10/05/15 - 12:30 Filed in: Personal | Food Photography
This past weekend I finally realized a goal that I first started thinking about over 10 years ago. When I first began thinking about what I wanted to do, there wasn’t actually a product available to do what I wanted. A company in Florida, called Fracture, developed a real world product which was exactly what I was looking to for. The idea was born when I started creating the food-based picture calendars in iPhoto 10 years ago. You end up having small collages with 6 or 7 images on the top half of each month. These collages of the food I had grilled or smoked in the past year really looked nice. I got many compliments on these picture calendars and I started thinking about doing a large scale version of one of these food based collages in my Kitchen. Three things held me back: time, money and lack of a product that had the look I wanted. This year I discovered the solution. Yesterday I put up a 42” x 60” (107 x 152 cm) 47 picture collage of my food photos on a wall of my Dining Room. This blog entry will describe how I got here.
BACKGROUND - Big Picture: As I mentioned above, this idea had been floating around in my head for 10 years. Seeing the collages of food photos in my Cue Calendars made me think about doing a similar collage in the Kitchen. Unlike the collages in the calendars which often mixed several sizes on the same page, I wanted this full sized collage to be modular with one size image. The calendars used varying sized images on a consistently sized page. For the Kitchen I would do consistently sized image and let the shape of the collage be more free-form and vary over time. By using a consistently sized images, I could rearrange things or swap photos in and out as my food photography and cooking skills improved. Thanks to these yearly calendars, I could see my cooking actually was getting more sophisticated and ambitious and my picture taking skills were improving over time too. There was a blank wall in my Kitchen that would have served as the “canvas”. I told several friends who were also into grilling about this idea and they all thought it was great. There was only one thing holding me back…
BACKGROUND - No Product: I wanted this collage to feature the photos front and center, essentially borderless, frameless photos with a minimum thickness. The only problem was in 2005 there was no way of achieving that look. Back in the early days of photography, Daguerreotypes and other early processes sealed the finished exposed plate to a sheet of glass to protect it. These photos could stand alone or be put in a frame. I could achieve what I wanted by having photos printed and mounted to foam core board and mount the foam core to the wall. But this was not a real permanent solution. The photos would not be protected under glass and mounting them to the wall with velcro or double sided tape wasn’t ideal. Putting the photos in a frame caused several problems. Even a thin modern square edged frame was thicker than what I was looking for. Also frames are not cheap and to make things affordable I would probably end up having to frame things myself. Lastly if I wanted to keep the cost down I would have to work with stock sizes and they didn’t seem to be the sizes I was looking for.
BACKGROUND - Last Few Years: Several things happened in the last couple years to change things. The first was my kitchen remodel in Spring of 2013. The blank wall in the Kitchen, which would have been home to this collage, received additional base and wall cabinets. For a while, I thought that pretty much killed the whole collage thing once and for all. By this time I had started listening to lots of audio podcasts while I worked. They served to help make the day go faster. A company called Fracture was the sponsor for several of the podcasts I listened to. John Gruber, tech journalist, founder of the Daring Fireball website and host of the Talk Show podcast, had Fracture as a sponsor. He, and sometimes his guest co-host, would rave about how beautiful they were. Don’t ask me why, but at first I didn’t connect the dots and realize that these photos printed on glass were the missing product I had wanted for my food collage. After hearing ads for this product for over 2 years the lightbulb finally went off in my head, I finally visited the website last spring and realized this product was exactly what I was looking for.
FRACTURE - What is it?: The Fracture Company takes your images and prints them edge to edge on the back side of a piece of 3/16” (4mm) glass. The glass has a nicely eased (rounded) edge on all 4 sides. Then a 3/32” (2mm) black backer is adhered to the backside of the photo to protect it. This backer has a keyhole mount built into it for a mounting screw which is included with the product. You can also get Fractures with a kickstand type mount for placing the photo on a counter top or bookshelf. This was exactly what I had been looking for. The photos were front and center and the frame was no where to be seen. It is hard to explain unless you see it in person, but it just looks like a series of images floating on the surface of your wall.
COLLAGE - Take 2: After visiting the Fracture web site and seeing how amazing these images looked, a new possibility popped into my head. I had a large blank wall in my Dining Room that I could use. The Kitchen was where I made the food (or at least prepped it for the grill), but the Dining Room is where you eat it. So this was a perfectly logical place for a collage of food pictures. This wall also had the advantage of being situated so it starts coming into view as you enter the house from either the Kitchen or Living Room doors. Suddenly, a dream that I thought was dead and buried came back to life. I had a “canvas” and I now had a viable product for it. All I had to do was find the time to create a composition, pick the images for it and save out the images to upload to Fracture.
Step 1 was to create a composition and populate it with image candidates.
COLLAGE - Creating: Fractures come in both square and rectangular sizes. There are 5 rectangular sizes ranging from 4.8” x 6.4” (12.2cm x 16.25cm) to 21.6” x 28.8” (55cm x 73cm) in the 4:3 aspect ratio of standard photos. They also make 3 square sizes: 5” x 5” (12.7cm x 12.7cm), 11” x 11” (25.4cm x 25.4cm) and 23” x 23” (58.4cm x 58.4cm). I will put a link to their web site at the end of this blog if you wish to learn more. The square sizes were modular within their 3 sizes if you simply added a 1/2” (1.27 cm) margin all around, creating 6” (15.25 cm) center to center spacing. Based on this 6” grid spacing, in the same 24” 24” area you could use 1 @ 23”, 4 @ 11” or 16 @ 5”. This allowed me to create a grid, but still give it a free form look by working several larger pictures into the mix. I used my CAD program to create a template drawn to scale to experiment with compositions. I eventually settled on 1 large image @ 23” x 23” (58.4cm x 58.4cm), 3 medium images @ 11” x 11” (25.4cm x 25.4cm) and 43 small images @ 5” x 5” (12.7cm x 12.7cm). The next step was to look at potential candidates for inclusion. I already knew the image I wanted for the largest image and I had half a dozen potential candidates for the 3 medium sized images. I created 3 albums for the 3 sizes within Aperture where I moved copies of the potential images into the respective albums. Then I duplicated the images I cropped them down to a square proportion at full resolution. Some of the potential candidates ended up being eliminated immediately because the composition of the image simply didn’t suit a square aspect ratio. Ultimately I ended up with about 50 percent more of the small sized images than I would need. When the copies of the images were cropped I exported them to the 3 folders on the desktop of my computer. While exporting the images, I had Aperture resize them to the size I was using and add “Fracture-5x5”, “Fracture-11x11” or “Fracture-23x23” to the end of the file name.
The next step was to bring the images into my CAD template and see how things looked. Some of the images just didn’t look right as part of the larger composition and were eliminated from consideration for that reason. I also ended up spending some time moving the images around on the page to get a distribution I wanted. This was both in terms of subject matter and look of the image: light, dark, suject viewed head on, subject at an angle etc. I then printed this template out and reviewed it. Things can look different on paper vs. on the computer screen and this was no exception. I replaced a few more images based on the printout. When I had the final roster of images I usage Aperture to save out the images at the final size at a resolution of 300dpi. This is where I ended up running into one possible hiccup. The two smaller sized image types worked out to 1500x1500dpi and 3300x3300. This I could accommodate with my existing full sized images. The one 23” image was a problem. Even at full size it would only be 160dpi, which was too low a resolution for printed material. I could use Adobe Photoshop Elements to enlarge it, but I didn’t want to blow it all the way up to 300dpi. I decided to try 225dpi which was splitting the difference. I was hoping it wouldn’t degrade the image noticeably and that 225dpi would be sharp enough to look acceptable. After resizing the image, I looked at it on screen at actually size and it looked fine to my I eye. I crossed my fingers and hoped the final print would look as good as what I saw on my screen.
FRACTURE - Ordering: The with one exception, the ordering process was easy, straightforward and simple. You go through the one time process of creating an account for yourself and then upload the images. You click a button called “Upload My Photo” and a “Open File” style dialogue box comes up where you navigate to the file on your computer. If you prefer you are said to be able to drag and drop the image from your computer into your web browser too. I didn’t bother trying this, but based on other websites I am sure it works. There are also two other buttons which allow you to upload a photo you’ve posted to Facebook or Instagram. The file is uploaded to your account page. You see a preview of your photo and you chose the size you want. You receive a warning if the image resolution is too small for the Fracture size you have selected. There is also an advanced editor button on this page. Using the advanced editor you can crop or resize the photo, make it greyscale and change it from borderless to adding a colored border. I didn’t need to use the advanced editor because I had done all of my sizing and composition work within Aperture. My photos were good to go when I uploaded them. You pick whether you want a wall mount, stand mount or combination of the two. Last the quantity and price is displayed at the bottom with a button to “Buy” the Fracture. I mentioned the one exception to the easy ordering process. This may be due to the fact I was ordering nearly 50 Fractures, where there typical customer probably orders 3 or 4 at a time tops. For each photo you upload, you must go the same process. I had 43 5x5 photos and I had to repeat the same steps 43 times. Same goes for the 3 11x11 image files. There was no way to select multiple images or a folder full of images and do a batch upload where you apply the settings to all photos at once. This process got old really fast and was the only negative in the entire experience. In the good news department: I qualified for free FedEx Home delivery due to the size of my order. Once the images were all uploaded, I got a confirmation email telling me the images I uploaded Sunday would be printed and shipped by the following Wednesday. True to their word, I got a shipping confirmation email on Wednesday and the FedEx Home shipping delivery time was 3 days. Two boxes arrived at my house 3 days later, Saturday morning at 10:00AM.
Step 2 was to create a full scale template with the image and mounting screw locations.
INSTALLATION - Thinking Ahead: Fracture support had given me the proper hole spacing and a link to a data sheet on the fastener they use. I hd contacted them this summer prior to placing my order. I wanted to be sure by my using a modular grid system I would be able to swap some new images in or our of the mix without turning the wall into Swiss cheese. A lightbulb went off in my head and I realized the same template I used to compose the images, could serve as a precision template for drilling the pilot holes in the wall for the mounting screws. I created another drawing within the same CAD file that was at real world 1:1 scale. I added horizontal and vertical guide lines leading from center to center of the holes. I also added circles the exact size of the pilot holes I needed to drill. I had this drawing plotted out full size on heavy duty stock at a local service bureau.
The protective holder for the 5x5 sized Fractures.
INSTALLATION - Great Packaging: When the Fractures arrived around 10:00AM on Saturday, I was impressed at how well they were packaged. There were two packages: one large box containing the 23” x 23” (58.4cm x 58.4cm) and the 3 medium 11” x 11” (25.4cm x 25.4cm) images, and a second smaller box held the 43 small 5” x 5” (12.7cm x 12.7cm) images. Each Fracture was set into an assembly that served as a protective holder during shipment. The holder consisted or two pieces glued together. The lower half was a a piece of standard corrugated cardboard. The upper half was a piece of black faced, black foam core board. The foam core board was the thickness of the Fracture and had holes cut completely through it. Starting at the perimeter there were 3 semi circular finger pull cutouts, 1 on 3 sides. These helped you lift the Fracture out of the box when they were nested together side by side. Then going up from the bottom there was a hole cut out to secure the mounting screw. There was a well cut into the center a thicker that contained the Fracture, which was nested inside the well which served to protect the sides of the Fracture. The bottom of the Fracture was protected from damage by the corrugated cardboard bottom half. There were two semi-circular finger pulls in the foam core along the bottom side of the picture well. These served to help you lift the bottom of the Fracture up and tilt it up and out of the well. The words “Lift” and an arrow were laser cut into the top surface of the foam core just below these two finger pulls. This temporary holder could go straight into the recycle bin when I was done with them. The box for the smaller Fractures was sized so it fit 4 fractures in a 2 image x 2 image single layer. My Fractures were stacked in 11 layers, with some crumpled kraft paper serving to fill up the remaining space at the top of the box. When nested and stacked this way the 4 finger pulls around the perimeter of the temporary holder made it easy to remove the Fractures from the shipping box. The 3 medium sized 11” x 11” Fractures were in larger holders as was the 23” x 23” Fracture. The 3 medium sized and 1 large sized Fractures were strapped to each other and a larger piece of nearly 1/2” (1.25 cm) cardboard with plastic strapping. The plastic strapping was wound around everything about three times. There was a slotted insert along the long sides of the outer box. The main 1/2” thick piece of cardboard slid down into into this slot. This held the Fractures securely in the middle of the larger box with a cushion of air top and bottom. All-in-all I was impressed by the design and attention to detail. A shipper would have to probably try really hard to damage the Fractures, like say drive over the box with the truck or have the box fall out while driving on the highway.
The template for the pilot holes is installed and the next step is to drill the holes.
INSTALLATION - Simple and Straightforward: The Fractures arriving on Saturday was perfect. My dad was coming over for our typical Saturday grilled meal and he could give me a hand getting started right after we ate. Step one was to get my template for the holes up on the wall and level. We used a tape measure to find the left to right center of the wall and to find the height the first row of screws would be down from the ceiling. Then we double checked the placement with a level. Next we secured all 4 sides to the wall with several strips of tape per side. We used the blue masking tape painters use to tape off and mask edges to get nice clean edges at the ceilings and other transitions. This tape is sticky, but not too sticky. It held the template in place securely, but came up off the wall covering without tearing any of the wall covering off. Once the template was up I drilled the 47 starter holes for the mounting screws. My walls were thinset plaster, if they were drywall I could have simply driven these coarsely threaded mounting screws in without pre-drilling. Drilling the pilot holes went quite fast, less than 10 minutes to drill the holes and vacuum up the plaster dust on the floor and off of the wall.
We decided we would mount the four big Fractures first, starting with the 23” x 23”. Before attempting the to mount the biggest image, I decided to try mounting one of the small 5” x 5” Fractures first, just to see how difficult it was to find the screw head with the keyhole mounting slot. The answer to this question was: simple. I found the trick to getting the screw heads the right distance off the wall on a consist basis was simplicity in itself. I drove the screw in slowly until the underside of the head contacted the wall. Then I used a hand screwdriver to back the screw out 1/4 of a turn. The underside of the screw heads were not flat, they were v-shaped. The v-shape helped to pull the Fracture onto the wall as the keyhole mount slid onto the screw head. When you slid the keyhole mounting slot on the back of the Fracture over the screw it slid over and on to it and pulled the fracture nice and tight to the wall. It was helpful to have a second person holding the bottom of the 4 larger Fractures so they wouldn’t fall while I moved them around hunting for the mounting hole. Finding the screw with the mount for the 23” x 23” Fracture was a bit difficult, but fortunately I did find it finally and there was only one that size. Once the large Fractures were mounted, the 5” x 5” Fractures went easily. I had an an A-Sized printout of the picture composition to help me locate the various Fractures on the wall. It was simply a matter of locating the Fracture’s place on the wall, removing it and the mounting screw from the protective cardboard it came in and driving the screw into the right hole location. Finding the mounting screw with the keyhole mounting slot of the 5” x 5” Fractures was quick and easy. All told, from start to finish the entire process took about 90 minutes.
I couldn’t be happier. Everything about the process went as good as you would hope for from start to finish. The installation went far faster and was far easier than I expected. The mounting template I made in my CAD program helped out a lot, but the installation process is really easy in and of itself. My template assured uniformity and consistency without having to work hard at it. I did the planning on the computer and not on the wall. Unlike the actual wall, computers have an Undo command if you make a mistake. I love the look of these images on the wall. It is hard to describe, but it is like you have a pure picture suspended and floating just off the surface of the wall. The modular arrangement I was a able to create by using square images means I will be able to update the composition from time to time by swapping some fresh new images into the mix. The picture below show the final product. I had to stand off to the side the to keep the suspended lighting fixture over the Dining Room table out of the picture. Like I said, I couldn’t be happier and things were easy and painless throughout the entire process.
RELATED LINK Here is a link to the Fracture website.
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