, and you want sharp ones.)
  8. With the selection still active, create a new layer below the photo layer by Ctrl-clicking on the Make New Layer icon in the Layers palette. Fill your selection with black and deselect.
  9. While holding down the Alt key, click and drag the Layer Effects icon from the background layer onto the layer we just created to copy the Stroke. This creates a matted look to the image.
  10. The next part is open to a certain amount of personalization. For mine, I created a new layer at the top of the Layers Palette and used a brush I created from my signature with the same light gray. (I used a Wacom tablet and assembled the best looking pieces of my signature prior to creating the hi-res brush. You can create the same effect by scanning in your signature as well.)
  11. Using a font of your choice, type in your name, again, using the same gray. I would suggest using all caps and a font that isn’t too flashy to give it the refined, gallery look. (I used Optima.) Also, increase the tracking of the type to increase the space between the letters a little.
  12. Position your signature so it is horizontally aligned with the frame and vertically centered in the space below the photo without overlapping any of the edges.
  13. Position your type over top of the signature so that it is wider than the signature.
  14. I also lowered the opacity of the signature slightly so it didn’t make the type difficult to read. It should be more of an accent than a dominant element.

And there you have it!

A number of photographers also include the title of the photo in their frames. I tend to think that placing more information within the frame distracts the viewer and takes them out of the photo itself. At least in the NAPP portfolios there is a spot for captions which is a more ideal location for the title and any other information about the shot.

Try it out, experiment, make it your own, and have fun!

For a variation on this technique, check out Dave Cross’ Finishing Touches feature in the January/February 2007 issue of Layers Magazine.

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