How to mount a photograph on mat board, Part one: The tools

Mounting a print to mat board is one of the many skills outside of shooting images that is a part of every Photographers tool chest. We are jack-of-all-trades, Renaissance men and women who are artists, business people, printers, computer wizards, software nerds, Weather reporters, travel guides, givers of advice, teachers, searchers and dreamers. We capture small moments of time and then have to figure out the best way to display those moments for all to see.

It can give one a great sense of accomplishment to really be in control of the entire process from capture to display. Learning how to do this however was sort of like trying to figure out who the killer is in a mystery novel. You get bits and pieces of information from various places and once assembled the brain finally kicks in and sees the entire puzzle.

It took me quite awhile to figure out the proper way to mount a print. Like the new guy on the team who wants to impress I said to myself “ This can’t be hard…Who needs instructions?” I am laughing to myself because I quickly found out that improperly matting a print just causes you way too much grief and aggravation, Not to mention cash from wasted prints. Being a person not to be discouraged by my earlier feeble attempts, I soldiered on and with practice and lots of research learned how to properly mat an image. It is actually quite easy when learned and customers who buy your prints will appreciate the fact that the artist captured and mounted the image which gives it more of a handmade quality. I finally feel like the process is complete when the image can finally be displayed.

There are several tools needed for the task which I will outline below. Some are a little more expensive than others but not so much to make doing this project really expensive. A small, clean work space is needed for the task, I used our dining room table which is small but adequate. You want dust kept at a minimum because it has a habit of clinging to the print and the mat so make sure to clean your work area prior to mounting the image. It’s just a precaution as nothing is more frustrating than finally slipping the mat and print into a plastic sleeve only to see dust or other contaminants in the sleeve…Just be wary of this.

1. The print – The print used here came from I use them for all of my printing and have never had a problem or issue with their service. They use Fuji film crystal archival paper and inks and the prints look great. The print in this article is 11×14 inches in matte format, Shutterfly does not do glossy in any print over 8×10. My only complaint with them is that any print over 8×10 is shipped in a roll tube and not flat, When the print arrives you have to press it flat for several days to remove the curl. It is actually a pain because the print takes longer to deliver to the customer and it is very difficult to mount the print unless it is flat. 11×14’s at Shutterfly cost $7.99, I have a print package plan of 30% off any order so the total cost for this print with shipping was $8.58.

11×14 matte print from

2. The mat – You want to use a good quality, archival and acid free mat. You don’t want to buy to cheap of a mat as they wont be archival and most tend to yellow with age because they are poor quality. The black mat here was purchased at Creative Habitat for right around $6.00 dollars. It is a good quality mat although not museum grade. Normally I would have ordered it online however it is much cheaper to order several than one at a time so in this case I bought one locally. The same goes for the plastic sleeve, I would have preferred to have bought sleeves online but since I am only doing this one print at the moment I decided to save the sleeve it came in and reused it for packaging.

Black mat board for the image.

3. Hinging tape – Use a good quality, archival and acid free hinging tape. It is the main component for attaching your print to the mat so don’t be cheap here either. Hinging tape comes in two forms, Self-adhesive (pressure sensitive) which requires mineral spirits to remove or the gummed type that requires only water to activate the glue and for removal. I used Lineco’s hinging tape with a 1”x 130′ costing $11.00 dollars. It is a great tape, works well and this small roll will last awhile depending on how many prints you are selling.

Gummed hinging tape that I use.

4. Plastic sleeves – Good quality plastic sleeves of archival quality should be used along with a filler board for support behind the mounted image. The can be bought in all sizes and they are similar to comic book sleeves. Always be sure to purchase ones that are designed to fit a print that is mounted to a mat board otherwise it will be a tight squeeze in the sleeve. They are relatively inexpensive and they come in packs of 100. In this case as I was only doing this one print I reused the sleeve the mat board came in to  conserve resources.

5. Canned air-I always have these around and can be purchased from any computer store or warehouse stores like Costco. They are great for cleaning your computer hardware as well  as blowing any dust off of the print when packaging. Never mount a print without some of this around.

The canned air and the container I used to hold the water.

6. Three small items you will need also are a simple pencil for marking, A small detail paintbrush for brushing water on the hinging tape and in the case here of a black mat, Some type of white marking pen for signing the mat. I used a Pentec gel pen with white ink which worked well here. All can be purchased at an art supply store or office supply store and are really cheap.

Small paintbrush, pencil and signing pen.

7. Water container – Any small container will do and you don’t need a huge amount of water for the hinging tape. Use your best judgement here.

8. Paper towels – Any kind will do and these are cheap as well. You want these to clean up any water spills or for periodically cleaning off your hands. Small bits of glue will adhere to your skin if you are mounting a number of prints, Over time this glue builds up on your skin and creates these black smears on the print and mat. Work clean and always clean your hands every so often.

Cheap, handy paper towels!

9. Drafting T-square – A 24 inch one should be sufficient and costs about $11.00 dollars at staples. A t-square is important for getting straight lines when you mark the back of the mat. You want the print to be square and straight because it will extend ¼ of an inch past the mat opening.

10. Logan mat cutting rail with ruler – While not essential to this task, I have one and use it in the process for measuring. It is simply a long metal rail that either a straight or 45 degree mat cutter sits on allowing you to cut mat board. I like to cut mat board myself with the benefit of it being cheaper to buy than precut mat’s, However pre cut ones are cut by a computer and will always be straighter and look better than I can do myself. The final presentation will look more professional and it will be appreciated. The cost for a 24 inch Logan team system mat cutting rail is about $40 to $50 dollars. Expensive but I do use it enough to justify it.

Household scissors, Drafting t-square and a mat cutting rail with ruler.

11. Self healing cutting mat – This mat is self-healing which means when you cut on it the cuts in the mat close up and it can be reused many times over. This is an essential tool for this task and trust me, You don’t want to do this project or any mat cutting with out one. There is a grid on the mat in 1 inch increments for allowing you to get straight and even cuts. You never want to use cardboard to cut mats on because… As you cut with a mat cutter across the mat board, Cardboard has a tendency to bunch up under the razor blade making it skip on the mat board. Your cuts will be uneven and looked ragged. Always use a cutting mat of this type as it is designed to avoid this problem. I use a plain Staples brand one which cost about $10 dollars. In this instance we are not using it to cut on but  as a guide for marking lines on the mat.

Buy one of these! Trust me don’t cut mat’s on anything else…it wont work. You have been warned.

12. A handy pair of household scissors – Simple and cheap.

13. Business cards or some type of thank you note-While not entirely necessary, I think it’s nice to stick either a business card or a thank you note inside the print when packaged. It’s a nice gesture and you will be remembered for it. I am currently using the mini business cards from and a package of 100 costs $20 dollars. These are great as they are a unique product and  you can use 25 different images per 100 for the front of the card, making each one you hand out different.

Moo mini business cards each with a different image.

(Please note – I am not paid nor do I receive any compensation from any of these companies. I list them because I use all of these products and believe in their quality.)

Using the 1:1 preview in Adobe Lightroom to quickly search for artifacts in a photograph

As an editing and database program Lightroom is perfect for me. I love Photoshop but it’s price makes it out of my reach right now. Lightroom works for me because I don’t do very much compositing and graphic design type work and it has enough tools in the develop module that I can do what I need without much fuss. This is a great, simple tip for using Lightroom’s 1:1 preview to quickly search through your image looking for artifacts, dust or anything else that may need fixing. I use this technique quite often before I start working on an image to make sure everything is in focus, dust free and worth spending the time to edit.

1. In the Library module choose an image.


Here is my image to work on in Lightroom.


2. In the Navigator pane there will be a small white box around the thumbnail of your chosen image.


The image view in the Navigator pane


3. Again in the Navigator pane mouse the cursor to the top where you can see 1:1 and left click on it just once. The white box around the thumbnail image will shift to the upper left corner and this portion of the image will be visible at its as shot size, (here it is 18mp on the Canon 7d).


The image file at 100% with the white box starting in the upper left corner


4. Using the page up and page down keys on your keyboard, Scroll through each portion of the image looking for artifacts, dust, focus or anything out of the ordinary. As you reach the bottom of the image the white box will automatically shift up to the next set of segments, Continue until you reach the bottom right corner of the image.


Scrolling through the image looking for dust/artifacts.


5. At this point you can choose Fit in the Navigator panel and move over to the Develop module to start the editing process.


Hooray! No dust found and back to the Develop module.

Here we have a very simple technique to get a quick overview of the image to see if it is a keeper or if it should be deleted. I hate dust and try to avoid it when ever possible but it is a fact of life in our chosen field of work. This step adds a little bit of time to the workflow but in the end it will save you some  because you know just where to start in the editing process. It also handy because as I have found out on more than a few occasions, Sometimes those pesky dust spots are pretty faint but will still show up in a print. Anything that helps move the process along quickly and efficiently so I can get back out and shoot is a plus in my book.


Ten pieces of Photography gear to never leave home without

An image of photography gear including a tripod, filter case, dust blower, tools, and related items

I am a huge fan of being a minimalist when it comes to the equipment that I carry on a hike. Weight and fatigue as I carry everything in my backpack are always a concern so I try to pack light and only carry the things I need. As Photographers have a huge bounty of available equipment to us and I must say that not all of it is useful. I always want to keep in mind variables like weather, where I am going, what I plan to shoot, how long I am planning to be out,  and what would be the minimum amount of equipment I would need to accomplish my goals for the day. This list covers only ten items but each are important and should be a part of any photographers basic kit of gear.

When starting out as a budding landscape photographer the tendency is to over pack with gear but with experience comes the knowledge that less is more. I really try to minimize what I carry down to the bare essentials because I would rather carry more water and food than anything else. Without the energy from the food you bring with you,  You may as well pack up and go home because it will show in your images. Keep your focus sharp, carry only what you need and your mind and body will thank you for it!

1. Dust blower -This is probably one of the more important items that I carry with me and I would never be caught without one. Often when there is wind present there will be small particles of dust in the air which can get on your gear. I have taken a perfectly clean and dust free camera out of my backpack and within a few minutes there is dust present on the lens. Use the dust blower first for getting rid of those larger, pesky dust particles, It really will be an image saver when your out in the middle of nowhere. Dust is our enemy out in the field and this is out first weapon to fight it. There are several companies that make these in various forms, I personally use the Giotto’s Red Rocket which cost me about 11 bucks. Simple, cheap and effective.

2. Microfiber cleaning cloth – After the dust blower the microfiber cleaning cloth comes in handy to gently clean your optics for removing fingerprints, water spray and other small dust particles. I always keep a few on hand so I can rotate and wash them as needed. These are very cheap running under 10 bucks but it’s always something I have on me. I clean mine with a tiny amount of liquid soap and some warm water every so often to keep them in tip-top shape. Always use the microfiber cleaning cloth…Never packets of lens cleaning tissue. The wood fibers in the tissues are just too rough for delicate camera optics and gear. I learned early on that they can leave tiny scratches in your glass, I’m just not willing to chance ruining thousands of dollars worth of equipment.

3. Tripod – Ah, Our old friend the trusty tripod. This is the most important tool that we can carry around and I am comforted to know that it is there and will perform faithfully for me. Getting my images straight and sharp are important qualities in a landscape shot. This is an instance where buying cheap will do you no good. Cheap tripods are just that…Cheap. You will never be happy and spending the money to get even a modest one that you will have for quite a long time is always better. Excellent tripods can be found in the $150 to $300 dollar range and will serve most Photographers needs. I use an Induro 8m alloy tripod with a bhd-1  ball head and together they cost me $300 dollars or so but worth every penny. It is well constructed, very stable and it is a panoramic ball head so I can do more types of work than a cheaper set up.

4. Headlamp or flashlights – Often I shoot on the fringes of the day at sunrise, sunset or late at night and find myself needing a little light once in a while. Headlamps are very useful and can be found at any outdoor gear store or online.  I use one made by Petzl and is very effective for night shots to illuminate parts of the scene or to otherwise add a little light on the subject at sunrise/sunset. You can find decent ones for $30 dollars and if you shoot when its dark out you are going to need one of these. Small, led flashlights are widely available on Amazon for cheap and I always carry one or two with me.

5. Circular Polarizer – One of the three must have filters for landscape and nature Photography. They reduce glare, Let you see through water and saturate colors.  They can help transform an otherwise dull shot into a great one and I always carry a screw-in type and one for my Cokin filter system. These can be expensive with a screw-in type at 77mm costing over $100 dollars but again well worth the expense. You will get immediate payback with much better image quality.

6. Graduated neutral density filter – Another must have filter for the nature Photographer which come in different strengths, Some block more light and some block less. These filters are neutral grey on one half and clear on the other half allowing you to even out the exposure and block light in areas of the composition such as sky with the landscape in the foreground. These will save your bacon when out shooting during the day. A basic set of one, two and three stops is more than enough to capture most scenes. Currently I am using  Cokin stackable ones with a Cokin filter holder and run about $25 dollars each but are worth the money. You can go all glass with this filters but then they start getting really expensive and you have to be much more careful with them.

7. Neutral density filter-The last of the must have filters for nature work. The neutral density filter works the same way as the graduated only the entire filter is neutral grey not one half which will block light throughout the image. These come in various strengths as well and help in achieving long exposure times. Again a set of one,  two and three stop neutral density filters and are great for for most situations and will really help you to make better images. One note of caution: Regular Neutral density filters are harder to stack together as it can create weird color casts to your images depending on the shooting conditions. However I routinely stack two graduated filters together and never really had an issue with the color cast.

8. Extra batteries and memory cards -It seems simplistic but I always carry a plentiful supply of both. Video and live view mode generally suck up a lot of juice and I prefer to shoot stills but I like to have enough power with me to do both. Memory cards can fail or you may be doing a ton of shooting and they are cheap so always carry a lot of them.

9. Remote shutter release-While not entirely necessary I do carry Canons rc-1 remote with me at all times. For night time shooting and star trail work they are essential and that’s mainly what I use it for as well as long exposure work. The Canon one is small, simple, easy to use and cheap to replace if lost. If you have shaky hands or it’s really cold out I would highly recommend one for those situations.

10. Tripod mount for a smartphone- I am using the Adobe creative cloud photographers subscription that comes with the lightroom app. In that app is a really good manual camera that lets you change exposure settings as well as recording the image in dng format. I find it’s easier to share online this way as I can shoot and edit raw files on my phone. It also transfers them into lightroom wirelessly when your near your computer so an excellent addition to the subscription.


10 tips for making better waterfall Photographs

Lower Bingham Falls cascade in Stowe, Vermont

Shooting waterfalls can be a great way as a beginning photographer to learn more about camera settings and filters. They provide great subject matter showing the power of nature and can be a great learning tool to master your camera. Here are ten tips that I have put together for you to use as a starting point when working in this type of photography. Mastering the waterfall shot can be a huge confidence boost when your are just beginning to learn how the camera controls work. Of course all shooting situations are different but by following these ten simple steps you can come home with more keepers.

1. Look for overcast light- Always check weather reports and look for overcast or relatively cloudy days. You will need an even light throughout the composition to avoid what I call “hot spots” or blown out highlights. (These are areas where the water is cresting over rocks or direct sunlight that is filtering down through the forest canopy. Without the overcast light these areas are difficult to expose properly in a long exposure.  I generally use evaluative metering as the camera is going to take into account the whole image area including the areas around the water which without even light can become over or under exposed. Experimentation is key here as it may take a few shots to nail down the exposure.

2. Use a circular polarizer – Don’t be afraid to use one of these bad boys. I was at first but once I did use them they became an indispensable part of my gear. In this instance, I would not buy cheap. You will have this filter for a long time and more expensive equals better. My first one was a B+W 77mm circular polarizer which I still have. B+W make excellent, well constructed filters. In fact the one I own I accidentally dropped on a rock, putting a small scratch in it but has no resulting loss of image quality. This investment will pay off as the filter will help to reduce glare from the water’s surface and give you that “see through” look to it. It will add depth to the image by saturating the colors and will allow a slightly longer exposure.

3. ISO- Right off the bat when setting up the image I know that if I want the long exposures I will be using Iso’s from 100 to 200 and no more. Using a low Iso will help to reduce grain in the image from the long exposure but is also another tool to make the exposure longer by allowing less light to reach the sensor. However if you are doing the opposite and freezing the waters motion Iso’s in the 400 range in sunlight will allow for a shorter exposure. Remember to use your judgement depending on the scene and the light. Ask yourself what you want to do..Do I want to freeze the water?,  Which would mean Iso’s above 200 or do I want to record the water over a long period of time? Which means an Iso of 100.

4. F-stop I always have my camera in aperture priority mode and using F-stops in the 8 to 16 range will give you the best depth of field while reducing the effects of blur that can come from diffraction at the higher F-stops. F8 will be the sweet spot but I always shoot in the F11 to F16 range. You must test your own equipment but for me these work by letting me lengthen that exposure time and giving me great sharpness throughout the image.

Green moss and vegetation with a waterfall

5. Shutter speeds and Neutral density filters –  Shutter speeds from ¼ to 1 second will give you perfectly acceptable results. I prefer to work from the 1 second and up range but again it all depends on the light in the scene. I am currently using the Cokin filter system which lets me stack different filters in front of each other rather that the more expensive screw in type. A neutral density filter simple has a neutral grey color throughout and restricts the amount of light entering the lens without changing the image. They come in different strengths and are a crucial component in long exposure work.

6. Choose your time of year carefully This point is important as the time of year will affect how the water is running in a particular falls. While they can be shot successfully in all seasons here in Vermont I think the summer and fall     months are best. The spring months bring fast-moving water from melting snows however the landscape around the falls can be a bit boring. Not much is growing and their isn’t much color so I think close up views are best here. In     the summer and fall seasons you have your friend the forest canopy to help in providing a nice, even light as well as blocking a good portion of direct sunlight from hitting the composition. You also will have the green colors in the summer and all of the various foliage colors in the fall. Winter is a challenge as I think you can have too much white in an image from a long exposure but not impossible to get a decent waterfall shot in this season.

7. Use a stackable filter system Using a stackable filter system from Cokin or Lee instead of the screw in type will allow you to get the benefits of your three main filters for landscape and waterfall  work…The circular polarizer, the neutral density filter and the graduated neutral density filter. The other major advantage to these is cost. I use a Canon 17-40mm L series lens with a 77mm filter diameter and just a screw in circular polarizer alone is well over $100 dollars. The cost savings has allowed me to have a number of these filters in different strengths to cover most shooting situations that I would face.
8. Compose so the viewer is right in front of the falls – While this is not always possible I want the viewer to feel like they are standing right in front of the falls. I want them to feel the rush of the water and the mist from the water spray. I just like how dynamic that kind of composition can look versus one from above or from really far away.

9. Wide angle or close up?- The weather in Vermont can be a cruel mistress some times as it can change very rapidly. There are days when the clouds are low, flat and have now form or shape which can make exposures with waterfalls in them difficult and the resulting composition sometimes can be a little boring. I never let weather stop me from shooting and in these times I try to look for some really interesting close up views instead of the wide-angle ones. These detail shots are great as they slow you down and let you see what otherwise you may have missed. I save the wide angles for when I want to get the entire falls into the shot or when I want to include the sky in the frame.

10. Shoot at sunrise or sunset-  This is a time honored piece of advice but one that works equally as well when doing waterfall work. The low and even light at these times will give you nice long exposures and highlights that are not overexposed. The white from the water will really stand out against the darker background,  The glare on the water will be reduced and these times of day make getting the exposure right much easier. I love these shots when I am out in the woods early in the morning as it can be really quiet and lets you focus on your craft.