Updated: Apr 28, 2019
Where do your boudoir photos go after your boudoir session? Have you ever that about it?
...Your session was one of the best gifts ever! --And better yet, he didn't suspect a thing! Your long awaited anniversary surprise was an enormous hit. After weeks in the making and lots of surreptitious emails and text messages to your photographer, it all came together for an amazing and unforgettable anniversary gift.
Keeping a surprise is a lot of work. You had to sneak out your outfits. Hide things in your trunk. You even had to create a clever cover story for your session day to account for your absence.
The whole experience was not only fun, but a great success!
He loved the album, your best friend (who HAD to get a peek) loved the album, and it will certainly be something to cherish for years to come. What fun!
After all the fun and surprises are over, what happens to all your photos? There can be hundreds of digital images taken during a boudoir session. For every photo that makes an album, there may be 15 or 20 which don't...
So, what does your photographer do with those?
Although boudoir photography has advanced light years in terms of social approval-- seeing a photo of a bra just isn't an earth-shattering thing in the 2010s-- there are still plenty of boudoir clients who would prefer to keep those things to themselves.
Not only that, there are lots of people with jobs, such as teachers, who can certainly do without photos of themselves finding their way in to the public domain. Not only can this be a source of embarrassment, but in some situations may affect a persons employment.
Have you talked to your photographer about what happens to all your files after your session is complete and they have moved on to their next project? No? Well, you should...
In this day of computer viruses, hacking, and general internet happenings, it can give you piece of mind knowing the status of your digital images.
Good photographers have this situation locked down.
As cameras improve seemingly every year, the size of digital files they create keep growing...and growing...and growing. These days, there are cameras that can produce individual images files in excess of 40MB...each! Lets say you took 200 photos during your session, that would be 8000MB or 8 Gigabytes of photos from one session! Phew! All that data has to go somewhere. (And I remember when PC hard drives didn't even come that big...)
Hard drive space starts to fill up quick at that pace. At this point photographers generally take one of two approaches. Some will purge (delete) photos from their system at some period of time to accommodate newer files, and some invest in expensive storage solutions and will keep and archive all the files from previous customers.
Which does your photographer do?
There are advantages and disadvantages to both solutions. This articles is not intended to get into technical aspects of long term data storage, but its important for you to know, as a client, that after your session is completed your photos may be sitting somewhere... possibly for years. Are they safe?
Busy photographers may have dozens of clients each year and often multiple projects going on at once. All those photos-- copies of those photos-- and edits can amounts to hundreds of gigabytes, if not terabytes, of data over time. We're talking some serious quantities of files!
Let's take a look at some potential strategies your photographer may employ...
The "I Don't Want It You Can Have It" -ers
Some photographers simply do not want to deal with the data mess at all. They don't want anything to do with the files after your project is done. They rip off the band-aid when the project is completed and its no longer their issue. They don't want it-- don't need it-- Not gonna take it. I'm talking about photographers who get rid of everything immediately.
After your project is completed you may receive a USB drive with all your photos as a gentle way of saying "if you want them you can keep them safe." All the responsibility is on your to find a safe place for storage.
When the files are delivered on USB drive to you, the photographer then deletes all the files from the session on his/her own hardware, and *poof* they're gone. They simply don't want the responsibility or the hassle for tending to clients files.
This approach is fine, and certain photographers may follow this practice, but probably not the reality for most photographers or clients. It's safe, in regard to knowing your files are gone, and won't be vulnerable or sitting out there someone in the great cloud in the sky.
The "At Some Point Delete"-ers
Files may be frequently accessed and used during the time of your project and creation of your photo album. Once your final products are delivered these files typically may not be touched again-- ever. The just sit there...and well...take up a lot of space.
Because of that some photographers will periodically delete old projects, say after a year or two, to make room for newer files. Remember, as I mentioned earlier, these files can take up large amounts of storage space, and well, they ain't doing much sittin' there. They just may not see the need to spend the time, money and effort to sheppard photos that may never be accessed or needed again. That's ok.
Storage devices cost money. Not only to buy, but to operate. A photographer may be happy simply operating with some dedicated space on an internal drive of their editing machine, and when that space gets full, some older files are deleted to make room for newer ones.
Even though these files may be ultimately purged, they still may be sitting on a storage device for quite some time-- juuuusssst in case someone needs a copy of a photo. Your session files will be accessible for some period of time after the session-- just in case you need to get a copy.
For a smart data manager the risk is probably small, but there is always a chance a bad actor can gain access to that storage device, for example via a virus, and can gain access to your photos.
My unscientific guess is this is probably the approach most photographer take.
The "Long Term Store"-ers
There is also a potential group of photographers who are of the ideology that images are their art and creations, and are meant to be kept and stored, for good. Additionally, they may be of the mindset that you never know when a former client may contact you to get a copy of a photo, or to reprint an album. They see it as a responsibility to archive your data files, just in case! This can (and does) happen.
Personally, I've had to deal with relationship "break-up" situations where, unwittingly, the gifted photo album wound up in the hands of the "ex" and the client wanted to make a new album for herself. I opened my email and saw a message along the lines of, "Hi Mike, remember me? I saw you a few years ago, and you'll never guess what happened..."
Additionally, I've received emails from clients who have, themselves, have suffered some sort of computer malfunction and have lost their copies of the priceless session files.
This type of photographer probably has invested in some serious backup hardware! This gear may consist of multiple internal hard drives, external hard drives, RAID arrays, and even off-site storage. Fancy-schmancy stuff. Just thinking about all the wires and cables needed to make this stuff function hurts my head.
There can be some serious money invested by photographers for this type of mass storage space, as well, and they are prepared to archive photos.
What Does All This Mean To Me?
Well, as you can see, there are lots of things going on in the world of photo storage. The point is your photos may be sitting on a computer for quite a while-- Potentially years and years!
Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily... but there's a bit more to it. As you can see, there are pluses and minuses to each strategy. Photos that are deleted quickly, are well, gone forever. The risk of vulnerability is low, but there is no getting you the copy of your favorite portrait after you're PC has crashed. If someone down the line needs a picture and its long since been deleted, there's nothing that can be done to help the client.
On the other hand, long term storage has its expenses and risks and may potentially open your files to danger, but many photographers want to archive photos. This method has the benefit of being able to recover irreplaceable pictures at some point, if needed.
The key is responsibility. If a photographer is storing photos long term, it should be done in a safe manner. He or she should be using strong encryption on archives that will add security to the files sitting on a hard drive. I'll even go as far as saying, that in 2019 every boudoir photographer should be encrypting client files.
These files, once encrypted, are useless to anyone who doesn't have the encryption key to view them. There are quite a few good encryption options available, and they are not difficult to implement into a photographers work flow. A popular standard is AES 128 bit, or 256 bit encryption (which is the strongest standardized encryption available) are both good options to help keep your files secure. You can ready more about the AES standard in this Wiki article.
Some solutions are even free! Encryption products such as Axcrypt are straight forward methods anyone can use to add a layer of security to file. (For any photographers that read my post, and this has struck a chord-- Do it! If you need help, ask me.) In the genre of boudoir photography, I think encryption is an absolute must.
Ask Your Photographer
The curious thing is that this is a topic that really doesn't pop up anywhere. Generally, you won't see photographers mentioning encryption on their websites, although they should. I don't believe that they are deliberately being elusive, in many cases it is just a case of lack of knowledge and education.
I fear, however, that this level of protection is offered by only a minority of boudoir photographers around the globe. That's a scary thought.
If a photographer isn't bringing this up, as a client you should. When you are talking to your potential photographer ask they what their strategy is for handling old photos. Are they giving you the only copy? Do they delete everything once your project is completed? Are they are a short-term or long-term archiver? Are they encrypting the photos they store?
The more aware boudoir clients are about this topic, I believe, in turn, photographers will have to take action. --And that's a good thing!
A simple "What happens to my photos after my session is completed?" is a straight forward question that should receive a simple straight forward answer from your boudoir photographer. If they don't know. or don't have an answer-- It's a point to consider whether proceeding with that photographer is right for you, or not.
Photo security isn't exactly a topic that is in the forefront of boudoir photography, but it should be. When it comes to portrait photography or family photography this may not be as much of a concern. For boudoir photography, though, it should be. Although we've seen tremendous changes in the social acceptance of boudoir, for most women these photos are still intended to be private, and photographers should up their game when it come to preserving and ensuring this privacy.
Should this prevent you from taking part in a boudoir session? Absolutely not-- but hopefully this will make women aware and spark the conversation to start asking photographers what their strategy is regarding security and long term storage of photos.
As for as my strategy, I have been an encrypter for years. It made sense to me back when I was getting started, and I still do it to this day. After my sessions are completed my session files are moved into archived volumes and encrypted for long term storage.
Hopefully, this has helped a bit in your planning of your session-- or made you a bit aware about what may be happening to your files from past session. As they say, knowledge is power. The more clients and photographers are aware of this issue, the quicker everyone can take action to get things locked up properly.