How Long Do Real Estate Photographers Keep Their Images?

February 26th, 2017

Alan in the Seattle area asks:

Just curious to know how long most photographers keep the images from each of their real estate shoots?  Do they keep them all or do they just keep the deliverables?  And if so, for how long?

Much depends on the volume of shoots you are doing and your style of shooting and if you register and resell your images.

If you are shooting high volume, most would argue that here’s probably not much of a reason to have the images you shot more than 6 months to a year ago.

On the other hand, if you don’t shoot high volume, given today’s low storage costs, there’s little motivation to develop a disciplined process for getting rid of old shoots. For most photographers, it would take more time and effort to go clean up and get rid of old stuff and decide what’s important and what’s not important than to just keep everything! There’s always a chance that you’ll screw up and get rid of something important. So why not just keep everything?

I have every digital file that I’ve created since I started using a digital camera in 1999. It’s not that big a deal. I enjoy going back and looking at the listings that I shot back in 2000!

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34 Responses to “How Long Do Real Estate Photographers Keep Their Images?”

  • I save all of my RE files for one year. After that, I MIGHT delete the extra files and just hang on to the final images and the frames that went into them. I always separate out my best photos and keep them well backed up. Storage is just so cheap that keeping images for a long time isn’t much of a problem. If you change your drives every year or two to avoid drive failures, you will have lots of storage available.

    I register all of my images, but I’m not worried about deleting some if they aren’t worth saving. There isn’t any requirement that you keep your registered images. If you are keeping your final work product, that should be enough and at around 20 images/home, it would take years of my RE work to fill up a 3TB drive.

  • Good question and one I have been asking myself as well. Unlike most of my fellow RE photographers, I shoot 3 exposures bracketed per shot no process as HDR. And I shoot a lot. So I have a large collection of RAW images at full resolution to save. Then I keep from 2 to 6 different stages from my PS processing as PSDs often with several layers. Then I save the finished version as HiRes PSDs. I then convert those to HiRes JPEGs and another set as LoRes JPEGs for MLS and deliver only the JPEGs to my clients. Add to that the video RAW files I also shoot most of the time now of the same property and the finished MOV version, and I can easily have 35 – 50 gigs of memory used up on one property.

    That does add up to a lot of storage, perhaps more than the industry standard. I am considering dumping all the RAW and the different stages of processing images and just keeping the final versions as HiRes PSDs since it is easy enough to batch process them into JPEGs again if necessary. Sort of like the master of a movie. Then just keep the video clips I made the video with and the final video out put.

    I have had to reshoot some properties that the owners took off the market when they did not sell fast enough then put back on at a later date. In the interval the owners had made changes, improvement, bought new furniture, paintings, redesigned the gardens, painted the house or put a new roof on. So buyers who had seen the photos would be seeing significant differences between the older photos and the house when they came to see the property. And when the reshoot takes place, and I am doing one such tomorrow morning, it is at a different time of year. So tomorrow’s shoot will have lush green stuff growing instead of the golden dry grasses from a year ago last summer. So everything needs reshot anyway, stills and video. So what is the point of keeping everything? Just the final images for portfolio use after a year is what I am thinking now.

  • I save everything, multiple 4tb nas drives , it all goes out there. BUT I also think it’s a waste. BUT I am anal because I once lost a HD with a years worth of family photos and only recovered thumbnails. I still cry over that.

    If I could get rid of them (I am not a hoarder, just odd when it comes to photos)I would just save those outstanding shots for advertising use after the shoot was 6 months to a year old, so delete after 9 months.

  • where do you ‘register images’?
    I’ve never heard of anyone registering RE images

    I save all my final images – as said above, 20 images or so per shoot doesn’t take much space. As well I save 1 or 2
    usable raw exposures of the extras (that I could edit well enough for the rare time a client wants more later).
    The only exception is ‘portfolio quality properties’ – for those I save all the raw and any good extras so I always have the option of updating
    the editing. Same for portfolio quality video shoots – I save all the final clips used and a selection of extras.
    Having once had an external drive fail I also save portfolio quality shoots to 1 or 2 DVD’s – old fashioned but I’ve never had a DVD fail although
    I rarely have any reason to look at them..
    I email myself the few very best shots out of any portfolio quality property/shoot and never delete those emails – a handy extra backup.
    My Dropbox now has a Portfolio folder – in there I’m starting to save the few best shots from portfolio quality properties/shoots.
    This will save a lot of time when I want to do website updates – right now i’m having to look through so much it’s taking ‘forever’.

  • like Bill Jones I also have a dead La Cie hard drive with a years family photos – that hurts. Lost a years worth of work photos on the same drive and as annoying as it I don’t cry over those.
    That’s when I started emailing myself full size copies of my most important shots – and saving them to 1 or 2 DVD’s.
    A memory stick might be one more extra extra backup to save those important portfolio and family shots.

  • Just keep everything no matter how much you shoot.

    How can you know what you’ll need?! You might run into a company willing to pay four figures for photos of kitchen tables. You just never know.

  • I keep them forever, I just make sure they are all cataloged with labelled external HDDs so that I can grab anything at short notice.

    Storage is so cheap that it is not worth my time and effort to remove old files I don’t need. In fact the more you delete old stuff to make room the more fragmented your drives are going to get and your risk of hard disk failure will increase greatly.

    I can count on one hand all the instances where I have relicensed images for other purposes besides real estate but nevertheless they are many times having old images makes my life as a RE shooter much easier.

    Some recent examples from just the last few weeks of having old images easily accessible are:

    Shooting a divorced couple’s property where the presentation was a little lacking, when I walked into the ensuite to be confronted with wall to wall toiletries, I didn’t have to worry because I knew I could just drag up the old photo and supply that instead. Saved 10 minutes of moving stuff out of the way.

    When shooting a rental property with the car parked in the driveway that was not able to be moved. It wasn’t an easy photoshop job because there was an open wire fence behind it that also now obscured by heaps of stuff. No drama because I could just bring up the old shot from a few years ago and just shoehorn in the old driveway and fence. It made a nightmare PS job a piece of cake.

    One job I did recently was on its fourth agent over the period of many years. It was large rural property so rather than having to waste another hour driving all the farm to get shots, I was able to just send on all the old shots as well.

  • I save all my finished images and the RAW finals involved in the process. I delete all the RAW files that I didn’t use.

  • How long? Well don’t go by me I’m an obsessive data hoarder. Forever is my answer.

    But to keep it real I am obsessed with keeping my working equipment up to date that included fully redundant backups on raid systems. In the past I have tried to keep my main desktop with built in mirrored raid. Considering the price of storage it’s cheap. That is supplemented with NAS that is much larger. I upgrade about every three years. It’s cheap guys. With the price of HD approaching $25 a TB you can keep dual copies (mirrored raid) of every shoot one man can take in a year (for me the max is 500) for less than $1 per shoot. That is less than 1% per shoot. Considering you give half of that to the tax man the final cost to you is less than $.50 per shoot.

    The advancement of technology makes this possible. It feeds my obsessive data hoarding and I always have all of my data on current technology media backed up on top of that. To me it’s a win win. Keeping everything forever requires me to also keep it pretty safe. BTW I even had my working NAS struck by lightening real burn marks on it. Totaled it but because I even had that backed up I lost nothing.

    Now after making this claim I hope Karma does not strike…

  • As part of my normal workflow, I keep everything in a 2017 folder with jobs as subfolders. While I am thinking about adjusting it to 6 months with two folders per year, annually – January 1 – I remove one year (2015) to an external ‘archive’ harddrive while keeping the most recent year (2016) on the active harddrive. Since it is easy to sort by ranking, the first thing I do in Lightroom is star rank with 1 star = trash and mass deleted when all processing complete. 5 Star are the ones to deliver and 4 Star are the pano stitch sequences. 3 Star is the unique an may have 2 or 3 sets per shoot – rare HDR sequences or multi for masking out reflections – worked first with their output re-labeled as 5 Star. After reading the other replies, I may consider mass deleting the 3 and 4 star RAW but there at not really that many. Would never delete the 5 star raw as have been know to totally re-work when the photo is used for a different purpose where RE restrictions don’t apply. Only about one a year do I have to retrieve something off my archive harddrive.

  • Given how cheap storage is, I have found it to be better to just keep the photos and add more storage.

  • I keep them all but only the final JPGs. Once I’ve delivered them to the client I immediately delete all RAW and TIFF files keeping only the LR catalog and final JPGs. In 9 years I’ve never had to go back in time and reprocess anything so why waste so much HAD space? It’s nice closure as well. =)

  • I just went through this exercise this past week. I cleaned out all of 2014’s Raw data leaving just the finished jpgs up in Dropbox.
    For 2015 and 2016 I cleaned out all of the Raw secondary shots (ambient and speed light frames) used to build the final but kept the final PSD’s and always the jpgs up in Dropbox. Having said that a little editing was done in deciding to keep some special shots in RAW such as: sky replacement or large item removal (cars, dumpsters or moving pods).
    I was able to gain over a Terabyte of space BTW. I just don’t like have a bunch of drives laying around.
    Everything is on RAID1 plus full cloud storage backup using Backblaze.

  • I do a Lightroom HDR workflow, and after I’ve delivered my final HDR image files to the realtor, I delete all of the bracketed files. I delete the delivered HDR files at the end of the year after culling out any exceptional ones for portfolio purposes. Storage may be relatively cheap, but it’s not FREE!

  • Just one more note. It was noted that hard drives can go bad. All too true. And often it is the motor for a motor drive or the disk itself. Nothing to do about that. But more often it is the disk directory and/or the file names and/or the dates that have become corrupted with use. I run Disk Warrior every few months to repair the directory and the files. This also helps speed up the computer since it can find files more quickly and this is true as well of solid state drives. Even the OS and software can have corruption. So anything to avoid meltdowns.

  • 2 years into this I’m still finding my style, so I delete everything a day or 2 after delivery. I generally can’t stand to look at images I made as recently as 4 or 6 months ago. I keep enough for my site but even those get old to my eye pretty quickly. After tossing 1200 homes I’ve only regretted it once when a broker’s client contacted me to buy them. Otoh, I never delete people shots, they are golden – Homes are just ‘things’. Maybe when I get better I’ll change my mind 🙂

  • I dump my RAW images, but keep the 2 re-sized ones.
    It’s paid off as a couple times I’ve had agents come back to request them.

  • I’ve gone back and forth on this through the years. But I’ve learned that some people, whether it’s agents, builders, or designers will fail do actually download the images to their own computer. So I’ve had people call me 6 months later and ask for the images again. My current process is to archive a large, high-res JPEG of each image, and to delete the RAW files about a month after I (first) deliver them. Since I do multiple exposures for each set-up, that I then hand-blend, it just doesn’t seem practical to keep the RAW files forever.

  • For real estate photography:

    RAWs – Deleted.
    Medium JPGs – Archived forever.

    That covers my clients perfectly.

  • On all important or significant properties I keep everything…. all RAW and all final images of any size (.NEF, .tiff and .jpg). On all other properties, about 90% of what I shoot, I only keep the final jpegs delivered to the client. I shoot with a D810 so even my jpg’s are 20MB to 25MB each (7300 x 4900 pixels). Images I delver to clients are 2560 by 1700 pixels, jpg, sRGB. I have an 8TB hard drive next to my computer where I keep all properties, and I have a backup of that 8TB in a fire proof safe. I back up about every ten days. Once I finish and deliver a property I remove it from my Lightroom workflow. I’m not a high volume shooter… I only shoot 350 to 400 properties a year. I make $5K to $10K extra a year from selling 2nd (sometimes 3rd) usage rights. Sometimes a new Realtor takes over a listing or the buyer of a property wants to use the images for a vacation rental.

  • “I just went through this exercise this past week. I cleaned out all of 2014’s Raw data leaving just the finished jpgs up in Dropbox…I was able to gain over a Terabyte of space BTW.”

    I don’t delete anything ever. Even blank frames. Culling and deleting is just not a cost effective endeavor for me, plus it’s risky. A 3 TB hard drive costs around $90 these days. So the poster above saved himself $30 by culling and deleting a year’s worth of images. How long did it take to do that? If it was more than 30 minutes then it probably wasn’t worth it.

  • Patrick Ketchum

    Are you actively seeking buyers of your images for 2nd (and sometimes 3rd) party usage? That’s a good amount of extra cash you’re picking up.

  • I don’t find it difficult to cull and delete unused images at all. I use LR and color code the final images. When I’m sure that I’m done with the unused RAW files, I just delete all of the non-color coded ones for that project. Takes about 30 seconds. But I do wait a couple weeks before doing that.

  • Dan…. 2nd and 3rd usage clients contact me…. Realtors taking over listings see my images in the previous listing… and ask me if they can license them. On vacation rentals, the buyer saw the images when they purchased the property, and the Realtor tells them to contact me for vacation rental usage. A lot of properties are sold turn-key furnished.

  • I work current jobs on a internal 2TB drive and use a 6TB drive for each year 2013-2017. My storage system naming convention directory structure is YYYY/MM/DD/address-Agent Name, Saving only DNGs. This makes it very easy to search for either address or agent. As a secondary backup for years 2015, 2016, and 2017 we duplicate on to MAC OS external drives. I also have low-res images dating back from 2009 stored on my GoDaddy server.

  • I have a 90-day storage clause in my contract, so after 90-days I can purge.

  • It seems to be like asking about one’s resume. Ask 10 people, get 11 opinions.

    As with most, I have images in multiple process sets (at high level): Backup copy, straight from camera; Work in Process; Deliverable; and, Archive. The raw backup copies hang around for about 6 months. Once the client accepts the images, I move the Deliverable (RAW) collection into the Archive and delete all (other non-deliverable) images. It takes minimal effort to do the cleanup based on how my workflow is set up.

    I used to waffle back and forth on this topic. Not any longer. Why store JPGs? I can just recreate them. And all the supporting files? Very unlikely I’ll go back to them. I’ve done that once or twice as an experiment and found, nope, not something that warrants my storing TB of waste byproduct on a freak chance 0.000001% might be worth something one day.

    🙂

  • @Shane Kelley, “registering images” is registering your Copyright with the Copyright office, copyright.gov. Without a registration, you have nearly zero chance of getting any compensation is your images are infringed. The best you can hope for is an injunction and you would not be able to collect attorneys fees from the defendant.

  • I frequently have agents who re activate old listings from a year or two or even three years ago that didn’t sell. As much as I tell agents to download their OWN data for their OWN listings, I find most don’t (not surprising…. technophobes!). I also shoot video, so my office is one big fat hard drive as I fill up about 20TB every calendar year…. (don’t underestimate how much data is involved with 4K video – it’s obscene.).

    I also send images via Hightail, whose files never seem to purge. I have gone back to old Hightail emails from even two years ago and can just forward that link again and all images are still there – but I don’t want to rely on that.

    Generally storage is pretty inexpensive. I delete my raw files and all my Final Cut Pro files (except for the full res full export which I can use if I need to re-edit) upon archiving, so that does reduce file sizes quite a bit and I really don’t need ALL of that.

  • I agree with many people here in that I’ll keep everything if possible. I just don’t know when a photo might be of value to someone or myself.

    I can always delete them years later if I am in need of space and don’t care for them anymore.

  • It absolutely KILLS me that people would delete the RAW files and keep the JPGs.

    That’s like throwing away your negatives and keeping only the cheap prints you made at the kiosk in the drug store.

  • How are people saving to the cloud and external drives w/o using up space on your main hard drive? Are you literally copying them over manually then delete off your computer? I have both time machine and a cloud backup synced w/ my computer hard drive. I always thought that was the way to go. I worry about all the space I’m using up on my computer. I started out w/ 1 TB and now down to 380 GB. Just a ridiculous amount of storage I am using. What am I missing?

  • @Robin, I have 4 “main” drives of 2TB and 3TB, so I am not worried about space on my main HD. I back up to a local offline hard drive and periodically send another backup to an offsite location. I don’t bother with “cloud” services. While it’s not too hard to upload a job or two each day, downloading the data to a new local drive can take ages (ok, weeks) and may max out your “unlimited” internet account. If something really bad happens, I can drive three hours to retrieve my offsite backup. If there is some sort of disaster that affects me and my offsite location, retrieving photos isn’t going to be much of a priority.

    A 3TB drive is in the vicinity of $70 or so these days and 4TB drives aren’t that much more. Cheap insurance. Sometimes you can find 500GB drives being blown out and they make great backups. I just got a box of 185GB drives for free and used them to back up my 2016 data. Get a family member or good friend a couple of hundred miles away to store your backup drives. There are even commercial storage companies that keep physical backups in a temperature/humidity stable room and will accept your drives via a shipping company and will mail a drive back to you when you request it for a modest fee. Most, if not all, will also allow you to pick up your drive in person. USPS has much more bandwidth than any cloud service.

    With LR, you can delete the jpgs you deliver to your client and just keep the RAW files and the LR catalog with all of your edits. If you need more jpgs, just export. If you have run images through Photoshop, you may need to hang on to the PSD files if there was a lot of work done. A simple Flambient process can be done again if the need arises. Many listing contracts run for 6 months. If the seller decides to use another agent, you may have a chance to sell the images again, so hanging on to the whole folder for a year is good practice. After that, agents are unlikely to expect that you still have the gallery and may hire you to rephotograph the home.

  • When all is said and done (I’m anal to, have all the old stuff) why do we care after 6 months. Give me a good reason to purge all this stuff. I wonder how amg millions of terabytes of spam are still on servers with old email accounts. Our old stuff really has no more value.

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