5 simple steps to get your photos on your walls by Neil Alexander

The glacial lagoon at Jökulsárlón, South East Iceland. Framed and ready to hang.

Today’s topic is something that I regularly get asked about which means it’s about time I wrote a short piece on the subject, specifically making prints from photographs on your smartphone. 

So how many pictures do you have on your phone? I’ll answer that for you. I bet there are hundreds, if not thousands. And how often do you look at them? If you don’t mind, I’ll take the liberty of answering that one too - I bet rarely, if at all. But I’d also wager that there are some moments on there that bring back great memories. Maybe even some really good photographs too. 

So what to do with them? Just keeping them as digital bytes in your phone's memory is a total waste in my opinion. Photographs need to be printed. It’s their reason for being. 

So here’s some simple ways to bring your megapixels to life.

Using AirPrint to print a photograph on an iPhone or iPad

Using AirPrint to print a photograph on an iPhone or iPad

 1. One of the simplest methods is to use an AirPrint printer.   There are hundreds, if not thousands of printers that are AirPrint compatible. If you bought yours in the last couple of years then it's highly likely that it'll be compatible. See here for a list. Don’t worry if your printer isn’t on that list. There are several workarounds, some easier than others on this PC Advisor article. Bear in mind when printing yourself that the ink cartridges for some printers can be really expensive. My mother-in-law a few years back had a budget Dell printer for which it transpired the inks were so expensive, it would have been cheaper to buy a replacement model of the same printer every time (it came full of ink) rather than buy replacement cartridges. Bonkers I know. Also beware of unofficial inks. The price may seem attractive as they are often a fraction of the cost of the legit ones, but you know that old adage about something looking too good to be true?

  2. An alternative is to use an app for a print lab like Snapfish (iOS), (Android) Photobox (iOS) (Android), Tesco (iOS) (Android) amongst many others. The downside is that you might have to wait a day or two for your prints. On the flip side if you’re not printing too often then it might make financial sense. In fact the one that my wife uses is Polagram (iOS) (Android). They do 4”x5” prints from 29p and the app is so easy to use that we’ve been inundated with prints dropping through the letterbox lately.

  3. The method I use, mainly because I’m a little bit anal about my prints is to download them to my computer and then print them. 90% of my workflow is spent in an Adobe application titled Lightroom. It’s on it’s fifth iteration of the product now and it blows all other image cataloging and editing applications out of the water. It’s not expensive either. You can get it as part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription service for under £9 a month.  One of the recent major advancements is that it now syncs with my iPhone and my iPad, so not only can I easily have my print galleries stored on my devices to show off (sorry, off topic) but it now also syncs up my iPhone pics to my Lightroom catalog on my iMac. From there printing is easy peasy. You can even send them off to a printer and have them printed pretty big. Here's a guide to how big you can really go. Two of my favourite labs for this are DS Colour Labs in Didsbury and Loxley Colour in Glasgow.

  4. The final option (I think), if you don’t want to print them yourself and want them instantly (well almost) is to use one of those Kodak Picture Kiosks that you find in large supermarkets and shopping malls and the like (I’m sure there are other brands available).  I would say that they’re largely fool proof though I was in Jessops a few years back watching some poor shop assistant almost tearing his hair out trying to show a rather vacant customer how to use the machine. In the end he gave up and did it all for her. Best part of 30 minutes he spent with her and I think she only printed 5 in the end. Poor lad.

  5. But wait. You’ve not finished. Getting prints made and then keeping them in a shoe box on the top shelf of the linen cupboard is just as criminal as never peeping at those little digital pixels again. They need to go in a frame on the wall, on a shelf, above the telly, stuck to the fridge with magnets, on a pin board next to the hob, on a mug for Grandma’s birthday. The options these days are only limited by your imagination. For inexpensive framing options, I'd highly recommend eFrame. Their site even allows you to upload a picture of the artwork to be framed and then overlays your mounts and frame so you can see how they all work together before purchasing. If you're really feeling adventurous, you could have a go at this clever technique to print straight onto wood.

So there you go. I hope that helps someone out there to make some prints from their smartphone.

Remember: Those pixels were made to be printed! 

Until next time.



Using nature to frame the subject by Neil Alexander

Stirling Castle, Scotland. Prints and canvases of this and other images of castles can be seen here.

A simple skill for any photographer to improve their compositional skills is to learn how to frame a subject. It can focus the viewer's eye on an area of the photograph where you’d like their eye to fall initially. But why bother? Because as photographers, we’re visual storytellers and in our photographs we have to be able to clearly demonstrate to the viewer what the subject is to draw them in to our work. Popping a frame of some description around it simplifies matters for the viewer and helps to focus (excuse the pun) the eye on what I intended to be the key element of the photograph. Clearly, the castle is the smallest element in the photograph but you see it first. It’s a very simple lesson and very easy to do.

Taken quite literally at the side of the road, the gaps in the trees either side of this spot were either too big (I couldn’t get enough of them in the frame) or they were too close together (and the castle become a much larger element in the image). By just taking my time to assess the scene before I planted my tripod gave me the opportunity to make a much better photograph than if I’d just jumped out the car and started shooting at the first scene I saw. 

Rules? What rules? by Neil Alexander

Many of you will have heard me bleat on about the “rules" of composition in the past and why it’s important to learn what they are. Then without breaking stride I go and tell you to break them. 
What is this nonsense??

Well it’s quite simple really. You don’t necessarily need to know how something works in order to use it. Take a car for example. I would hazard a guess that only a fraction of the people who use one actually have the faintest idea what goes on under the bonnet. If for some reason though, you decided you wanted to improve your car somehow, you wouldn’t stand much of a chance unless you understood how a car works. Is that analogy working for you? Nope. Let’s try something else.

You like to read. A great novel can captivate you and keep you glued to the book until the wee small hours. You decide that maybe you could have a go at this writing malarkey yourself. How hard can it be right? You spend hours and hours pouring over your first draft and then give it to your partner to read. They laugh hysterically at the utter drivel you have penned. This is not the reaction that you anticipated or wanted. Devastated, you decide to take a class in creative writing and subsequently churn out another version. Having learnt the basic rules of creating a story, your second version is a major improvement and it’s actually received rather well. But it’s still not a J.K. Rowling. Not disheartened you then go on to take an advanced writing course and the penny finally drops. You suddenly get it. All the rules and pointers that had originally gone over your head suddenly make perfect sense and with renewed vigour you perform a complete rewrite. This time you know exactly what you should be doing and how you should be doing it. In places you take a gamble and knowing full well what you should be doing, you deviate. You mix it up a little and experiment. The result is an outstanding success because not only have you discovered a formula, but you’ve found your formula. You’ve learnt the rules and then bent and twisted them to make something a little different. Something that deviates from the norm but still works. In fact it works better than the standard formula because you completely understand what you're doing. You get the rules and understand the implications of bending and breaking them.

It’s the same with photography. The “rules” are only there as guidelines. There’s no such thing as right or wrong in photography or even in art as a whole. I’m sure that the first time Mondrian came up with the idea of all those lines and boxes, people said he was nuts and they would never sell. The same for Tracy Emin and her bonkers art. The fact that I don’t get her doesn’t mean she’s doing anything wrong.

And finally to the photograph above. The “rules of composition” would state this image does not work. But it does. In fact when I posted it on 500px just the other day, it reached a Pulse of 96.7 so I’m clearly not the only one who thinks this. I’ve placed the three trees in the middle of the frame, and the sun, that the viewers’ eye is instantly drawn to, isn’t far from being drop dead centre. It’s certainly not in any of the “thirds”. 

It was shortly after dawn one February morning 5 years ago when I made this. I experimented with different compositions at the time, but it became apparent very quickly that this format was going to work. Ask me to comment on why exactly it works is a different story. This I can’t do. I just know that it does. I’ve always been dreadful at trying to critique photographs. Putting words together has never been my forté. That’s why I’m a photographer :-)