A Photo Display System

It seems to me that the day of the framed photograph may about to be superseded by digital technology. Think about a digital (LED or other similar technology) display thinner than a typical photograph + frame. Such displays already exist.

Why not put an LED screen on the wall as an object of art; that is, why not display photographs on an LED as a household or office decoration?

What are the advantages over a traditional framed photograph?

  • Lit-up brilliance A photograph on an LED can take advantage of the lit-up capability and add a new dimension to both traditional, modern, and future photography. An LED can also display muted colors; it doesn’t have to be brilliant.
  • Multiple photos  Such a display system is not limited to one photograph. Photographs can be changed as often as desired.
  • Power The power for such a system can be provided by batteries or by normal electricity build into the wall.
  • Computer controlled Such a system can be computer controlled (e.g, desktop, laptop, tablet, smartphone).
  • Low cost The cost of such a system can be low today and will get lower in the future.

These are some characteristics to play with in designing a digital display system. Below is one example of how such a system might work.

This is my idea of a living room art system:

  • Six LEDs of varying sizes on the walls.
  • Controlled by a computer (e.g., a smartphone app).

This system, although seemingly ambitious, can be assembled to cost less than a serious stereo sound system. What can you do with such a system?

  • Change the photographs displayed occasionally to avoid boredom.
  • Create themes for the photographs displayed and use different themes for different occasions or for different looks (e.g., parties, Christmas, baroque, impressionist, etc).

The photographs for the 6-LED system will have to be ultra-high resolution (8K – 8192 x 4320) in order to display effectively on large LEDs and be usable in the future. Vendors will sell packages of photographs that meet the ultra-high-resolution requirements. Fine art photographers will take care to shoot photographs that meet the ultra-high-resolution requirements.

Sensors An HD (1920 x 1080) photograph requires a 2MP sensor. Virtually all digital cameras have more powerful sensors today. But an 8K photograph requires a 35MP sensor. Most of today’s digital cameras do not meet such a requirement. But an 8K photograph is only necessary for very large displays. So, a 5K photograph requiring only a 14MP sensor is a good interim standard to aim for. Keep in mind that most software will automatically enlarge an image that’s too small for the requisite display. But enlargement means a potential loss of quality. Thus, a higher resolution photograph is desirable.
Photographs can’t be fuzzy in large displays

The software for a LED system will enable a user to set the amount of lit-upness and other visual qualities for each photograph. So, it will be difficult to tell looking at an LED inside a wooden frame whether the display is an actual photograph print or a digital display.

Beyond photographs by photographers, there’s another dimension: photographs of art. People buy posters and coffee-table books in art museum shops published with photographs of the art in the museums. Why not digital display versions?

Keep in mind that the primary missing ingredient of an LED display of art is the texture. But you will be able to elect to add appropriate texture simulation via the software.

Of course, not all art lends itself to being displayed well on an LED screen. But a lot of art does. And some art looks better in photographs than the original work of art itself. My 6-LED system can turn a living room into an art museum.

17th April 2020, No. 2 iPad Drawing © David Hockney

By the way, my research shows that such a system is readily available today, primarily for commercial use (i.e., video wall systems for offices and business buildings) and very expensive. One application you will recognize is signage. For instance, in fast food places today, the menus are on LEDs. Although such systems are expensive today, prices will come down dramatically as systems become popular for home use. Digital components are not terribly expensive, and the software is simple.

But what about those of us who are still listening to AM radio, never had a big-time stereo system, and can’t afford such a 6-LED system? Well, LED screens of various sizes are inexpensive today and will be cheaper in the future. They are cheaper than many art frames today and will perhaps be as cheap as inexpensive frames in the future.

The system I have outlined doesn’t have to have six LED screens. It can have just one. The system uses LEDs as dumb terminals (receptive-only devices): in essence computer monitors. The screens are hooked up to power from the building; they have only enough storage for one photograph; they don’t have software; and they don’t have a CPU (computer). The image storage, software, and CPU are provided by a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. In other words, the computer-driven LED is likely to be the photograph frame of the future.

Of course, portable digital display devices have been available for a long time. They are self-contained with power (batteries), storage, CPUs, software, and LEDs all built in. They are designed to be setup on a flat horizonal surface, such as a table or desk; and they are intended primarily for friends and family snapshots.

So, the idea of using LEDs to display photographs is not a new one. And my 6-LED-room-display system in this article is just one idea of hundreds that might be devised using digital display technology; technology that exists today; technology that is about to revolutionize the future of photographs on display.

Will frame shops become extinct? Probably not. Frame shops may provide attractive frames for LEDs, perhaps frames that can be easily changed to match different photographic themes. Frame shops may also become the place to buy an LED-home-display system.

What about photographers? How will you sell your photographs? As NFTs? As 8K JPGs? In a copy-protection sales system such as Kindle or iTunes? In theme packages of multiple photographs? Something to think about.

Shoot the Antelope

The slot canyons near Page, Arizona belong to the Navaho Native Americans. To visit them you need a Navaho guide. So, I made a reservation for a three-hour visit. I showed up with about a dozen other people for the tour. Everyone else was a professional/fine-art photographer making the pilgrimage to Page to get the ionic shot of the sun streaming down into Antelope Canyon.

My version of the iconic photograph

To get the iconic shot, the Navaho guide picked up a hand full of sand and threw it up in the air. This set off the shaft of light just the right amount for an iconic photograph. It also put so much sand in my camera that it later took a full can of compressed air and 30 minutes to blow it all out. But what the hell, it’s an iconic shot.


There are several things to keep in mind. You need to wait until the right time (about noon) to get the iconic shot. There are electrical wires that stretch across the slot canyons from the Navaho coal-fired electricity-generating plants nearby; you will probably want to keep them out of your photos. There are a lot of people in Antelope at noon, even though access is controlled. You could get caught in a flash flood. There was one in 1997 that killed 11 people in Antelope Canyon. But what the hell, it’s an iconic shot.

I calculated with information at hand that about 17,000 professional/fine-art photographers take the iconic shot each year. That simply means if you want to achieve any photographic status more than just as a mere amateur, you will have to go to Page. No exceptions.

The Best Photography Technique

I was in Grand Gulch, Utah on a backpack trip and ran across a lama tour for photographers. (The lamas hauled the camping and photography equipment.) I talked to one of the photographers from London who had a gallery where he sells images of the US Southwest. He was photographing the Anasazi ruins with a large-format view camera. He told me that he took only one shot of any subject but that he was very careful in taking the shot. And he normally took up to two hours in setting up the shot.

Maybe that works, although occasionally he must get an unusable shot. And when he does, it’s inconvenient to return to Grand Gulch from London to get a replacement shot. But for most artists who are photographers, that’s not a normally smart or efficient way of producing art. Indeed, just the opposite is true; keep shooting until you can’t stand up any longer. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. But shooting lots and lots of shots is a time-honored photographic technique that most fine-art photographers use routinely.

After Glow – Best of 22 shots

Even those iconic photographs taken on the spur of the moment within a window of opportunity only a few seconds or minutes long are the usually the result of taking multiple shots. For the above photograph, I walked out the door and saw a brilliant sunset. By the time I hurried inside, got my camera, and ran out the door to a good place to take a photograph (about 2 minutes), the brilliance was gone, unfortunately. But with 22 shots (over about 3 minutes) I was able to capture a useable remanent of the spectacular sunset.

I’m not saying that careful photography is not de rigueur. Of course, it is. But multiple careful shots are more productive of good photography. For instance, have you ever taken a photograph of someone outside that turned out to be the perfect photograph; but in postprocessing the subject turned out to have a tree branch growing out of their ear? In an uncontrolled environment (most photography), unless you take an inordinate amount of time setting up a shot, you take a substantial risk of ending up with a shot that’s not usable. And long setups are just not practical much of the time.

Try using a mental checklist for each photograph. You can do it in less than a minute; and you can take a lot of shots and still be careful.

Of course, stationary objects where the light is not changing very quickly are more susceptible to generous amounts of time spent being careful. For the following photograph, I had plenty of time to shoot. So, I shot 24 photographs to be sure I got the photograph I wanted.

Creek Garden –  Best of 24 shots

Then there is the shooting situation. If you are with someone else (hiking, traveling, exploring, etc), invariably you don’t have the time to take carefully executed shots. You need to keep up with the group or person you’re with. Thus, taking multiple shots is your best bet of getting the photograph you envision.

Even during the years of film, professional photographers used lots of rolls of film to insure they got the shots they wanted.  On a photo field trip, the difference between an amateur and professional photographer was typically that the amateur brought along three rolls of film and the professional brought thirteen. Today with virtually unlimited cheap digital storage, there is no reason not to use this valuable technique. Just shoot a lot of photographs.

Of course, each shot should be not only careful, but each shot should be a little different. Change the exposure, angle, framing, or depth of field an increment for each shot. In other words, bracket the photo op with a lot of incremental shots. You are more likely to get what you want (to satisfy your vision of the photograph to be taken). And you will substantially reduce the risk of a missed opportunity.

Finally, what about the great photograph you take inadvertently? It doesn’t happen very often for me. But it happens more often when I take more shots.

One of many carelessly snapped shots turned out to be pretty good

I try to take a lot of photographs, often to the delay of the group or person I’m with. And when I’m alone, I take shots until the tedium becomes unbearable. I have never felt I took too many shots. I have often felt I didn’t take enough; that is, I couldn’t get the photograph I envisioned. So, my advice to myself is to take even more photographs in every situation.

What’s the downside? Well, you may have a bigger editing job. But do you really? Let’s say you take a dozen photographs of a subject. You know what your vision is of what the photograph should be. If you have captured your vision, you can quickly pick it out from a dozen photographs. If you haven’t captured your vision, you will also know quickly.

If you haven’t captured your vision, the editing process becomes more difficult. You need to evaluate whether one of those dozen photographs can be manipulated in post processing to match your vision. But just the fact that you may be able to correct your deficiency in post processing is a benefit of generous shooting.

There are plenty of other benefits to shooting lots of shots. But let’s keep it simple. Suffice to say that shooting lots of shots has been a technique that has separated professionals from amateurs for many decades, and it continues in the new digital age.


by Joseph T. Sinclair

The classic photographic angle for shooting is 4.7 feet off the ground to 6 feet off the ground; that is, it depends on the height of the standing photographer. Clearly, this angle is not one-size-fits-all. Consequently, you should strive to take photographs from an angle that best suits the subject. The question is, how do you do that?

First, always be aware of what the possibilities are. For example, you can easily change the angle just by sitting down and shooting or even lying on your stomach. Such an angle is not appropriate for all photos, but it can add a lot of drama to some photos.


Taken at lower than eyelevel on a trail along the Carquinez Strait


Taken flat on the ground

Second, if you have an articulating LCD screen on your camera,  you can set it so that you can lower your camera at arm’s length or raise your camera at arm’s length to get an extra couple feet for a different angle in your shot. You need to set the articulation, of course, so that you can see the screen while you shoot.

Third. Can you climb on something nearby to get a higher angle shot without being arrested? I don’t advocate jumping on top of someone else’s car, but there may be something nearby that you can climb on safely and get that extra high shot. If you’re doing a well-prepared photo shoot, you can even bring along a stepladder to get a higher shot.

Fourth. Can you find a place where you can get a low shot? I don’t advocate removing manhole covers and climbing down into the sewer to get a street-level shot. But there are plenty of places where you might be able to get significantly downhill from the subject to take a good shot.


Gerald R. Ford memorial nondominational chapel at Beaver Creek, Colorado

Fifth, along a horizontal plane, you can change your angle by moving right or left. It’s usually standing in front of the subject that might be the least interesting. But with a little energy, you might visit each side of the subject to see whether you can get a good side-angle shot that’s better than a front shot.

Sixth, what about a shot from behind? Maybe shooting the subject head on is not your best photo. Maybe getting behind the subject and shooting will give you a better photo or at least an additional worthwhile photo.


A horse of a different angle

Seventh, think of your subject as having a transparent geodesic dome over it and that you can take a photo from any place on the dome that you can reach safely (e.g., by walking, climbing, or drone).

Eighth, consider all the angles that might bring you some additional interest. For instance, if you consider all the angles, you might come with an angle it has a surprising foreground or background that you had not previously perceived. You might see additional subjects that you can include in your photograph that are otherwise not visible from your original shooting angle.

Ninth, when you find yourself at an unusual angle, take full advantage of it while you can. For instance, if you happen to be driving along the top of a hill, stop and take a look to see if there’s a good photograph to be taken of something below.



Taken from a cruise ship in Alaska 70 feet above the water

Tenth, dive into the subject (the scene) to look for a photo. I once got to sit in the middle of the Denver Symphony Orchestra while in rehearsal, a great photo-op. For a more pedestrian example, most people go to the Grand Canyon, stand on the rim, and take photos. Sure, you can get some great shots. Never mind the haze in the air from West Coast pollution that’s been there for last 60 years. And when you’re done, you have the same photos that have been on 900 million postcards going back more than a century. But if you take the nearest trail down into the canyon, with each step down you’ll begin to see fantastic photo-ops that you’ve never seen before. It doesn’t matter which trail; you don’t have to go very far; and most of the tourist trails are not difficult. It’s the same world from a different angle. The different angle yields original new images.

Rotation of 100-0096_IMG-d

On a trail in the Grand Canyon below the rim

Finally, think ahead and go prepared. For instance, if you’re going to shoot flowers for several hours and be on your knees much of the time doing so, take along some knee pads. If you going to shoot insects laying on your stomach for a considerable time, take along a blanket to lay on. If you’re going to climb a hill to get a good angle, wear some sturdy shoes or hiking boots.

Cam – Mic – Zoom

For those who haven’t participated in a Zoom meeting yet, it is very compelling. Give it a try. The Club’s Zoom meetings have been great fun. The essence is that video really makes the meetings compelling, but there seem to be many participants without video. I encourage everyone to get a video camera (cam).

Most laptops, tablets, and smartphones have built-in microphones (mics) and cams. If you have a desktop computer (or laptop) without a mic and cam, however, you can purchase USB mics and cams that work well.

Logitech seems to have a monopoly on the high-quality cams, but Logitech is out of stock most of the time (same for Amazon and other vendors). Logitech cams sell on eBay now for 100% to 300% of MSRP, including the used ones. Very old models sell for high prices too. This won’t last forever, but the demand is very high now.

Unbranded cams sell as low as $20 on Amazon. I recommend buying a more expensive one with more features (e.g., $40 to $80). Check the reviews and make sure the delivery date is soon. Many cams come with a built-in mic, particularly the most recent and higher-priced models. Of course, attending a Club Zoom meeting is worth much more than $80.

If you need a mic, there are some good quality USB podcast mics available for $40 to $70 that you can find by googling “best inexpensive microphones for podcasting.” But many less expensive USB mics work well too.

If you want a really sharp video image with a great sound, you will need to spend $100 or more on a Logitech cam, if you can find one that isn’t marked up above MSRP and is available now. But some of the more expensive unbranded cams on Amazon might be high quality too. Of course, Amazon isn’t the only place to buy cams. Most of the places that sell computers and cameras also sell cams.

FYI: Zoom had 10 million daily participants in December 2019. Today it has 300 million daily participants. A Zoom account is free; but more useful Zoom accounts (bigger meetings) cost a monthly fee. You do not have to have a Zoom account to participate in a Zoom meeting. Zoom has been the leader in virtual meetings because it is very easy for participants to use, and it works well.


Gift Photograph

It seems like a good idea that a fine art photograph makes a good present (Christmas, birthday, wedding, anniversary, or special occasion). But it may not be a good idea without qualifications. Why not?

  1. Most people (except young people just starting their adult lives) don’t have vacant wall space. If you give them a medium-size or large photograph as a present, they may have no wall space to hang it.
  2. Unless you put a frame around it, the recipient may never use it. Framing is expensive.
  3. Art is enjoyed according to taste, which is very personal. The recipient may not appreciate your photographic art.

A photograph that answers the above concerns, however, may be an appropriate gift. And a small metal print answers such concerns.

  1. It’s small. People can always find a place to hang a small print.
  2. It doesn’t need a frame. Thus, it can be less expensive than a framed paper print.
  3. If the recipient doesn’t like it, it’s not a lot of wasted money.

A photograph that you purposely take to be a small photograph (rather than just any photography you shrink down) can be a great photograph. Small is not necessarily lower quality.

Accordingly, giving a fine art photograph as a present isn’t inherently a bad idea. It’s just an idea that requires a little common sense.


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