The 15 Most Expensive Photographs Ever Sold

Bob Books
26th July 2017

You know that *high-five-self* moment when your Instagram selfie gets 11 likes? Well, not to discredit your beautiful face, but some masters of the camera are making millions from their snaps.

The value of an auctioned photograph is whatever the buyer is willing to pay it for. However, key factors that can affect a photograph’s auction price. These include the story behind the image and the artist, the supply and demand of photos from a particular era, and the perceived value established by previous works being sold for large sums.

For example, the high value of the famous Nineteenth Century image of Billy the Kid can be attributed to the incredible life of crime and lawlessness that the outlaw became notorious for, and the scarcity of genuine original images of Billy.

Richard Prince’s Spiritual America may draw its value from the controversy surrounding the image. In 2009 the Tate Modern had to withdraw the photo from their gallery due to its portrayal of a naked child. This was following advice from Scotland Yard as the piece might have broken obscenity laws.

The most expensive photo ever sold is Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II. The popularity of Gursky’s images is due to the fact that, despite their apparent simplicity, they are technical master pieces. His hyper-realistic large-scale prints, with beautiful colours and incredible detail take months to set up and required hours of digital doctoring to perfect.

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, well this infographic illustrating the 15 most valuable photos of all time must be worth $48,143,717 then.


In December 2014, Australian photographer Peter Lik reportedly sold his piece titled ‘Phantom’ to an anonymous bidder for $6.5 million. This would make it the highest price ever paid for a photograph. However, Lik's claims have been met by much scepticism. Proof of the sale has never been presented, and the anonymous buyer has never come forward