Why Photographers Don't Give Away Raw Files To Clients

If you ran a poll to find out what are some of the biggest pet peeves that a photographer experiences when dealing with clients, undoubtedly, requests for all raw files from a photoshoot would be up there on the list. Many newer photographers cave in to the pressure of trying to appease their clients but the reality is that this is, in most circumstances, an unfair request that could do more harm than good. Fellow photographer Jessica Kobeissi explains why in this video.

There was a point where I myself would cater to my clients request for all the raw files. After a while I noticed a few interesting things:

a) Clients were not quite as happy. When they received all the files they were privy to all the failed attempts and all the distractions which are later edited. Its a bit like watching a magic trick. If you don't know how its done you leave in awe. As soon as you see the steps though, you are not quite as impressed. The same holds true for photography.

b) Clients pay you as a professional so that you are able to discern what is good and what is not. If you can't cull a good group of selects then you are not doing your job. I found that when I provided raw files, some clients were hoping they would find images that I glossed over and missed during the culling process. A funny thing happened though, they always agreed that I had already chosen the best out takes. Make sure your clients have that level of faith and trust in you to know that you choose the best.

c) Loss of brand control. This really is the BIG issue. As a photographer, everything you put out into the world should be a representation of your style and brand. If you are releasing raw files there is always the chance that they will get posted as is, or edited in a manner you wouldn't. That kind of inconsistency can be damaging to your brand and can cost you future business.

There are circumstances where releasing raw files is the norm, but for most photographers, it's not a particularly good idea. Kobeissi touches on the above points and more in her video, so I suggest giving it a watch. If anything, it may hep you explain to clients why as an artist it is important for you to release a finalized product.

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44 Comments

Kyle Medina's picture

Dang, I was hoping to see some terrible edits that were posted online.

I give raw files to my advertising clients, but as a commercial photographer my situation is a bit different. And of course I negotiate what I deliver in my contracts so that everyone is on the same page!

As you say, that's different. Higher end clients have their own art departments, so they'll want the raw files. But they'll pay for them too.

Alan Klughammer's picture

giving your raw files is kind of like a baker giving a dozen eggs, some flour, etc. They are literally the raw ingredients you use to make the final presentation....

Ben Browning's picture

well its not quite giving them the raw ingredients, more like giving them the sticky dough to ten bake themselves afterwards XD

If a (non-agency) client wants my raw files, usually it's because they think photography starts and ends with the click of the shutter. I'll try to help educate them, but I'm also not afraid to tell them I'm not the photographer for what they want.

Makes sense to me. Imagine if you go to a high-end restaurant renowned for their steaks and the waiter throws a slab of beef on your plate and says "Here! You cook it!"

I basically disagree. However, I generally only give the RAW files for the "good" photos or photos the customer wants to keep, and only alongside the finished jpg file.

The reason behind this policy is that in the early days before I knew anything about photography I had some photos taken (as did my parents and grand parents), some are great photos that would be nice to have reprints or duplicates made, but the original photographer has gone out of business or moved or whatever and our only option now is to scan a faded print.

It is hard to predict what the future might hold for anyone so I don't feel right withholding the RAW files from a customer, if they want them. Especially for corporate customers who are more likely to want to do future editing by replacing backgrounds or whatever else.

Brenden King's picture

The reason for giving away raw files is so clients can reprint in the future? Why can't they just use the final jpgs? Still no reason to be scanning old prints and why would they want to reprint an unfinished product?

I'm not sure I understand; you say you provide the RAW along with the jpeg - so if the client needs to reprint they would just print the jpeg, right? Why would they need the RAW file, that would mean that they would have to re-edit the RAW files before being able to print again... Sorry but it doesn't make much sense to me.

In that case, you export it as a full resolution tiff file. Raw files are only meant for editing and re-editing. Clients generally don't understand that. Apparently it's a common misunderstanding what raw files are for.

Agency/corporate clients with an art department are a different matter. They often need to edit the photos to fit their needs.

Alan Smith's picture

I believe all of the above points are valid. A solution would be to only give your final selection as RAW, and export as DNG so that the file opens previewing your final edits (assuming you have not edited in photoshop) regardless of the RAW image editor the client uses.

Alain Claveau's picture

Lets have a different persceptive on this. Wen i deliver jpeg it as to be on a support ( my clients like to have physical ) not so long ago i used to deliver on DVD. But now, DVD are starting to dissapear on computer. So i use USB key, and in 5 or 10 years it will be something else , Where am i going with this ? i will answer that question by an other one, can you read a floppy disc today ? no, so peoples are forced to migrate, but there the catch everytime you transfer JPEG from one support to an other one the file degrade, not so with the RAW, ( i learned that lately ). So now this is one selling point for me. I dont care to give them RAW, will it damage my branding ? i dont think so, peoples are lazy, they will just share the edited file you give them. 30 years ago wen i was shooting wedding ( you can now guess my age ) i never gave the negative, and you know what ? last year i threw all of them in garbage...

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

No, jpeg transferred from one medium to another doesn't loose quality, and a chance of damaging a file due to r/w error are the same as with any other file.

It doesn't lose the quality, but some post processing options are lost forever.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

?? Did you even read the comment to which you are replying?

Alain Claveau's picture

Taken from Steve's Digicams

Lossy and Lossless Formats

TIFF, often saved with a TIF file extension, is a lossless format. Lossless means that when the image is saved and later reloaded, each pixel in the saved/reloaded image is identical to the image before it was saved. As such, there are no quality losses, but the size of the file can be quite large because the RGB values for each pixel are recorded verbatim. Compressed TIFF's offer a size savings just as WinZip offers size savings for files, without introducing quality loss but even compressed TIFF's are usually larger than JPEG images.

JPEG on the other hand, is a lossy format. Lossy means that compromises are made to allow some image quality to be lost each time the image is saved. In return for the slight quality loss, the file size can be much smaller, on the order of 2-10 times smaller than a compressed TIFF. When an image is saved in the JPEG file format and later reloaded, the saved/reloaded image will not be identical (pixel to pixel) to the original before it was saved. Fortunately, the quality losses can be very difficult if not impossible to detect with the unaided eye after only a single save. Keep in mind that repeatedly opening and resaving JPEG photos will incur cumulative losses with each save, making quality worse each time you resave the JPEG.

Justin Haugen's picture

Opening and resaving a jpeg is not the same thing as duplicating a file over and over again. Our clients would not be opening a jpeg in photoshop and resaving it.

Darren Nana's picture

This is fundamentally wrong. Transferring a digital file in any way does not degrade the file.
Saving a jpeg and then re-saving it as a jpeg would then re-apply the jpeg compression technique to said jpeg and thus reduce its quality again. You could copy a jpeg 1,000's of times across devices and retain exactly the same file quality.

fred lefeuvre's picture

Don't worry about that. Copy JPEG files doesn't change anything of the quality. Just don't save it everytime you opened it. That's basically THE big advantage of digital compare to analogic.

Nathan Nellans's picture

Copying a JPG file from one drive to another drive does not degrade quality. It leaves the file intact 100% as it was.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

Great job at educating client!

Tom Lew's picture

Reminds me of people submitting their resume's in a .doc format when I was hiring. Always wanted to add offensive things, save, and return and ask them why they put that they were a dung smuggler for 3 years.

Tomek Fryszkiewicz's picture

I agree BUT what if for example you shoot a wedding for another photographer? I mean a situation when a photographer actually gets married.
I've had such a situation once. He agreed to have the photos edited by me but would also like to get the RAW files just in case. Of course there is a paragraph in the contract saying that he's not allowed to post the RAW files anywhere or post his own edited versions, they're just for private viewing.
I'm getting married soon and as a wedding photographer I think I'm going to have a similar standpoint. Although I trust my photographer, I'd like to have an opportunity to edit at least some of the photos in my own style and make myself an album just like I want it.
This is a rare situation, otherwise I don't give RAWs to clients for the obvious reasons ;)
What are your thoughts on this?

Percy Ortiz's picture

lol I'm sorry but if you're shooting 2000 average looking photos on a wedding I suggest you consider changing careers. The easiness to change and alter a photo in photoshop or LR should never be a license to be lazy when thinking and composing before you press that button

On any normal wedding day I shoot around 600 images. About 500 out of those are GOOD IMAGES and can stand on its own straight out of camera. No I am not perfect and I do occasionally miss the mark on some shots and on those instances i delete the shot anyway. Of those 500 about 200 are tweaked lightly to make them go from good to hero and usually end up on the wedding album. I also provide my clients with a Hi res Jpeg printable to the max size that the file allows it AND i offer to them the raw files. After i explain to them what the raw files are most of them decline to have them even after i tell them if they don't take them they will be deleted after a year. From the ones that took the raw files i don't think i've ever seen many try to do anything with them and from the ones i know they have the results have been amazing. (granted those couples were graphic designers and digital artists so they knew what they were doing but that just shows you that clients with a non artistic background more than often won't feel the need to "express their artistic visions" using your raws as material)

You see, it is a hassle to handle and try to process a raw files just as much as it was to try print something from a negative back in the film days. nevertheless we still gave the clients their negatives because they belonged to them in the end after a certain period of qualifying time (usually a year or so)

For my commercial work that is a different beast altogether but, in short, clients do get a layered tiff file which is a s good as getting the raw one. Most of the time that tiff has been edited to conform with the creative director's vision anyway.

Just as a piece if info , In Australia the client commissioning the work is by default the owner of the copyright even for domestic clients i.e. wedding clients. My contract allows me unlimited usage rights but technically i cannot change or alter those files without permission from the copyright owner... Why would i want to anyways...

Nathan Nellans's picture

Most of your comment is off topic and condescending. Who cares how many shots are taken by this photographer when she shoots a wedding. Who cares how many you shoot and how many you edit.

Here are the highlights of your post.
1. You provide High Res JPG's to your wedding clients.
2. You also offer them the option of RAW files, but most of them decline after you discuss what a RAW file is.
3. You're not really sure if any "normal" clients have re-edited your RAW files.
4. The "professional" clients (graphic designers, digital artists) have made amazing edits from your RAW files.
5. You say clients with no artistic background 'won't feel the need' to edit your RAW files and repost them
6. You provide TIFF files to commercial clients

Jacques Cornell's picture

I agree. The whole "lol, u shoot 2 much" thing is obnoxious and uninformed.

Percy Ortiz's picture

thank you for the feedback. I honestly appreciate it. Will moderate my posts and try to make them more on topic next time

I like your comments. It's all about educating the customer. Most people won't want the raw photos if properly educated. Some might, because they have every intent to do the post processing with someone else. Why force your personal touch on THEIR pictures and memories?

Pablo Hill's picture

Ever since instagram came out everyone thinks they have to edit every picture to make it look good. I've seen my pictures re edited, from the already edited jpg. It creeps me out what they do with them...

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