How to Explain Why You Don't Provide Your Raw Photos

How to Explain Why You Don't Provide Your Raw Photos

With little exception, every time you agree to provide raw images to your client, you are hurting your own brand and doing that client a disservice. Although it might be easy to feel, it may be hard to understand exactly why this is. Even more difficult is how to then explain your decision to your clients in a way that also makes them feel good about receiving 'less.' Thankfully, Austin-based commercial photographer Caleb Kerr has all of these answers.

While I have my own reasons and solutions, many overlap with Kerr's original post, which covers a number of specifics about why you really don't want to provide your raw photos to clients, but that also goes a step further by sharing how to get around what could be an otherwise awkward situation when clients ask.

I don’t say no to this request because I’m greedy or want to say no just because I can. It’s not because I’m lazy and don’t feel like dealing with it. But rest assured, I’m not withholding that one killer photo.

'But what’s the harm?'

Why You Don't Want to Provide Raw Photos

1.) They're Bad

The first and most important reason you really don't want to provide your raw photos is that they're bad. They're bad because they're flat. They're unedited. They catch the producer in the background picking his or her nose. A few shots are simply visual exposure tests. Many of the shots are the wrong millisecond of the pose, instead capturing an awkward mid-stride. There are many reasons why most of the shots from a shoot are simply "bad" -- and that's completely normal. But that list is a hodge-podge of things you don't need to cover in their entirety to have a good explanation for your clients.

2.) No One Wants Raw Photos Representing Their Brand

There are plenty of instances in which a client might actually like and post your raw photos online, share them with a friend and potential future client of yours, etc. -- all with "perfect" credit and attribution. Of course, now you're stuck with your unfinished photos representing your style. Explaining and/or demanding that raw photos be kept in private and not be shared gets a little tricky and can leave a bad taste in a client's mouth. Naturally, it's easier and safer to avoid this altogether by only providing finished images.

3.) What's the Point of Culling?

a.) You've gone through thousands of images before delivering the finished work to your client. The whole point of going through your images is to pull out the best ones, and now you're about to give all the others to them, anyway, in case they might find a better one? You don't want to do that, nor should you have to.

b.) "But I can edit more images if they find others they like, which is more paying work!" While the allure of your clients supposedly coming back to you with more 'after work' after finding more images they like might be tempting, there are a number of reasons why you don't want to take the bait. In many cases, a client will still try to edit the photos on their own or have someone else edit them. In this way, you lose control of your image while your client might later lose sight of why they hired you to begin with. Additionally, you may find yourself editing images you really don't like -- at which point you can either do it anyway, or you can have that argument with your client about why you don't want to edit every other image. Enjoy that choice.

How to Explain Your Reasoning to Your Clients

1.) Raw vs. JPEG

Without getting too technical, Kerr explains how a raw image is simply more flat and us supposed to be edited, but enables professional photographers to keep as much information and quality as possible within the file for that edit. It's to be expected that none of the raw photos will be at the level at which the client would want them. But what about clients that think they can edit the photos themselves?

2.) Your Editing is Part of Your Entire Process, Which is Why the Client Hired You

The client hired you specifically because of your past work. That works to your benefit, since your client wants to receive your images. Since your editing is a part of your process, it only makes sense that your edits are required to create an image that's truly indicative of your style -- the entire reason you were hired. Cutting the editing out of the process cuts half of what you bring to the photos anyway.

3.) You Already Have an Agreement for a Set Number of Images

At the end of the day, you have also agreed to deliver a specific number of photos to your client. If your client wants more photos, you have two options. You can explain that the job only specified a need for a certain number of photos, which is what you planned, shot, and provided. If the client wants more photographs, you can offer to plan future shoots to cover those needs. However, in some circumstances you have one more option: you can offer to provide a few additional images at an additional fee if you think you may have a few more to offer from your shoot.

One should be careful with this option, however, as it could have a number of both unintended consequences, such as leaving the client feeling as though you're holding back work that you could easily provide and that you shot on their time, etc. How you pitch this offer should take your relationship with your client, the type of shoot, etc., into consideration. Additionally, in most cases, it's likely you already selected the best photos of the group. So again, be careful not to let that temptation draw you to pull out images that are not as representative of your brand.

At the end of the day, Kerr sticks to explaining that "these photos are supposed to be edited." His post is certainly worth its own read, especially considering his work is a perfect example of how an editing style can be a huge part of the entire look of a photographer's brand. His work stands in a clearly defined style that should be protected (it has also received great ratings on Fstoppers' own Critique the Community not once, but twice!).

Of course, there are few exceptions. I've worked with photographers that have had multi-billion-dollar companies paying huge sums of money for international, unlimited licensing for so many photographs that at the end of the day, when the question came up, the answer was a very quick, "Yes." But at this level, it's still a negotiation. The negotiation has already taken place, however, as the compensation for these jobs are already so high, the level of work through the advertising agencies handling these jobs is so much more professional, etc. -- it's all going to depend on whether or not it's worth it to you.

All photos and content used with permission and copyrighted by Caleb Kerr. Check out his work on InstagramTwitter, or through his website.

[via Medium]

If you'd like more professional tips on the business side of photography, Fstoppers produced a full course with Monte Isom, Making Real Money-The Business of Commercial Photography that includes lessons from the highest paid photography gigs out there along with free contracts, invoicing times, and other documents. If you purchase it now, you can save a 15% by using "ARTICLE" at checkout. Save even more with the purchase of any other tutorial in our store.

Adam Ottke's picture

Adam works mostly across California on all things photography and art. He can be found at the best local coffee shops, at home scanning film in for hours, or out and about shooting his next assignment. Want to talk about gear? Want to work on a project together? Have an idea for Fstoppers? Get in touch! And, check out film rentals!

Log in or register to post comments

Spot on. In addition to explaining that images are meant to be edited, I find that it can also help to share a before/after image to really illustrate just how important post-production is.

That's what I was trying to do by writing this article :)

Correct me if I'm wrong here, but some time ago I read about the fact that the RAW file can be used as proof of ownership. If that 's true, by giving clients the RAW files you're simply giving away the shots instead of licensing them.

I've never heard of that and would find it very hard to believe that would hold up in court. But who knows? Interesting thought...sure hope it's not true, though.

I've heard that too. I think that's one of those things that definitely would play significantly in your favor if they were also claiming it was theirs, but only could produce a 1200x800px jpeg and you had the RAW, a PSD, etc.

The way I see it, they're hiring me for my product, which is edited jpegs and prints. I treat RAW files like I treat film negatives.

...and I used to give avay film negatives. Why I would have boat loads of film negatives of other people anyway. And Why I would storage (and multiple backup) terabytes of RAW files of other people? I store only thoose significant imagess that I like or might use/need for my representation. All others are deleted after job (if no other agreements is made). It's peoples right to have/store/care of their images. Of course, I always charged videotapes, negative rolls and now RAW files if customer wanted them. If not, it is/was deleted after a month or so and videotapes were re-recorder after a while and thrown in the trash after become unreliable.

Posted this over on medium already, but thought I'd drop it here too to keep the discussion rolling. Great article dude!

We’re put in this awkward spot as photographers by most people (at times -clients & average joe’s alike), that other artists manage to stay away from and thats that EVERYONE has a camera and can/probably has taken a photo themselves, that they’re proud of — to some extent. There isn’t a single person in this world that would look at a Mike Dargas painting ( and say “oh, yeah… I could probably do that shit.” Yet for some reason a photograph is different. Thusly the adage “everyones a photographer” has sort-of (unfortunately) stuck around lately, because a lot of folks think they can produce the same results. It’s obviously just one of many issues we face, but I think it may just be the one that devalues our craft the most.

The best ways I’ve seen, heard of, and personally experienced are pretty much exactly those that you’ve outlined: 

1. Make sure upfront that the client is hiring YOU for what YOU produce and not just arbitrarily hiring a photographer because they need photos. 

2. Define expectations with absolute clarity before hand. (This one has bitten me in the ass) This goes for expectations we need to express as well! When you will expect payment, etc…

3. Make sure that they’re aware that you can produce images that are Good, Fast, or cheap, but they can only pick two.

Good + Fast = Not gonna be cheap

Fast + Cheap = probably not gonna be that good…

Cheap + Good = Definitely not gonna bust my ass to get them delivered next-day.

Every single other business in the world operates in this exact same way. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, yet more often than not, they will want all three. Don't be that ass who does all three, you're hurting every damn one of us.

4. Shoot / Edit / Duh? / Be badass / Exceed Expectation where you can / Alleviate any doubts / Be confident that the client is getting EXACTLY the images they want.

5. Deliver EXACTLY what was promised, and they should pay EXACTLY what was promised in return. Neither party should expect anything less.

All that, to say — I couldn’t agree with you more dude. Giving away more images than agreed upon, because…

 “The photos look great, but can I get the rest of them just in case I need them later? You don’t need to edit them or anything.” 

… is stupid, and you (the photographers reading this) should never do it.

-If they weren’t happy with the shots, that should’ve come up during shooting. We, the photographer, are responsible for making sure we are producing the right images during, not after a shoot. The client has this same responsibility, but if they don’t express unhappiness until after the fact, it becomes their issue and they can schedule a reshoot. see step 4…

-If they “don’t like your edits”, they probably shouldn’t have hired you in the first place, BUT now it’s your problem and you get to make it right. DON’T make this mistake! see step 1, then double check step 1 again, and repeat step 1 just one more time for good measure.

-And lastly… if they ask for RAW’s, say no. Be confident in your ability as a photographer and stand firm in the fact that what you produced to them is exactly what they paid you to produce and those images should kick ass, because they carry your name after all.

We already have enough devaluation of our services that we have to contend with, without pouring on more trouble ourselves.

Again, good stuff here Caleb!

So basically you are saying you are an all-or-nothing kind of photographer and that no one could hire you for your camera expertise alone?

That is a personal choice which any photographer is free to live by, but a bit narrow minded I think.

Perhaps another way to look at it is similar to the way the movie industry hires a camera operator. The camera operator doesn't horde the footage while saying that only he can edit the final clips, because he understands that the director probably has his own ideas of what he wants to do with the footage.

The same can be true of someone wanting the RAW files from a photo shoot. Maybe they have other ideas in mind where they want to use those photos now or in the future.

And this goes to show that photography is a wide craft covering a gamut of specialties. I'm the wedding industry my clients are paying for a finished product (edited images) but I have shot for an artist that was going to use the images in a very stylised way and they required the RAW's in order to be able to get what they wanted from the images. This is why it's important to have a contract with clearly set out deliverables.

I'm not sure I agree with this really. A camera operator operates the camera (shockingly), but they are being directed as to what to shoot, what angles to shoot from etc etc. As a photographer however, you are in a sense your own director, camera operator and editor (unless you're sending your work to a retoucher).

I also don't know many photographers who enjoy getting paid to turn up to a shoot to be a button pusher, deliver the RAW files and call it a day.

If the client does have their own ideas / other ideas in mind, then its best to work with the client on this rather than handing over your RAW files; as the article says, they hired you for your images and style which they've seen in the past. If they wanted something different then they probably should have hired a different photographer better suited to their ideas.

I may be wrong but that's just my two cents :)

You pretty much said it. All or nothing, and that's how it should be in most situations. I don't think it's narrow minded at all and unless it's specifically stated in their contracts/portfolios that they're just "camera operators" then you can bet that the large majority of photographers are getting work based on their creative abilities and the finished products they're showing in their portfolios. Providing RAW files is taking away a large chunk of that creative aspect, and ultimately would hurt the business if all potential clients see is flat, or poorly processed raw files and decide to pass on using that photographer. Image is everything... unless you're just a camera operator I guess...

I usually make an analogy to the baker supplying their wedding cake (I'm a wedding photographer) in that the RAW's are just my ingredients, like the flour and eggs the baker is using. You don't order a cake and expect to get all the left over batter and icing.

is it just me or was alien skin was used in these images? I am strongly considering buying it thats why I ask.

No Alien Skin, just manual adjustments.

These are all valid reasons and I agree. But here's one new reason for not giving RAW files. I work as a fashion photographer in Hong Kong. I shoot produce Look Books and clothing catalogues for a few clothing manufacturers in China. After 5 years of shooting for a certain client from China, they asked for 1 RAW file of a certain design that we shot recently. They've never asked for that before. I found out later that they used that RAW file of mine to get info from the metadata. Then they called another cheaper photographer to use all the same same settings, camera, lens and lighting, model placement, etc. As many of you know, China is very good at producing copy cat work on the cheap. Fortunately for me, the new photographer couldn't replicate the shots. I believe he didn't know how to edit.

I haven't read all the comments so someone might have already said it, but giving a client the RAW file is like doing a job and handing them the unprocessed film. They can't possibly know how you imagined the final result. In any case they are hiring you for your ability, not theirs!

I had to send the client around 100 raw video clips from my latest shoot as they decided they wanted to edit them themselves. I felt pretty uneasy about this as I shot everything handheld, and I didn't really want their opinion of the quality work I produce to be affected by raw video clips.

Now that I think about it, around 90% of the footage I shoot is garbage, and each clip usually has about 2-5 seconds of material that'll be used down in the final product, and I don't trust the client to understand/ find those few seconds of golden footage within all the clips.

Can i trad this into french ? :) I need it for my client ^^

I made this mistake once, and only once...because it was a hard lesson learned. I still in the early days of switching from analog to full frame digital. I shot a wedding that was pretty much last minute planned. It was a night wedding in a darkened cathedral, and flash wasn't permitted.

Using a single LED light I had to light the scene to shoot it. I knew many of the photos would not come out, so I shot 3 to four of the same scene, using different settings. I told the bride and groom they would see the photos in about 5 to 7 days, giving me enough time to go through the shoot determine what was completely spoiled, what was good, and what needed editing. The bride called that following Monday, she wanted to see the photos, all of them....I insisted she wait they were raw and unready for viewing. She said she understood. So, I made a CD and actually took it to her.

Four days later, I had made proofs of 200 or so of the 450 shots, and was ready to put out the first series. I dropped an email to the client saying "The pre-wedding and ceremony proofs are ready to view". I got a responding email. "You destroyed our wedding, my wife is in tears...we don't want your pictures".

I didn't even respond, I finished up another 100 or so shots, and FedEX'd a CD to the couple. The next day I get a phone call. "These are great, why would you show us the work when it wasn't ready??" (let's just not go there). Lesson learned: Clients will NEVER be previewed work raw work again, ever.

The only clients I provide (lo-res) preview work to are the ones who are a) intimately familiar with the process and b) have the ability to see the potential in a photo that I can see. Otherwise, it's an absolute no-go.

Then you simply wouldn't have me as a client. I'm not there to be your advertising, I don't expect you to use the photos to showcase your work, I don't expect to license the photos, I don't need you to edit the RAWs, you're probably never going to get a referral from me regardless of how great they may be, and if you didn't want me to credit you for anything due to concern over your reputation, that's totally fine.
If I was hiring a photographer, I'd want all the photos in RAW, wouldn't require them to do any editing, would expect to fully own them and do with them that of my choosing. I fully understand the number of hours you need to put into composition/editing. I'd choose to do everything else myself, and I'd probably spend way more time than I really should on it, but that's what I do, waste massive amounts of my time doing things myself, and doing them to my own satisfaction, which can even irritate myself often enough. I've been messing with photoshop since 7.0, and have no current plans on going past CS6, because, as with the photos, I don't expect to license something I want to own. Anyway, I'm not the average consumer. But you should at least be open to the obstinate person and in your portfolio have before and after picture so clients can grasp the work that goes on beyond finding the right angle, lighting, settings, and pushing the button.

I am curious the response to this...I am an amateur photographer, but I have been a designer/art director/creative director for 30 years. The fact is that I am a better retoucher than the vast majority of the photographers I have worked with in my career. As an art director, I have a strong feel for what I am looking for in a campaign. I always want the photographer to present me how they think the shots should look, but I almost always request the RAW files (communicated before the job) and almost always do additional retouching, many times beginning with their Lightroom edits and doing more with them. And I can say that they are always better as a result of my additional edits. Would this piss you guys off if you were working with me?

For me, since it's agreed to beforehand, that makes sense. In this capacity, you serve as an editor. It sounds like you just also happen to be the client. But as long as it's understood in advance, it could even be seen as something that's more beneficial/convenient in these instances...

Again, there are always exceptions, depending on the situation.

I would echo this sentiment completely. There's a huge distinction to be made here between an agreement before-hand that art direction will tailor the images to the look/feel that they want in post, vs. being hired for a job for YOUR style and being asked for the RAW set after the fact.

Your article makes perfect sense for the type of work that you're shooting, but I'd like to present an argument for giving your raw images.

I work as a travel photographer and some of my clients require every raw image that I shoot. Personally, these are my favourite clients to shoot for. Their editors and retouchers do a better job then I would. My style/vision is limited to what I accomplish in the field and I like that.

Some of my other clients require finished jpegs, which means that I have to edit and retouch for weeks after a shoot - not fun!

It is the difference between an industry client and a consumer client. I think of it as working *with* an industry client to achieve a best end result for the consumer. But I also worked for two different weekly newspapers back in the day. One where we were in charge of our images from assignment to production-ready image. The other where we gave up everything after the initial scanned negative to the photo technicians. Guess which paper consistently produced the best images?

In the case of the gym girl, the raw image looks better than the result photo. In the raw image the girl is better sculptured, in the reworked photo she is washed out in bright light.

I once had a model try to force me to give her the RAW files from a shoot, lol. Even though it was in the Model Release Form that no RAW files were given out, only edited images. I'm sure she had some boyfriend who downloaded a demo of Lightroom and wanted to try and impress her with his editing skills. Not happening, baby! You get nothing!

Here're some counterpoints:
There are plenty of legitimate reasons for wanting RAW originals.