Telling a Story with Photos: Hanging Pictures, Photo Walls and Inspiration

March 11, 2012

Most often we use this blog as our way of communication to our clients, but today we thought we would share an article that Kathryn was featured in discussing the evolution of photography. Since the article focuses on helpful tips and suggestions as to how to hang your portrait photos or create a photo wall we thought we thought we would post. We have also included some pictures of some of our clients homes and how they put it all together to really create that “wow”!

Written by Megan Sheldon

Portrait photography has made leaps and bounds in the past decade, turning the original ‘posed’ photograph into an artistic keepsake that captures the personality and energy of each subject. Instead of being a one time service, photographers are looking to build relationships with the families they photograph, documenting the journey the family takes over the years and helping them place the photographs throughout their home to best tell a story.

When talking with portrait photographers, it seems that more and more of them are looking to the power of story to help propel their work forward. “People come to me because they want something different, something that captures a slice of their every day life, something that is about connection and expressions,” reflects Kathryn Langsford, a portrait photographer in Vancouver.  Another photographer in Toronto commented “I want the story to unfold naturally, yet I help create the atmosphere for that to happen – from the location, to the props, to where the piece is displayed in the home.”  Photographers are spending less time setting up the shot, and more time capturing the unplanned moments that are rich in individual personality.

Following the photo shoot, more and more clients are looking to their photographer to help them position the pieces throughout their home. There are many ways that people are choosing to tell the visual story of their family, from the photo wall to using the entire house as a gallery to display their photo art.

A photo wall can be any number of photographs, collected and displayed closely together on a wall in your home or office, turning that space into a gallery. The photo wall does not need to contain photographs with matching styles, in fact the more contrast you have the stronger the impression. Yet, you want a common element that ties everything together, which is why working with the same photographer over time can enhance the quality of your display. Consider mixing black and white photographs with sepia, or placing square photographs amongst rectangles. Also, you can play with the frames, incorporating gold, brown, black and charcoal frames, and even having some without a frame. The more variety you have, the easier it is to add to the wall over the years.

Many people are worried about where to start with a photo wall. The best advice is to start with 3 or 4 photos that you like, and position them on a wall with space to grow. Kathryn Langford suggests starting with three 11×16 canvases, hung close together (1-2”), yet not placed on the same line. The key is to avoid being too symmetrical and to have fun with new styles. One photographer suggests using four square, 12 x 12 canvases, which will work in any home, on any wall, and then adding larger, odd sizes to the area over time.

In speaking with the clients of these photographers, it struck me how many of them are emotionally attached to the process of telling stories throughout their home. David Robens, a Vancouver resident, comments on his family’s photo wall, stating “the moments caught are incredible. The photos invite me to ‘be’, to slow down all of the doing and just ‘be’. It’s a reminder to take the time and appreciate my family”.  In Toronto, clients seemed to be just as taken with the photo wall concept, saying that it adds continuity and calmness to their home.

Another trend that is gathering momentum is the idea of using the entire house as a gallery to display family photos that are treated as art pieces. This concept is a wonderful option for modern homes that want to add warmth throughout the house, or for people who don’t want to spend a fortune on art but want to ensure that the art they do have is personal and reflective of who they are. Betty Kesselmen, in West Vancouver, decided on this route when she was presented with a soulful photograph of her daughter (included). The Kesselmen’s built their own house, and every decision was personlized to their taste – the photographs were the finishing touch; “when someone is invited into our home for the first time, they get to capture the essence of who we are just by walking through the home” states Betty.

To create a photo story that is threaded throughout your home, consider getting photographs taken that are less conventional than traditional portraits.  Kathryn suggests thinking outside the box and hanging your pieces where most people wouldn’t typically think, “one spot I love is above a doorway. In my showspace, I have a huge 4×6 foot canvas of Chip Wilson‘s kids. It is a perfect space, especially if you have high ceilings, to showcase your favourite pieces”. When a piece is hung high like this, it needs to be large as the viewing distance is farther than usual. Other locations that people don’t often consider are spaces that are small, and rooms like the kitchen and the bathroom. These are rooms you are in and out of regularly and therefore make great places to hang your favourite photos. Kathryn goes on to state that “Markus and Lotta Naslund made perfect use of a little spot of wall about 16 inches wide in the entrance to their kitchen, by stacking three 11×16 close-ups of their kids’ faces.” Consider what moments you want to share with the people entering your home. You want to make sure they are tasteful and timeless moments.

Many people feel that the logical choice for portraits is to be hung in a hallway, Kathryn would advise you to ensure that the hallway is visible from other areas of your home so that you are limiting your viewing of the photos to times when you are standing in the hallway. Obakki owner, Treana Peake has a upper hallway that is  visible from the lower area of the home due to an open concept and plexi-glass walls. This lends itself perfectly to her row of gorgeous stainless steel pieces that can be viewed from all areas. The other interesting thing is that she has chosen to hang the work from a rail system so that they can easily be interchanged or swapped out over the years.

It takes a certain eye, as well as creative faith, to select photos that work together and invite conversation. The photos in your house will be gazed at many times a day by you, your kids and those who visit your home. You want to choose photos that chart your family’s growth. Erin Peters, a client of Kathryn’s in Vancouver, comments, “I pause everytime I pass the photos on the wall, and no matter what is happening that day I smile when I see them. It’s those artistic, detailed glimpses into our lives that I love.”

Kesselman Photos By Kathryn Photo Story

Kesselman Home


Treana Peake Photo Story

Unique Display of Portrait Photos

Photo Wall Inspiration

The Wilson's Photo Wall

Denotter Family Portrait Photography

Collection of black and white mixed with sepia

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