Background Wall for Hanging Photos : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hello Again

I've read in certain sources (AA, for one) that a mid-gray background wall is the best thing for exhibiting photos (mounted and matted in the conventional way on white board, etc.). AA pointed out that mid-green or mid-blue etc. would do as well. I've seen this done and agree strongly. It seems so patently true, in fact, that I cringe when I walk into a gallery exhibit of fabulous images hung on the usual white wall. Anyhow, I'm about to paint the main wall area of our livingroom one of these kinds of strong colors to make a good space for pictures. Does anyone have any tips? Obviously, the lighting situation of my particular room, plus color of the floor etc. etc. is critical, but I'd be interested in comments.

jeff buckels (albuquerque)

-- Jeff Buckels (, July 07, 2001


Oh no, don't do it!

Ansul Adams may have been a great photographer by some standards but obviously he was a lousy architect or interior designer.

Art is important, it should be showcased without distraction. There is a reason why the great majority of the finest museums have white painted walls and light oak wood flooring. These materials are neutral and non-distracting.

Obviously this all is a matter of taste and opinion, so I have provided you with a professional consultation with it's value equal to the fee charged. ;-)


Michael J. Kravit, AIA Architect

-- Michael J. Kravit (, July 07, 2001.

sorry mike, but it really does work--amazingly well---you should try it. Adams saw this done in a gallery in europe (so others have done it as well)

Jeff, My wife painted several rooms in our house with a dark royal purple type paint--kind of earthy-- (I believe that Adams suggested a 20% reflectance) and with selenium toned images it makes the prints come alive like I have never seen before.

-- mark lindsey (, July 07, 2001.

This not a recommendation for wall paint, but the most striking display I have seen of my prints was done by a lady who asked me to frame them in silver and then hung them on a medium red wall. For the background in our booth at art shows, I used an off-white slightly tan image. It looks good, especially with outdoor lighting.


-- Doug Paramore (, July 07, 2001.

The problem with white walls for display of relatively small works of art is that the overall reflectance of the background determines, to a considerable extent, the pupilary response of the viewer's eyes. This has a definite effect on how the viewer perceives the tonal range of the print. I beleive you will see a better rendition of shadow detail if the background is a middle value instead of white. I agree with steering away from super saturated colors because where there is an absence of same (the actual monochrome print) the viewer will tend to percieve the complement of that color. For example, bright red walls, greenish tinge to the prints. That's just the physiology of human vision at work. I do believe middle values work real well and as far as color, I currently have about 18 (24 x 30 framed) images on the walls of one client who painted every wall in their facility a different low intensity hue and they look better than they have anywhere else.

-- Robert A. Zeichner (, July 07, 2001.

I thought I liked white, but there's a wall in my house that's painted a dull rose, or mauve, I guess you'd call it, and I have to say the B& W work looks really good on it. Another wall is a light bluish-gray (Zone VI) and the B&Ws look good on that.

-- Sandy Sorlien (, July 07, 2001.


Hey, no problem. The majority of my clients do not listen to me either.... ;-)

On the other side of the coin I must tell you that in my own home I have a gallery wall of fine B&W prints. The wall is finished with a light gray/taupe linen wall covering. The images have 6" white matts and mahogany wood frames. The resulting display is outstanding.


-- Mike Kravit (, July 07, 2001.


AA's book "The Making of 40 Photographs" sports a forest green cover which works very well with B&W prints... I used a similar color for the background on my website, which is nothing more than an online gallery of my work. If you're interested here's the address:

Like I said, I got the idea from the book, and I think I read somewhere that in addition to green, he thought that a "chocolate brown" of around 20% reflectance was ideal.


-- Mark Minard (, July 07, 2001.

Jeff, proper lighting will do more for your work than paint colors will...

-- Steve Clark (, July 07, 2001.

Hi Jeff,

I have been down this road twice. Once in my girlfriends gallery and most recently my living room. What we did was use the spot meter to weed out the colors that were close to the proper reflectance, ie. neutral grey. We would take a reading on the grey card and then on the color swaths that interested us. The gallery is green and my livingroom is now a rose/brick color which looks stuning with black framed B&W photos. I also installed track lighting with a dimer switch in both places.

-- Paul Mongillo (, July 12, 2001.

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