How to start a fine art photography collection

Ana Isabel Cruz Yabar, curator at Lumas, tells you how to score the picture-perfect asset

Photography has opened the doors to a revolutionary and liberating trend: the democratisation of art. It has had to fight a tough battle for acceptance in the art scene and for establishing itself in the art market alongside other artistic media. Today, the prints of some big names –Andreas Gursky, Edward Steichen, Man Ray, Gilbert & George or Cindy Sherman – change hands for several million dollars. Photography sales experienced a significantly faster growth in the early 2000s than the rest of the fine art market.

As a testament to the public’s growing appetite for photography, there are an increasing number of fairs such as Paris Photo, Unseen Photo Fair Amsterdam, AIPAD or the recently established Photo London. Another example of this rising phenomenon are the photo-sharing sites that have altered our traditional perception of photography consumption, shaping it into a daily feature of modern life.

Sul Lago © Sven Fennema

Sul Lago © Sven Fennema

Along with this growing passion for photography, it is also important to mention that fine art photography has also become more accessible to novice collectors through innovative galleries and online platforms such as Lumas, that have found new ways to accommodate this growing interest. Lumas founded just twelve years ago, now offers more than 2,000 works by 230 established artists and promising newcomers, creating a portfolio that delivers a comprehensive look into the contemporary art and design scenes.

Gallerists play an important role in guiding novice collectors as to what they should buy, though they have little control over the motivations of their customers. There are a few buyers who are driven by purely financial motivations. And even though it is tempting to consider art as a financial investment, only a handful of collectors in the world really make economic profits.

When going about building your art collection, be true to your taste. Find out what you like in and start from there. To do so, follow this strategy that always works for me: go to museums, browse through galleries, attend art fairs and flip through as many photography books as you can lay your hands on. This way you will find out what you can relate to and what you are drawn into. Pretend you have an unlimited budget and decide what are your preferences, what is it that you really like. Your taste will narrow down and you will quickly realise where your areas of interest lie.

Aug um Aug © Claudio Gotsch

Aug um Aug © Claudio Gotsch

The photographs you buy must also be in sync with the setting of the space where you intend to display it. Many galleries still adhere to a white cube model, making it hard to imagine the works in a domestic setting or in a working environment. It is a good thing to know that there are ways around this, and new technologies certainly facilitate this process, with a variety of apps that help you visualise the work in all kind of scenarios.

One of the most interesting trends we have seen in recent years is the impact “online shopping” has had. More and more people trust e-commerce and realise the advantages it provides, so the number of outlets to be considered have also increased consequently. When we think about the purchase of art online, the fact is that a lot of online buyers have first visited a physical gallery. One thing remains unchanged however, and it is that feeling of when you see a fine art photograph in a gallery and instantly falling in love with it. Because it’s that first sight of an artwork that will eventually lead to you deciding if it will find a place in your home.


Ana Isabel Cruz Yábar has been a curator at Lumas since 2016. Throughout her career in Paris, Geneva and Vienna, she has worked as collection manager and curator at Magnum Photos, United Nations and Kunsthalle Wien.