How Long Do You Keep Your Photos From Real Estate Shoots?

May 31st, 2016

DroboFileStorageA while back Peter raised an interesting question:

I have had clients loose a listing if property did not sell as fast or as well as a seller wanted it to. For many reasons – with my clients who are all excellent agents and brokers, it was generally because the price was too high rather than lack of marketing. So occasionally their clients would come back to them, hat in hand, and want them to list it again but this time at a more realistic asking price. Subsequently they sold rather quickly. BUT, my clients naturally did not want to pay for new photography unless there had been substantial changes/improvements to the property since the first shoot. So having backed up my images, I am able to provide the photos again since my clients seldom keep them on their hard drives.

So not only how long should a photographer keep the images (perhaps delete once the house has actually sold and cleared escrow?) and if so, should the final images that have passed through post processing be kept and the RAW images be dumped and the versions of the images that have been worked on (I keep several stages of post processing images in case I have to go back and make some changes) dumped too? Storing 25 gigs of images quickly takes up a lot of HD space. When you get into video, it takes up even more. So added to this for video, should you just keep the finished videos or dump the raw footage after the property has been sold? Or keep some or all of it for a year after sale just in case someone is flipping the property? If they are flipping it, they probably are completely redoing it so old photography would not be useful. I’d like to know what the industry standard is if there is one.

My answer to Peter was that I started shooting real estate with digital gear in 1999 (Nikon 995) and I still have every digital file I ever shot since 1999. Both RAW files and files that I uploaded to the MLS. Granted, I don’t shoot 800 listings a year like some real estate photographers but sill, digital storage has always seemed so cheap (right now 5Tb for $129) there never seemed to be any compelling reason to get rid of anything. I was able to show Peter the first digital listing that I shot in June of 1999. My reuse of images is mostly for my books and right here on the blog. The header image up there on the top of the blog is the front exterior shot from listing a home my wife listed in Renton, WA in 2005.

Am I just being a digital pack-rat? How do others manage their files from their old shoots?

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15 Responses to “How Long Do You Keep Your Photos From Real Estate Shoots?”

  • Being doing this over eight years and I’ve got everything cataloged so it’s only coulee of minutes to retrieve it.

    In fact I can even drag out old artwork for wine labels from 1995 if I need to, it’s just another matter to get the file into today’s software…

  • I let clients know I keep all images on file for 1 year, anything beyond that gets deleted and typically the property needs to be re-shot any way after that many months go by. You’d be surprised how many agents don’t save the photos they spent money on! Duh, it’s a no brainer to me.

  • I say you ARE a pack rat 🙂

    With RE photos my goal is to delete everything asap, usually within 2 days of delivery… absolutely can’t stand the clutter.

    Am I just a digital minimalist?

  • I too save all my Real Estate photos, going back to 2008, on a separate backup drive. I even have a few jobs from 1985 on film backed up too. They were made on color slide film and really difficult to photograph and the pay was poor. I gave up until digital got better.

  • I have nearly all of my images, but only promise to keep RE images for a year. I have gone through some jobs and deleted everything but the delivered images, but I find that it’s easier to just buy a new hard drive. I wouldn’t dream of deleting my photojournalism, landscape or product photos, ever.

  • I’ve catalogued every single shoot. I keep every file for at least one year and at the end of the following year I delete everything but the source files of the delivered images (mostly the RAWs) and all their derivatives (HDRs, Panos, Finals, several resolutions etc.). I.e. at the end of this year I start deleting the 2014 “trash”. Thus I have a clean catalogue and every job is available.

  • I have two back-up systems for storing images: I have a 5TB external HD and then I use a cloud-based system with unlimited storage for $65 a year. The cloud based system stores not only my R.E. shoots but everything else on my computer I ask the system to store, which would include personal vacation photos, music, vids, some docs, etc and I have is system set up for auto back-up nightly. All my shoots are catalogued by agent name and address of property. Since I also offer floor plans, these too are saved. I don’t have ten years of digital files, but with unlimited storage to a cloud based system for cheap money, why not keep them? Ping me ten years from now and maybe I will have a different mind set.

  • If you are running a Mac computer, “time machine” is a massive hog of memory anyway so I have several external HD’s and keep everything I shoot, too. As Larry said, memory is cheap. Watch out for sales on internal hard drives then just buy a case for it. It’s very simple to add an internal HD to a case and you end up with a cheaper external hard drive. I consistently change and update images on my website to keep it fresh and interesting so throwing away sample images doesn’t make sense.

  • It took me some time to figure the workflow out, but it starts as soon as I transfer from the camera. The big time saver was putting all RE work in a single folder (2016) with each job a subfolder (Agent – Address) with additional subfolder supporting Lightroom exports (Full size, Reduced/1500px, Tour/Video etc). In January 2017, my 2015 folder will be uncatalogued/removed from Lightroom and the 2015 folder then moved (cut/paste via operating system, not Lightroom cataloging elsewhere) to an external harddrive. Essentially, I have up to 2 years work on my working harddrive and if I NEED something from the prior years, just plugging in my archive drive. While I use Zenfolio for delivery, it’s storage is unlimited and indefinite, so Realtors can simply re-download, however don’t advertise the indefinite feature in the event I switch systems. Thankfully I don’t routinely shoot HDR so don’t have harddrive hog, but to save space, my lightroom coding is 1 star for the junk I am not going to process. While I could do it individually after delivering the photos, about once a month I sort the master catalog for all 1 Star and choose the “Remove from Lightroom and Computer” option as opposed to the other option “Remove from Lightroom only” I have to be careful in January to choose the correct one and not delete those I intend to archive from the computer out of habit.

  • I still have all my images from 1995 and many images that I scanned from film dating back to the 70’s.
    I also still have all my negatives since I started photography in 1971.

    Up to about two years ago I backed up all jobs to DVD and cataloged them by date.
    Now I back them up to multiple HDs in hot swap enclosures. I can find images very quickly and the redundancy gives me peace of mind.

    I almost never get called to use RE images again but if I do, I charge a retrieval fee to do so. People never complain but are thankful I have the images.

  • I have been keeping all my files forever, and I plan on it. Storage is so cheap as long as you can stay organized, which is just a matter of organizing with folders on the drive, there is no reason not to keep the files. Buy some external storage, you can also likely write it off as a business expense.

  • So far (3 1/2 years in) I’m keeping all my past photos, but I trash the raw files pretty quickly (6 months or so) and keep only the jpegs unless it was for a designer or architect. And then I only really keep the raw files to occasionally challenge myself and see if I can do a better/cleaner job in post production than I did originally.

    I also do some work on a contract basis, and those raw files are all trashed after one month.

  • Always an engaging topic.

    Since I started shooting digital around 2000 or so, I’d ‘managed’ my images manually, with year/month/date (or event) structures in Explorer. I made my initial move into database-based image management around 2010. I needed to find photos for a memorial service and found I’d spent way too much time working from memory. After an hour, that image I ‘knew’ was in June 2003 was actually July, 2001, or some such.

    Once I started shooting RE professionally, the volume of data quickly started swamping my prior methods. I ended up discovering The DAM Book by Peter Krogh. I ended up adopting a good chunk of his methodology, morphed to meet my needs. Now, I have a system that works very well, very consistently.

    To the core question, I used to keep ‘everything.’ The reality is I simply don’t need to. And, with the methodology I’m using now, I basically archive all deliverables and their source data, what’s left, simply gets deleted. All deliverables and source data are kept permanently.

    The challenge with keeping ‘everything,’ is that, even with cheap disks, you’re still consuming a large chunk of. That’s not a problem on its own, but when you start thinking in multiples (multiple backups, working versions, archived versions, and the like), it seems like I’m always in need of more space. Now, my rate of growth is much more manageable.

    Using OneDrive as my primary delivery mechanism, works exceptionally well, I also simply leave all my deliverables in place. I’m in no danger of filling that space any time soon. I advise customers to retrieve images within 30 days, but the reality is (not guaranteed), I rarely remove anything.

  • I have a ‘final’ copy of every shoot I’ve ever done. I will keep everything (RAW + merged TIF files + final JPEGs) for at least 3-6 months but then will typically delete the RAW’s unless it’s a very nice listing that has potential to be in my portfolio/website use/ad use. Images are all stored on my drives (Raid), final images stored separately on a storage drive and lastly are on dropbox where they are sent to the clients.

    Multiple times I’ve shot a listing for someone and a year later was requested to shoot the same property by another agent. I’ve sold “old” images almost every time this has happened. Quick + easy money.

  • After I deliver I don’t give clients any guarantee that they will be available for any amount of time. I usually keep them for a year and a half, two tops, in case a relisting is necessary. I personally don’t see the use on keeping real estate photos longer than that. They are meant for the most part and in my case, for the purpose of presenting a property for sale or rent (ideally quickly). The conditions of the homes would have changed, probably (and hopefully) improved (larger trees and plants, grass, etc.) with the years. The homes would have new residents (new clients). So up-to-date photos are more appropriate than ones from 1995 🙂

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