Buyers Guide to Photography

Want to know more about collecting photography but don't know where to start? Check out ValueMyStuff's Buyer's Guide.


The photography market has been on an upward trend for nearly a decade. Photographs have always been a small part of the art world. However, they are increasingly gaining appeal for collectors from all walks of life. Some may say that photography could eclipse the more traditional types of art. Many artworks require professional storage facilities that translate into more expenses for the collector. Photographs, instead, are easily stored.

The reasons for starting a photography collection or for complementing an already existing collection with photographs are varied. Most art world professionals will agree however, to collect what you love. Buying art strictly for investment purposes can prove lucrative, however art is not a field in which investors make money on quick trades.

Where do I begin?

There are a few things to keep in mind when determining the collect ability of a photograph. It is often subjective and depends on the viewer experience. There is some debate over whether the artist should be given priority as opposed to the image itself. However, even the greatest artists have produced poor prints and collecting solely based on the artist may lead to overpaying. The image is the most important attribute of a photograph to consider.

Does the image engage me? Does it have historical importance? Does it appeal emotionally, intellectually or both? Is the subject in demand in the market? Is it beautiful? Is it powerful? Death, brazen nudes and violence might be subject matters that a collector should avoid as they are not easy for institutions to acquire. If the image belongs to a certain school of art or photography it can also be relevant especially if the school is in favor at the moment. A key point to remember is how much these things matter to you as a collector.

Before buying a photograph always do some research. Attend gallery openings and exhibitions, join mailing lists for popular art periodicals, and review auction house catalogs. Track an artist’s performance at auction and pay attention to trending artists. These are all activities that should be started before purchasing a photograph.


Who should I collect?

Modern photography has been the main focus of auctions. Within this category prints by names like William Eggleston, Edward Weston, Diane Arbus, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Peter Lindbergh are found. Artists such as Marcus Lyon, Javier Vallhonrat and Nick Brandt have seen strong demand for works by established contemporary artists in small editions.

The most expensive fine art photograph to date is Phantom by landscape photographer Peter Lik that sold for $6.5 million (£4.5 million) in 2014. Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II (1999) follows in second place. Vintage photographs, architectural photographs, limited editions, c-types and giclée are some of the subcategories of prints that can be found on the market.


What about the condition?

Condition and quality are of high importance for determining the worth of a photograph. Start determining the condition of the photograph by making a comparison to a similar work. Try to view as many prints as possible in order to develop an understanding of the average quality of the image.

Take notice if age-related spots and browning, known as foxing, are seen on the print. There is not a universally accepted grading system for condition. In some instances, damage on a print can even add to the appeal of the photograph. If a print is unique, rare or historically significant the condition may be less of a factor.

How do I care for my collection?

 As most of you know, photographs are notorious for having problems with long-term conservation. Photographs are composed of organic and inorganic materials that can be ideal for mould, insects and other pests. Therefore, photographs need to be stored in cool, dry locations and relative humidity must be kept at a low. Warm storage areas will speed up the natural aging process making photographs more likely to stain and become brittle.

Handling should be kept to a minimum. When necessary, only touch the edges of the photograph or wear gloves. Perspiration and skin oils can leave marks on the surface and lead to staining. In addition, bending and flexing the photograph should be avoided in all situations.

Where do I buy photographs?

There are a number of channels available for use in beginning a photography collection. Auction houses such as Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips have photography sales where you can find some of the leading artists’ works and bid to win. There are numerous brick-and-mortar art galleries where you can find trending photographs as well. Finally, there are a myriad of online art and trading platforms that can provide buyers with a selection of photographs to choose from at a range of prices. AuctionMyStuff is one of these. When you’re ready to begin your collection, you should use it.

Upload a photo
Upload a photo of your item
Item is appraised
Experts appraise your item
Receive appraisal
We send you your appraisal