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.