Overloaded trash can — Venice 2015. © Sven Laurent.

Limited edition in contemporary photography

Thoughts on defining a number, Part 1/2

Sven Laurent
4 min readMay 11, 2016


I have always felt uncomfortable with the concept of « numbered edition » in the contemporary photography market. I could never really answer the question of how many copies for a picture neither justifying the choice of that number.

There is always someone asking :
Why are you doing an edition of 7 for those pictures ?

Of course, I always find something to answer and most of the times, people are satisfied with that answer but … I am not !

So I started thinking about an honest way to distribute photography.

Photography in the art world
Nowadays, most of photography is sold as « signed and numbered » editions. From the market point of view, I understand that restricting the number of prints increases the sensation of value. A low number of prints usually means a higher price per print and gives a sensation of rareness to the buyer. And rareness is added value in a collectors perspective.

Out there …
I see photographers make editions of 3 where other do 25 or 100.
But why ?
What is the reason behind the number ?
Is there a secret rule ?

And frankly speaking, an edition of 100 … is it still a limited edition ?
For me, 100 is far beyond the limit of my sensation of rareness.
But I guess everyone has a number …

What is your personal number in terms of « limited edition » ?
I’m not sure the question is worth an answer…

But let’s get back to the « Is there a rule ? » question.
I started searching for an existing rule. I thought that if there was a rule to rely on, maybe it would be more consistent.
To my great surprise I could find some rules, but not where I expected.

In France and Belgium, and I guess it is the case in most countries, there is a rule coming from the taxation services. A reduced tax rate is applied on « original artwork » transactions. But what is an « original artwork » according to the french or belgian taxation services ?
The definition changes according to the kind of art. Sculpture hasn’t the same rule as ceramics or painting.

To make it short,
to be considered as an original artwork, a photograph has to be « signed and numbered » with a maximum of 30 copies for all sizes and mediums. Above this number it will not be considered as an « original » and goes under higher tax rate.

If you want more detailed information about the definition of an « original artwork » for the French tax service. Here is where I found the information :

So there is a rule …
For a moment, I was happy having found some information I thought I could rely on. But very quickly a few stories came back to my mind.

An artist releases a 40 x 60 cm photograph in an edition of 25.
He sells everything and is very happy but at some point he’s also thinking that he could have sold more. A few years later, he releases another edition of 15 of the same photograph in another size.

Well, this is where my sense of value starts melting down … rareness is not as guaranteed as I thought.

A lot of photographers are multiplying formats and editions of the same picture far beyond the number of 30. I thought that if there was a rule, it would help to define the number of a limited edition photograph ?

But what’s that rule worth if it is not respected ?
And on top of that, I’m pretty sure that most of the photographers out there don’t even know about the rule.

You might say,
I should simply decide on a number without any justification instead of loosing my energy in useless thinking. But remember the conversation between the collector and the photographer.

Collector : How many copies do you print of this photograph ?
Photographer : 5
Collector : Oh, I just bought a « BLABLABLA » and he/she does only 3. Why are you doing 5 ?
Photographer : Because !

Not a very exciting conversation isn’t it ?

I could of course tell the story of the taxation rule and the number of 30 but we’ve seen that it is not a guarantee of rareness neither than limitation.
For me, this is not a satisfying answer !

Maybe I should define another criteria to rely on.
But before going further, I’d like to ask you :

Which is your decision-making criterion for numbering editions ?

Thanks for reading this far and don’t hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments before reading Part 2.

In Part 2,
I’ll write about the decision balance and the responsibility of the buyer.

You can read it here :
Limited edition in contemporary photography. Thoughts on defining a number, Part 2/2.




Sven Laurent

Brussels based photographer, specialized in contemporary art documentation and reference images. www.svenlaurent.com