The amazing thing about the digital world is that now, we have access to everything. You don’t have to be living in the same neighborhood as some of the world’s coolest galleries to find quality artwork for your home. There are quite a few online sites give us access to photography that not only showcase a range of styles but also price points. However, this medium has remained somewhat enigmatic to most of us. What to look for, why is it so expensive (sometimes) and how to properly frame it – are questions that still linger.

We sat down with one of the leading online resources for good photography, PurePhoto, to see if they could give us an insider perspective on how to make the right choice. Ryan Phillips, CEO and Co-founder of PurePhoto, shed some light on a few questions we had.

What do you look for when you bring on a new photographer on PurePhoto?
PurePhoto is always looking for emerging artists with fresh a perspective and comprehensive bodies of work. We determine if there is consistency in style, while exploring subject matter in a new and alternative way. Our curators specifically search for works whose subject and style separate it from similar work.

Our curators also look for technical perfection as we often print images in large custom sizes. Many interior designers and clients we work with want their art to be the focal point of a room. Sizes such as 50”x70 or 60”x80” are not uncommon. In some instances, clients have requested custom wall murals as larger as 12’H x 28’W. All of our artists have very large file sizes so we have the option of offering their work as large scale prints with perfect clarity and detail.

How can someone tell good photography from amateur photography, online?
This is a very common question in this industry and since art is so subjective, I like to rephrase the question into “Do you like what you see?” Art should inspire you, create a mood, bring up a memory, or offer some other deep connection to it. The rest is slightly irrelevant. I could hang something in my home that a gallery told me was great and would increase in value but that doesn’t mean that it will. Furthermore, it doesn’t even mean I will get enjoyment out of it. We try to connect the work with our buyers on a personal level because, for us, Art is also a reflection of your personal brand.

With that said, yes there are big differences between the good work and the bad.

Ask yourself how much thought went into the work. Really think about the subject matter and how it was portrayed. What treatment went into the final image? Do you really see the work as having been refined and not just snapped on an iPhone, shot by a socialite at some hot L.A party or through a moving car window headed out to Monaco?

“How difficult was it to take the shot?” Is an important marker for us. We have photographers travel into the middle of the arctic circle and wait for weeks in sub-zero temperatures for the perfect shot. Or only shoot at 4am-5am in some really bad neighborhoods to get a specific look. If someone is willing to put that much thought into a shot and work that hard for it, it’s a good indicator of how difficult it was to make. Thus what makes it so unique and ultimately come with a higher price tag.

Color is another important indicator. Great work will have very refined color palettes, good use of complementary colors and/or moods created through the use of color. You will notice that very little of our work was shot in the middle of the day from a standard camera angle with an “out of camera” color palette. We rarely accept one-off images anymore because they have not gone through the process of refining their body of work over several years so the work lacks the quality and consistency of a more seasoned photographer.

Having that in mind, don’t be afraid to purchase a print by an unknown photographer. Don’t be afraid to seek out new and exciting works by lesser known and/or emerging artists online. That’s not a rule of thumb indicator. Look for something that really moves you!

What are the options for printing with PurePhoto?
PurePhoto works closely with our printers to ensure all of the files and materials used in printing are of the highest quality. We are “Paper Geeks”. We find the right paper for each print and test it to make sure it’s the best material to enhance everything that file has to offer in order to make it the most stunning it can be. It’s why designers love us and why we have an a-list clientele. They can see the difference and aren’t willing to sacrifice. We offer a variety of paper types such as the Hahnemuehle 308 Photo Rag paper, Epson Premium Luster, Epson Premium Gloss and Metallic Vibrance by Breathing Color. Most often, paper selection depends on the subject matter and colors expressed in the photo. Certain papers can help enhance a photo’s appearance in such a subtle way. When printing Mike Kelley’s black and white LA Aerials I often use a Metallic paper to offer a bit of a chrome appearance. One may not notice the metallic paper, but the detail and clarity can be enhanced and offer amazing results.

Sometimes framing can influence the paper type as well. For instance, when we face mount prints we always print on a glossy paper as it seamlessly adheres to the plexi with no air bubbles. That’s a crucial distinction for the longevity of the face-mounting process.

We work with our clients on custom sizes, substrates and framing options. Other than a few strict guidelines for some of our limited edition work, you can have it any way you want it.

When should you choose matte, gloss or metallic printing?
The finish you choose on paper also has a huge impact on the final piece. We prefer matte on a rag paper in most instances because you get amazing color saturation and no glare. It really allows you to focus on the art itself and have the mood or subject matter conveyed to the viewer. We typically don’t choose gloss as the colors can get overly vibrant and there is a lot of added reflection. We typically reserve gloss for the face-mounting process as it’s imperative that it adheres to the glass without forming little air bubbles in the pockets of the fiber papers which can separate from the glass over time and become visible. We have seen this become rampant in the industry even by some well known galleries and photographers.

And as I said earlier, Metallic can give some extra snap and added contrast to a photograph and really bring out the detail in a graphic print. It should definitely be reserved for specific prints and not used casually.

Why is professional photography expensive, besides obviously the cost for artistic expression?
We find ourselves answering this question a lot. There are several reasons why fine art photography can be expensive. Most professional photographers have invested a lot of time, money and resources into creating and producing their work. When Mike Kelley plans to shoot aerials of Los Angeles he hires a team of people to get him into the air. There are helicopter pilots who specialize in flying in tight circles so that mike can hang out of the side to shoot straight down at a specific landmark. Obviously that doesn’t come cheap and he has been doing it for years. The cameras and equipment used to create these amazing images is also expensive. Photographers must make an upfront investment in their art in order to create it. In addition there are hundreds of hours of post-production involved in creating these bodies of work.

Getting it right in camera is what separates the good artists from bad ones, you need that perfect file in order to produce a great image. That said, you also need to do the post production work to add your signature on it and make it a work of art that is a radical departure from existing images of that same subject matter. This can lead to higher prices when it comes time to sell certain series of work.

Then there’s the printing process: when an artist has gone to such great lengths to capture shots like this, it’s not just about how it appears on the screen. It takes time to source the best fine art printers and ensure that they use archival, museum quality papers and printing processes. Fine art printers, high quality papers and archival materials are extremely expensive. These are also craftsmen who have spent years honing their trade as well. Most online art companies use commercial grade printers and framers. The difference is quite obvious when you see the two next to each other. All of our vendors go through a rigorous screening process and most of them print from major museums. There is no substitute for that level of quality, and if you want it, you have to pay for it.

Framing can be an added expense, but not one to skimp on. It should enhance, yet not distract from the photograph. UV protected plexiglass or museum glass should be selected if the work will be displayed in a sunny room. The mounting should be done with great care so the photograph doesn’t slip or bubble. There are so many steps that go into presenting amazing work to our clients.

Is there a particular way to frame photography to preserve it over time?
Yes! Using a specific material is important, as you want to preserve photography over time. Using archival materials such as acid-free mounts, mat boards and adhesives, protects photos from exposure to contaminants that would cause staining or deterioration. Most often we choose to dry-mount prints to acid-free boards. While some do not consider the dry-mounting to be “technically” archival as it is a permanent mount, using acid-free boards and mats affords collectors decades long protection against the elements. This form of mounting is very popular because it ensures that the print has a flat appearance and does not begin to rippled or bend in the frame over time.

UV Protective plexiglass is also a very commonly used material when trying to protect art from the elements. PurePhoto will always opt to use plexi in lieu of glass as it offers excellent clarity and is much more durable. Almost all plexi comes with a standard UV protection of about 40-60%. This level of UV protection is fine for most pieces. No photograph should be exposed to direct sunlight but if there is ambient sun exposure we recommend using a full UV protective and/or anti-glare plexi that can help with viewing the art when there is a lot of natural light through windows and skylights.

In some cases, we recommend using a full UV protective and/or anti-glare plexi that can help with viewing the art when there is a lot of natural light through windows and skylights.

Is there something that our readers should avoid when either framing or hanging prints? Sunlight, certain types of glass or plexi?
ALWAYS avoid hanging heavy framed prints over a child rest and/or play area. We had a client who produced a print using a 1” thick plexi face mount. After it was produced they told us it was intended for a child’s bedroom. We could not guarantee any installation that would not potentially be dangerous for the child.

If you know that art will be installed in a room that gets a lot of natural light you MUST tell the framer and/or art consultant. If you use a standard plexi or glass there will be a good amount of glare that may prohibit you from enjoying the art. Your framer can offer solutions such as museum glass or non-glare plexi that will provide you with a much better viewing option.

Think about who will be living with the art. Many clients want art for over a sofa or bed frame. Will it be in reach of a 2 year old with a permanent marker? You may opt for a shadow box frame and plexi rather than a permanent face mount to plexi. Once that toddler is in their teens you can switch out the plexi so there is no more evidence they were ever in their terrible twos. Face mounting is permanent, just like those markers.

The main image is of Rue’s Style Editor, Victoria de la Camara’s desk area, featuring the work of Mike Kelley