Every professional photographer has experienced the thrill of getting paid. Some even remember the time they made their first sale. However, only a few photographers belong in an extraordinary league of their own: those who have taken iconic images that fetched an amount so unbelievable that they belong to the list of the 10 most expensive photographs ever sold.

You may want to double check the numbers you are seeing but trust us, this is the real deal. Photographers like Cindy Sherman, Andreas Gursky and Richard Prince are just a few of the photographers that sold their products for record seven digit amounts.

10 Most Expensive Photographs Ever Sold

 

#10 – Billy the Kid (1880)

Photographer: Unknown

Price Tag: $2.3 million

Film goers may have forever attached the face of actor Emilio Estevez to the legendary outlaw Billy the Kid, vis-à-vis the Young Guns films. However, the real Billy the Kid will forever be immortalized by this captivating portrait taken in 1880 by an anonymous photographer.

#9 – Untitled #153 (1985)

Photographer: Cindy Sherman

Price Tag: $2.7 million

A portrait so haunting that it could be mistaken for a Weegee crime scene image, Cindy Sherman’s masterpiece maintains a terrifying effect. But Cindy reassures that the female subject wasn’t a poor victim of a senseless crime: “it’s okay because they’re fakes. It’s all set up. It’s functioning like a fairytale.”

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© Cindy Sherman

#8 – The Pond Moonlight (1904)

Photographer: Edward Steichen

Price Tag: $2.9 million

An eerie depiction of a nighttime pond, this exemplified the pictorial style of the 1880s and captivated a rich photography aficionado to bid 2.9 million dollars for this antique image.

#7 – Los Angeles (1998)

Photographer: Andreas Gursky

Price Tag: $2.9 million

Like straight out of a science fiction movie, Andreas Gursky’s image, which shows the grid like lighting patterns of the city of angels, was sold for a staggering 2.9 million dollars.

© Andreas Gursky

#6A – 99 Cent II, Diptychon (1999)

Photographer: Andreas Gursky

Price Tag: $3.3 million

Andreas Gursky’s two photographs occupies the sixth spot. The first, 99 Cent II, was the first photograph to have been auctioned for more than three million dollars in 2007. The following photo is a part of the two-part photograph made by Andreas Gursky.
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© Andreas Gursky

#6B – Chicago Board of Trade III (1999)

Photographer: Andreas Gursky

Price Tag: $3,298,755

Andreas Gursky is on a roll and he’s just starting to heat up on this list. Chicago Board of Trade III displays chaos among the sea of traders, inside the trading office in Chicago; this beautiful piece was auctioned for almost 3.3 million dollars.
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© Andreas Gursky

 

#5 – Untitled (Cowboy) (1989)

Photographer: Richard Prince

Price Tag: $3.4 million

An unnamed cowboy caught in action, as he swings his rope to catch another horse. This photo has a beautiful backdrop of disheveled clouds and a clear bright sky, which earned Richard Prince 3.4 million dollars.
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© Richard Prince

#4 – Dead Troops Talk (1992)

Photographer: Jeff Wall

Price Tag: $3.7 million

Dead Troops Talk is an iconic image from Jeff Wall that shows dead Soviet troops talking to each other, after a battle during the Soviet-Afghan War. This graphic, but interesting piece, sold for a whopping 3.7 million dollars.
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© Jeff Wall

#3 – For Her Majesty (1973)

Photographer: Gilbert & George 

Price Tag: $3.7 million

Gilbert & George have carved a successful photography career taking images that tackle various world topics. They sold their most expensive piece when their photograph For Her Majesty commanded $3.7 million at Sothesby’s in June 2008.
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© Gilbert & George

#2: Untitled #96 (1981)

Photographer: Cindy Sherman

Price Tag: $3.9 million

Cindy Sherman’s self portrait, which has her portraying a young 70’s teenager looking mysteriously adrift, went for a mind boggling 3.9 million dollar in 2011: making it the most expensive photograph sold at that time.
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© Cindy Sherman

#1 – Rhein II (1999)

Photographer: Andreas Gursky

Price Tag: $4.3 million

Beating the record set by Cindy Sherman in 2011, Andreas Gursky cements his status atop this very exclusive group with his photograph of the Rhine River: his fourth photo on this list sold for 4.3 million dollars.

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© Andreas Gursky

Update: The New #1 now belongs to Peter Lik whose photograph entitled “Phantom” , was sold  in December 2014 to a private collector for a mind boggling $6.5 million. It easily surpassed the previous record held by Andreas Gursky’s “Rhein II”, which sold for $4.3 million back in 2011.

© Peter Lik

© Peter Lik

Now, we know some photos on this list will leave you scratching your heads at the amount of money they commanded. But one great lesson is that the symbolism and meaning of a photograph can sometime become more important than its visual feature. A photograph is meant to challenge one’s thinking and instigate debate; it is safe to say that all of these photos achieve that.