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NEW FOR 2020: free bespoke advice on digitisation.

New in 2020, we are delighted to offer members of the PCN up to two hours of free consultation with consultant Dr. Sandra Santos. Sandra has current knowledge on digital asset management, the digitisation/photography of analogue photographs, copyright, and licensing.

We would particularly recommend taking up this offer if you are:

  • Seeking to digitise a collection or archive of analogue photographs;
  • Would like advice on technical requirements, the workflow of your digitisation project, copyright and licensing applied to your digitisation project.

You can find out more about Sandra here; if you would like to take up this offer you need to be a current member of the PCN, then please complete this form. If you have any other queries please get in touch with Sandra.


Below are some of our most Frequently Asked Questions and toolkits to download on Digitisation and Basic Collections Care. Further information will be added over time. The tools here are primarily aimed at beginner level.

If you join as a member you can access more advanced specialist toolkits, and an advice forum, in the members' area.



Of what monetary value is my photographic collection?

Your collection will hold value to you beyond its price. If you are looking for the monetary value a good place to start is an auction house, which will have a number of general valuation days per week which are mostly free to attend. If you believe the photographs in your photographic collection may be of high value you could contact a national auction house. The photographs specialist at Christies, Jude Hull, is happy to give desk-top valuations (i.e. images over email) in the first instance; you can contact her here. Other large auction houses with dedicated photography departments or photography specialists include Sothebys, Phillips, Dreweatts Bloomsbury, Bonhams and Forum Auctions.

Auction houses often have searchable databases of previous sales. For a one-off charge or a subscription fee, websites like art sales index and will let you search thousands of auction catalogue entries in one go to establish the provenance of a single work and its previous sale price. For acquisitions or sales from within a museum please read the advice from the Collections Trust here and consult the Museums Association’s Code of Ethics and Guidelines on Disposal.

A disorganised, poorly-kept collection is often of considerably less financial value than the opposite. Any time that you can put in on identifying, organising and telling people about your collection is definitely time well spent.

What type of photographic process was used to make this image?

Photography has gone through a number of different technical incarnations in its almost 200-year history. The earliest surviving photograph was taken by Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 from his window in Saint-Loup-de Varennes, France. Niépce, his collaborator Louis Daguerre and early pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot experimented with a number of techniques including using lavender oil, pewter plate, silver coated copper and iodine and bees-wax coated paper, as a result the early history of photography is populated by numerous scientific experiments, successes and failures.

Some of the most prominent photographic processes include:
The Daguerreotype, announced in 1839, is an early form of photography which is made on a silver-plated metal sheet and typically has a silver sheen to it. Daguerreotypes are often kept under glass and have a positive or negative appearance depending on the angle of view.
The Albumen Print, which was popular from 1850, is made from paper coated in egg white, salts and silver nitrate exposed to a negative and sunlight; they and are often stuck onto a mount or other surface. Cartes de visite are most often albumen prints.
Wet and Dry Glass Plate printing, introduced from 1851, involves a sheet of hand-coated glass which is developed while still wet. By 1860 it had mostly taken over as a popular technique. By the 1880s it was largely replaced by the gelatin dry-plate, also produced on glass.
Carbon Printing was introduced from 1864; they have a matt finish and are printed in a variety of black and white tones, produced on a paper with a light-sensitive gelatin. 
Platinum Printing was first patented in 1873 and was popular until the 1920s by which time the price of platinum had rocketed. Platinum prints were made on paper using iron salts and platinum compound exposed to daylight. They are highly valued for their tonal depth and range and the stable quality of the process.
Other techniques and modern prints fall into numerous categories including black and white Silver Gelatin prints, C-Types, Dye-Transfer and Digital Images, and a number of alt-techniques.

A good place to learn about these techniques in more detail is the Victoria & Albert Museum website which lists techniques and processes. The Getty Museum and George Eastman House, USA both have a series of youtube films on the history of photographic processes. A number of excellent books have been published on the topic of technique including Photographs of the Past: Process and Preservation, by Bertrand Lavedrine (Getty, 2009). The Getty Conservation Institute has a number of excellent resources including the Atlas of Analytical Signatures of Photographic Processes which explains photographic history and its processes clearly, with free pdfs to download.

How do I date a photograph?

Dating a photograph can be done in a number of ways. It’s possible to narrow down the date by ascertaining the technique used to produce the image. For example, if the work is an albumen print then it can’t have been made before 1850 and is less likely to have been made after 1905, when the popularity of the technique waned. If you use this method to date an image it’s useful to remember that older techniques were used by photographers long after they fall out of general fashion, and are used by contemporary photographers today. Another way to date a photograph containing people in it, is to date the clothing in the image. Taking a photograph was often a rarity and sitters often wore their best clothes and hairstyles. A good source for dating dress is the Victorian dress section of the Victoria & Albert Museum (click here for the website) or the multi-volume series of books ‘Fashion in Photographs’ (Batsford Fashion Guides, publ. 1991). For a list of books which can help further date your photographs please get in touch with the PCN. The National Portrait Gallery runs a free weekly opinion service, online and in person, with a member of curatorial staff to support research into British portraits; see here for details.

Where can I donate my photographic collection?

Carefully consider the strengths of your collection or archive and which public collection it might relate to, any particular subjects or locations that are covered in detail. There might be a specialist body which would be particularly interested in the work, whether that is a company, institution or membership body. A full list of 39 Subject Specialist Networks in the UK can be found here. Your local museum will be best placed to direct you if your collection is regionally specific. If you are unsure which museum to contact, the Museum Development Network may be able to assist, details here, or get in touch directly with the PCN at National Museums do occasionally acquire archives, but have strict acquisition policies in relation to their collecting priorities. For example, The Imperial War Museum lists the specific areas from which it accepts donations of individual items, and it also lists the items it does not collect. If you are contacting an institution it is advisable to initially supply a brief, organised summary of the content of your collection or archive, including:

  • Approximate date range of the material.
  • The subject matter.
  • Number and type of works (prints, contact sheets, negatives, etc).
  • Details of supplementary material (letters, drawings, etc).
  • Approximate space the material occupies (e.g. 3 linear meters of shelving/4 filing cabinets).

The more organised you are, the better the chance of an institution being able to acquire the collection. Reading a major collection’s mission or vision statement can also help gain an understanding if the organisation is a good match to your own collection. It is increasingly the case in the UK that organisations seek a bequest of money alongside donations of collections, in order to fund the additional cost of storing and cataloguing the collection. For this reason it reason it would be useful to have informal conversations with other donors or recipients if possible. If you are a professional photographer, it is important to plan for your legacy in general, and the cataloguing and archiving of your work. If you are a Photographic Collections Network member please see our legacy planning events. A useful website for examples of how photographers have planned the future of their archives is the Photo Legacy Project.

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