Beginning Photography

How to Give Photographs as Gifts

Should you give a piece of fine art photography as a gift? It isn’t always the best idea since tastes differ. Instead, give images with sentimental value.

When gift giving season rolls around, the temptation is always there for photographers to give their art as a gift. Birthdays, holidays like Christmas – you name it, it just seems like the best way to give someone a meaningful gift… But is it really such a good idea?

On the surface, it seems like you are giving something wonderful, something that is valuable sentimentally. After all, you are giving part of your creative vision, something that you spent hours of your own time crafting. Moreover, photographs can be highly personalized, which is something that you just can’t do with the majority of off the shelf gifts. Your gift of a photograph seems like something that your friend or loved one would be happy to hang on a wall and enjoy for many years to come.

That is how we imagine the gift-giving process will go, but the reality is something else entirely.

The Problem with Giving Art as a Gift

The major problem with giving art to your friends and family is that art is an incredibly personal thing – very subjective in a way that most other material goods are not. No one individual will enjoy all of the same pieces of art as any other person.

For instance, let's say that a person you know loves horses. Can you guarantee that they will love all artistic images of horses? Unlikely. Rather, your horse-loving friend probably enjoys certain styles, colors of horses, and other variables that will change from one piece to the next.

So should you really give your own art as a gift? In my opinion, no, you should not. We simply are not equipped to know the precise tastes that another person has. You can’t guarantee that someone will love an image enough to hang it on the wall, so it may end up collecting dust in a closet instead. This, of course, sets both the gift giver and the recipient up for disappointment – the recipient disappointed that they received a gift they don’t particularly want, and afraid that they might disappoint the gift giver, and the giver is disappointed that the recipient didn’t enjoy their present as much as hoped.

Now, there is one exception to this rule. If someone has expressly asked you for a particular image, then they will almost certainly enjoy receiving it as a gift. But to avoid hurt feelings around the board, you should only do this if the person has truly expressed interest. If you have shown images to your friends or family, and someone has talked about how much they love a specific image, if they have taken the time to examine the photograph and point out details that catch their eye, then you’ll be relatively certain that your recipient is going to continue to enjoy that photograph for years to come.

What Kinds of Photography Can You Safely Give?

I’ve made the case that you should not give art as a gift when it is unsolicited, but does that mean you should avoid giving photography at all? On the contrary, there are many things you can do that aren’t related directly to fine art but will be enjoyed by almost everyone.

I’m thinking of things like family photos, candid photography of their children playing in the backyard, photos of a person’s pets, or a prized hot rod that they have been working on out in their garage for years. Something personal, something contains subject material that means the world to the recipient. These types of images are almost always appreciated because the recipients can’t help but love the subject material since it is something that is precious to them.

Further, there are lots of ways to give these images. Make a collage, or put together an album or scrapbook. Give single large prints or a series of smaller prints. The choice is yours, depending on the subject material and how you feel it should be displayed.

How Should You Give Prints?

I talked about photo albums and other ways to give out images, but the most popular way to give photography as a gift is as a print. Sometimes, however, photographers take that too literally and give only the print, assuming that the recipient would rather handle the matting and framing themselves.

To my mind, this is an incomplete gift. Photographers should always handle matting or framing unless the recipient specifies otherwise ahead of time. Frankly, professional matting and framing is expensive. If you decide to give the print only, then you are placing this financial burden on the recipient, and they may not appreciate that.

So how should you go about framing? In many instances, you’ll probably know the kinds of décor that your family and friends enjoy, and if not, then pay close attention to the types of frames that they use the next time you visit.

If you are still unsure, then choose frames in neutral colors – medium to light wood, silver-toned matte metal, black frames, and so on. Avoid ornately carved frames since these can be hard for people to match with the rest of their furnishings. When you choose the mat board, you can’t go wrong black or white, or complementary but neutral color that plays on a color found in the photograph.

When you go through the effort so that your gift’s recipient doesn’t have to, then it is much more likely that you’ll see your gift proudly displayed the next time you visit their home.

Photographs as gifts can be a wonderful idea, but for the most part, only when the images are personally relevant to the people that you are giving them to. Take care to mat and frame your images properly so that the proud new owners can display them easily. If you do it right, you’ll be giving someone an heirloom that they will cherish for years to come.

About the author

Will Moneymaker

Will has been creating photographs and exploring his surroundings through his lens since 2000. Follow along as he shares his thoughts and adventures in photography.