Small prints are gems

by Nick Kelsh

posted Thursday, April 2, 2015 at 3:25 PM EDT


I have a printer in my basement the size of an upright piano. It will make a print four feet wide and one hundred feet long if you’d like.

In any major photo gallery these days the prints are likely going to be really big and really beautiful. It’s wonderfully gratifying to have one of your photographs cover a wall and serious photographers can’t resist; count me among them. This recent technology is incredible.

But many of the first photographic prints were sized for lockets and picture frames the size of a playing card. They were one of a kind and as precious as jewelry. I don’t believe the appeal of a photographic gem has ever gone away—we just got a little distracted.

My hand. My son. My print. And, yes, he appears to playing with himself because he is. This picture makes me laugh. When I suggest you make little prints, I’m talking about prints not much bigger than a match book. Their size brings them power. Our world is full of big and bright; a little black and white picture will catch anyone’s eye.

Our world is full of opportunities to touch people with small prints. They can be hidden in books and drawers for viewers to find and treasure at the most unexpected and needed moments. You can touch someone with a piece of paper that’s smaller than two inches long. You can print ten of these images on one 8 x 10 sheet which makes the printing cost almost zero.

And they can be used to remind yourself why you get up and go to work in the morning. Put a picture of someone you love in your medicine cabinet and there’s always a smiling face waiting for you when you reach for the toothpaste. Toothpaste is better with a smile.

Opening a drawer to look for a nail and finding a little print of your child on his first day of kindergarten is a wonderful photographic surprise—even if you put it there yourself.

I love small black and white prints on heavy-weight, matte-finish paper. They feel like they’re a hundred years old before the ink is dry. I always imagine that I’m trying to make a Civil War period daguerreotype.

There are certain facial expressions or moods that just seem to sing in this format.I have a nice little cutting board and steel-edged ruler and I lovingly trim them with a sharp exacto knife. They’re beautiful.

Trying to figure out resolution and ISO can be frustrating. If you’ve been getting down on yourself lately for not cracking those two nuts open, maybe it’s time to get a gorgeous little gem printed and remind yourself of why we all do this.