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Learn more about press photos

What makes a press photo valuable?

The photographer

The age of the photograph

Which news agency or newspaper that published the photograph

Is the photograph original vintage (Type I /A)

The quality of the photographic paper

The provenance of the photograph: hand scribble, notes, dates, stamps telling the actual history of the photograph

IMS Press Photo classification

Newspaper Photo:
Most of the time these are pretty unique, specially printed in the newspaper photo lab only one time to be used in the upcoming edition of the newspapers. They were shot by staff or freelances working for these newspapers. Except for rare occasions, they were always printed directly from the original negative. Some examples off this kind of photographs can be found in our site when searching by the name of the photographer you are looking for ie: "Herbie Knott"
Photos tend to show a newspaper clip or library dates printed on the back.

News Agency Photos:
These photos were printed by news agencies and most of the time include a caption with the description of the event.
The same photos will show up in different newspapers archives and will vary in many forms, but they always have the same caption adhered on the reverse. Name of the agency and date of printing is part of the text plus a detailed description of the photograph.

Photographs were received in the newspaper offices by telephone lines and printed using a special machine provided by the news agencies offering the service. This is a process invented in the ’20s using traditional gelatin silver paper, light and chemicals to print the images. Milimetrical horizontal created the lights and shadows that form the image.

In the late '60s, the gelatin silver wet process was replaced for a "dry" process using a photographic paper that won't require developer and fixer. This is a silver halide paper that was created by the Associated Press and MIT lab. It has a yellow tone and the caption printed in the same side of the image.  Later, in the '80s, the process was replaced again for laser prints created with digital printers provided by the news agencies

Promotional photographs
These were photographs sent to newspapers by external companies with the intention of promoting products, artists, events, etc.
Record labels used to hire important and famous photographers for these photoshoots and some examples are the U2 Joshua Tree photographs by Anton Corbijn or Patti Smith portraits by Robert Mapplethorpe.  Art galleries used to send copies important photographs to promote their exhibits in the newspapers.


At IMS we work directly with newspapers from across the globe to bring their archives to the general public. We add thousands of photographs every week directly in our site. If you have any doubt or need assistance to identify the kind of photograph that got your attention don't hesitate to reach out for help to: info(at)

The history of photographic paper

The process

It is quite simple: the photographic paper reveals an image when exposed to light.

By adding a light-sensitive layer, called the emulsion, to a base of fiber or resin, the paper becomes sensitive to light. In the past, the emulsion was usually based on silver salts. 

The British inventor Thomas Wedgewood first observed this phenomenon in 1802. 

Yet, he could only capture shadows on paper coated with silver chloride and he died before he could develop it further. After his death, another Briton, William Fox Talbot improved the emulsion and added a developing agent.

William Fox Talbot is the inventor of the calotype process.

The calotype process consists of placing a light-sensitive paper inside a camera obscure. Once the light enters through the pinhole, a negative appears on the paper. To get a positive, the negative is placed onto another piece of photographic paper. Through a process called contact printing, the final positive image is obtained.

Back in the days,  the process was very slow and the photographs were extremely fragile. By adding the use of developing agents, which wash off the silver layer, photos would last longer. With time, technology continued to progress, the images became clearer and eventually in colors.

Today’s photographic paper

Nowadays, there are two major types of the photographic paper base. One is the fiber (FB), sometimes called baryta, and the other is the resin (RC) that first appeared in the 1960s.

The vast majority of pictures (Prints) in the IMS archives are FB and RC prints.

Besides the variety of bases, there is an even more diverse selection of emulsions.

Most of the photographs in the archives are made with silver bromide and silver chloride compound suspended in gelatin.

The various compounds produce distinct qualities in the final image. In fact, the emulsions and bases affect the contrast, the tonal range, and the brightness of the picture.

In photography, other elements have been used to create emulsions, including platinum and uranium. However, none ever achieved widespread use. 

Almost all prints in our collection are black and white silver prints: the color prints were a rarity because of being hard to produce. They became popular from the early ’60s when Kodak industrialized the process.

The negative-positive photography process was dominant in the past and today there are several positive-positive systems in use. One that was abandoned was the Ilfochrome process. It discontinued in 2012 because of the decline in demand with the rise of digital photography.

One that survived and is back in style today is the Polaroid.

The Polaroid Company invented its famous Polaroid camera that would develop pictures instantly, back in 1947. Polaroid is making a comeback thanks to the feeling of nostalgia linked to owning a physical print.


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