Top tips for displaying family photographs

Family portrait photographer and Canon Ambassador Helen Bartlett reveals how to display beautiful family portraits at home.
Black and white prints of children and families arranged in a grid style on the floor.

Printing and displaying memories of family, friends and pets is a wonderful way to create an ever-evolving artwork of your life story – adding personality to your home and surrounding yourself with happy memories. For London-based family portrait photographer and Canon Ambassador Helen Bartlett, family photo shoots enable her to get truly expressive behind the lens – but printing and displaying these images can be just as much of a creative process.

"One of the huge benefits of print is that it's a physical thing for you to keep, which won't disappear if you forget to back-up your phone or something gets corrupted," says Helen. "It's something you and the kids can touch and hold on to. I think printing pictures is absolutely fundamental for ingraining images in your memory."

Here, Helen shares her advice for printing, framing and placing your favourite photographs around your home.

1. Print pictures that make you smile

A canvas print of a girl playing with bubbles displayed on a wall in a large bathroom with white walls and checkered flooring.

When photographing your family, try to take fun or natural shots, rather than thinking about what would work well as a print. You can pick your favourites afterwards. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 50mm, 1/400 sec, f/4.5 and ISO500. © Helen Bartlett

There are so many options for printing and displaying your images, and the great thing is that you don't really need to think about shooting with your camera in a different way, says Helen.

"Don't think in terms of shooting for print, because that's where you start to put up barriers," she explains. "Print the pictures that make you smile and if they're not technically perfect, it doesn't really matter. It's more important to have the moments that bring you joy on your wall."

If you're planning to print your images at a large size, though, what is important is using a suitable camera. The dots of ink that a photo printer lays down on paper don't correspond one-to-one with pixels in the image, but a good rule of thumb is to allow at least 300 pixels per inch for a photo-quality 300dpi print. So for an A3 print (16.54x11.69 inches) you'll need an image at least around 4,962x3,507 pixels or 17MP. Generally, a higher megapixel count will yield finer quality prints.

"If you know you'll want to print something big, then use the best camera you've got available to you, because that will give the best scope in terms of enlargement and the highest quality image," says Helen. Make sure you set it to the highest quality setting. "Try and shoot when the light is good too, because poor lighting will show up more in print."

2. Think about your display space

A black and white close-up portrait of a young child. She is staring intently at the camera and smiling.

It's important to consider the composition and scale of your print when choosing a spot for it in a room. "If you've got a close-up portrait of a baby's head and it's 152 centimetres wide, for example, and you're viewing it from a metre away – that can be a bit much. But if you're viewing it from the end of a long a corridor, that can look absolutely amazing," says Helen. © Helen Bartlett

A black and white image of three framed prints displayed on a wall above a sofa, with a white orchid on the table in front.

The frames you choose for your prints should work with the mood of your room and your décor. Simple white frames work well with black and white images. © Helen Bartlett

Wherever you plan to display your prints, choose complementary colours that will tie in with your décor, and consider the space around them. "You need a frame to fit your home," explains Helen. "I like a plain black or white frame, the sort of style you'd see in a photographer's gallery – something simple and timeless. For a warm-toned room, an oak frame would work really well, but for a big and light modern room a black or white frame might be better."

Helen's portraiture is mainly black and white, which creates a timeless look for her clients' homes – something you could choose to do if blending a mix of family photographs of different generations. "I think family pictures work particularly well in black and white because you've got longevity and it's really nice to mix up generational prints when putting things on the wall. Black and white pictures from now work well with black and white pictures from when your parents and grandparents were young."

It's also worth considering the environment prints will be displayed in and what might happen to them over time, so you can choose an appropriate material. Canon's range of photo papers includes products for a variety of settings and with different finishes. Canon Everyday Use Glossy GP-501 – an affordable general purpose paper for photo-lab quality prints – is ideal for most areas of the home. If you want to display your prints in humid areas, such as bathrooms, though, you might need to visit a printing specialist to have your images printed on acrylic paper.

3. Make a statement with your prints

A black and white image of a young girl, cast in shadow, holding two leaves against a sky strewn with fluffy clouds.

Whether it's one large print or a display of small ones arranged in a shape, you can really make a statement with your photographs. "Sometimes something graphic and very simple can look amazing in a big frame," says Helen. © Helen Bartlett

Large scale prints can look fabulous in your home, but it helps to think about the scale before you commit. "You have to pick the right picture, because not all pictures will blow up that big," says Helen. "It's then good to get a few sheets of newspaper and stick them on the wall because otherwise it's really hard to envisage what a large-scale image will look like. It's a question of getting the size right for the space and doing that by actually measuring and putting something up there."

Photographs that have enough impact for large prints are those that include the environment around a subject, explains Helen. "That works really well for statement pictures. Often the pictures that I sell in the largest sizes will be ones where there's architecture, environment or woodland around the subject. It makes it feel like a piece of art."

Using a printer such as the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 will allow you to create professional-quality prints from the comfort of your own home. Helen uses the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer for her business. This Wi-Fi enabled model can create borderless prints and is ideal for monochrome images with its Matte Black ink, which delivers deep tones perfect for fine art photos. For incredible finishes in monochrome, pair your Canon printer with Canon Pro Premium Matte PM-101 paper, designed to beautifully express warm white and grey tones in sizes A4 to A2.

4. Get creative with gallery and grid layouts

Black and white prints of children and families arranged in a grid style on three frames on a brick wall.

When creating a gallery wall, it can be useful to mock up your desired design in software such as Adobe® Photoshop®. This way you can check your images fit together, are balanced and have great tonality when placed next to each other. © Helen Bartlett

When displaying a number of photo prints, gallery walls and grids can add character to hallways, corridors and staircases. If you're printing smaller sizes, it's possible to create high-quality prints at home on your Canon PIXMA printer. The Canon PIXMA G540 can print from Wi-Fi enabled devices and creates brilliant vivid prints, up to A4 size and at a low cost.

Helen points out that the benefit of a gallery wall is that you can add to it or change images whenever you like. "It's very easy to swap things in and out and change the images so the gallery grows and evolves over time, just as families do. I have a client with a really good gallery wall in their kitchen. It started with three prints, then six, then nine and then 12 – and I think it's now 16. With a grid system, it can be really easy to extend each year," she says.

"Think in terms of being able to add to stuff in the future. So if you've got one tiny baby and you fill up every bit of wall space when they're six months old, you've got no space for when they grow and your family might expand. Give yourself flexibility."

5. Experiment with and without frames

An acrylic print of two children holding large sticks, displayed on a wall above a fireplace.

Showing off your prints doesn't have to involve frames. If you want a more sleek and modern look, why not try frameless canvas prints? Another option is a tray frame, also known as a floating frame, where a gap surrounds the edge of a photograph so it appears suspended. This gives a fine art effect and is great for both wall hanging and standing frames. © Helen Bartlett

Photos don't always have to go in a frame. Unlike professionally shot, portrait style images that you want to display and protect, when printing your own unique shots of your family you might simply want to display them so you are surrounded by your favourite family moments. "I totally love an unframed print. I prop them up on bookshelves and stick them on my fridge," says Helen. "I've seen clients do amazing things with wires and little clips. I quite like the idea that a picture has a life of its own and, once it's been taken, it can be used in different ways.

"Printed photos work really well in teenagers' bedrooms as you can stick them on the wall and make collages, or string them up on bits of wire," she adds. "It can be an ever-evolving gallery with an unframed print because you feel less precious about them."

You could even use the Canon SELPHY Square QX10 mobile printer and clip up your prints to display them. Printing your favourite moments and displaying them around your home is a great way of improving your mood as well as preserving family memories.

Written by Lorna Dockerill

Adobe and Photoshop are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

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