10 Tips for Collecting Photography

Launch Slideshow

Photography is an engaging and accessible collecting category. But before making a purchase, savvy collectors need to consider a few key points. Sotheby’s Photographs Department shares their top tips.


10 Tips for Collecting Photography

  • Stephen Shore, Merced River, Yosemite National Park, California, August 13, 1979. Lot Sold $43,750.
    Stay Current
    The photographs market is robust and diverse, and there’s a lot to see. And seeing – at every possible opportunity – is the best way to refine your eye. Come to Sotheby’s auctions, visit local galleries and look out for important exhibitions, like Stephen Shore at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

  • Henri Cartier-Bresson, Rue Mouffetard. Lot Sold $25,000.
    The Classics Never Go Out of Style
    Photographs auctions offer collectors the chance to own the iconic images that can be found in art history books and even museum collections. An ever-popular favourite is this image by Henri Cartier-Bresson.

  • Edward Weston, Nude on Sand. Lot Sold $324,500.
    Examine Condition
    Spend time understanding the condition of a photograph and how it compares to other works by the same photographer and made in the same medium. 

  • Irving Penn, Cigarette No. 85. Lot Sold $25,000.
    Know the Medium
    Understanding medium is important, because like condition, it can help guide you in understanding what criteria your photograph should meet. There are gelatin silver prints, albumen prints, chromogenic prints, dye-transfer prints and digital prints, to name a few. On matte surface paper, with very lush charcoal blacks, this Irving Penn photograph exemplifies the photographer’s mastery of the platinum-palladium process.

  • Thomas Struth, Mailänder Dom (Fassade), Mailand. Lot Sold $456,500.
    Pay Attention to Scale
    Like all art, photographs come in a range of sizes, so pay close attention to dimensions in a catalogue or online.  Better yet, try to make it to the presale exhibition where you can see the photographs hanging on a wall.

  • Philip Haas, John Quincy Adams. Lot Sold $360,500.
    Provenance Counts
    Be sure to inquire about provenance (the history of an object). Property that comes from a descendant or associate of the photographer is an extra bonus. This daguerreotype of John Quincy Adams has remarkable provenance, having remained in the same collection for nearly 175 years. It is believed to have been given by Adams to Horace Everett (1779-1851), a colleague who served with Adams in the House of Representatives as a congressman from Vermont from 1829 to 1843.

  • Dieter Appelt, Forth Bridge – Cinema. Metric Space. Lot Sold $56,250.
    Read Up
    Catalogues contain a wealth of interesting, useful ­– and often surprising – information about the works up for auction. In some cases, you might even learn that the photograph you admire has historical importance. Take this example of Dieter Appelt’s Forth Bridge—Cinema. Metric Space; it's a phenomenal grid of 312 photographs that was commissioned by the Centre Canadien d’Architecture.

  • Garry Winogrand, World’s Fair, N.Y.C. Lot Sold $81,250.
    Meet the Specialists
    What’s better than a catalogue? Getting to know the specialists who write them. Sotheby’s Photographs specialists are here to answer your questions and assist you in building your collection. If you’re looking to learn more about the market in general or if there is a particular artist or photograph you’re drawn to, stop by, call or email.

  • Man Ray, Rayograph. Lot Sold $250,000.
    Respect Your Investment
    Photographs are an investment and should be treated with care. Always keep your art away from direct sunlight and humid environments and frame responsibly with archival materials and UV-protective plexiglas.

  • Philip-Lorca DiCorcia, W, March 2000, #12 (From Cuba Libre). Lot Sold $106,250.
    Buy What You Love
    Ultimately, it is most important that you love your new photograph, whether it’s fashion photography, a classic image by a modernist master or an iconic portrait. This arresting contemporary photograph is a favourite of the department.

    If you wish to enquire about the possibility of offering a work in one of Sotheby's Photographs sales, please click here .


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