A Client Wants All Unedited Images for a Very Small Amount: What Do You Do?

A Client Wants All Unedited Images for a Very Small Amount: What Do You Do?

You've photographed a commercial client, they select several images, but want all the unedited versions for a symbolic price. Obviously, you did a good job at shooting, but what about the negotiations in that case?

Client's Point of View

From the client's perspective, you have a bunch of files on your hard drive that stay unedited. You probably edit them with a single click of a special button and thus overcharge for every image that is chosen. The client decides to purchase some of the images for the campaign or the project, but likes all of them and tells you that they won't be used officially. Knowing there are Instagram filters, they think they can manage the unedited versions somehow, so their faces and body look "acceptable." Some of the unofficial images will be published on the social networks, others will be printed for friends and relatives.

Event Photographer's Point of View

If you are a photographer who covers a lot of events, you know that detailed retouching of all of the images is not something you would normally do. Sometimes, you might retouch several selected files for a negotiated price, but that will be it. As you are covering an event, you are usually giving all images that look good for a package price. If that is the case, it's fine to give away the "unretouched" images (although the images will have basic color correction applied), but probably not at a price different than your regular one.

Commercial Portrait Photographer's Point of View

During those photoshoots, everything is directed and scripted. The delivered portraits are expected to have a polished commercial look. In such projects, you end up with sets of tens or hundreds of images. From these sets, there are many images that are similar, and the goal is to select a small number of them that will be used for business purposes such as headshots for a website or a business card, portraits for posters or magazines, and others. Unless there is a multi-page spread in a magazine, the images that are often put to use number just one or two.


In the commercial portraits world, files are treated like physical objects. The more places you see that object, the more the usage rights or licensing will cost. If the image is going to be seen by a large audience, this means a more expensive licensing fee. It's almost imperative that your files are attached to a usage fee. Speaking of that, retouching fee should be separate from the usage rights. Imagine you work with an agency who has a team of image editors. If your files cost only your retouching fee, you should be giving them for free to the agency. However, when usage rights are involved, your files, retouched or not, should cost an amount as well.

Quality Control

In the case with the agency that wants the unedited versions of your images, you know that they are probably "in good hands." It is not always the best outcome, but in theory, your images will end up polished at their final destination. If a client wants them for their personal archive, this is where your brand's image may be affected. When you work on a commercial portraits project, you are not photographing for a family album, but for business use. The client doesn't think much of your brand when they start editing the images by themselves. At the end, they will show them to their friends, family, and followers in the social networks. How many times have you thought it's only the retoucher's fault when you see a badly retouched image? More often than not, the perception is that the first person to blame is the photographer. It is almost for sure that your photography skills will be judged by the quality of retouching presented on that image. You understand how quality control will be totally lost and you will have hurt your brand name when you have decided to give multiple unretouched files for cheap. In the long run, this may be worse for your business than giving only the files that are going to be used officially.

What would be your reaction in such a case? Would you stick to your guns or would you have a price in mind?

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Ivan Lantsov's picture

no-No-NO NO NO!

David Pavlich's picture

If that's a demand made after a contract is signed, I'd tear up the contract. I'm no pro in the sense that I make a living off of photography, but I do sell prints and there's no way that I'd give someone an unedited shot. Just a bad idea for any photographer. Well, if someone offered me a million tax free dollars..... But that's not going to happen. :-)

Deleted Account's picture

You can decline to amend a contract, you can't just reneg on an existing contract.

Deleted Account's picture

Peanut section here... but isn't everything negotiable? I'm an unpublished writer... in my studies of the business end of writing, the contract negotiation is vital.

It's all intellectual property... touched or untouched isn't it?

LA M's picture


Everything is negotiable and always has been. We just have difficulty saying it out loud.

As a wise gangster (fictional) once said...name a price or shut the F#$% up!

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Imagine they want your drafts and rewrite them the way they want and publish them (without your approval) under your name.

Dan Marchant's picture

Or more likely don't rewrite them and publish them under your name.

The main issue here is quality control. You pick, edit and provide the best images. The ones that don't get picked generally don't get picked for a reason.

Human's tend to judge quality based on an average. If you only release your best work you will be a great photographer. If you release your best and the same amount of 2nd tier work you will be seen as just an OK photographer.

Alex Herbert's picture

I'm no bigshot, but I did a portfolio shoot with a model a while back. She wanted the raw images to get them retouched herself, I thought fine. Sent them over, and then started seeing them appear on her social media, the only term I can use for the retouching job was 'hacked to pieces' they'd done weird things to her face and body. She tagged me in them which was nice, but I had to ask her to untag me as they were in no way representative of something I'd do. It wasn't SO bad, at the end of the day no one knows me and I have virtually no reputation to protect. But I'm glad I've seen the perils of it early on!

Jeff McCollough's picture

Well you learned that you can't trust them to edit for you. The only way this works is if it's an editor you work with with and you can trust to edit your files in a way that best represents your work.

Don Risi's picture

No unretouched images, ever. If a client wants all of them, they pay to have them edited. And the contract stipulates they are not allowed to make any changes (with the exception of cropping to fit their space requirements).

I really don't want a potential client seeing an image I shot, but was edited by someone who can't spell Photoshop much less use it, and thinking that's the kind of work I turn out. I may not be the best photographer in the world, but I don't need someone screwing up what I do.

So far, all of my clients have honored this part of our agreements.

Wrong. Everything has a price. Just charge the right amount for the raws. It is simply business.

What about the clients who have a retouching department that are higher skilled than most photographers?

Dana Goldstein's picture

Those clients have already spelled that out in the contact BC they’re also professionals. It wouldn’t come up as a “by the way” or a change of terms for them. They know what they need and are clear.

Dana I was referring to comment by Don. I don't deal direct with the consumer, as in regular person, 95% of my work is to business.
In the past I have had agencies want raw images in addition to the retouched version that I delivered, usually because they were going to strip the image into an existing layout to update the ad or it was part of a collaborative project and they wanted consistency. Or for super elaborate retouching was needed.
Things change, and "by the way" is a term I have heard more than a few times. Usually followed by "...how much will it cost us to do ______?" Since the additional uses is an additional fee and they are professionals I have yet to have a problem with it.
OTOH if they say can we have the RAWs just because they want to, I will try to find out why. Just having the raw file doesn't give them more rights to use the photos.

But for a low amount, no.

Dana Goldstein's picture

Exactly. Plenty of agencies will want the photographer to do a first pass (bc hopefully we get hired for our style, which for some means very specific toning etc), but have their own people for fine details and such. But "how much will it cost..." is more respectful and aware that there ARE costs involved, rather than just the "symbolic price" the post's author refers to. Also, I think smaller staffs and younger people who have less experience, and less mentoring, will be more likely to vaguely ask for things they don't really understand the value of, regardless of the title next to their name.

Many are missing that this article is about the client, (commercial or consumer, does not matter), who want something not specified in the contract for a small price. This is NOT about the respectful client who says, “How much would it cost to get,…” but the client who says, “Since it won't cost you anything extra, I'll give you this small token for….”

Well my initial response was to a previous poster who said "No unretouched images, ever. If a client wants all of them, they pay to have them edited"

Everything is negotiable. Say yes, no or it will cost $XX more. Don't take it personally.
Then go get better clients.

Tony Clark's picture

Your images have value, if a client wants more than what was agreed upon before the shoot then you need to renegotiate. I have a basic fee that I start with and adjust to a clients preference on files. One client gave me a shot list that was executed, later requested all RAW files and we quickly agreed on an adjusted fee. I realize that every job is different, people have different levels of usage and editing skills so you need to be flexible. BTW, did I say that your images have value?

Exactly right. Take the money, at your price. Not like those images are ever going to make any more money otherwise. How many years would you buy new storage for them, just to take up space.
Most of us are in business to make money. Make as much as you can from every client.

Scott Hussey's picture

If they've already paid me for the delivered photos, and the unused photos aren't going to earn me any income otherwise, I'd consider it.

But it's one thing to provide unedited raw files. Licensing is quite another thing, however...

Jeff McCollough's picture

There is a headshot photographer that delivers all the untouched files. He hosts workshops and everything. I really don't understand that mentality.

I also happen to be in a group of actors and many of them demand to receive all images from a shoot.

Tony Clark's picture

Demand? I don’t think I’d react well to that unless a fee is agreed upon in advance. An actors headshot doesn’t have a lot of value unless you’re the actor but that doesn’t mean that I’d give it to them without compensation. You cannot stay in business if you don’t see the value in your product.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Exactly. They say they need all of the images but what's best is figuring out which are the best and just use those for their castings. They should be shooting new images every year(I'm making that up as idk how often as I don't work with actors) anyways to have updated images. 400 images from an old shoot isn't worth anything to them.

Obviously if you want to sell them and make extra cash then go for it. Personally I don't deliver unedited work.

I'd offer a contact sheet of all the unedited photos (if you haven't already for selection purposes), then negotiate a per image price of any others they want later down the track.

Maybe explain that when you order food, you're not just buying the ingredients, you're buying the chefs skills in the kitchen.

Deleted Account's picture

Everything has its price. If they REALLY want them then they can pay accordingly.

Zack Schindler's picture

Give them the files with a giant dark watermark on each.

C Fisher's picture

I read that as giant dick watermark 😳 may also be effective.

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