Kirk's Rules for Sharing Photographs Correctly.

This is not a portfolio show.

There is something deeply wrong in modern society. There are large groups of people who have come to imagine that the screens of their phones are appropriate venues for sharing their photographic images (or portfolios) with other people. If you are one of these people and your friends are as clueless as you then I guess it really doesn't matter, but...if you are trying to share your work with someone whose action upon having viewed your images could be helpful to your career or your cause then you need to re-think your presentation skills and recalibrate your ideas about what constitutes appropriate displaying and sharing tactics. 

Here's the hierarchy from best case down: 

Top Layer:  If you want people to look at your images in a respectful and even appreciative way then you need to control the environment in which you show them your work as well as the medium you choose to show them. The gold standard is the paper print. A color print at a large enough size to be easily viewed (but still easily handled) is the most impressive of the presentations. If the work is matted, framed and well lit, so much the better. Show this work in a room where the light doesn't come from multiple, glare causing lights scattered across a ceiling. Do it in a place where there is little noise and fewer distractions. Allow your audience to become immersed in the experience and don't ruin it by chattering all the way through the presentation.

Next layer down: If you can't show large prints effectively (and maybe it's because you've decided to make Starbucks your office and the tables are too small....) you should consider prints placed in a book. These can be handmade books or bound books but books allow you to show work that is right sized for easily viewing while offering a mechanism to handhold the work in a less than optimal space. Give the book to your reviewer and allow them to set the viewing distance and pace.

Next layer down: If you can't do big prints, or even smaller prints (8x10 minimum), or books, you will need to default to a high quality screen device. This will probably be an iPad or one of the copycat devices from a company with less creativity and design acumen. As long as the screen is wonderful, large (full size iPad, not "mini") and dense with pixels (think Retina screen) you'll be providing a decent viewing experience for your valued audience. 

Hand the person you crave to share you images with the device and let them proceed at their own pace. It's only fair that if they have to wade through your visual enthusiasm that they get to control the duration of their trial or joy.  Again, silence is golden and an environment without a lot of extraneous motion is an effective way to garner their full intention. A busy, busy coffee shop means that the hyper-vigilent persons are dividing brain space between your images and all the movement that may be primordial, evolutionary cues of danger.

If none of these presentations are available and the screen on your phone is the only thing you can manage then you are clearly not ready to show your work to other people. Especially people whose opinions you respect.  Stop. Don't do it. Don't cause other people to  politely nod as they internally calculate just how quickly they can get away from you and this painful situation. The only people who can clearly see the screen as it jiggles around in your hand are people well under 30 with perfect eyesight. And even they would vastly prefer any of the above methods. They have phones, they know how dreary and unfulfilling it is to look at another person's work on a tiny screen.

Any of the above methods always beats sticking your cellphone screen in a stranger's face in the equivalent of a bus station, lit with a batch of mismatched, bare fluorescent light tubes stuck in the ceiling next to the surveillance cameras, casting multiple glares across the tiny screen, and expecting that they will compliment your work, or offer you the chance to photograph their company's next annual report project. 

My take is that the crappier the presentation the less the presenter cares about the work. And really, who wants to see work by an artist who doesn't care enough about his or her own work to at least display it decently. And even if you are a genius and your work is stunning who would ever be able to tell when looking on tiny screens? 

The iPhone might be a great capture tool. I know they are good for making phone calls or texts from. But they are most certainly not decent portfolio tools. Never.

Learn every part needed to participate effectively in an art culture. It's a sign of respect to your work and to the viewer to present your images correctly. It's all about putting the best foot forward and making sure the audience is comfortable. Anything less is just torture of the innocent by the painfully narcissistic. 

edit note: Let me flesh out the reason for this particular post to satisfy an anonymous commenter who asked if this take was really just a "meme" or whether I had experienced the cellphone show. I was recently asked by a college photography student if I would look at his portfolio. I assumed we were making an appointment for a future showing because I sure didn't see a physical portfolio anywhere. When I agreed he pulled out an iPhone and started doing the obnoxious "finger sweep" through an assortment of images. I stopped him and told his that I hadn't brought along a pair of glasses and that rendered this kind of showing moot. He was a bit taken aback. I suggested a future date which he hemmed and hawed about.... 

I was at Precision Camera on an errand recently and someone recognized me from a speech I had given a year or two earlier. They proceeded to come over, chat and then pull out an Android phone to show me "what they had been working on...." 

I was at Medici last week when an acquaintance just had to tell me all about the new Nikon D810 he'd bought. He pulled out his phone to regale me with some of the "incredible" shots he'd gotten with the camera, all the while doing the "finger spread" motion to enlarge portions of each image. As though I'd be able to see the difference, on a cell phone screen, between his D800e  and his new D810. 

I was doing a photo walk downtown two weeks ago when a local photographer who is known for his iPhone "art" intersected with me and pulled me into the open shade to show me some "incredible" new work he'd been doing in the streets with the same phone. I've met this character before and the best way to defuse him is to keep one's sunglasses on (couldn't see the images because of reflections, etc. anyway) and nod until his fingers finished sweeping and unsqueezing his screen and then to wish him good luck with his project and move on. 

And how many people do I meet everyday who say, "You're a professional photographer, let me show you some shots from our vacation!" And they proceed to hold their phones up in my face with their hands trembling from coffee poisoning and swish through endless dark, grainy, poorly composed shots. 

There are times when it might be okay. I had coffee recently with a friend. He had just come back from a workshop and wanted to show me what two of the models looked like. We were inside, in air conditioning. I had a happy cup of coffee in front of me. I had a pair of reading glasses with me. I was curious as to the models one of my peers had chosen over in Atlanta. I was happy to see the content of the two images he showed me. And then he had the good taste to stop. I'm actually waiting with anticipation to see a nice print of the female model he showed me. Looked like a very young Angelina Jolie. In a good way. 

But yes, this is written from recent, first hand experience. By the way, are we using the word "meme" correctly? The derivations from mimesis? To take on the property of.....?  Just checking.

And, Anonymous Commenter, thank you for "letting" me take any angle in want on your requested article about printers. Normally I just do whatever a handy authority figure orders me to do....

By the way, if  you are partial to looking at cellphone screens and think I am wrong to object you might be pleased to know that you can get the Kindle app for your iPhone or Android phone and read "The Lisbon Portfolio" between portfolio shows....


AndyG said...

Hi Kirk - first time post but long time follower - as ever a bit of basic common sense, but surprisingly, if my teen and early 20 somethings are to be believed still lessons to be learned out there.

many thanks for the continued inspiration


AlexG said...

Amen to that, prints all the way here, I even print things out to check how they look to me. Do make books but they are for children. I don't think I have ever looked at a work on a phone.

Cliff said...

Excellent advice. Anyone who thinks they are a photographer should read this post:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post.

I have decided to make a large iPad as well as a decent size Mac screen with retina my choice for displaying my work to people. I find that an artistically produced web site with some tasteful page transitions a nice way of displaying work from the 1990s to the present.

Print are indeed wonderful, however. When I was a small lad, I was shown how to make Cibachrome prints. At that time, I found those prints almost magical as the prints were revealed from the cylinders showing images of my favourite chromes.

I suppose that I find both methods of display almost equally effective.

Kirk Tuck said...

Let me toss in a caveat: You can show me one image to explain a technique or give me an idea of a situation but no more...

Noons said...

I still prefer to stash my prints in those old-fashioned stick-on books - sold nowadays mostly in Chinese curio shops.

I've found a Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 with an 8"screen a suitable vehicle for the digital era. With a large micro SD card, it can hold many thousands of around 1280X900 jpgs which I organize into subject folders. But I only use that one to hand it over to folks - like you said: let them play with it.

I'm very happy with the colour saturation and contrast, much better than a normal desktop screen. And it is very predictable and doesn't suddenly change the colour balance just because someone opened a door on the room.

For real impact though, nothing beats the large print!

Anonymous said...

Is that just a meme, Kirk, or have you actually seen/met someone who calls/considers him/herself a photographer with aspirations to sell their work who uses a smartphone to showcase his/her portfolio?

I have hard time believing that seasoned photographers do that, other than casually to their friends. Smartphone geeks, hipsters and millenials may be doing that al the time among their peers, but they don't count.

Speaking of printing, I hope you will dedicate one or two blog posts for printing and printers in the near future. Discussing your take on owning a high quality printer vs. outsourcing all printing, printing vs. digital display methods only, owning a photo printer in this time and age in general, and so on. Feel free to choose your own angle on the matter, but I bet such a topic would be interesting to many.

Fred said...

Last weekend there was an "art fair" next to one of the farmers' markets in town. One of the exhibitors was showing 16 x 20 view camera black and white landscapes. Not the ideal viewing setup but the size was great.

Kirk Tuck said...

At least they were big and printed. One imagines you could always move them into shade for closer, better observation... Nice to hear that there are still prints out there.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this! I've suffered enough "tiny" viewings to last a life time.

Craig Yuill said...

I recently saw a series of photos taken by a friend via her iPad. The photos looked pretty good, although I think decently-made prints (even 4x6's) would have looked even better. I'm glad I didn't try to reciprocate - the only device I have at this time is a BlackBerry with an even smaller screen than an iPhone. I'll need to get some prints made up.

Poagao said...

You think iPhones are bad, but it can get worse: A couple of women came up to me at my exhibition in Hangzhou a while back and proceeded to show me Every. Single. Photo. on their memory cards with the tiny screens on the back of their mid-2000's point-and-shoots. For each one, they would look at me, asking, "What do you think of THIS one?"

Andrea said...

"As though I'd be able to see the difference, on a cell phone screen, between his D800e and his new D810."
Oh, I was unable to tell the differences between them even looking at 36 Mb raw images on my 42" full HD tv that I use as a PC monitor. I assure you. ;)

almostinfamous said...

In all the times I've shown work, either to an agency or to a customer directly, the most positive reaction (and often a contract) has always and always come from prints.

There is nothing I hate more than handing over my Tablet to a potential customer and them doing the 2-finger spread thing over and over again and saying "oh why is there so much noise" (at 100000%) - almost enough that I usually fire them on the spot.

Brad Calkins said...

I remember reading a book a long time ago by Richard Dawkins and was wondering if he came up with the term that is now used so much on the web. Here is an interview with him on Wired about the use of the word he did indeed coin in his book 'The selfish gene': http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2013-06/20/richard-dawkins-memes

JGR said...

Kirk, I second the suggestion on doing an entry on printing. I gave up printing at home a while back and now send files to an online printer with very good results. What's your take on self printing verses send out?

Anthony Bridges said...

Hi Kirk. I took your advice several years ago and bought a respectable 11x14 black portfolio with nice, clearview sleeves that added to the price. It sits next to a 8x10 portfolio with similar specs on my coffee table in the den.

When I host clients and potential clients in my home, they gravitate towards the portfolios. I've also shown clients photos on my iPod in the past. They look quickly at the iPod images but linger with the portfolio prints. Never regretted having the portfolios done.