Tips on Buying Your First Fine Art Photography
Photography is especially popular with newcomers looking to buy and collect photographic art because it is an accessible medium that people can identify with relatively easily. But the universe of fine art photography or photographic art is very broad and the developments in contemporary photography are moving at lightning speed. The prices of photographic art vary from 4.5 euros to 4.5 million euros. When is something fine art or 'photo art' and what should you pay attention to if you want to buy photo art?
What makes a photography fine art?
First of all, photography is an incredibly broad medium with an equally broad spectrum of purposes, from advertising to journalism to scientific documentation to private use to art and much more. So in terms of value, both artistically and economically, it would be tempting to divide the spectrum of photography along the lines 'photo advertising is bad - photo art is good', but in reality it doesn't work that way.
Example of fine art photography 'Shuang' by Billy und Hells
The greatness of photographic art lies above all in its artistic or aesthetic merit, rather than in its artistic or aesthetic purpose. There is much work by the early pioneers of the medium that was never intended as fine art, but has become part of the art historical canon and is now highly prized. Some fashion photography by certain photographers has also taken off, both artistically and financially.
On the other hand, there are many fine art photographers at work today, charging very high prices in contemporary galleries for their work, which would never qualify for a serious exhibition in a museum or institution. So calling something 'fine art' or photo art or charging high prices doesn't necessarily make something a great photo.
Example of fine art photography 'Sunny side up' by Werner van Reck
Importance of the print run when buying fine photo art
For most newcomers, the difference between the description: 'Silver Gelatin, 1/3' and 'Digital Print 99/100 (+2AP)' seems hocus-pocus. But the connoisseur does get something out of this, namely it is an indication of the printing technique and the print run and the format in which it is produced.
In general, you can say with editions that the larger the format, the higher the price (for the same or similar work by one photographer), and the larger the print run, the lower the price. So a larger-sized, lower-run photo from a particular photographer will be much more expensive than a smaller, larger-run photo from the same photographer.
Example of fine art photography and still life "The Wish" by Dik Nicolai
Importance of printing technique when buying photo art
In terms of printing and the quality of a photo, it has been everyone's vacation and family photos that have contributed the least to how people view photography and its market. People have become accustomed to printing their own photos for a few cents, and with a bit of luck they start to fade after a decade.
The idea that printing a photo costs next to nothing plays a role in the perception of the price of a photo for newcomers. However, there is a big difference between those cheap supermarket prints and a really good print made with craftsmanship.
Fine Art Photography, Toledo Targas, by Tom Blachford 2020
When buying photographic art, most people are surprised to learn that the cost of a print of a work they are considering alone is several hundred dollars, and that photographers and printers spend an enormous amount of time and material testing and getting just right. getting the colors, hues and depths. And a good print retains its strength, it doesn't fade like the holiday snaps from your childhood.
These are just two considerations that make photography and photo art less straightforward than the medium's accessible nature would suggest when you're just starting to explore. It takes some time to get a good sense of things, and the best way to do that is to educate yourself. Not only to be well informed, but also to find out what you really like.
Example of fine art photography consisting of a mosaic of small photos 'Veneration Orange' by Joël Moens de Hase
More tips when buying fine art photography
1. Before you buy photo art, look at photography books. Most major bookstores carry a selection of great photography books. Buying a photo book is a great way to delve deeper into the work of a photographer you like. Picking up and flipping through a book every now and then is a great way to fine-tune your preferences. Refining your taste makes sense when you're just starting out with buying. Sometimes work that attracts easily is also work that bores easily.
2. Before you buy photo art, go to exhibitions. A good way to tell the difference between photography in a book or on a screen, and the power of a photo as an object. You won't be distracted by the price as you pick out what you like, and it's a great way to see your preferred size and ways to hang work on the wall.
3. Before you buy photo art, view auctions and the results. This will give you a very good idea of what well-known names are yielding on the market and how it relates to the work you have in mind.
4. Before you buy photo art, go to photography fairs. Scholarships are a good way to physically make a good selection of what the market has to offer and a good opportunity to ask questions about the work and have a more in-depth dialogue to increase your knowledge.
5. Before you buy photo art, research online. When you feel confident enough to buy, start searching online for the photographer you like. Finding out what's available in the market and getting a good overview of the different options is often easiest to do online.
This article was written by guest writer Roderick van der Lee. Van der Lee is co-founder of UNSEEN, the international photography fair, and owner of Atelier Van der Lee.
Would you like to discover and buy more fine art phography? Check here on Gallerease for our extensive photo art collection from renowned galleries!
Would you like to read more about general art buying tips? Also read our article: "Practical tips when buying your (first) work of art!
*Featured image in the haeder with courtesy of Making Memeries, installation view, 2016 © Harry Mitchell: Self Publish, Be Happy