Photography arrived in the western hemisphere from France in late 1839. The first record of photography in New Orleans occurs in 1840; the first photographic exhibition took place in Baton Rouge in 1840 as well when Jules Lyon came upriver from New Orleans to display a number of his daguerreotypes. Photographs have been a part of Louisiana history ever since.

The Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections (LLMVC) hold nearly a quarter million photographic images. The earliest is a daguerreotype portrait, created around 1845, of Varina Davis, wife of Jefferson Davis. Recent acquisitions include Jamie Baldridge's The Everywhere Chronicles, winner of the 2008 Lucie Award. In between is a range of materials documenting Louisiana's citizens, places, and events, as well as people, places, and events much further afield.

Many photographs are included in collections of family papers or the records of businesses and other organizations, but LLMVC also includes a number of studio collections. Among these are the works of the Norman Studio (Natchez, MS, ca. 1850-1950), Andrew Lytle (Baton Rouge, LA, ca. 1863-1910), George Francois Mugnier (New Orleans, LA, 1885-1910), and Fonville Winans (Baton Rouge, LA). More recent collections include the work of Donn Young (New Orleans, LA, ca. 1980-2005), salvaged from the wreckage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There are currently more than 20 photographic collections available in part via the Louisiana Digital Library.