Hey photographers!

Today’s topic is Photo Retention (or Saving the Photos) – how long to save the photos from a client photo session.  Do you allow your clients to come back later and select more photos from a session?

This post is part of an ongoing photo education series for photographers.  I talk about what I recommend for the industry, what I do, and what I suggest you avoid doing.

 Photographers typically fall into the following camps:

  1. Delete any photos that are not purchased at a one-time photo reveal, or delete all photos after fulfilling the order
  2. Keep photos for a specific amount of time after a photo reveal
  3. Keep photos “forever” and allow clients to come back for them at a later date

Elenant Nude Draped Portrait Denver

Why are you a photographer?

Think about why you decided to become a professional photographer.  I hope that among your answers is that photos are powerful and precious.  When photos are precious, why would you ever delete them outside of a specific client need or request for you to do so?


I’ve seen all the sales teaching that tell you to delete any photos the clients don’t purchase at their reveal, and to emphasize this with your clients. Telling you to capitalize on the emotion and that now is their only chance to purchase or forever be without the unpurchased photos.  DON’T DO THAT.  I find it discouraging that this is almost a standard in our industry and it puts sales over eternal memories.  No doubt it may help sell photos in the moment, but how can you possibly have a message about the importance of a photo session, talk about how these memories will last forever, and then just delete the photos that are not immediately purchased?  There are many reasons a client may want more photos in the future, and they may not even realize those reasons at their initial review.


Why delete photos?

What are the “excuses” given for deleting photos you’ve presented to your client?  (I’m sure you can tell by my word choice that I’m not agreeing with any of the reasons.) 

  1. Why would I keep something the client doesn’t want?  They may want them later.  A month later.  A year later.  Ten years later.  They are probably even telling you this themselves.  I’ve had clients come back 10 years later to revisit their boudoir session and to get new wall art.
  2. Privacy.  Boudoir photographers like to use this one. “I delete anything not purchased, for your privacy.”  Okay, what about the ones that were purchased?  If you need to delete some photos for privacy, does that mean you are not able to protect the privacy of the photos I did purchase which you are not deleting?  Yes, privacy is critical.  It isn’t a legitimate excuse to explain why you delete photos that are not purchased at a single review session.  If you don’t know how to address privacy without deleting photos, you have some homework to do.  For one, look up how to encrypt your storage and your backups.  (You do make backups, right?)  These will be future blog topics.
  3. The photos take up too much space.  Really?  For a portrait or boudoir photographer?  The cost of storage should be cheap relative to your prices.  Yes, we do use far more storage than the average person, but it isn’t as if it is that expensive.  Keep in mind I’m really referring to portrait and boudoir photographers here, not those of you photographing events like marathons and taking 10,000 photos in a day.


One more thing:  Never lie to your clients.  I’ve heard of this one too often – photographers who tell their clients they delete anything not purchased, but they don’t really delete anything. They are just trying to make a sale.  Why?  Just… why?


Why keep photos for an extended duration?

There are many reasons to keep unpurchased photos for an extended duration.

  1. Clients have changing needs over time.  They may move to a new home and want new wall art to display.
  2. Clients cannot always afford what they want at one time.
  3. Maybe the client received digital photos, but they didn’t have a backup and they’ve lost the photos.
  4. I’ll often get clients who want an album as a gift (wedding, Christmas, anniversary, etc.).  It is often a surprise, and they want to bring their partner back later to help pick out wall art or a second album.
  5. We change over time.  When my clients come back to me years later, it is often because of changing circumstances and they want to go back and get those memories that have grown in value to them.
  6. This is your art.  Can you really dismiss it so easily?


What do I do?

I’m sure you can tell by now, I keep photos forever.  I don’t make any specific guarantees about how long I keep photos, but I’m diligent in keeping secured/private storage with multiple backups.  I’ve had clients come back for photos after 10 years.  While that duration is not common, it is common to get requests within months or a couple years after a session.


There’s also the factor that I put my heart and soul into creating this art. Deleting it as if it has no value, no meaning… I can’t begin to relate to the idea of doing that.


There are exceptions.  I’ve photographed people who may want their photos deleted from my storage after their products are finalized.  These are rare, and they generally come from people who are very visible in the public eye.  The reason doesn’t matter.  If a client wants the photos to be deleted after they have their products (digital files, albums, wall art, etc.), then that is easy to accommodate.  I have a form I ask them to sign acknowledging  the implications, and that’s all there is to it.  It may mean that products cannot be recreated in the future if something happens to them.  Still, let this be the client’s choice and not your sales tactic.  Represent the industry with integrity, and treat your clients the way you would want to be treated.  I’m not saying you need to keep every photo forever, but at least give the client plenty of time.


 I offer one-on-one mentoring to photographers outside of Colorado on all things photography. Contact me for details, and tell me where you would like help.