I have at least two shows coming up in the next few months, and each will require me to use larger frames than I have in the past. So, I am shopping around for 16x20 inch frames. I am a stickler about matting and framing, which I do myself. Over the course of hanging a number of exhibits, including my own work, I have a checklist of do's and dont's for photographers that exhibit their work. Of course, if all you ever do is upload your images to the web to share with your friends, ala Flickr, this probably won't apply to you. However, if there is one thing you should know, it is that a matted and framed photo on a wall is very different from an image seen on a computer screen. Part of the reason is that a matted photograph stands out from the area around it -- it at once isolates the image and focuses your eyes on the content. There is a very annoying trendy thing going on with photos on canvas. It is trendy, because like many trendy thing, in 10 years they will out of vogue and in the trash bin. A photograph is not an oil painting, or a watercolor, or a sculpture. The mat around the photograph, and a frame, take the image to its own little island, where you can gaze at it and judge its merits. Don't fall for the thumbtacks on the wall approach to show your work, either. That's just a shitty way to present yourself. It says to me that you place so little value in your work that you can't be bothered with making an effort to do the presentation right.
Of course, I recognize that apart from the money you may have spent on your equipment, showing your work involves more dollars. So, there you have a choice... cheap or expensive? There is not too much mystery in what is involved in matting and framing photographs. There are numerous tutorials online and in books that spell out the various methods used to show photographs. Some of the techniques, like anything, require practice to get good enough at it (such as mat cutting), and having the proper tools and space to do it right really helps (no surprise here). So, it comes down to mats and frames and glass where the expense comes in. When I first started out, I bought my frames at a local chain of craft stores because I needed one or two at a time. Later, when I needed to have nearly 2 dozen pieces ready for a show, I realized that I needed to shop online for the best prices, buying frame sections in bulk. So, here are a few tips and some guidelines:
1. Be thrifty. It helps to shop thrift stores and the like for used frames. Even if the frame isn't in the best of shape, maybe the glass is worth a few bucks, and can be used later on. You can always repaint frames, too.
2. Size. Stick to a few sizes for your work to keep the matting and framing consistent. 8x10 inches -- I consider that the smallest size to exhibit outside the home. 11x14 is more versatile, and allows you to show 7x7 to 8x11 images with at least 1.5 inches of overmat. 16x20 seems big until you start printing bigger than 11x14. Square frames are less common, but 9x9 is great for 5x5 square images, especially Polaroids. 12x12 and 18x18 are good, too. However, you may decide that another size range suits your style better. Oddball sizes are great when you want to give gifts or experiment with different formats and aspect ratios with your prints.
3. Colors. Black is my favorite frame color, second is silver, third is natural wood. You can mix metal and wood frames in a show if they are all black, but not if they are silver or wood.
4. Materials. Avoid plastic frames that look like the metal sectional frames. They usually do not have enough depth for properly matted images, and they have very limited hanging options. I might buy them when they are on sale, but just to use the glass. Aluminum frames are durable, and easy to re-use. Wood frames require more work in that the artwork is fastened against the glass with metal tabs or points that stick in the wood, and some galleries may require you to seal the backs of the wood frames with a layer of kraft paper. However, they look nice, and can be painted to match whatever color scheme pleases you.
5. Glass. This is where the expense can kick in. You can cut sheets of glass yourself, but it's something that I am not good at. That's why it is important to stick with some standard sizes, as you can find pieces of 8x10 glass at a thrift shop easier than 9x11. Plain glass is fine, and there is also special UV glass, and matte-finished glass, too. Stay away from sheets of acrylic. They scratch easily and attract dust.
Part II will cover sources, and why I like SOME of Ikea's frames.