Strolling from gallery to gallery is one of my favorite things to do. I started my career as a gallery administrator where I was lucky to start a (small) collection. The first consideration when looking to purchase work is to familiarize yourself with what galleries offer.
If you're looking for contemporary photography target galleries that specialize in contemporary photography. If you're looking for a Japanese tea bowl find galleries that specialize in fine art pottery. To name just a few more ways that galleries delineate themselves, you can search for galleries that specialize in American, European, local, regional, or international work across all mediums.
While most galleries subscribe to a white box, minimalist viewing room philosophy, they almost always have extensive selections of work stored unframed in flat files and meticulously stacked within storage closets. If you interested in seeing a particular genre, style, medium, or size of work, gallerists will be happy to show you what they have. They may start the process by showing you catalogs from previous shows to gauge your interest. The very best part about buying work from a gallery is that art dealers are in love with the artists they choose to represent and often share thoughtful information surrounding the work and the artist's life. They are able to articulate why a piece is particularly striking or why it may be different from others.
The majority of art galleries are small proprietorships and operate with significant flexibility and their own unique agenda. I've worked at galleries that will only sell to people they have researched, to galleries that will personally deliver works to your home so you can live with them for a few days before making a decision. Galleries will also allow you to pay for a piece over time in many cases.
All prints including photography are sold in limited editions. Being limited, in part, is what creates the value of the edition. The larger the edition, the less expensive. The smaller the edition the more expensive. Prices within editions get progressively more expensive as they sell and when the entire edition has sold the value of all pieces within that edition generally increases.
Buying art from a gallery is a personal, well serviced transaction. You should expect great customer service, honesty, documentation of the artwork including a signature on the piece, an artist bio and any supporting literature, framing services for an additional cost, delivery to your home or office, and in many cases custom installation of the work itself. Lastly, do not be intimidated. If you are generally interested in learning and exploring artworks ask as many questions as you wish and develop a relationship with a gallery!
Image: Joan Clancy Art Gallery