If you’ve stored any digital files on your computer, you know they take up a lot of space. As you grow your business, this could become a problem. You’re probably starting to wonder just how long photographers should keep digital files.

How Long Do Photographers Keep Digital Files? There is no set industry standard for how long photographers keep digital files but most set at least a year guarantee in their contracts. After that, many still store them on external hard drives and even on online storage sites where they can access them for as long as they want.

If you’re looking to grow your photography business, you definitely need to come up with a plan for keeping your digital files.

How Long Do Photographers Keep Digital Files?

If you want to be tough, you don’t have any obligation to store your digital files past what you outlined in the contract with your client. That doesn’t seem like a very good way to do business, though.

Most photographers put in the contract that they guarantee photos for one or two years. That doesn’t mean you’re deleting them as soon as that time is up. You actually should be backing your photos up and storing them as soon as you edit them.

Why Keep Long-Term Backups of Files

Here’s a look at some of the reasons it’s a good idea for photographers to keep digital files on hand indefinitely:

  • Back-up for client
  • Keeping up with digital storage changes
  • Evidence of their own work

How long you actually keep those files on hand depends on the policies you want for your company and your own personal preferences.

Many photographers actually back-up their files in more than once location to cover all their bases. Many like to follow a “3-2-1 backup rule.” This rule says you should keep three copies of your files, two in a local spot and one online.

Where to Backup Files

Here are some of the most common spots where photographers store and keep their digital files:

  • Local drive
  • External hard drive
  • External device
  • Online photo storage site

Local Drive

Storing digital files on your local drive makes them quick and easy to find, but it takes a lot of space, and if your computer crashes, you’ve just lost all those files.

A local drive should definitely only be a short term storage option. It can be more long term if you also store it on another device, but you’ll want to setup your own archiving or file rotation procedure though. Don’t get too scared of these terms though. Just some things to keep in mind.

External Hard Drive

It’s a great idea to store your digital files on an external hard drive as soon as you’re done editing them. This allows you to free up space on your local storage for your next round of pictures.

Once you fill up one external hard drive, label the dates it covers and store it in a safe place. Then, just start backing up on another external hard drive.

External Device

Another option similar to using an external hard drive is to back up to an external device like a CD or USB drive. These options take up slightly less space than an external hard drive and are cheaper.

The only downside with this storage option is technology frequently changes. Think back to earlier computers, they all used floppy discs. You don’t see those around anymore.

Many laptops don’t even have a CD drive anymore. You can always buy an external CD drive, but no one knows how long that will be around.

This brings us to our final long-term storage option.

Online Photo Storage Site

There are tons of online photo storage sites out there where you can keep your digital files without them taking up room on your computer or anywhere physical for that matter.

If money is tight as you just start out, many online storage sites offer limited space for free, and many of the sites have editing tools and other cool features like sharing your photos.

Take a look at some of the most commonly used photo storage services.

  • SmugMug
  • Amazon Prime Photos
  • Pixpa
  • 500px
  • Photobucket
  • Flickr

Here’s a look at what you can get with each of these online photo storage sites.


SmugMug is a great option for online photo storage for photographers because it allows you to create your own personalized webpage complete with your own design and web address.

You can try SmugMug for free for 14 days then pick one of their plans if you like the site. They offer four plans ranging from $48 a year to $360 a year. All of the plans allow for unlimited storage and let you edit on the site.

Amazon Prime Photos

You can pretty much count on Amazon for anything: gifts, groceries, electronics, and, yes, photo storage.

You have to be an Amazon Prime member to use this photo service, but you can store unlimited photos, order prints, cards, and calendars. It also has a feature called “Family Vault,” which allows up to five people to store photos in one spot.

It will cost you $119 per year for Amazon Prime. If that price seems too steep, you can pay $12.99 per month, but obviously, the one-time payment is a better deal.


Pixpa is another online photo storage option that offers many benefits besides just photo storage. On this site, you can build an online portfolio, set up an e-commerce store, and client galleries.

The site offers ready-made themes to create your own webpage, which means you can put one together without any coding knowledge.

You can try the service for free for 15 days and then choose from one of their plans if you want to stick with it. Plans range from $6 per month to $25 per month with storage from one gig to 1,000 gigs.


500px is unique in that many of the online photo storage options are geared toward amateurs and photographers, but this one is definitely geared just towards photographers.

This site allows direct connections between photographers and clients through its marketplace feature. It also offers various groups you can join to learn more about photography in specific categories as well as get feedback on your pics. You can also share your photos on various social networks.

500px does offer a free plan, but you’re limited to only 7 uploads a week, which probably isn’t enough for a growing business. They offer three other plans all with unlimited uploads. The prices range from $3.99 a month to $13.99 a month.


On the Photobucket site, you can not only store your digital files but edit them, too. You can edit the color and contrast, resize the picture, and even fix blemishes. The site offers a number of different options to organize your photos, including albums or stories.

You get 2.5 gigs of storage for free, or you can choose to pay anywhere from around $54 to $129.50 per year for up to a terabyte of storage (1,000 gigs). Of course, with a paid subscription you get some additional benefits including no ads, premium support and the ability to link your Photobucket pics to other websites.


You’ve probably heard of Flickr. With this photo storage service, you can back up 1,000 photos and videos for free. You’ll deal with some ads, but you can’t beat free.

If you want more space, you’ll need to upgrade to Flickr Pro, which will cost you $50 a year or $5.99 a month if you pay each month. Although you pay for the subscription, it comes with quite a few membership perks you wouldn’t get otherwise.

Even the free version of Flickr offers some perks you won’t find on other photo storage sites. People can follow you on Flickr and comment on your pics, making it a bit like a social network. Keeping digital files for an extended length of time might seem like a hassle, but it makes for good business for more than a few reasons.


There are plenty of options to get started. Think of a few combinations you can use to make sure your photos are backed up and properly accessible.

As you work with clients, setup a basic 1 year contract with your clients to maintain reliable access to photos. From then on, keep them indefinitely or as needed.