How to Display Framed Photographs On a Wall
A large gallery display of photographs is an attractive way to infuse any room with warmth and style.
Since I love taking pictures (especially of my daughters) and had a large unused wall, I wanted to create a striking photo display but wasn't sure exactly how to do it and achieve the effect I was looking for.
So... I did a whole bunch of research on the best ways to display photos on a wall and compiled what I learned here for the benefit of others, like me, who have lots of pictures just waiting to be hung on a big empty wall.
Basic Principles of Creating a Photo Wall Display
It sounds simple: Just place your favorite pictures in frames of different sizes and shapes and hang them in a mosaic pattern. There are, however, some general guidelines that will help make your wall look especially beautiful.
- Frames should hang at eye level (slightly above five feet from the floor). Hang them a little bit higher if you have high ceilings (or a very tall family - LOL).
- Help the display come together by using similar photo styles (i.e. black-and-white or sepia), frames, or mat color. Don't be afraid to contrast. For example, if you're using all black-and-white photos, use frames of varying textures and sizes to add some pizzazz.
- Some interesting but simple arrangements include diamond or rectangular shapes. You might want to choose one that will be easy to add to until you’ve formed an overall shape that works for you.
- If you’re short on space, consider collage or multi-picture frames. With this type of frame, you're able to artfully display many photos in a small amount of space. Many options exist in this category and you can easily find both hanging and tabletop designs.
- A great hanging kit can work wonders in helping to easily and efficiently complete your photo wall display!
What You'll Need
Before you start, you'll need the following:
- Hanging equipment (nails and a hammer, or hooks if you want to avoid marking up your wall)
- Laser level or push pins and thread (for keeping the frames straight)
- Paper and scissors (optional)
How to Start Creating the Photo Wall of Your Dreams
- Determine what kind of look you're going for: sleek, homey, whimsical, artsy, etc.
- Choose the pictures you want to feature. It might help to start out with more than you need and then narrow down based on space, mood, or fit.
- Before putting any nails in the wall, lay the frames on the ground and play with different arrangements to see how they'll look. Start at the center and work outwards. For example, if you' re going for a rectangular look, choose your wall, then place three identical size frames in the center to establish a focal point. Then add rows, grouping pictures about 1-2 inches apart, to form a square or rectangle.
- Once you've found a shape you like, transfer it frame by frame to the wall.
- Another way to find an arrangement that is pleasing to the eye is to use paper outlines of the pieces you wish to hang; tape them to the wall to help visualize alternative arrangements and decide how you want to proceed (see video above).
- To hang straight rows of frames – always a timeless and sophisticated option – use string stretched between two pushpins as a guide. You can also choose to use a laser level to accomplish this. Make sure to use a level after hanging each frame to be sure each frame is straight before moving on to the next.
- Remember, multiple frames look best when arranged in a diamond, rectangular, or square shape. Also, they should be spaced relatively tightly—1-2 inches apart. A looser grouping can work for a more casual display.
- For stairwell displays, make sure you follow the upward angle of the steps. This can be made easier by using string and pushpins or a laser level.
You might want to have a wall-decoration-hanging buddy who can give you feedback on the design as it takes shape! As a bonus, they can also help you make sure everything is level.
Creating a Dramatic Display: Hints for Heightening the WOW Factor of Your Photo Wall
Here are some tips for taking your design to the next level:
- Choosing identical frame styles is a great way to make a powerful design statement. Matching frames, sizes, colors (of the pictures or frames), or textures is a way to play with symmetry and bring your display together.
- Mix it up, using a combination of shadow boxes and framed works. A mixture of textures and patterns is always pleasing to the eye (when done in moderation).
- Have a focal point in your display. Its center should be at eye level (66'' off the ground is a good rule of thumb).
- Instead of one big arrangement of photos, you could also create several groupings of smaller framed pictures that will complement your furniture and floor coverings.
- Another option is producing the impression of a single dramatic image by framing similar pictures or pieces of art (like a series of abstract paintings) in similarly-sized frames and hanging them tightly together.
- Wall color plays a big part in how photographs look. Take a hint from museums and use a contrast color to add drama.
- Pictures and/or artwork don’t always have to be framed. You could hang unframed prints or pictures from a length of wire with clips for an unconventional display.
- If you can't or don't want to hang pictures, you could opt for placing pictures on a ledge, spacing them evenly and staggering frame heights. You could even overlap a couple of the frames.
- Use frame risers to add depth to your display, bringing some photos forward off the wall.
- People love stories. Line up framed pieces in chronological order to build a timeline of your growing child, a family vacation, or another important event, and let your visitors connect the dots.
- If you need some more inspiration, this article from Pottery Barn has some nice frame layouts for you to consider.
More Display Ideas for Your Wall!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Co-Design in Action
Carolyn (from the comments below) contacted me wanting some help creating a display of her daughter's wedding pictures for her stairwell. I gave her some tips and she created a draw-up, almost to scale, of the number and size of frames she wanted to use.
When she had trouble tweaking it, she emailed the drawings to me for help. I printed it out (it all fit on one page) and cut out all of the individual frames. Then I had some fun on my desk moving them around and creating several potential designs.
I photographed each one and emailed the pictures to her and she loved them. I repeated the process here so readers can see just how easy it is to play around with ideas until you figure out which one works for you.
You can see the pictures I sent to Carolyn below.
Four Different Collage Ideas for the Stairwell with the Same FramesClick thumbnail to view full-size
I hope this was helpful! If you have any other questions, tips or comments, say so below in the comments section.