Coal Suede never looked so good…

Competition Season 2017 is coming.

For those of you who are not familiar with my references to “Competition Season,” let me please explain.  As we approach summertime, I take the photographs and images I’ve collected over the past few months, find the best ones, and submit them for competitions in various state and county fairs.

So for me, it’s now a process of finding the best images, getting them printed (my print shop of choice is McGreevy Pro Lab in Albany), and then adding framing mattes.  My usual framing shop is my local Hobby Lobby in Latham, inasmuch as they are able to custom-cut nearly every type of mat I could ever imagine.  Whether it involves special border cuts or curve cuts or tight alignments, these companies have always come through for me.

And they stepped up to the plate when I wanted this piece printed and matted.

Perseids meteor against the Big Dipper
Meteor Over Ursa Major. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 lens. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.


But although it looks great on the computer screen, the image still looks too dark.  And because I chose to shoot the picture in JPG format (instead of Nikon’s NEF RAW format), I was limited in how much I could fiddle with the highlights.  I was able to boost the background to a reasonable grey, while retaining the brilliant stars.  I even made sure the outline of the forest – in the lower left corner – was reasonably visible.

And McGreevy Pro Lab did an excellent job – as always – with my print.  Now all I need to do is get a matte for it.

Now my usual tactic is to go to Hobby Lobby, pull out a 40″ colored artboard, and have the good framers at Hobby Lobby use their CNC frame cutter to trim the image to the exact size necessary.  And I needed a matte that was darker than the photo’s dark skies, or else the photo just wouldn’t work.

But for some reason, every black artboard I selected wasn’t black enough.  Some were grey, some were dark grey, some were even midnight grey… but for all I saw, I was 47 shades away from tying Anastasia Steele to a four-poster bed.

“Can I help you?”  Oh, hi there, it’s the framer at Hobby Lobby.  A guy named Russell.

I explained the situation.

“I have just the artboard for you.”

With that, Russell took a measuring tape and measured my picture.  He wrote down the measurements on a scratch pad, and disappeared into the back room.  A few minutes later, he came out with a perfect matte frame.  It was jet-black with a white interior core.

He dry-tested the matte on my picture.

It looked like this.

Meteor Over Ursa Major. Nikon Df camera, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 lens, with coal suede matte. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Wow.  How did you –

“This is an artboard called Coal Suede,” Russell said with a smile.  “We had some left over in the back.  It’s normally a custom order that takes about two weeks to have shipped in, but when we have scraps and they fit what we need, then we can make it for you.”

Super.  Thanks, Russell at Hobby Lobby.  Now if I want to enter this in a competition like Iowa or the Big E or any other place where an 11×14 image is part of the requirement… this definitely works for me.

And here’s the thing.  Over time, I’ve built up a good relationship with my printing and framing companies.  I don’t ask them for any special favors or treatment – no more than they would give to any other customer in their store.

The best way I can thank these companies who help me out – is to provide completely unvarnished, truthful endorsements of their work and their time.

And if McGreevy Pro Lab and Hobby Lobby can make this good picture look great…

That’s a hell of an endorsement right then and there.