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

November 15th, 2017

DroboFileStorageJon in Michigan asks:

What is the length of time that one should hold on to old photos from past shoots? I know that storage is cheap, but I’ve got a ton of RAW files just taking up space. I’ve gone from Enfuse to a flash ambient styling so there are lots of files. I can see improvement in my shots, and I’m not going to go back through them unless I have a spectacular one for a portfolio and try to re-work it. If the house sells or is more than a year old, what’s the point?

Probably the biggest reason for keeping finished photos from past shoots is to keep open the opportunity to relicense them to other agents. That is, if another agent takes over the listing you can relicense the photos to the new agent without having to reshoot.

You would be amazed by the number of real estate photographers that keep all the photos they ever shoot. Photographers that shoot upper-end homes do a lot of relicensing to designers, stagers, builders and new owners. For relicensing, there’s no need to keep anything but the finished photos. So a few relicensing opportunities will quickly pay for the storage to keep past shoots.

How long do you keep your real estate shoot photos?

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25 Responses to “How Long Do You Keep Your Photos from Real Estate Shoots?”

  • It’s easier to keep everything than it is to go through and trash. Amazon Drive has unlimited free photo storage for RAW too. I am always afraid to throw anything away.

  • So far, forever. But S3 storage is cheap.

  • storage isn’t cheap when you do over 2000 shoots a year with large RAW files! i’ve tried dropbox, amazon cloud, harddrives…. I just dont have enough space or can’t rely on them. I’ve resorted to just keeping them on file for 2-3 months and advising the agent to save the images on their computer as a backup.

  • I keep RAW files for about 90% of my regular RE shoots for a couple months, then delete. Edited images I keep forever. Properties I consider “special” or “important” I will keep the RAWs too. I try to put a year or two on an external HD which goes into my desk drawer. I think very soon I will also be looking at cloud storage.

  • I have kept all of my finished images and I have nearly all of everything else. As time goes on, I shoot fewer frames per job so storage becomes less of an issue even as I upgrade to cameras that output bigger files. I try to swap out my hard drives every year and use the old ones for storage. I also find deals on brand new smaller capacity drives so I can keep two copies of my archived work; one local and one remote. I’m not going to pay a “cloud” service to store my old RE images. That’s just too expensive of an option. A 3tb drive is less than $100. That’s less than a third party license fee.

    Time is a huge factor. If push came to shove, I could delete the images that didn’t get used on a job but it’s not a great use of time to go through each job and delete the files. I tend to cull my personal work much more as I bring it in to LR so it’s even less efficient to try and dump even more of those. My long term goal is to get my stock photo web site configured and making me some money, so it’s good to have plenty of grist for the mill.

    Pull out your best images right away to a portfolio folder and back that up the best (3x), back up your current jobs 3x and archive the rest of your stuff 2x. My RE images from several years ago are only backed up on-site and another copy at a family member’s spare room closet. The only thing I dread is when hard drive formats evolve again and I have to decide where I translate files over and where I just let them die.

  • For the past 18 years I have had to look no further then two years for old images. It is very rare. Normally it is when the home becomes a rental. I would rather be called back to take new images of homes I have done before. That has happened more then I can remember with the same agent or a new one. I have images back to 2012 because external hard drives are so cheap. I buy one every year now. The quality of my images are so much better I would rather not use images older than 2 years.

  • I make over $5K a year (almost $10K one year) in licensing 2nd and 3rd usage rights so I keep all finished images and on significant or historical properties, I keep everything… RAW and finished. Also, I’m exploring with a local midcentury furnishing store to sell art prints which would bring even more income. Storage is cheap.

  • If you keep working as a photographer and you throw anything away there’s going to come a point when you regret it.

  • I’m a data hoarder, I have every shot I’ve ever taken. I have two raid servers. One USB attached the other on my network. Both have the same data. I also use to run raid on my workstation. Since I exchanged that for a Surface Studio that was not an option. I don’t shoot layers so my preprocessed images are 1/3 to 1/5 of what other put up with. Btw my camera has dual writing in it. So there is kind of raid in there. I only shoot about 500 properties a year. Now depending on the home I have about 1-2 gig per shoot when I’m done. Could not imagine doing 2000 as someone mentioned.

    Now as far as work flow goes. When I’m finished with the processing that’s the time to get rid of any excess files. I delete the intermediate Tiff files the LR generates in my work flow. Then I delete the Zipped up files I send to the client leaving only my processed High def files and the RAW.

    With the advancements of storage I can upgrade my raid system doubling my storage every 3 years without a problem. I do use archive quality drives. When I replace I reformat them and sell them on ebay. Now don’t go think oh my a bad guy will get the data. Once you break a raid 5 set and reformat any normal person can’t get the data from them and if they do it’s only photos. Add bad guys won’t put the CIA like effort into recovering that data.

    It makes me crazy how people can pinch pennies on backup storage. Do the calculations per shoot and it’s cheap. Always keep in mind, in the US anyway, your paying about 50% in taxes. So the drives are a full deduction the first year and they only cost you half that out of pocket. It translate into a few pennies profit per photoshoot for peace of mind. Oh and BTW I have used the raid for recovery. Once had a lightening strike that took out my primary networked raid. I had the secondary as well as my workstation raid. Never missed a beat. I would have missed a week of work trying to recover and rebuild if I had not had backup. The damage replacements were covered by insurance.

    Stay backed-uped my friends…

  • We average 15-25 homes a day. usually 4 homes per photographer around 16gb of raws per day per photographer
    We archive raws for 1 MONTH >> Drobo
    We archive .tiffs / blended enfuse files for 3 MONTHS<< Drobo
    We archive all jpgs on Dropbox & Flickr with UNLIMITED Storage.
    Dropbox is only $600 for the year.
    Flicker is only $39 per year.

  • I keep raw and flattened psd files on EHDs. I also have unlimited storage on my website and keep large and web sized files indefinitely. Agents always have access to those in case they need them.
    Personal photos I also keep forever on EHDs and online. I also use Backblaze.

  • Hi guys,
    Thanks for all the responses to my original question. One thing I forgot to ask Larry was do any of you cull out unnecessary frames. So when I shoot “flambient” I usually will take a 3 shot AEB for my ambient frames and usually only use 1. Do you delete the other two? Or just mark them or the ones you use with a special system (stars or colors for you LR users)?

  • If it’s a listing that’s ‘meh’ the RAW files will be deleted after a week or two. I keep a copy of full size jpegs of *all* listings and if it’s a really nice one I’ll save a copy of tiffs so I can go in, re-edit at a later date to use for advertising, relicense, etc. Relicensing doesn’t happen often but I’d say I do a handful a year. I actually relicensed a listing yesterday for the THIRD time. It’s nothing major but if I can make clients happy without leaving my office while putting a few hundred dollars in my pocket you can sign me up!

  • I keep everything for a couple of years. Then I get rid of the RAW, the working files and the JPEG’s Hi and LoRes. I do keep the PSD versions forever although in my market, I have yet to be asked for the photos previously shot since if the house sells again, it will have been changed by the owners who bought it. My clients always expect to pay me for a new shoot when that is necessary. So other than my own portfolio, I never actually use those old shots again. I just keep them since I am a pack rat.

  • My thoughts:
    1) It costs more to delete a photo than to save it
    2) There’s little point in saving anything other than RAW, TIFF, or PSD formats. Keeping JPEGs and tossing out the RAWs is like keeping your contact sheets but throwing away the negatives.

    And, 3) It’s so great to hear people actually re-licensing images! A few years ago, you wouldn’t have heard so many voices doing this. Goes to show that the value we produce resides not in the “time expended” but rather in the photo itself. It may seem like a subtle distinction but it’s actually fundamental to how we get compensated.

  • What Scott said….

  • I wait until the client is happy, then wait some more time to trash the RAW files but I keep the final exported downsized files. I use Samsung SSD 850 EVO Pro hard drives which are very expensive. Just like professional cameras, professional storage is expensive no matter which manufacturer you use.

  • Aaron, I am not sure why you think expensive SSD drives are necessary to store images. Less expensive external hard drives are just as good and a fraction of the price.

  • Additionally, they are available in much larger sizes. I just recently bought a Seagate 8TB drive for around $200.

  • Does anyone use the lossy compressed DNG format to archive their files? A 100 mb TIF file can be reduced to about five or six mb. You’re limited to eight bits per channel, and layers are lost, but I think you can still use them to export high quality JPGs.

  • “Expensive” is relative, but when you’re talking about drives that hold terrabytes worth of photos, it’s hard to avoid the math:

    Let’s assume your average image file is 60MB (which is pretty big but feel free to plug in whatever you think your average file size is). At that rate, you’re getting 17,475 images on a 1TB drive. Even the most expensive 1TB drives on Amazon are about $500 (!), which makes storing a single photo about $0.03.

    Most of us are operating at a tiny fraction of that cost.

  • Something to think about with these super large drives (8tb) is that if something goes wrong….. that is a lot of loss.
    Back in the day of shooting Hasselblads, we tried using A 70 6×6 film backs for 120 film. It allowed for 100 exposures with regular film and 200 for thin stock film. Great, we did not have to swap out backs as much when shooting weddings….then our lab had a bur on one of their film processing rollers and there was a nice scratch down the center of one of our rolls….. From then on we used only 120 (12) and 220 (24 exposure) film and just had 10 plus backs loaded and ready to go. If there was an issue….then we only lost a fraction of the shoot.
    So….8TB drive…. better have a couple of backups to that as well

  • Jerry Miller, in that regard, I think you have to make some choices about how much you back up, or at least back up more than once.

  • I keep all RAW files for up to 1 year. Since most listing agreements are about 6 months, I figure this covers me for more than enough time. Typically, if a home is still listed after a year, I would think that most photos need to be reshot. Furthermore, what could possibly need editing after 1 year?

    As far as the processed photos… I keep those forever. I’m running (2) 8GB RAID enclosures and also saving the finals on Dropbox as well. As long as I only save 1 year of RAW files… I always seem to have plenty of hard drive space.

  • I must be some sort of outlier but I keep everything forever.

    I’ve found external hard drives to be pretty reliable as long as you don’t keep writing and reading to them — that is if you just leave your files there without constantly deleting stuff you’ll run less chance of a disk failure than if you keep deleting stuff to make space for more stuff. Once I have filled up an external drive with current work, it is only plugged back in to retrieve files so the drives will last for years (some of my oldest ones are over ten years old).

    I get regular requests for old files and having them on file is probably a good marketing edge. I don’t what clients must think of photographers that can’t give them copies of something they have shot a few months ago let alone a few years ago.

    All my drives are cataloged with a disk archive program so it only takes a few minutes to find the files, plug the drive in and deliver older files.

    Last week I reshot a property that I did five years ago. Shortly after going to market the property was burnt by a bush fire. Saved myself a lot of time by reshooting only what was necessary and supplying the old files for the rest.

    I had one property recently sell that had been market for over eight years with four different agents. I visited that property four times for extra photo shoots but being a rural property having old files saved me a lot of time on the subsequent visits.

    These sort of requests are the kind of requests that I typically get a few times every month so keeping old files is a necessity for me.

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