Photograph of three boys eating pasties, 1911 (Catalogue reference: COPY 1/555/212)

This is a brief guide to researching photographs. The National Archives holds one of the world's great photographic collections. It covers the entire time-span of the medium and runs into many millions of individual items.

  • What records can I find at The National Archives at Kew?

    • Records of the Copyright Office, Stationers' Company (1862-1912)

      Search Discovery, our cataloguea search tool with descriptions of tens of millions of documents from the UK central government, law courts, and other national bodies, in COPY 1 for photographs registered for copyright with the Stationers' Company. Many photographs in this series have now been fully catalogued and can be searched using a keyword such as the name of a person or place, subject matter, or the name of the photographer.

    • Colonial Office and successors: photographic collection (1815-1986)

      Search our catalogue in CO 1069 by country for photographs collected by the Colonial Office depicting life in the colonies.

    • Central Office of Information: British Empire collection of photographs (1945-1965)

      Search our catalogue in INF 10 by country for photographs illustrating the geography and way of life in British colonial and Commonwealth territories. 

    • Admiralty: Naval Construction Department (1854-1945)

      Search our catalogue in ADM 176 by name of ship for photographs of Royal Navy ships afloat or in dry dock collected by the Naval Construction Department.

  • What records can I find in other archives and organisations?

    • Major photographic collections

      For information about photographs relating to government held elsewhere, and details of other major photographic collections, see sections five and six of the research guide Photographs: further research.

  • What other resources will help me find information?

Did you know?

Photographic subjects can range from the every-day to world-changing events.  Together they portray the story of our heritage, culture and history and offer unique sources for social historians, family and local historians, and other researchers.

The National Archives holds photographs taken by many pioneering and famous photographers, including Eadweard Muybridge, Julia Margaret Cameron and Peter Henry Emerson.

The collection also includes the work of many amateur enthusiasts with a variety of subjects: local views and events, dignitaries and officials, animals and people.

Some record seriesa grouping of records held by The National Archives, based on common function or subject are dedicated wholly to photographic material.  In addition, many photographs are to be found throughout paper files and records from the second half of the 19th century onwards.  You may need to identify non-photographic material relevant to your research topic and then search through the paper files in a quest to find any accompanying photographs.