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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Peter House's picture

Peter House is a commercial fashion photographer from Toronto, Canada. He shoots over 10,000 pieces of clothing every year for a variety of lookbooks. Clients range from small local boutiques to international brands such as Target, Winners, and Sears. In addition to that Peter runs one of the most popular rental studio's in the Toronto area.

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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.

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....

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.

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.

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.

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...

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Great job at educating client!

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.

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?

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...

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

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

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?

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...

Sooooo how about this... supplying just the final jpegs to your clients really has 0, and I mean ZILCH "protection". The main argument (however valid or not, depending on perspective) seems to be that the idea is to protect the unique style, quality, etc. I get it. BUT!

...If your client or their friends/family are planning on editing and posting their "improved" versions of photos - guess what? ...they'll do it to jpegs just the same and the results can be even more horrendous. Unless you have some sort of binding agreement to not retouch the photos and share them and then give you credit, then you really have no protection of any sort. It's pretty much a given that your images will end up on social media and will likely looks horrible because most people are clueless about how to properly save/post on the web. All your great lighting/retouching goes right out of the window when you're looking at a pixelated square crop.

Case in point: I've just completed a shoot last weekend, shared the gallery with the client (fully edited jpegs - I use Pixieset), and lo and behold I get tagged as the photog on FB in something that was barely recognizable as my work by a friend of the client who chose it upon themselves to not only filter-fy, but also crop and tilt the image. Oh, they've uploaded the $hit resolution and FB did its best to further degrade the hideous image.

It's not about what they'll do with them as much as just seeing them or releasing them, as is. Raw files lack life and are full of things that will be "corrected" (like underexposing for the sky).

It's like looking at a writer's first draft. You read it, but you are going to see everything the author might correct on the next draft. Unless you are a professional editor, you will probably judge the writer by what you have seen. I don't want to be judged by my rough draft.

Well, chances are clients aren't asking for JUST the RAWs, right? They want the finished product AND asking for their digital negatives. Someone above mentioned providing DNGs, and that's my philosophy as well. I've yet to personally run into anyone (client or photographer) who had an issue because sharing RAWs caused them trouble. Not once. This issue is WAY OVERBLOWN.

On the contrary, I see the "issues" with people uploading and doing whatever the heck they want with their photos because they look like crap after compression, resizing, and personal filters - things that'll happen REGARDLESS of the format photographer provided.

Someone wants copies of their DNGs from a persona shoot, be it wedding, engagement, portrait...? Fine, here, take it. I've already built in the cost of sharing those files into whatever the fee I charge for the project and chances are I'll never talk to you again about that particular shoot, so yeah, take them.

Of course, for other projects, like an ad, or flyer, or something along those lines, where there is the possibility of commercial use, printing, reproduction etc, things are different. But for images that people will use for their own home, family, and friends... blueprints and the finals are yours to keep.

In any market where word-of-mouth is an important source of new clients - e.g. portraits, weddings, events - there is a high risk of bad-mouthing from a client who is dissatisfied because they insisted on RAWs but don't have processing skills. I think the distinction between agency and non-agency clients above is a good one.

Disagree, the raw images contain all of the information that is used to make the end product. It's not a draft, it's just not processed. They may want the same .raw image processed in different ways. Why would you steal that opportunity from them?

Even if you'd provided your client with the Raw file in addition to your edited jpeg, it's the latter which was posted to Facebook that the friend would likely have used for his crappy edit. Also, a number of photographers include a clause in their contracts that says their images should not be edited.

My personal favorite, "I want all the edited raw files."

I just don't. When asked I respond by saying they are not available. If someone really knows what they're asking for I help them understand that a RAW file is a digital negative... proof of original source. If I then give it or sell it, the client will need to pay and have a purpose. Even then, I think a DNG file will usually suffice.

Most consumer clients want the files so they can feel as though they get full value. I remember when I was hiring a photographer for head shots (before I started working as one) I wanted to see all the shots... good, bad or rotten. In the days of yore we got contact sheets and circled the ones we liked, and then ordered proofs. Obtaining negatives was never on the table.

Percy Ortiz... In Canada the copyright act was changed in 2012, giving photographers copyrights. Hopefully it'll come to Australia, too. Can't you contract in the retention of copyrights now?

How often client asking for raw files doesn't even mean RAW? They ask for raw but not for .CR2, .NEF .DNG etc. They just want to see all "between" shots. I think that the most important thing to do is to clarify what do they really mean, and to provide good customer service without sacrificing your principles. If client wants to edit pictures themselves, they probably price-shopping. If they want to see "between" pictures that means they don't trust you as far as selection goes. Don't say no. Just educate them better.
And one psychological trick to consider: If you agree on delivering unedited pictures, delay it. Send unedited images a month later. Client will receive your signature product first and will present it to his/her friends. Month later nobody will care about who took unedited version and hopefully you choose best pictures for first draft anyway...

First of all, for the average client I completely agree with the comments in the video. There is however a huge gap missing between a client who wants the photos 100% processed and finished (most) and a company that has an in house graphics team that would want the RAW files. What about someone who really cares about the photos, they are important, and they want all the options and control over their media.
Who's to say a photographer has the best skills for post processing a photo perfectly? They probably dont. Someone who specializes in graphics design could probably do a better job. The skills necessary to take a great photo and the skills required to go a perfect post-processing are very different. What if you had paid for a photographer to take a great photo on your wedding day. Now lets say they slightly over exposed the best photo when post processing, and you cant get the raw file. You then have an argument that its over exposed and they wont give you the raw because they refer to it as a painting and its a finished painting, get all defensive and thats that. Your at a loss. I dont agree with that part of the video. Its not a finished painting that's why you have a RAW file!!! Id be really angry if the RAW files were withheld in this situation. I couldn't now take the photo and hire a graphics designer to improve the post processing of the photo and end up with a much improved result. And what if i wanted to blow it up to a larger frame and squeeze some more resolution out of it 10 years from now when the photographer wasnt available any longer.

This argument is a beast, I've spent hours agonising over edits for clients, only to have them post the finished .jpg with Instragram filters all over them. Not much you can do unless you plan on sending legal to letters to nearly all of your brides.

The problem is you expect photographs to be art. It's not, it's a consumer product that you are hired to make with a tool.

I must say I disagree with this article in so many ways. Photography is really treated exclusively in this regard. I don't think a baker giving you eggs and flower is an apples to apples comparison. Imagine if a doctor refused to let you look at the data from your tests because "you didn't know what you were doing" or an engineer refused to provide you with a native autocad file. You would fire them. In the same way, photographers are really doing a disservice to themselves and their clients. We live in a time where photo processing tools are available to everyone, and people may wish to choose to take the raw images and have ANOTHER professional process them. Too many photographers force "their" vision on "your" wedding or event.

My clients are advertising agencies, they always ask me for the raws. ONly sometimes I agree to give them the files, just so they don't become a pain in the ass...

really that the real question, once i got a file from the desiner about some work in the autocad crack etc , but he refused to give me actual file, i do not know why,