Tips on Photography Collections

POBA’s experts recommend these tips for preserving a creative collection in photography:

  • Create a working catalog. The most essential step is to carefully catalog all items in the photography collection. The photographer, year created, and (if printed), the name of the actual person who printed the photo are all notable facts that determine a photo’s pedigree and value, both historic and monetary. For printed photos, it is important to note the size(s) and if they one of a limited edition. For digital photos, it is important to note whether they are “treated” in any way. For each photo, note any special techniques used in taking or printing it.
  • Identify copyright and date of expiration. The 1976 Copyright Act allows the heirs of photographers to reclaim ownership or negotiate better economic terms for licenses for works that were not taken “for hire.” If needed, seek expert assistance to determine eligibility and procedures. You can find more about the 1976 Copyright Act, §203 and §304.
  • Handle and store the physical collection properly. Make sure that photos are properly handled to protect against cracking, marks or other blemishes and that they are stored correctly. Control of temperature, light, and humidity is extremely important for printed photographs. Older photos should be wrapped in acid-free paper and all printed photos should be stored in clear plastic sleeves. Digital photos should be backed up, properly dated and filed, and proper records of distribution should be kept.
  • Make digital copies of all photographs for easy access, storage, display, and copyright proof.  Original, older printed photographs should be captured in digital files at levels of resolution that fit your intended uses. If you intend your display photos as prints, especially at larger sizes, resolution should be high. If intended only for web use, resolution should be low.
  • Authenticate each photo, if possible. Photographers often take many more pictures than they ever intend to print, display, or sell. Photos that are attributed to a photographer, or are appear reasonably to be part of a specific photographer’s legacy by dint of style or subject, will benefit from authentication by stamps, signature or other artist notations. These are often found on the back or printed copies. Authenticated photos are more valuable because they often signify the “original” or authorized print by the photographer.
  • Find a centralized place to store your digital and printed catalog and photos. This will make your working catalog readily available to those that may need access or with whom you wish to share for personal or commercial reasons.
  • Create an accurate, interesting, and complete artist bio. If one is not already available or if it is out of date, put together a simple biography and include an “artist’s statement” if available
  • Know your worth. If you have an estate or collection that you believe has value, you will want to get it appraised for tax and insurance purposes. Value is depreciated if an entire collection is sold all at once. Know the purpose of your appraisal and hire an expert to do the appraisal for that purpose.


Find more Tips from estate lawyers, gallerists, archivists, and other POBA experts. Check back often for updates, too!

Contact the POBA Concierge if you need help with online and physical storage, archiving, cataloging, appraising and more to preserve, protect, and promote a creative legacy or collection.

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