Why You Should Keep Unedited Images to Yourself

Why You Should Keep Unedited Images to Yourself

For many of us, photography is a form of art, or at least there is an artistic process behind it. More than that, each of us strive to have a "style" that is an artistic consistency to our work. Photography, however, is quite different from your traditional art-making process. There is as much technical knowledge required as artistic or creative inspiration and thinking. This separates the process into two distinct parts: the shoot and the edit. These two parts are equally important to your identity as a photographer. 

The shoot itself is vital to your photography business and your photographic aesthetic. Your work ethic, people skills and personality, lighting techniques, and camera skills are put to the test. If the shoot is bad, your image will likely suffer the same fate. Let’s get past that point and think specifically about the edit. Photoshop can’t make a bad photographer good. You have to shoot with the edit in mind. 

Once you get back from your shoot with your talented model, makeup artist, stylist, and location, you import your images into your raw editor of choice, cull, and start editing. As a portrait photographer, there are a few steps that are essential in my editing. Any other photographer following these steps will achieve a different result. That is what makes us all different as artists. We may do the same things, but we will never do them the same way. This process differentiates every photographer and separates the good from the bad. So, let’s consider this hypothetical: a client asks you to shoot images for their brand, regardless of the genre, you edit them, then send the finished files their way. They say that they love them, but tack one strange question on the end: “would you mind sending us the unedited versions of these?”

Hopefully, you’ve been hired for your style and renown. To be very blunt, your editing is as vital (if not more) important than your shooting skills. The edit is where the magic happens. One of my favorite examples of this, while a different genre, is movie trailer recuts. One glaring example of how different editing can change the tone of a movie is this Harry Potter trailer edit that makes it feel like a teen comedy. The footage in this edit is purely what is found inside the film itself.

What changed then? They decided to not show certain parts of the movie in their version of the trailer and to show certain pieces that contribute to that mood. There's also different music overlaid on the footage, which has a huge effect on mood. An extremely similar effect can be had on still photographs. 

The important thing to remember is that your work is your work, and that is paramount. In order to keep yourself well-represented, the work that you deliver needs to be your work, not just partially your work. It isn’t about being spiteful, it’s about being respectful to yourself as an artist. 

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Just don't use their images!!!

I don't mind showing people unedited vs edited photos in a side-by-side comparison type way because it helps me answer the question of "I like the photos you delivered, but can I get the rest of them too just to see what else you got?" (answer is no), and it shows that the original file is not the entirety of my process.

or to explain part of the cost of photography

Travis Alex's picture

In a world where people want to know more about you via social presence, this article seems out of touch or anti social media. I disagree.

Lane Shurtleff's picture

Totally. I shoot a lot of people, both models and friends, and nearly every single one of them will Instagram filter the hell out of anything I send them. It's similar to "magic bokeh", only nerdy photographers with more time to fanboy their favorite lens will notice the difference. The average consumer couldn't care less what out of focus highlights look like.

Glen Grant's picture

Once this mindset played well.
Be it my commercial clients or my regular models they fully get what editing does. They however would like to see our work complete and decide to what and when they want things done.
I have great faith in my unedited work for delivery and then the ability to deliver stellar edited final product.

Scott Spellman's picture

As a professional, you need to clearly define the entire process and specific deliverables. There should never be a question of the client asking for unedited photos because they should already know the answer.

I have several media and commercial clients who do their own editing and are great at it. I have no concerns with providing unedited images when its agreed as part of the project. Professionals give the client what they need.

Edward Porter's picture

Great point. The larger the project, fewer the creative freedoms. I don't complain because the pay is higher (per hour) and I'd rather be shooting than staring at a computer monitor for hours on end.

Joseph Drago's picture

I agree. Recently I was hired for a commercial shoot and was specifically asked to provide unedited images. Everything was discussed and agreed upon before I took a single image and I have no problem with it. Give the client what they want and you end up having happy clients. And as the saying goes [SMACK to the face] GET IT RIGHT IN CAMERA!

Never again!! NEVER. Editing is part of producing THE image. You want to see the image, you wait until it is edited to become THE image. It doesn't have to be completely retouched, but you should be able to see what my vision is.

My Horror Story: I work in the marketing department of a university as the staff photographer. Everything was okay for many years. It was a good creative environment; we openly discussed our work and others and greatly improved what each other was doing... then we got a new director who was not up to creative work. He loved what we were doing, but couldn't keep up with the conversations. In response, he became incredibly controlling. He would re-write copy without discussion, try to re-design layouts, etc.

Then he demanded I give him my photos straight from the camera. I originally resisted, but he was my supervisor. The result was: my images were quickly phased out from our collateral. We began hiring outside photographers. He began to lobby to have my position eliminated because I was, according to my last review, "not up to a professional level as a photographer ... relies too heavily on Photoshop to correct a basic lack of skill (eg exposure, focus, framing)."

Full disclosure: I worked as a freelance and contract commercial photographer for 15 years before this job. I'm not the best, but I keep up with my skill and the industry. I did not quit because my work sucked: I quit because I suck as a businessman.

I'm happy to say I have a new and better boss now who understands the business better. The old boss was an idiot, but I will never show unedited and un-culled images again. It affects the way people view your work and any one of them could be the idiot who tries to get you fired.