Should You Give Raw Files to Clients?

We've all been put into this position. You've finished a shoot, and before you can even get through culling the images, the client is asking you to see all the raw files. Should you hand them over or hold onto them, biding time until you can produce the edited bunch?

Jamie Windsor's video on giving your raw files to clients is an important one considering the fact that it is an issue that may recur throughout your whole career, but wedding and family portrait clients are the most notorious raw-requesting offenders. This video is not referring to clients who have asked for them within a contract or large productions in general. But for those who expect to deliver only edited, JPEG files according to the contract, Windsor goes over a few issues such as the fact that many don't know what raw files actually are or what programs are necessary to open them.

I have worked with a few agencies to which I provided the raw files for them to choose selections, which I could then proceed to edit. And this process has proved to be an efficient way of ensuring they get what they want and that my time is spent properly.

This video should assist in navigating an issue that may arise more times then we would like to count.

Lead image by Caio Resende via Pexels.

Log in or register to post comments

42 Comments

Pedro Pulido's picture

during a natural agreement between client and photographer, if everything is booked and goes to plan, it should mean the client is hiring the photographer for his skills, talent and style.
Therefore, edited jpegs should sufice.
i never give my raws to ANYONE. those are my diamonds in the rough. They get the finished product. period.

Brandon Laurent's picture

I completely agree. I learned this the hard way with a band I shot who kept insisting on the RAW images so that he himself could edit them. Which I declined part of our creative expression is in HOW WE EDIT. So I wasn't going to relinquish my work with all writes to edit them as they choose for free. If that's what they were looking for they could invest in a camera and take the photos themselves.

Joel Cleare's picture

If they pay full price then what the deal. Give them the RAW files. Your check is the same. Charge for an usb drive. How they make further money on the images they pay for is their business.

Pedro Pulido's picture

their paying full price for your craftsmanship and that includes how you make the final image look.
What was the point of hiring "you" in the first place ?
and no. they're not supposed to make money out of your image. They're the clients remember?
that is also the reason why you sign contracts. To specify what you allow and to protect copyrights of the creator.

Pete Whittaker's picture

Yes but... It's one thing if you have a client that will either take the raw files to a professional retoucher or who really knows what they're doing and wants to develop the files and post-process to their own taste and if that's the case it's fine but should have been agreed to before the shoot since you're then trying to shoot to match their vision of the final images.

On the other hand, you might have a client who doesn't know what they're doing but wants the raw files because they want to feel in control. In which case you might end up with someone who's showing off poorly processed images and telling everyone that you took them and may even be blaming you for the poor quality.

Pedro Pulido's picture

if a professional retoucher is involved, that is a totally different situation and it is obviously previously discussed.

Deleted Account's picture

I kinda get what your saying but it's also about reputation. Would you want to claim credit for shit images (that the client edited themselves) to promote your next job? Or when a new client asks who you've done work for you'd really like risking your reputation as a good photographer on hope that the previous clients did you justice or even kept your style correct. To avoid being judged poorly you could mention that they wanted the RAW images but that doesn't help if they will then ask for the same because not they don't trust you can edit yourself. There's a slippery slope.

It also takes away the magic behind your images because they get to see all the imperfections and things you had to edit out. It's a risky move.

Joel Cleare's picture

Your right I would not want to claim images that I did not edit. Someone else would have to edit it then give the photogtprapher credit saying they did the work. An unlikely scenario. It like Toyota not selling you a car because they didn’t like the way you used it. Just seems like it would cause more harm than perceived good to refuse RAW images to a paying client.

Pedro Pulido's picture

Raws are not the final product. Would you buy half a fork, fridge, car or house ?

Joel Cleare's picture

If your paying full price than what does it matter.

Pedro Pulido's picture

What William said.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

This started happening to me so much that I shoot raw and jpeg to the card. If they annoy me so much and want them quickly I'll send them some unedited jpg but tell them they'll get less edited. Only when I'm happy with the straight out of camera images though.

Joel Cleare's picture

Keep your clients happy. 👍🏽

Joe Rodriguez's picture

I really want to agree with you, keeping your clients happy is the way to more business, but can't in this situation. Had that first experience with a client. Sharing your raws just doesn't feel right. Alot of the reasons I feel have been mentioned already.

Chuck Tintera's picture

Giving up raw files suxxs. Period. But you should have 2 prices, one for processed images, another 3x, 4x?, for unprocessed. It's a situation you need to be prepared for.

Brandon Laurent's picture

I saw someone it may have been Sue Bryce who factored in her cost for her portrait packages by ensuring her clients understood how much time and effort went into editing and how much it would be per hour if it came to that. Which I thought was probably helpful since a lot of people do not work for lump sums but rather hourly so it makes it easier to understand.

Johnny Rico's picture

When that guy tried to sell his 3 stops underexposed mistake as a vision I LoL'ed

Suzi Pratt's picture

ALWAYS specify what you'll deliver to the client in the contract (for commercial AND family/wedding clients) and charge extra for RAWs.

Brandon Laurent's picture

Agreed!

Joel Cleare's picture

If clients are paying full price for a wedding. No discounts. If they ask for the RAW files. Give it to them. Is it that much effort to put them on a usb drive. Comparing the RAW to the unedited will show how much work you put into editing. If they have a friend that can edit the images themselves then fine. Your paycheck will be the same.

william mitchell's picture

Keep your raw files, if the "client" screws up the editing it will make you look bad. if it is a commercial job and you can trust the retoucher, then write a clause into the contract about who does what in the workflow.

Paul Scharff's picture

I'll give RAW files to web designers and ad agencies and other pros who know what to do with them. But most of my clients are high-turnover who need photos quickly to publish and move on to the next assignment, so they get JPEGs.

Fritz Asuro's picture

But most client thinks of "RAW" are the unedited JPEGs. LOL.
Also, most doesn't know what to do with it, sometimes they'll call you because they can't open it.

Deleted Account's picture

Personally, I would not give raw files away but I am sure others would be happy to. There is not a wrong or right answer to this, just the photographers personal choice.

Nikos Metaxas's picture

The only case I would give RAW files and/or unedited video cuts to a client is if that client is a fellow professional photographer who has asked for this beforehand.

Jason Ranalli's picture

I usually only get asked if a client has no idea what they're talking about and it's not hard to set them straight. I don't even give out full-sized JPGs unless they ask or have a specific printing need.

Nikos Metaxas's picture

Most people just don't realise RAW's must be processed correctly or else they look rubbish especially skin tones.
Just think of the damage a client can do to your business if he/she posts unedited/wrongfully edited RAW's online and mentions you as the creator. It's a can of worms.

Reginald Walton's picture

I write it in the contract that I will retain ownership of the RAW files and they will be provided with Jpegs only.

Heikki M's picture

If someone asks about raw files, I always give them this analogy: Would you ask an artist to give you a half painted painting, just so you could finish it? Don't think so. Same applies here. Shooting and retouching are both part of my workflow.

Brendan Cleary's picture

I like that line 'Would you ask an artist to give you a half painted painting, just so you could finish it? Don't think so.' I am stealing it and using it in the future. Thank you very much. :)

Joel Cleare's picture

This is why artist starve. Full price for a half finished piece seems like a bargain to me. So a car company shouldn’t sell you a car if your going to be an Uber driver ? Making $$ on a product you paid for.

David Blanchard's picture

The key word here is "give". If you are a commercial photographer, "give" should never be part of your vocabulary. The key word for you is "sell". Raw images are a simply another form of your product. If a customer wants to buy them, then put an significant price on them and sell them. Once done, you can wipe 'em from your hard disc and save some money. Before delivering them to the customer, figure out how to wipe any reference to yourself from the EXIF data. Gotta be an app for that.

anttimutka's picture

If I ever give images staight from my camera they are B&W jpegs with added contrast. I never give out RAWs.

Jeff Morris's picture

Part of my T&C is that the client may not make any alterations to my delivered photos other than the absolute minimum necessary for production (aka lifting shadows a bit for print). That part of the contract negates any possibility of them having a use for a raw file. Problem solved from the get-go.

However, if I'm working on a "for hire" basis and my name isn't attached to the images, then it's a given that they'll be editing the images themselves.

Alfie Goodrich's picture

Do what you like. It's called freedom :-) But, for me, yes... absolutely. I give all my RAW files to my clients. And if Fstoppers allow links to other articles, here's the one I wrote about why I give my RAWs to my clients. http://www.japanorama.co.uk/give-clients-raw-files/

Eric Salas's picture

Easy answer, hell no.

GI PAMPERIEN's picture

Outstanding presentation. Most educating. Can't stand most of the self-appreciating crap out there masquerading as tutorial... or some such excuse. This is quality

Kirk Darling's picture

I think all comments on this issue should be prefaced by revealing what kind of photography is being discussed...because it does make a difference. I shoot retail portraits. None of the products I deliver are commercial "wholesale," as to a web designer or an art director. Commercial photography is a different world. Now, there might be a time that I'd deal with a savvy retail client who really wants the RAW to work with the images. In that case, she gets nothing but the RAW--I won't bother with any post-processing, and the fee structure will be like that of a commercial product.

"I'm Being Paid for My Time, so I always package the RAW with the final products." Might be true of some photographers, but I'm being paid for my ultimate vision, which will include not only all my pre-production planning, plus my camera skill and eye, but also my post-production work. So what they're paying me for is the final product, not any of the interim stages.

"I give them the RAW as a backup." The backup of the product I've sold them is the full-resolution JPEG I provided. They have no need for the RAW as a backup.

Brendan Cleary's picture

I do not understand some clients fascination with RAW files. I have noticed it more with fitness models for some reason. I never give out the RAW files and in some instances had to lie and said once the selections had been made I "mistakenly" deleted the original RAW files (which is never the case I have RAW files from the very first shoot I ever did). I believe if you are being asked to take photos or being paid to take the photos the person is hiring you for your editing skills as well. Not for them to go "Can I have the RAW files too? I wanna edit it on my own using some smart phone app." I find it insanely insulting for someone to think they can get the same results in editing from some stupid app over Lightroom and Photoshop. Another reason I don't give out my RAW files is if I got something wrong (yes it does happen) like the exposure is slightly off or the framing is off and needs to be cropped just a tad, I would be mortified if someone uploaded a RAW file that I have not edited at all. It has a negative impact because if someone sees you have taken that photo and it's completely untouched they may not want to hire you because they may think you either don't edit your photos or you don't know how to edit your photos. Sorry for the long rant. TLDR: Would rather die than give a client my RAW files. RAW files are for people who know what to do with it. Edited JPEGs are for the client.

Tod Grubbs's picture

I have only given RAW images to two clients after they signed a release that they understood what they were getting.

Melissa Ann's picture

No.
Good night.

Chris Harth's picture

Just shoot JPEG, problem solved ;)