Unique Ways to Arrange Photos

bunch of blank canvases.

got photos. And now there are wedding photos to add to the mix. Your mother-in-law's been asking when you're going to get your pictures hung "properly" and your walls are a bunch of blank canvases.

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Alright, already! Let's get those photos organized and displayed in a unique and artful way. Get centered. Grab a cup of tea. Crank up some great tunes. Now bone up on the four simple lessons of framing and displaying your pictures like a pro.

Before you hang

Set yourself up on a large flat surface. Gather up all the pictures you have and start grouping your snapshots by theme. Old family photos go in one pile. Travel shots in another. Wedding shots go in another pile.

Now pull together your favorites from each group. Edit out crappy shots (the one where your bra strap is showing or his head is cropped out) and damaged prints (it may be possible to have these restored, but that's a project for later).

Play around with different groupings (generally stick to groups of three, five, or seven photos -- odd numbers are more pleasing to the eye) within each pile and see if you can develop a visual "story". Do you have three shots of you as a couple in a similar pose but in different locales? See how they work as a trio. Is there a photo of each of you when you were kids that shares the same visual scale and would look adorable side by side? Try it out (this is an exception to the 3-5-7 rule). Now when you're dealing with your wedding photos you might want to change your approach. Since you will have such a variety of images, instead of grouping like with like, blend candids and portraits to keep the overall feeling fun and lively. Don't worry, you'll get the hang of it (pun intended).

Great. You know what you've got to work with, so go scout out your "gallery" areas. Look for expanses of wall space: The empty spot above a sofa is an obvious choice, but consider hallways, the staircase walls, a dining room wall, the entryway, an interesting nook? Oh, the possibilities


You've already separated your pictures by theme (family shots, vacation shots, wedding shots, and so forth) and pulled together a number of shots that will hang well together. Now consider how you will frame them. Keep in mind that when things look alike or are the same color or pattern, they instantly seem to go together. The same goes for your frames and mats (the inner heavy card-stock frame that goes within the frame). A family of photos gets its polish from coordinating frames and mats; this easy technique will keep your arrangements cohesive and professional looking.

How to do it

Invest in simple wooden frames that come with built-in mats, or pair your frame with a readymade mat that matches the perimeter of your frame.
The most classic look is a black or wood-tone frame with a crisp white mat. Mats are the key to uncluttered arrangements. Lend drama to smaller images by choosing one with a thick wide border (much larger than the photo) but with a small window to spotlight the image.
As long as the frames and mats look alike, you'll have an instant arrangement -- now you can vary the size of the frames and mats for an interesting look. Mix up different wood-toned frames (mahogany versus cherry versus walnut) for another smart look.
How about this cool mat trick: Track down frames containing mats that feature multiple windows so you can plug in a trio or quad of related shots.
Your local home superstore or art supply store is a good source for frames and mats.

Map it out

The hardest part about arranging groups of pictures is getting the whole collection to feel balanced. Before you start putting holes into the walls, figure out your layout.

How to do it

With a pencil, lightly draw a rectangle or square around the perimeter of your display or even use painter's tape to delineate your hanging area. Take some newspaper and trace the perimeter of your frames. Cut out the shapes and tape them to the wall. Experiment with different configurations until the display feels right.
Hang your photos close together -- about an inch or two apart -- placing the central photo at eye level. The central photo is usually the largest one, and sets the tone for the whole arrangement. Now work in the smaller frames to fill in the blanks. Avoid the temptation to arrange them in a windmill fashion around the central photo -- keep your rectangle in mind and fill out the space.
Make sure the subjects in your portraits are looking toward the center of the display and not off into space -- it will lead the eye away from the whole arrangement and make less of an impact.
Get some ++++f help

Get some ++++f help

Stylish floating ++++ves or shallow picture ledges are another hip way to display pictures. They're great for defining awkward spaces, and allow you to rotate your photos on a whim because you just lean the frames up against the wall (no hammer and nail required). Just think, when your in-laws leave you can take down the frames they got you as wedding gifts (you guys just aren't the gilded-gold type) and replace them with cool architectural ones you love.

How to do it

Say you've got a tricky vertical spot that just needs something. Hang three or four picture ledges on top of one another with about 6-12 inches in between and now you've created an interesting focal point from a previously dead space.
If you're not into straight and narrow patterns, try staggering the ++++ves at varying heights above a sofa or console table for a groovy look.
When placing your frames, overlap them slightly for a casual, yet sophisticated, presentation.
Incorporate decorative accessories such as a tall candle, a stack of antique books and a framed copy of your wedding invitation. Remember to vary the sizes and shapes of objects (including the frames) for an interesting composition.

Seek out new surfaces

Walls and ++++ves aren't the only natural home for your photos. There are a host of other groovy surfaces for displaying your precious photos. Sure, side tables and mantels are the usual suspects, but consider these creative display techniques.

How to do it

Create a virtual headboard with a wall of pictures behind your bed. This works wonderfully with nature photos (photos of people might be too distracting when you're trying to sleep or, um, do other things). Use large frames to make a grid of nine black and white shots of different ocean or floral images and place the frames tic-tac-toe style almost to the ceiling.
Make or buy a folding screen or room divider where you can tuck loose photos into a network of attached ribbon or elastic. You could also suspend framed photos in threes, one on top of the other, on each panel of a plain wood screen.
Check out coffee tables that come with special picture slots. You pull out a drawer and arrange loose photos, small frames, or mementos, push the drawer back in, and then view the tableau through its glass top. A great way to show off your honeymoon photos is to line the drawer with map paper from your honeymoon destination and place the travel photos on top.
Use ++++llic and white frames to bounce light around and make your frames pop when setting them on a table or inside a ++++ving unit, and go back to the 3-5-7 rule for groupings. Odd numbered arrangements are generally more pleasing to the eye.