How to Tell Clients They Can’t Have the RAW Files


It’s been a while since I’ve received “The E-Mail,” so I guess it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise when it came today. I must have been living a charmed life, because it hadn’t reared its ugly head in quite a while. Yet there it was. Staring me in the face. Cursor blinking in the “reply” box as I contemplated my impending level of sarcasm. Sometimes it’s actually a phone call. Occasionally they come right out and ask in person. More often than not, though, it’s an email. I prefer the emails because they help mask my frustration in a way that actual conversations can’t. You know the email I’m talking about. Names and locations have been changed for obvious reasons.

Dear Jeff– Thanks so much for meeting with us here at Clients-R-Us this afternoon to discuss photography for our new project. We love your portfolio (especially those shots you took for the new Italian-Japanese-Taco fusion restaurant downtown), and the numbers you propose all look good. We are ready to sign the contract and licensing agreements, but there’s just one point I’d like to discuss first. The original RAW files. We’d like them included. And not just the files for the final images delivered. We want all of the RAW files from the entire shoot. I know there are a lot of photographers who do this, so I’m assuming this won’t be a problem. We’ll be ready to move forward as soon as I get your okay on this. We’re very excited about working with you.  Best, –Joel Hartman, Creative Director for CRU.

Are you kidding me?!? Seriously?!? I’ve been a professional photographer for almost 12 years. You’d think this request wouldn’t bother me so much anymore. By now I should have a short, convincing, coherent, insightful, and possibly witty explanation that would make people realize (1) just what a ridiculous request this is, and (2) how much it pisses me off to have to constantly answer it. But even now, 12 years later, I still feel my skin crawl every time the issue comes up. So what do we do?

Why Do They Want Them?

I think that before we can come up with a good game plan for letting them down gently, we need to understand where they’re coming from. I took a thoroughly one-sided, non-scientific poll of some of my colleagues in order to try pinpointing the motivation behind The Request That Never Goes Away. One photographer said she thinks that clients are simply hedging their bets. They figure that they may change their mind about an image later on and that their sister-in-law’s neighbor’s nephew “really knows a lot about Photoshop” and he’ll be able to help them out. This may not be too far off when it comes to portraits and weddings, but commercial clients (hopefully) know that using non-licensed versions of any photo from the shoot is strictly off-limits.

Another photographer’s theory is that it has nothing at all to do with future edits, but everything to do with feeling like they’re getting their money’s worth. His experience has been that people feel that paying for the shoot means they own all of the happy pixels and megabytes that come with every click of the shutter. The third and final photographer subject of this rigorous testing is of the hyper-cynical opinion that clients don’t trust us to provide all of the good images, and that getting their hands on the RAW files will keep us honest. As a side note, let me say that they’re partially correct on that score. I don’t give my clients ALL of the good images, and neither should you. I only give them the best of the good images. Knowing how to edit yourself is very important.

Personally, I think that all of these theories have a bit of merit to them and probably average themselves out in the end.The truth is, this is not a new phenomenon. Before it was digitized ones and zeroes, clients were asking for their negatives. I think the assumption by today’s clients that we should be willing to turn over all of the images also stems in part from the idea that computers are something that we all have in common. A client might have been completely lost when it came to figuring out what to do with their individually-cut, medium format negatives, but because those images are now computerized, they at least stand a halfway decent chance of figuring out a thing or two about photo editing. Or so they think.

How to Tell Them No Without Losing Them

It’s important to remember that you’re walking in a sensitive area once this question is out there. Just like copyright and licensing issues, we have to be able to educate the client in such a way that we reenforce their confidence in us, and not in a way that is going to insult them and send them running to another photographer. Obviously, I’d love to answer the request simply– “I’m sorry, but we don’t don’t provide any RAW files,” and let that be the end of it. Not every client is going to give up so easily, though, so try some of these on for size.

1. Start out by explaining what RAW really means and that it’s basically useless to them in its current state. Many clients seem to think that “RAW” simply means unedited, but you and I know full well that that’s only a very small part of it. Once they understand that we’re basically talking about a digital negative and that they are going to need expensive software and technical expertise to turn it into something usable, they’re likely to back off.

2. Some clients, though, are on a mission. Their best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s uncle told them that they absolutely must have every RAW file from the entire shoot. I like pointing out to these clients that when their best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s uncle buys a novel, the price tag does not include all of the author’s rough drafts. Paintings and sculptures do not come with the artist’s initial sketches. It is entirely possible that I took eight or nine shots– sometimes more– before knowing that I got what I wanted. Making sure that the client only sees the best of the best actually makes their job much easier when it comes time to make their final selections.

3. Regardless of whether I am dealing with the creative director of Clients-R-Us or the mother of a bride, I have to get across to them the notion that they are hiring me not only to provide a product– the finished image– but a process as well. Without the process there actually is no finished image. They need to understand that part of that process means editing out the bad frames, and processing the rest in a way that only a professional photographer can. They need to know that “getting their money’s worth” has nothing to do with the number of images shot, but everything to do with the quality of the images delivered.

4. I once responded to this request with a question of my own. I asked the client if they were proud of their product. “Of course I’m proud of my product!” he told me. “A lot of time, effort, money, and research went into this product. It’s like one of my kids.” I let the answer hang in the air for a bit before saying, “Me too.” He just smiled, nodded his head, and has never again asked for anything other than finished images.

Or I suppose you could just try this.



I’ll be the first to admit that this is not an easy conversation to have. You don’t want to lose the client, but you also need to protect the work and your reputation. Being ready with a respectful, appropriate response is crucial. Fumbling your way through it tells the client that you are not confident or knowledgeable enough about your own business to address a common client concern. Different personalities will handle this dilemma many different ways. Knowing yourself is half the battle. Knowing your client is the other half.

What about you? Got a story to tell about convincing the client to do things your way? Share it in the comments.

  • Nick Cavanagh

    @ANO07 tell em you shoot jpeg? or film? : )

  • Jonas Astorson

    …and now you can give them this link to read.

  • lilewis

    Not related to this topic, but the DIY banner takes up too much real estate on my monitor.

    • udi tirosh

      thanks for the heads up, I just sent you a mail.

  • Dustin Grau

    I always seem to want to comment on your articles Jeff, but it’s usually well before I realize they’re yours. I guess I find resonance in what you say, and in this case I can come from the client’s side. Like anyone else in this modern day, the photographer for my wedding shot everything digital. My wife and I purchased a full package (including a bound album) from the him and were perfectly happy with the results. Though over the years as a learning photographer myself, I found there were some things I wish I could’ve adjusted or changed in those images: I didn’t like the white balance temp, some images felt a little soft (from post), or could’ve been cropped for more impact. This wasn’t a slight on the talent of the professional that did the work, but more of my personal preference. By about 8 years later, I looked up our photographer and found that he had moved on from weddings so I thought I might ask if he had the “original RAW’s”. Surprisingly, he did and was willing to provide them to me without additional charge. Unfortunately, he was out of town/busy and I lost track of my request for nearly a year. I ended up running into him though at The Flash Bus tour in Atlanta (a lighting seminar with David Hobby and Joe McNalley). We had a brief chat, I showed him a few samples of my work on my iPad, and proved I understood the tools necessary to work with the RAW images. Within a week he fulfilled his promise and I had the original images from my wedding! Immediately I was able to import them to Lightroom, and within a few minutes had all the edits I never knew I wanted to the original product I received–and yet I’m still happy with what I got originally because those images were the ones I’ve known for all these years.

    tl;dr: I got the raw files from my wedding photographer once I proved that I was capable of doing something with them.

    So, what does this have to do with the topic at hand? Like myself in the case above, most clients don’t know what they want, and they won’t know unless they learn why or why not something will work. And since they’re contracting with you (the artist) to produce their vision it’s obvious they don’t have the tools or knowledge at their disposal to execute that on their own. But it’s no different than any other business where you create something a client needs. I’m a consultant by trade, and my clients never know what they want unless I give them something they don’t. It makes no sense for me to give them the raw files (a bunch of HTML and scripting code) because they obviously didn’t know enough about web design or application development themselves to do the work themselves. That (raw) code only works in the hands of someone who understands it, and knows how to shape it into something usable.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      I definitely see where you’re coming from, Dennis. Everything was still shot on film when my wife and I got married in 1999. Once all of our prints and albums had been ordered, the photographer was willing to give us the negatives. I’ve never done anything with them, but I do feel better having them. I realize the double-standard at play here. Did you see the article I wrote about what happens when the photographer becomes the client? I definitely understand where some of the clients are coming from when they ask for these files. Understanding, though, doesn’t pay the bills.

    • Jacques

      “Though over the years as a learning photographer myself, I found there
      were some things I wish I could’ve adjusted or changed in those images: I
      didn’t like the white balance temp, some images felt a little soft
      (from post), or could’ve been cropped for more impact.”

      best reason ever to not give the RAW files, you do realise you are comparing someone elses work/taste/style with your own.

      • Dustin Grau

        I do, and you stopped short of quoting me on that: “This wasn’t a slight on the talent of the professional that did the work, but more of my personal preference.”
        I didn’t know what I didn’t know, until I knew it. I was emphasizing the thought that most clients wouldn’t know either what it was they’d want to change, so why give them the RAW files? If they can verbalize what they do/don’t like and you can change that in your delivered product, then there is no reason to provide them the “source” material.

        • Jacques

          No I did not stop short on quoting you on that. You pick someone based on their style etc like I said. Now you want to change their style according to your own because you learnt something different. It still remains photos taken by someone else who had a different style

          • Dustin Grau

            Yup, you’re right–it was this person’s style that we liked when we were researching the right photographer, and we paid for the services rendered, and accepted the product as-is from the artist with 100% satisfaction. Would I have had any use for the RAW files as part of that package? Absolutely not. Now that I do have the RAW files, is there any harm in modifying them for _personal_ use, at no risk (financial or otherwise) to the original creator? Probably not. Though to your point, I could very well imagine the types of outcomes from a commercial client (for example) trying to manipulate the RAW images for their needs without regards to the intent of the original artist.

    • Marcus Krebs

      I got into a rather heated argument with a photographer a few years back (to my credit I thought I was just hiring a friend who would pop the SD card out and give it to me – it was later she told me she did it for a living). I was hiring based on knowledge of composition not tinting and blur mattes. Style in camera is all I’m interested in. I know photoshop, I edit video for a living and images are part of that and she knew this. I think this “one size fits all” mentality of sticking to a Photographers club policy is damaging and based on fear. The fear that everyone with an iPhone can be a photographer. I know that’s not true but the idea of branching skills to further distance yourself from the hordes of perceived competition and holding photos ransom is not the answer either. I’m ok with the removal of bad images though. I get that you don’t want mistakes with your name on them getting out, but giving unedited masters is important too.

  • Edouard

    It’s like OpenSource software nowadays, if you still want to keep your sources files secret, there is something wrong. Giving the raw files just show how much you are confident with your work. It means “go ahead, try to do better”. And if someone can really do better, then you suck.
    I was looking for a photographer for my wedding, and not giving the raw file is a no go. The main reason is that we don’t know where the technologies will be in a few years. So just having a jpeg even in HD resolution is pointless when the standard will be 4K (8K, etc, who knows). So what those photographers that keep the raw files secret will do with them?? What the point to not giving them to their owner (ie the people on the pictures). My actual wedding photographer is really fine, he says there is no danger to give me the raw files. It’s not a matter of computer power, since we are not pro, it can take forever to process the image on my old computer I really don’t care. The fact is that I don’t have his skills to make a good pictures so I can respect even more his work. But at least, I have the sources of my pictures, not a reductive version of it (especially jpeg).

    • Cedric

      “What the point to not giving them to their owner (ie the people on the pictures).”
      That is wrong, the photographer stays the owner of the picture, whoever appears on it. That’s called copyright.

      • Edouard

        Depends on the willing of the photographers, there are a lot of variety from copyright to copyleft, CC etc. However I still don’t understand if there is a law about copyright, so why not giving the RAW to the customer who pay for it and agreed about the copyright/left/Etc on the pictures?

        • Jim Johnson

          “why not giving the RAW to the customer who pay for it”

          They don’t pay for it, they pay for a service and a license to use the final image. It’s a common misunderstanding.

        • Wing Wong

          By default, creative works(photographs included) are copyrighted to the one who creates the work. Exemptions to this are contracted work, in which case, the rights are defined in the contract. IANAL.

          There is nothing wrong with the customer having the RAW files, so long as the client paid for the RAW files and for the usage rights.

          I have serious doubts a working photographer would ever license their work under CopyLeft or any other license which allows for unlimited commercial use of their work.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      It’s not a matter of keeping RAW files secret. It’s a matter of this is how I feed my family and keep a roof over their heads. Simply turning everything over is bad business. Can somebody re-process them better than i did? Maybe maybe not. Just because they can, though, in no way means that I suck. The client obviously wants to hire me for a reason, and I doubt that the over-riding reason is that I may or may not supply them with the RAW files.

      It’s also worth pointing out that I’m not 100% against providing RAW files in every circumstance. But if the client wants them they need to understand that there limits.

      I don’t agree with the evolving technology argument, insofar as the image files is not going to change. The pixel count is not going to change. Same with resolution, bit depth, etc. Editing software will improve, but the image file itself will not.

      I think it’s great that you found a wedding photographer willing to turn over everything you want. Just make sure you’re not sacrificing quality and aesthetic in order to do so.

      Thanks for joining the conversation.

      • Edouard

        I was just sharing my point of view, it’s certainly biaised but it’s based on my little experience in a different but similar domain. I work in IT, my businees is Free AND open source software (FOSS). My main customer, a company of 160 000 employees was using let say 5% of FOSS at the end of the 90’s. Now they are using 95% of FOSS. FOSS is everywhere, even in your camera, computer, internet, etc. What’s the point? I have a roof above my head too. When you stop making money on virtual barriers you put on files, process, etc, you start making money on skills. May be the comparaison with photographers is wrong, but I still believe that in some events, like personnal events, if the customer ask and understand what it is, what it means (lot of communication), he should have the raw files. What are you going to do with this personnal pictures anyway? I understand the fear to loose money, but if you can’t make value again on this pic why keeping them secret? I’m not telling to give everything over in every case, and it depends on the law if you are safe enough and still the ownership of the picture if you give a copy of it.

        • Bryden Smith

          I Like your FOSS Analogy, but let me spell it a different way for you. Photographs are not free and open source, as a client you do not have the right to my creative work, i give you that in the form of a licence (think EULA) this limits what you are permitted to do with it. That is what you pay for, you never own the images because you didn’t create them.

          the point of feeding my family is that if you want reprints of your images, you come back to me for them, the same for re-edits. If I give you my RAW files, you could take them to someone else to have them re-edited, that person could do a terrible job, which then may get credited back to me, that could cost me my next contract, and eventually, if it happened enough times, it could cost me my business.

        • Wing Wong

          Just saying things like, you are in IT and that your business is involved with FOSS doesn’t really indicate how you make money, does it?

          Most IT companies that open source their code derive their business income from support services. They open source and release code, which helps build their user base.

          In other words, the company pay the developers to work on the code to make it better, so that it encourages wider adoption. As more people use the code base in their businesses, they need people who are skilled at making it work better, so they then leverage the professional services of the original company that released the code, since they are actively supporting the code base.

          So, you don’t make money off of the code, you make money off of the service.

          So your argument making comparisons between RAW files and FOSS is incorrect.

          Photographers make money from providing the service of shooting, editing, post processing, and physical goods derived from the RAW files. In that sense, they operate more like a traditional “closed source” IT business with a “secret sauce”. When folks want reprints of the images, because they do not own the rights to the originals and according to their contract, are not allowed to make copies of the physical printed images, to get more prints, they would need to go through the photographer to get more prints.

          The business model of the photographer and your FOSS related business are quite different. To make your argument based on that shows a lack of understanding of how the photography business works.

      • msundman

        How you feed your family?? Are you kidding me?! How do you figure that you feed your family better by holding back some images? Actually you can charge a bit more for the raw files and then not only is your client happy, but you actually feed your family BETTER.

    • Lyle


    • Wing Wong

      No, it’s not like open source. That’s a flawed analogy.

      A photographer’s relationship with the client is a contractual service for hire relationship as defined by the contract. The client and service provide agree on what is to be exchanged and at what value, and on what terms. This does not mean defacto access to all.

      If the client wants access to the RAW files, they can license them as part of the agreement/contract, with a proportional increase in the service fee/price.

      In the open source analogy, people are working on a project and are choosing to open source their work. When someone does a source code pull from a repository and commits changes and fixes, they have agreed to the terms of the relevant open source contract/agreement(GPLv1/2/3/etc. Creative Commons, etc.). There was no work for hire agreement. There was no money exchanged. It isn’t apt or relevant to compare the two.

      As for technology moving forward and such, it is much more likely that a RAW file format will fall out of use than a high resolution JPG or TIFF will fall out of use. The majority of the work and ability to access older RAW files is due to continued efforts from the open source side(dcraw) and from the commercial side(Adobe/Camera Makers/DNG/etc.).

      Put another way:

      If you, the client, wants the RAW files, whether to future proof your access to the images or retain them for the sake of comfort, or for any number of reasons, it is not out of the question to ask for them, but at the same time, be prepared to pay for them, as you are asking for the original images and thus an expanded use license. Also, while future technology may be able to render the RAW files better, the editing and post processing the original photographer performed will not be present. So from that perspective, the RAW files are of limited value.

      I’m in favor of clients having the option to the RAW files. So long as the photographer is compensated accordingly. But the open source argument you present, in that someone could render it better, is only relevant so long as you buy the rights to the original RAW files.

      In essence, you are asking for Free as in Freedom, for which you must pay $$$, as it is not Free as in Beer. :)

  • Lisa Robinson

    “: How to Tell Clients They Can’t Have the RAW Files –” Great read!

  • Marcus Wolschon

    I guess it doesn’t look this way if the photos are product shots for advertisement where any part of it could well be useful for another, future campaign/catalog/… .
    In that case you are hired for a service, not a product. (And at least in this jurisdiction don’t retain many rights but the one to be the only one named as the executing photographer.)

  • Veronica

    I don’t understand why a photographer would give away their RAW files. The owner of the pictures is the photographer, not the subject. People hire a photographer because they like how we create an image, capturing and enhancing our subject by using our learned skills and vision. By releasing our RAW files, there is a risk in someone who is unfamiliar or with limited post processing skills, to change a picture altering our creation with a high probability of creating an image that does not represent our style, yet our metadata remains in the image. Besides, we make our money by selling prints, so why are you giving away your work?

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Excellent points, Veronica. Personally, I’m more concerned about where/how prints are made than anything else. I’m usually able to explain clients off of their need for the RAW files, but then many of them– wedding clients in particular– shift gears to wanting all of the jpegs. It’s a little tougher to get them off that ledge because the same arguments don’t apply. The print, though, is what makes me nervous about turning the image files over. That Wal-Mart print is going to be what their friends and family think is the quality of my work, when we all know that it can’t possibly compare to the prints I get from Miller’s, Nations, or any of the other great pro labs out there.

  • Ben

    This is really impressive How people don’t respect one’s work. Unfortunately the “i Want everything, now” behaviour won’t do any good to our profession. You’re hiring a professional photographer with technical and moreover artistic knowledge. In the process of taking a pictures, I know where I’m going to and how to process the picture before pressing the shutter. This is my style and this is what you paid me for. If you’re not happy with the processing I’ll adjust it again with your recommandations, but you will never get my raw files…
    I like to learn from bigger companies and how they handle their clients. They don’t mess around and their limits are clear. Unfortunately, too many photographers don’t understand they need to protect their copyright/business.

    My clients are not allowed to process my pictures without my autorisation as even if they pay a good price for them I still own my rights. The law protects you the same way as a top, international photographer.
    Would you (dare) ask David Lachapelle’s Raw?

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      I don’t know that I agree that it’s a matter of disrespect, Ben. At least in my experience I believe it stems more from a misunderstanding of what RAW files actually are, as well as some confusion about ownership rights to the image. Once explained, most of my clients drop the request.

      • Forever

        The question is, what do you get out of keeping the RAW files. What are your motivations for not providing them, other than you being condescending and assuming that your clients are not savvy enough to know what RAW files are and how to work with them?

        • Jeffrey Guyer

          I think that you can see from many of the comments that there are a wide range of legitimate reasons for the photographer to retain the RAW file, absolutely none of which are condescending. People hire me because they like my work. People like my work because over time I’ve developed a certain aesthetic. Allowing that aesthetic to be changed while still associating it with my name and my brand is counter productive and can damage my business. This isn’t some misguided sense of superiority. It’s just a fact. This is what puts gas in my car and food on my table. It’s what will hopefully pay for my son to go to college in five years. I make no apologies for protecting that investment.

          Secondly, the assumption that many of my clients are not savvy enough to work with a RAW file is firmly grounded in reality. Commercial clients might have a talented creative team who knows what they are doing, and in those scenarios I am more than happy to work with them in such a way that satisfies all of our needs. But the typical wedding or portrait client generally does not know what to do with a RAW file, and if they do, it’s just enough to damage the look of the final product.

          I don’t begrudge people for wanting the files. As a general rule, though, they won’t be getting them from me. It’s not an ego thing. It’s strictly business.

          • msundman

            Of course the people can’t reprocess the pictures and still say that it’s by you. But they could do that anyway with the JPEGs, so that point is moot to begin with.

          • joe_average

            editing jpegs is *very* limited, almost pointless. no disrespect, but I’m guessing you don’t have experience in the power of editing raw files. yes, raw files really contain that much information, which is why they’re the big point of discussion and so valuable.

          • msundman

            That assumption of yours is maybe a bit presumptious, considering I’m commenting on a blog post for photographers, don’t you think?
            And you might be missing the point, which is that if the client wants to mess up your photos then they can do so any which way. The fact that raw files gives you more headroom does not make the client-edited results worse per se.

          • aTiela_theHun

            If a client was posting/sharing unauthorized re-edits of my work (jpegs or otherwise) that would be a breech of my contract and they’d receive take down notices and/or litigation depending on circumstances. My work is my work. There is no reason for a client to need the RAW files.

          • msundman

            Those are two different things. The raw vs jpeg has *nothing* to do with unauthorized re-edits. That is, the client can breach his contract this way regardless of which format you provide the pictures in.
            And it’s extremely arrogant of you to dictate what the client needs or doesn’t need — seldom have I encountered arrogance of this magnitude.

          • JimmyDee

            From my perspective as a photographer, skilled photoshop user and a guy who works in the field, I would take this attitude as an immediate “never use this photographer” sign taped to your forehead.

            I sure hope that most of your customers are consumers who never do anything more than put the pics on facebook and immediately forget about them.

            I buy around 5000 images for commercial use for every 1 image for personal use though.

            If I used you for photography for personal use and got a JPG from you and I wanted to modify it for fun and put it on my facebook and got a takedown notice from you, I’d consider this an act of douchebaggery in the first degree and respond in a way that demonstrates my rather broad experience in technology in all its forms.

            I can guarantee you that you’d take more grief and annoyance from that than any possible imagined loss of income running through the delusion centers of your mind.

            Your work is your work. But once it leaves your hands and is provided to the customer, it has fulfilled its value to you as a photographer. If it was for personal use, you are not likely to receive any more money for it. Litigation and takedown notices are just ways for you to stroke your ego until it blows up in your face.

            You have a legal right to be this stupid. But…

    • msundman

      Then have your rights and I’ll just hire someone who isn’t such an a**hole about the issue. You’ll never get a cent out of me!

  • Key

    For me, it REALLY depends on the client and the type of shoot. I can see merits to both sides here. Basically, if I’m hired to “document” something, then the client gets the RAW files along with the work I’ve done to make them look there best. They may not understand why a RAW file looks a bit dark (because I didn’t want to loose detail in the highlights) but they can certainly see from the work I did on them that I knew what I was doing.

    However, if I’m hired to “create” a finished work (like showcasing a new spec home the client has just finished) then the client doesn’t get RAW files because they are merely one step in a long process ending with the final shot. In these cases, I’ll explain that just as they present a finished spec home to prospective buyers (and not the messy job site while the home was being built) I too only present my finished work. They need to carefully controll what and how their customers see their work (which is one of the reasons to hire me), and so must I. But again, if they hired me to document the whole building process, I’d probably give them those RAW images if they asked, just not the final “brochure” shots.

  • Steve

    There is a HUGE difference between hiring the “photographer” and hiring the “camera”.

    Ultimately the photographer is “responsible” for how the image(s) look and keeping the raw files limits the viewer to the best that the photographer has to offer.

    If you give your raw files and the client processes an image to the way they like it and then shows it to friends/family/etc, who is mentioned ????, the photographer. The client isn’t going to share with everyone that they decided to alter the shot.

    Yes there are plenty of amateur and newer photographers who will give everything away, and there will always be clients who feel entitled to everything.

    This happens often because the clients don’t see the value in the skill of the photographer. They believe that all you do is push the shutter button.

    Too many camera owners calling themselves photographers contribute to this belief also.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Good points, Steve. Thanks.

  • Çağatay Belgen

    What’s the purpose of keeping raw files for yourselves? You want to make money again for a shot for which you’ve already been paid for ? Just give the raw files to the client. I don’t understand why you made a big deal out of it… unless you want to make money over and over.

    • Jim Johnson

      It’s about protecting your brand and controlling the license. You want photos with your name on them to be the best they can be. And licenses are written by the photo. If you give them 400 photos, you should charge them a license fee for each one— clients won’t like that.

      Also, photography does not end with the shutter click. Post processing is always and always has been part of it. RAW files are just what they say, raw data collected by the camera.

      • Andre

        Didn’t hurt Picasso, Michelangelo or Da Vincis reputations that their paintings were digitalized and reprinted and modified thousands of times in the last 50 years.
        If you have a great style and produce rememberable photos, your ‘brand’ won’t be hurt but larger.

        • Wing Wong

          Those artists are dead and have no say. Just saying.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      As Jim said, it’s about protecting the brand and controlling the license. I need to know that the final product is up to my standards. if you edit my work to the point that it looks like a comic book, I don’t want my name associated with it.

      • uthomas

        How does this change with RAW vs pre-processed ? How does this stop clients from “misusing” the photos ?

        • Jim Johnson

          It doesn’t stop anything, but the “original” image you provided to them is a completed image.

          What “stops” images from being misused is the commercial licensing contract. Most are very specific about editing. Also, with larger clients, you are actually making the image in accordance with their brand guidelines, so they wouldn’t change that.

          This goes back to the reasons stated in the article. RAW images are useless to a commercial client. They would have to hire someone to process the image anyway, my contracts state that the person is me.

    • Çağatay Belgen

      those “picasso” rules you make up by your own will someday lead customers to DIY photography.
      instead of paying 5k for a photoshoot, they will pay the same amount to the equipment and watch youtube tutorials.
      I wonder what you will do with raw files then…
      “customer is always right” appreciate them, love them, make your service worth their money.

      • Jim Johnson

        Only the clients that wouldn’t be happy with me as their photographer would go another route. And that is the way it should be. Not every client is suited to every photographer and vice versa. We provide a personalized service. It’s a fact of life and trying to hold onto ill suited clients only disappoints everyone.

      • Veronica

        Then let them invest in the equipment, post processing programs, time to learn all the nuances of photography plus how to post process their images. We know how much time and money we have invested in our art.

        • Çağatay Belgen

          everybody with a $5000 equipment is an artist nowadays…

        • Çağatay Belgen

          when you sell “art” it becomes a product and makes you a “seller” not an “artist” ok ?

  • Wil Fry

    I’ve known photographers on both sides of this coin.

    Some shoot for the money: “I’ve got to make a living, right?” and justify it with: “They’re paying; they decide. I’m just the technician.” Kind of like a technician at a large computer firm develops a new kind of chip, and the chip belongs to the company. Or the guy who built my house had leftover lumber and paint and let me keep it — since my money paid for all the materials he bought.

    Others shoot for the art: “You’re paying for what I choose to deliver.” They don’t want their mistakes shown to the world. They also have a vision for the final product; any images that don’t fit that vision are deleted. They don’t want their name/brand associated with anything except what they chose.

    And I’ve known a couple in the middle. They don’t provide raws or originals except for a (much) higher price, and with extra language in the contract.

    Personally, I’m glad I don’t make pictures for a living anymore, so I can refuse access to the originals and not worry about losing the gig. “Hey, this is how I do it. Don’t like it? Get someone else?” It’s very freeing to shoot for fun and not have to suffer budgetary consequences.

    • Jim Johnson

      I’m with you. Since I quit shooting as my primary source of income, I am so much happier for not having to deal with clients.

      • Wil Fry

        And when I do deal with clients, it’s on a much more comfortable setting, at least for me. :-)

        • Jim Johnson

          Well, you are no longer relying on them and desperate to please them.

          I find I have a much happier relationship with the few clients I keep. They trust me more, and I think it is mainly because they sense the confidence I have when dealing with them.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Great perspective, Wil.

  • Jim Johnson

    Personally, I have always thought their motivation is a value for money thing. They want everything that they remember you doing.

    The worst was the time I decided to omit one photo at the last minute. It left a hole in the numbering sequence (62, 63, 65…). It wasn’t half an hour after I submitted them that I got a call to ask me what happened to that one and could they get it please?

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Definitely an important workflow tip, Jim. Always renumber when you’re done.

  • Endy Muhardin

    Really Jeff? Are these the answers you get when you asked for the raw files yourself at this article ?

    • Mike

      Whoops, ok that is super hypocritical. How do you address this issue in this article?

      • Jeffrey Guyer

        Hi, Mike. See my reply to original comment.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      I don’t deny the confusing double standard and I was completely honest about it when I wrote that article. My point then was that I can understand where the client is coming from. I don’t always agree with it, but I understand it. Seeing things from the client’s perspective was interesting, but I was ultimately willing to just let go and let the photographer be the photographer while I celebrated the day as a proud parent.

    • joe_average

      calm down…I would gladly turn over the raw files for a friend-fellow-photographer and do the shoot for free (or exchange) if they wanted family pictures. as photographers we all understand how difficult it is to put ourselves in our own pictures.

    • Wing Wong

      “I don’t need an album or prints– two more considerations on my own checklist in determining the potential value of a client. All I’m looking for is a qualified, talented, culturally knowledgable photographer who is willing to shoot the event and back up a copy for me before they leave. Kind of funny (scary) how reasonable it sounds coming from me, yet how mortifying it sounds coming from a client.”

      I don’t think that is unreasonable. He is making the intention of his request known beforehand. He is communicating that he only wants photos taken and he only wants the images. He indicates he is expecting no post-processing.

      If the photographers in question agree to it and sign a contract on it, then there is no problem.

      So long as client and service provider understands what is being asked for, there isn’t a problem.

      Finding a photographer who will agree to those terms, that’s a different story, but once again, people can decide for themselves what they want to offer and what they will accept. It’s not rocket science. :(

  • innovatology

    Let’s look at it from the clients perspective. They may not be as ignorant as you lead us to believe. They (or their ad agency) may have a team of talented designers and photoshop artists. Your image may be only a small part of a much larger campaign, across many media. Perhaps the stills are also needed in a video, and thus need to be color graded to match. Perhaps they need to be composited or cropped or sharpened for different media. Perhaps you will run in front of a bus or go out of business. The client needs insurance against such eventualities.

    IMHO, is a little egocentric to think that the photographer is all that matters and always has a right to artistic control.

    • Mike

      When you are the photographer… all that matters IS the photographer. :)

      Just like any other creative or professional work. Protect your own interests first, but don’t be greedy, otherwise you lose potentially many customers.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      There certainly are times when the client has a full team working on a project. As a matter of fact, I prefer those situations because there are no surprises down the road. Planning for every eventuality is a lot better than being surprised by them.

    • Paganator

      I’d be happy to provide such a client with a 16 bit TIFF file after edit. That way they have all the bit depth and quality they want, but I still get to adjust the picture first so I don’t present half-done work as final.

      • Jeffrey Guyer

        Great solution.

        • JimmyDee

          Yeah unless you are dealing with high volume. We used to do this and to be entirely honest, the studio’s skills with RAW processing are miles below my own. I could teach a guy on the street better ACR skills in 5 minutes.

          The number of times I have come across images where they have been lightened in TIFF conversion and pushed blown highlights into the realm of unrecoverability (some of which I received RAW files later on) is staggering. Probably 85% or more.

          Add to that the fact that we now have to archive terabytes of hundreds of TIFF files on our server. The average 16 bit TIFF file is 8-10 times larger than the RAW file.

          If you are looking to do long-term repeat business with a customer, 16 bit TIFF is a terrible choice. Give them the RAW and enjoy repeat business without having to spend countless hours in processing from RAW on your end.

    • Virginia Solomon

      I also think it’s plain wrong to have a client pay for everything that makes your picture a picture and then deny them what I believe they truly own and that is the raw files/negatives. All you did was frame and push a button. I’m sorry but photographers are just simply out of hand. If you design and plan your own shoot based on a company or person’s basic idea, ok yeah the idea and photos are yours to license or withhold but if you just show up at a wedding or shoot etc. where all you have to do is frame and shoot, you are simply a blood sucking mosquito for thinking you have done anything to warrant owning the rights or the raw files/negatives for said event. Sorry, it just sickens me that photographers think there is no circumstance where we can’t really claim the photo is all because of our talent or service. You photographed someone else’s art/reality/set/etc. and you own it? Whatever…

      • JimmyDee

        I think you might have things a bit backwards here. It’s not just pushing a button.

        But you are correct that handing over RAW files takes nothing away from the photographer, it just gives the customer the full ability to work with the images that were taken. Unless the photographer was a seriously world-class photographer with fees like 10k/day or more, in which case, odds are that their processing is going to blow mine out of the water.

        But for a standard level photographer shooting 500-2k/day rates, once they hand those pics over to the customer, there will never be any more revenue from the project. Why not hand over RAW files as well and save yourself some future headaches too.

        Want to make more money as a photographer? Take more pics that are useful to more people. More pics = more money. Not more rights/restrictions = more money.

  • Mike

    I think most clients asking for this simply heard RAW on some website and decided they must have it. I agree that explaining to them that “this would be useless to you” should be suffice. A professional such as a marketing firm should understand this.

    But if they really think they want the files… perhaps the marketing firm really does have some in-house Photoshop “wiz”… Simply decide what it is worth to you, and name your price.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      I completely agree, Mike. As I noted in a reply to another comment, if the client has a reason for wanting it, I’m willing to listen and work something out.

      • Veronica

        I would probably ask the client what is their understanding of RAW? Like you said they just may be repeating the term without understanding the definition of RAW. Once they demonstrate an understanding, I would follow up with “What is your intention in using these files?” Probing questions in this area of our expertise can clarify why they truly want/need them. What if they use a post processing program that is not of high quality? Yet the ending image still has our metadata attached to it. If they retort with they want to print them, inform them you have a business as a photographer and part of your business is printing the photos with excellent quality because it reflects your work. Walmart-type of printing is not the quality of photographs you produce. If they continue to be interested in obtaining the RAW files, then I would ask them if they want to purchase my rights to the photos and then quote a price that would include the rights.

  • rea5245

    Your argument would be more convincing if you showed examples of RAWs and the final images you gave to the customer. Prove that you’re really adding value that they can not add themselves.

    I’m not a pro photog, so I have a different perspective. You’ve been paid for the photo shoot. If I don’t like any of the pics, I can walk away without buying anything more from you, and we’re square. But if I can’t buy the RAWs, I feel like you’re holding them hostage. (And if you charge a ridiculous amount, you’re ransoming them.)

    If you’re a post-processing wizard and can turn an ordinary RAW into something that sparkles, I’ll pay for that. But I still want the RAWs. How do I know you won’t throw them out or lose them after a period of time? How do I know I won’t find someone who’s even more of a post-processing wizard than you? What if an automated RAW-to-JPEG conversion is good enough for me?

    I understand this is your livelihood and getting more value from the pics you took is important to you. You look out for your interests, and I’ll look out for mine. If I find a competitor of yours who will sell me the RAWs, you’d better be able to prove you’re more talented than him if you want my business.

    • Jim Johnson

      Photo licenses and deliverables are agreed to up front. You can’t get the raw files, but I’m not holding anything hostage. I’m contractually obligated to provide you with certain files at a certain resolution and file type at the end of the process and you are contractually obligated to pay me to use them. If you want to come back later and ask for something different (like a different edit), I can do that for you, but it is more work for me and will usually be considered a new job which you will pay for.

      Contracts also cover exclusivity (whether I can sell those photos to others at a later date), usage (used on web, print, broadcast, etc.), copyright, how to break off the deal, etc.

      Also, it is not my job to archive your files for you. If I do, that is a contract stipulation and will be charged as so. If you want a straight out of camera shot without editing, I will not be your photographer, because you don’t want the professional service I offer (plus this does not happen in the commercial world).

      • rea5245

        Hi Jim,

        “I’m not holding anything hostage.”: Intellectually, I know that. It’s a business transaction and the terms of the contract are just business. But I said “I *feel* like you’re holding them hostage.” It’s an emotional thing.

        “Also, it is not my job to archive your files for you.”: Agreed. But by not giving me the RAWs, you’re preventing me from archiving them. Sure, it’s a service I can buy from you, but I can’t do something like buy the photographing service from you, the post-processing service from someone else, and the archiving service from a third person.

        Basically, you’ve bundled your services. It’s as if a car manufacturer prevented you from getting your car serviced independently or an Apple computer didn’t let you run non-Apple software. There’s no *technical* reason why you have to keep the RAWs, and I’m skeptical about any artistic reason. It’s just that you’re hoping for future income.

        And there’s nothing morally wrong with that. But it’s serving *your* interest, not mine.

        • Jim Johnson

          I would disagree that it is serving my interest and not yours. You bought a service to provide you viable, solid, usable (good) images. If I provide you with raw files, I’m not fulfilling that obligation. What you want is a camera technician, not a photographer.

          It would be like commissioning someone to make you a fine piece of furniture and then wanting all the wood shavings and scraps “because you paid for them”. They are not part of the finished product, they are a by-product of the process to create the finished product. They don’t belong to you.

          • Subhash Chandra

            They do belong to me, if I bought the raw material. I might want to burn them in my fire place. Or make toys for my kids. Or practice woodworking my self. The result might be aweful. But hey, I got to start somewhere. And no way in hell I’m attributing my handy work to you just because you happened to be the one who went to the shop and bought the wood with my money. If that’s all you are worried about like you claim to, a clause in contract saying no edited photos other than you have supplied can be attributed to you. What you are really doing is building a walled garden around your services. Nothing wrong with that. Many businesses (famously apple) do that. But it is definitely not aligned with the customer’s interests. Its similar to you claiming that you provide the best wedding experience and mandating buying the flowers from you with every wedding shoot. Nothing technically wrong with it but, to repeat, not in clients interest. You want to make more money. You are doing what’s best for you. I accept that. I’ll either take you on your offer or not. But please don’t insult me by saying it’s all magic that I can never handle. May be not now. I may be able to do something about it in 10yrs. Were you this creative 10yrs ago?
            BTW, there is another article here which advice’s photos should always save the raws reasoning you might never know when you want to revisit one. The clients request is an extension of that request. I never know when I’m going to make a billion bucks and hire a creative post processor who can do a better job than you. I’m not going to marry again, am I?

          • Wing Wong

            Interesting how people keep bringing in software models into this.

            If you want the RAW files, then find a photographer who will license you the files or who will include them in the original contract. There is nothing complicated or mysterious about this.

            If you chose a photographer who captures and processes images in a way you like, and decide to go with them, why should that photographer expect to provide RAW files?

            If you want RAW files, for whatever reason, then ask for it. But just like anything else in life, you may not get a “yes” for an answer. Or, you may find that the cost of having the RAW files is more than you can afford. In which case, you either find another photographer with a style you like, who will provide raw files, or you do as the earlier comment suggested and hire someone whose sole job is to setup the lighting and shoot the shot, providing only the RAW files as part of the service.

            The issue isn’t complicated. The only complication are people expecting to get something(RAW files and unlimited usage/modification rights) at no additional charge.

          • Subhash Chandra

            First of all, I have re-read my post and that sounded very aggressive. My apologies. Didn’t mean that.

            I agree with you. This is the package deal. Take it or leave it. I understand that and like I said, nothing wrong with it. The only point I’m making is that the no raws part is not in “client’s interests”.

            Also the tone you are taking is bordering on vilifying the client, which I can not agree with.
            Take the example of your last statement. “The complication are people expecting something at no additional charge” portrays the clients as cheapskates. It’s never that simple. In any contract it’s common to have certain ambiguity in deliverables. They are not asking you to do it for free. They are assuming the cost is included in the total. Also note that this ‘cost’ is not an input cost and more of an insurance against perceived possible future costs; perceived by you. No wonder non-photographers have no clue what you are talking about and even after you explain, it’s a head scratcher moment than a face palm moment. Tell someone that their great grand-dad’s cousin’s nephew will edit them and paste your name on them and all they’ll be thinking is “If my great grand-dad’s cousin’s nephew does the work why would he give the credit to you? He is not that altruistic and why are you being so modest?! ” and they may proceed to take off their hat, wipe a tear and give you a hug and praise you to be the reason that the good still prevails on the Earth.

            To recap: I don’t have a problem with your policy. (It’s yours. You are not forcing on anybody.) I don’t have a problem with ‘what’ you want to say. (You are just trying to help fellow photographers in the same boat.) I only take issue with the way you put it across (vilifying clients or treating them as dumb good for nothings). You can extend the your policy bit and say it’s your blog in which case I shouldn’t have bothered at all, but I know you wouldn’t mind some honest feedback.

      • Forever

        Did your clients hire a photographer or a photoshop expert in this case? And are the contract terms non-negotiable? How safe should your clients feel that you’ll always have my files and that you’ll always be in business?

        • Jim Johnson

          I’ll say it again, contracts stipulate what the photographer delivers. You decide what you get. After I deliver the agreed upon files, your files are no longer my responsibility. You can ask that the raw files are included, but it won’t be part of my contract for the reasons that the article stated. It is negotiable, but you won’t like having to pay the licensing and “brand damage” fees I will ask for.

          I never delete past clients files, but that is because they are mine. Some times they want to come back and license one from me, but that is another business transaction separate from the first one and will be another contract/license agreement. (Also, I had a bride whose house burned down 5 years after her wedding. I had the original files and sent her a new album for free).

          BTW, yes, they hired a professional photography service. That includes high quality post production. The fact that you see photography and post production as separate entities explains why you should not have access to the RAW files.

          • Forever

            I just find it interesting that the only difference you see between what you described as a “camera operator” vs a “photographer” is the photographer relies on post processing to make the image presentable. I can certainly appreciate good post production, but photoshop does not a photographer make.

          • Jim Johnson

            Not presentable, good or great. But none the less, what you paid for; a finished image.

            Photographers shoot with post processing in mind. Post processing did not begin with Photoshop. It has always been a part of photography. Even the chemical mix and temperature for developing film produced certain changes to the image. Pushing or pulling negatives is a version of post processing, but if you developed those as straight negatives, they would be unusable. That is what a RAW image is; an unprocessed negative.

          • JimmyDee

            According to this argument then, you would provide RAW images PLUS final format images according to your vision as you shot the image.

            I find it laughable that you think that providing RAW images doesn’t happen in the commercial world. Commercial use often requires using images in multiple formats and color spaces, both for web and for print. I’ve seen trade show booths with huge photos for wall coverings that are the same pics on their website home page and their fb and shows up on their instagram too! Next year, that pic might even show up in their catalogue somewhere. Some places might be B&W while others might be processed in totally different ways.

            Granted, most of that repurposing doesn’t require RAW per se, but it’s foolishness to suggest that they didn’t have access to it.

            Quit living in the past. Photography hasn’t been about negatives and chemical processes for many years now.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      For starters, I’m not arguing anything. At no point did I say that a photographer should never– under any circumstances– supply the RAW files. There are times when a client can make a reasonable argument for why they would be necessary. But as a professional photographer, it doesn’t matter that you have already paid for the shoot. Any photographer will tell you that the shoot itself is only part of what you’re paying for when you hire us.

      I get your point that if you aren’t happy with the photos you can walk away and not order prints. If that’s the case, though, why would you even want the RAW files– or any files, for that matter?

      I don’t know any photographers who simply hold onto the RAW files just because they want to hold them hostage. It’s about protecting my brand and reputation. If I give you the RAW file and you edit it in a way that makes me look bad, (1) it violates the copyright, and (2) people are going to think it’s typical of my work. We don’t want you having the RAW files because we have a vested interest in the quality of the final product.

      And professional photographer worth his or her fee isn’t going to “throw away” RAW files. It’s not like negatives that take up physical space. Digital storage is inexpensive and easy to maintain.

      • rea5245

        Hi Jeffrey,

        “It’s about protecting my brand and reputation”, “it violates the copyright”: If it cheers you up, the RIAA has it worse. Musicians see their music copied indiscriminately. It’s ripped to low-quality MP3s. Heck, it was played on FM and AM radio – and that was legal! If The Beatles’ reputation could survive AM radio, you can survive an occasional mis-attribution. :-)

        Which brings a thought to mind: all the other media have had to accommodate the modern world. They’ve had to change their business models to cope with with cassette tapes, VHS, Napster, iTunes, DVDs, and streaming. Photographers are clinging to a 20th century model of controlling their creations. How long will you be able to do so?

        – Bob

        • Jeffrey Guyer

          It’s an interesting question, and I do think we’ve adapted to changing times and technologies. Let’s not forget it wasn’t that long ago that film had to be processed…contact sheets printed….proofs sent….darkroom time….delivery time….etc. These days I’m shooting food in the morning, for example, editing in the afternoon, and putting proofs in a client’s dropbox folder before dinner. The difference is that intellectual property is still intellectual property. Yes, musicians adapted to a newer distribution model, but their copyright is still protected, and there’s no danger of me changing their music once I’ve downloaded it.

          • rea5245

            Yeah, and musicians and moviemakers use digital recording and processing too. That’s the easy adjustment to make. The harder adjustment is letting go of what you created.

            Intellectual property isn’t what it used to be. It’s copied a lot, and it’s corrupted a lot. Copyrighted music is put on amateur YouTube videos. People do mash-ups of copyrighted movies. But even before all that, musicians fought against cassette tapes and movie studios fought against video tapes. They didn’t want to lose control of the media they created. And neither do you.

            I’m not saying it’s right. But it’s the way it is. Next time someone asks you for the RAWs, instead of thinking it’s a “ridiculous request”, maybe you should wonder if it’s the way of the future. And like the musicians and movie studios, maybe you should find a way to make money from giving the customer what he wants.

          • John C

            IMO the other media has to adapt because the files are out there, and they are suffereing badly.

          • Jim Johnson

            You are not talking about the same thing as the professionals in this thread. We are talking about commercial clients. No commercial client would distribute movies or music or any other media, and if they do, they pay through the nose.

            Although I don’t do it even for my portrait clients, I understand better why they would want the digital negatives. The way they deal with photos is different.

          • Jeffrey Guyer

            You are comparing two entirely different things and I don’t think it works.

        • Wing Wong

          Musiciains currently earn their monies touring and merchanising.

          Once again, wrong business model comparison.

      • msundman

        No. Your clients can edit the JPEG files just as easily to make you look bad. Just make sure that your clients understand that your name goes only on *your* edits. That’s regardless of whether the format is JPEG or some RAW format.

  • joe_average

    thanks jeff,
    let’s be honest; everything has a price, especially copyrights and owner satisfaction! IMHO*, raw-files, all-files-included, etc., should be discussed up front during pricing before they sign. can you charge accordingly with your view on life, and then refer to the contract if they ask later, and/or renegotiate? would it be (un)professional to have some basic contract lingo ready to refer to in those times to make it easier on everyone? jeff, didn’t you write a post on contracts not too long ago?

    *disclaimer: I’m not a pro

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Great point. This is definitely a conversation that must be had as early as possible. I do have something in my contract about no further editing– either from a scan of a print or a jpeg if I’ve agreed to include it. I’m also one of those people who goes through the contract bit by bit before they sign it because I don’t want anyone feeling blindsided later. This helps us get everything out in the open at the beginning.

      It’s all a balancing act. You’re trying to make a living, protect your work, and make/keep the client happy.

  • Sergio Blanco Diez

    Well, in my field (electronics and software design) there is a similar problem, but at least in my case the problem is not that people want sources, is wether they are willing to pay for them.

    I mean, if I do a design for you and you want to have all the sources (and with them, the property of the design) then you will have to pay all the time I use in your project, all the things that I could have reused from my own property that I will obviously not hand to you with your property, etc. You want to have it for yourself? Ok, then prepare to pay 10x because it isn’t only what you perceive as work, there are a lot of additional intrincacies and costs.

    This could be the same. Imagine I am an amateur photographer and I want you to work at my wedding. I could be interested in getting the RAW files, although I would understand and respect that it would be a lot more expensive.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      That’s a good comparison, Sergio.

  • William Nicholls

    Raw does indeed mean raw. That’s why is shouldn’t be capitalized as if it’s an acronym. It’s not even a file extension or a file format. That said, as a graphic designer I have very good reasons to want raw files for some projects. Image may be composited and used in a number of contexts that the original jpeg processing doesn’t anticipate. I find many photographers clueless about appropriate color profiling, color management for reproduction, and frankly it’s not something that designers and agencies should have to work through even with a savvy photographer. Of course whether I would want the raw files or not is very dependent on context and the type of project. But don’t assume that you are the only professional working with the client. I’m not talking about wedding photography. Don’t let that one kind of photography dictate your attitude to other work you may lose because you refuse to play.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Those are great points, William. I think it makes a big difference when the client can articulate specific reasons for needing the RAW file. In those situations, I’m more than happy to discuss it and make certain concessions.

      As for the capitalization issue, it is simply a matter of professional convention. All lower case letter would imply the word is merely an adjective. Capitalizing it also differentiates it from an unedited jpeg.

  • Phillip McCordall

    Why not give them the raw files after all I always used to give my clients the original transparencies, as advertising agents needed them.

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      As I’ve pointed out in a few comments already, the best way to protect my brand is to make sure that I control the future editing. If they wanted a different aesthetic they should have gone with a different photographer. I think some people are getting hung up on the word “give.” This is how I support my family. If the client wants to make RAW files part of the contract and has a good reason (something a bit more compelling than “I just want them”) I’m open to have the discussion.

  • Phillip McCordall

    Cont’d It’s the copyright that’s important.

  • Phillip McCordall

    I would always invoice for copyright, for example use of 1 image of your choice for x countries and for x time.

  • uthomas

    I don’t understand. For a start – I am an amateur photographer (with the occasional money coming in), but I am also a client. So here the pov as a client.
    I paid 5 years a photographer to shoot my wedding, he shoot maybe 500 photos out of which I got around 50 nicely preprocessed and 5 ones fully retouched. I paid for this a before agreed full price, I was very happy with his work. Now why should he hold back anything ? 10-20 years ago I would have asked for the negatives, because – how should I know he is still in business when my golden wedding anniversary is ? Maybe he has cleaned up his old stuff, maybe lost or maybe he died. I don’t care, but I am sure I would find someone at that time to maybe process some of the other photos, which might have been overlooked at the time.
    I really don’t see the point in keeping those back, except “forcing” the client to come back if he wants to have more photos processed. Seriously – if you have to force your client to come back for repeated business, maybe there is a reason.
    Maybe there is a different reason when it comes to b2b photography, but as a end client – no, I won’t book anyone who refuses to hand out the source.

    • Jim Johnson

      If you were truly happy with his work, why would you want anything more?

      • uthomas

        It’s written in the text. Who knows – maybe I want other pictures at my golden wedding anniversary…

        • Jim Johnson

          I’m not sure how to say this without sounding condescending.

          1. You have 55 photos to choose from for your 50th. If you wanted more, you could have negotiated for more. How many are enough?

          2. As outlined in the article and the comments, there are numerous reasons for the photographer not to give you the out takes.

          3. You didn’t pay for the other 500 photos. You paid the photographer to produce 55 photos that you were satisfied with, how he did it and how many times he opened his shutter to get those 55 doesn’t matter. If you wanted 500 photos, I’m sure there was a photographer or package to provide that (but they would have shot 1000s to get them).

  • Paganator

    I believe that, in Canada at least, a large part of what determines who owns the copyright of a photo is determined by who owns the negative or the RAW file. So basically if you’re giving them the RAW, you’re also giving them a strong argument that they also own the copyright. Chances are, that’s not really what the client wants (or maybe it is…) but you can use that during the conversation: “I’m not selling you the full copyright, so giving you the RAW files may make things more complicated legally speaking. So my policy is not to give the RAW files — unless you want to purchase the full copyright on all of those pictures of course, but that would cost [huge amount of money].”

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      That’s a great point. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Phil

    Speaking as a person fairly new to the area of getting
    paid to make photographs (i.e. part-time for now), and coming from an industry
    where the “intellectual property” is commonly given as part of the finished,
    deliverable, product (computer programming), I have thought about this issue
    many times.

    As far as programming is concerned, it is very common to
    spend days, weeks, and even months of time creating something that can be
    considered as artistic as a photograph or painting only to ZIP everything and
    hand it over to the client. This doesn’t always happen, but again, it is a very
    common practice. And you know what? I have never felt bad knowing that someone
    (either more or less skilled than me) will eventually get the code and end up
    doing whatever they want with the files.

    After reading this post, the idea of giving RAW files
    simply made me think as it being an option similar to the computer programming example,
    or how about giving full (perpetual) reproduction rights. From what I’ve read,
    giving unlimited usage rights for photography is not that uncommon; it simply
    costs a whole lot more.

    I personally don’t want to be responsible to keep someone’s
    images for all of eternity. To quote Woody Allen, “eternity is an awful long
    time, especially towards the end.” If I learned one thing after 15 years in IT,
    yes the cost of storage is cheaper than ever, but it’s still a cost. Every few
    years (decades) you will have to migrate all your data to whatever standard
    exists at that time, and, if you shoot tens or hundreds of thousands of images
    a year, this time and cost is going to add up very quickly.

    I am suggesting that people let go of their “it’s my
    child” idea, and tell their clients that if they want the RAW files, it’s going
    to cost them considerably. If they don’t want the RAW files, you can also agree
    to keep them for only a certain amount of time. Not saying you won’t have them
    after that time, just not guaranteed.

    No need to come up with excuses. No need to try and
    explain what a RAW file is, or is not. And no need to make a client unhappy. I
    am willing to bet that when most people see a dollar amount quoted that is 10
    times the cost of not supplying the RAW files, this will be the only thing that
    needs to be said.

    • Wing Wong

      I would +10 this if I could.

  • Jim Johnson

    This is not meant to be hostile, but I think a lot of people have a misunderstanding how professional photographers work. So keep in mind:

    1. Photographers are hired by their finished work. Let me repeat that: You are hiring a photographer for their finished work. You are not paying for a photo, but the whole process it takes to get that photo. And you pick the photographer by what they do.

    2. Photographers try to get something specific when they shoot, and sometimes it takes 16 shots before they nail it. That final shot is the money shot, the shot you hired them to get. If they give you the other 15 shots, you will have an inferior product. If you publish them, people will think the photographer is inferior. You might even think the photographer is inferior after you see them. Also, see #1.

    3. Editing out the inferior photos is part of the photographer’s job. They are trained and have years of experience in evaluating a photos worth to all types of clients. The client should never see the inferior shots. If you don’t trust your photographer to do this, you have hired the wrong photographer, Also, see #1.

    4. Photographers shoot with the final edit in mind. They underexpose for skies knowing they will bring everything else up in post. They shoot “flat” so that they don’t loose detail. They know how the final image will be adjusted and change the way they shoot to accommodate that. If you receive those images before they have been post processed to complete the image as it was created, you have an inferior product. Also, see #1.

    If any of these things bother you as a concept, you don’t want to hire a professional photographer. You want to do it yourself. So go do it. Everyone will be happier with that.

    Most of the what ifs in this comment section never happen, especially with commercial clients. Most of the personal clients (weddings, portraits, etc.) who want original RAW files have issues with money or control, and neither makes for a good client to work for. There are always exceptions (large companies with their own art departments, for example), but the general rule is that you hire a photographer for their completed work. If they don’t deliver what they promised… that has nothing to do with the RAW files and who has possession.

    • msundman

      1. *You* don’t get to decide what *I* hire a photographer for. Let me repeat that, I decide what I hire a photographer for.

      • Jim Johnson

        What magical criteria do you use if to pick a photographer if not his final images?

        • msundman

          The images including the raw files. I don’t consider that magical, but of course you may.

          • Jim Johnson

            It is magical, because no professional photographer would show you his RAW files while you are trying to decide whether to hire him.

            It’s just not the way things work. But that’s okay, because you are not a really a potential client either.

          • msundman

            You are incorrect. I say up front that I also want the raw files and so far everyone has agreed, it’s just a matter of price. Some ask too much, some ask nothing extra.

  • Amaryllis

    The way I see this is the same as if one would buy a movie and ask for all of the takes that it took to make it the way it is now as well as the [insert original film editing file format here] file. Or if someone would buy a CD and ask for all of the original single instrumental tracks as well as voice tracks. They’re part of the MAKING of the final product. Sketches. Rough draws. Even the RAW of the lucky final pretty shot is still just the rough draw. When you buy clothes, do you ask for the original (in French we call it a ‘patron’, GT tells me a pattern?)? You don’t. The designer made it this way. You only buy the final product. Same applies for photography. Even as a client and potentially future protog, this is how I see things.

    • Jim Johnson

      Those are good analogies.

  • Giancarlo

    As other commenters, I also had similar issues in my field. I must admit that I started by knowing exactly what I was going to conclude: it is everything ok, also giving away your RAW or source files, as long as you agree so upfront. But then I understood, and I want to thank you for making me reflect on this very subtle issue. It’s not only the money, it’s the authorship. When you do any sort of creative job, you want to keep the right to say that it is your creation. Otherwise you would be pulled away from the job you wanted to do, the one to which you devoted your life. So, from being a photographer you would end up considering yourself (and being considered from others) as a technician.
    So my new conclusion is: decide with the client whatever works, but don’t give up being what you want to be.

  • wakeupkeo

    Damn, I just asked (politely, not demanded) for that from our last commercial photoshoot. He gave them to me but I will keep this in mind. This was my first photographer how was happy to hand them over.

    For my purposes, the shoot was a highly staged scene with many models in many different spots with many different expressions. We were only going for one main, stylized shot, and all photos were shot from the exact same positions with only changes to the lighting and models.

    I asked for one post production shot in the photographers best style to show what he could really accomplish, but he gave me, an experienced designer and art director, all the raw files, to mix and match models as we need now and in the future depending on the usage needed in the future. I see a lot of options as now I can create some pretty awesome composites. The photographer was actually happy to give the raw files to me if he only had to post-edit the one best shot.

    Do you think your feelings will ever change about all raw photos?

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      As I’ve pointed out in multiple comment replies, this is a general rule for me. I’m open to discussing it, depending on the client and the specific situation. The main purpose of the article is that most photographers would rather not turn over the raw files, but have a difficult time explaining their decision to the client. This was for them.

      • wakeupkeo

        Don’t get me wrong, I love the site and empathize with the professional of course! Would you say the best suggestion on when to discuss between the photographer and client as early in the process as possible?

        • Jeffrey Guyer


  • RobotX

    What about people who wants the high quality version of the file?
    e.g not allocated to sRGB or AdobeRGB container, the one without Color management applied to it and still in full 14bit dynamic range in case the client want to print it in a better PRINTER facility in the future or display in higher dynamic range monitor in the future?
    Can’t the photographer just send them the embedded post version of the file or RAW w/ sidecar data?
    Can’t the photographer include only the selected RAW files and not the miss shots?
    Those are the questions I think should be considered.

    I was a client at one point and didn’t request the raw file from the photographer, and I completely regret it.
    BECAUSE they F***d up the processing and there’s nothing I can do about it.
    Their shots are GOOD, but the post processing is not like the work they advertised.
    As a client I get dissapointed by it and as a person who’s savy in handling file and realize that I know more than the photographer about color management and data integrity preservation got the short end of the stick in this case because I didn’t have the RAW data for the shots.

    I did another photoshot after that and this photogapher is truly professional and he even showed me his raw while shooting.
    He mentioned to me that you can gauge a true photographer from their RAW file.
    He’s that confident and he’s GOOD I tell you.
    Lighting, composition and timing is perfect.
    Sure there’s a few burst fail shot but he simply delete it and not include it on the end package of the files.
    He ended up giving me the raw files without me requesting it, saying this is for your safekeeping in case you want to print it at a better quality in the future or enlargement.

    TBH, It might be a special case, where the photographer can see you eye to eye, because we’re communicating about the photography topic during the shots and in agreement on how things got handled.

    Just my 2 cents and perspective from the other side of the coin.

    • RobotX

      Not to mentioned lightroom is 10$/month these days.

    • Jim Johnson

      If a photographer does not provide you with a satisfactory product, you need to take care of that at the time. You should have a contract with them.

      • RobotX

        I did contact them and request revision about the post problems.
        They did one minor pass of the post and didn’t satisfy me.
        The photographer then said it’s the end of the allocated time on the contract and jobs done.
        Unless I want to pay for another shoot or extra cost for doing another session of post job, which obviously a problem considering the shoot wasn’t done locally.

        Like mentioned, the shots are good, but the post production suck.
        But I’m stuck with sRGB 8Bit JPEG. Suck as in like a student just figure out a saturation adjustment layer in Photoshop.

        At the end of the day, I understand people need to put meals on their table and I don’t have too much time to deal with it, so I’m not going to go far as getting a refund despite the fact that the photoshoot wasn’t exactly cheap.

        Now, I’m curious on the photographers take on this.
        Is it too much to ask for a high quality version of the photo file like DNG* with the post modification you’ve done and RAW embedded to it?
        Based on my 2nd experience of the photoshoot, the RAW files had proven to be useful for me the customer.

        *Assuming your post is done using RAW modifier and didn’t do eXtreme pixel modification like slimming the client using Photoshop toolset.

        Btw, giving an excuse for the customer that they need expensive software to utilize the raw file is a blatant LIE and shouldn’t be used for rejecting the RAW file request from costumer.

        I hope people have heard about
        If people haven’t heard about it, it’s a free RAW Photo Processor and it reads DNG and RAW files
        I’m also yet to find Printing house that didn’t accept DNG file :)

        • Jim Johnson

          It is pretty standard that commercial jobs are delivered in 16-bit TIFF or post processed DNG simply because they have no compression. This is not an unreasonable request.

          Talk to your print representative, though. Most labs convert DNGs and PSDs to jpeg before printing.

          As for your experience with the photographer, that is unfortunate, but also sounds like poor customer support. If they delivered something different than advertised and would not make it right, I would take them to court. If I had a client who was that unhappy with my work, I might give them the RAW files to edit on their own, just as a matter of customer service. The important part is that you tried his edits and gave him a chance to make it right before you wanted the RAW files. I think that is the difference.

          • RobotX

            Yes! 16Bit TIFF or the post processed DNG + JPG I think is the answer to satisfy costumer that request the raw file.
            People get high quality image and get the photographer artistic touch.

            I wish all Photographer had the same standard of Costumer service as you XD

            I want to make it clear that I believe that CUSTOMER is NOT entitled to ALL the shots that the photographer took unless noted in the contract. Customer get to pick what’s selected on the final groups based on the agreed number of shots allowed to be given to costumer, but that’s it.

            You’re also correct that some Printer shop convert to JPEG and convert the color space to sRGB.
            It’s a safe measure since many commercial photographer out there don’t even bother with color management and even worse don’t even understand it while doing post work on their photos.
            (e.g. relationship between their camera sensor color calibration, monitor color space that their editing on, their printer color space and paper profile that they’re printing into.)

            But then again, people need to understand that they’re hiring a photographer, not a printer shop, not a pure colorist, not a paper manufacturer and not a frame shop.

            If the above is not an option, then the costumer need to hire an image maker team that cover the make up artist, set setup/lighting, image capturing, colorist downright to the in house printing and framing shop that decide what light temperature need to be installed in your house/gallery where the image will be displayed :)

  • Ahme

    In this business you have your name as a brand and your portfolio and nothing else. If you give out the RAWmaterial, the product at the end is not under your control and can (most probably will) damage your brand. The client does something with the raw and shows it to other people saying it is your work. (Maybe his/her version is more to his/her liking, but it doesn’t mean it is not ugly as sh#@) If I buy ingredients from Coca-Cola and mix them up, I can’t sell it as Coca-Cola. Raw file is not an image. You can buy mp3 from an online shop, they won’t send you the original track whatever you do. And this is only one thing (Most likely a private client)
    The other thing is, that the client not necessarily owns every right. What if they want a bunch of landscapes for their calendar? Why would I hand them over the raw files? I will sell those photos many other places.

    • RobotX

      What about FLAC files for the lossless audio?
      Are you going to argue that those Audiophile may only buy the MP3 version of the artist music?

      And what’s stopping the client from modifying the JPG version of the photo and post it on the internet? Even worse they instagram it, there I went there XD

      Not trying to cause a flame war, but these event actually happened and tbh it irritates me even as I’m not the photographer of the picture that got posted on the [Insert Social Media outlet].

      • Ahmet

        Lossless or raw are different. Go to the musician and ask for ALL the records they did in the studio for that album. (That’s what I meant under original track. Probably not the best way to express myself.)
        Raw is not finished that is the point.
        If they use the image and modify it… Well, I don’t know. Good question. Is it still the same image? I see your point. But I don’t think that a client can demand unfinished stuff from a photographer and use the results with the photographers name under it. The raw file won’t be used by the client. It can’t be, he/she must convert it before. So it definitely won’t be the same as the photographer imagined it.

    • Andre

      With this definition the camera should not return the image to you at all, as it’s the camera who takes the photo, the photog just pushes the button.

      Just get of putting the Raw file on such high pedestal, being the big brand protector. People can “fuckup” any digital file, no matter of format. Keeping Raw won’t protect your brand, it’s making a extraordinary photos, repeatedly, that build your brand. People copying and modifying your work just show how much they value your work. If you deliver a shitty image to begin with, Raw or JPEG, heavy editing to match your style won’t make the photo better.

  • Laurent Roy

    Why not putting it on your website: “no RAW file will be delivered” (on the commission page ?) ? or/and have it in the contract you and the Customer will sign ?

    • Jeffrey Guyer

      Hi, Lauren– I do have it in the contract. Clients, however, often ask that it be taken out.

  • pincherio

    The photographer was hired for a reason – they like his work. If all they wanted was the Raw files of the shoot/event, then they can hire any amateur yahoo out there to take pics. By hiring a professional, you are asking him to produce output in his style. You are NOT hiring him to take pictures that others can play around with.

    • RobotX

      You have to realize that photography is not only about post processing.
      It has a lot to do with exposure, lighting, composition, timing and moment to depict the desired impact/message of the image(s).
      Some yahoo who can take a pic might not have those skills trained to them.
      I’m not sure you realize that some Photographer didn’t even do their post editing, they assigned it to some other team/person and only give direction to the edit.

      • pincherio

        That may be true but a professional photographer who is hired based on his body of work is hired for the output he produces. Even if he doesn’t necessarily do the post work himself, it is done based on how he feels it should look. The output would still be under his control. If he gave out the Raw files, he would lose that control. If the client went around editing the photo then later on telling people that so-and-so photographer took it, that would reflect on the reputation of the photographer.

  • Aleš Krejčí

    I agree with whole article and still I would insist on having RAWs of my wedding :-) Not all shots obviously, but definitelly good ones. Not because I think I could edit better and I would still expect photographer to make edit into jpegs. The reason is that in future I might like to make big prints of these photos to be hung on house walls. And maybe I would like to make series of these big prints and edit them to make sence in such series, adjust brightness or contrast to match the room style etc. I would not put them on internet claiming it is photographers work of course. But yes, I would require RAWs while I would still understand the hesitation to provide them.

  • Jeremy Christopher

    This is silly. There is no reason to hire a professional photographer, if they aren’t going to give me all the photos they took. If I pay you, I get what you do; I could give a crap about your photoshop skills. To horde someone’s photos, after you pay them, is plain greedy. If you think you’re a great photographer, then charge me what you think it would take to buy all of the photos from you, that I hired you for. None of this one-off nonsense. It really just pisses people off anyway.

    If you can’t feed your family with what you charged, then next time charge more. Most successful packages I’ve seen are where people will do a one off, with PS, then you can buy the lot for an extra fee. Plus, don’t forget, everyone is a freakin’ photographer and yes, if it comes down to it, I will take better photos than you will; I have been in tons of positions where I’m at a wedding and I take photos for fun, then I just give them to the couple as a gift, but turns out my photos were way better than the professionals.

    Everyone is a photographer, if you want to bring a huge light kit and tons of glass, then by all means, you will have an expensive rig and should get paid for it, but by no means are you allowed to act like your photos are sooooo worth it to sit on, when you’re only there ’cause you’re getting paid and asked to cover an event. Just play nice and you won’t look like a evil greedy biatch who doesn’t know how to sell themselves decently. ;^)

    • Wing Wong

      If you want all the photos, then hire a photographer who will give you all the photos. If the photographer you are attempting to hire doesn’t do that, then don’t hire them. If you do hire someone who doesn’t give out unfinished files, then ask for all the files, and they refuse, it’s not the photographer’s fault.

      This is a non-issue. Hire the photographer who will give you what you want. Period.

      • Jeremy Christopher

        You’re right. This is really a non-issue.

  • Mark Kenny

    I’ve worked in advertising for more than 20 years, running AV, studio and retouch as well a (not very good, but fine for presentation), photography department. Since the advent of digital photography we have insisted on all raw files being supplied by the photographer. Since 2006 we have insisted we do retouch and post production. The photographer does not supply the final file, we don’t even supply final file, RGB with ISO proofs are supplied and local production markets convert to correct CMYK and sharpen as necessary for the substrate they are printing on. We’ve worked with David Turnley, Gary Land as well as stunning product photographer Hans Peiterse and won international awards for our print work. Photography and reproduction, (because it’s not all RGB and I don’t know many photographers who know how to convert or sharpen for uncoated or vinyl mesh or able to supply a file that works for building wraps and double page spread), is a team effort: Client paying, creative concept, photographer vision and skill, makeup and set decoration, talent approval, skilled retoucher to make the image, designer to marry the image with type and logo and pre-press to protect the delicate highlights and shadow details.

    An asset without metadata means client can’t find the photographer to use the image. Last week I sourced an image from a shoot from 2003 of a footballer and as we don’t know the copyright holder, we won’t use the image.

    If you want to protect your photos and livelihoods, understand your clients needs, help them use your image as widely as possible and pay you for that license.

    • Jim Johnson

      I believe you are talking about a different level of client. If the client has an art department with an art director on the shoot, of course you get what you want (you are usually paying better, as well).

      The level that most are talking about here (me included) is with local, low to mid level clients— weddings, portraits, or (in my case) lower level commercial clients where I essentially work as the art director.

      • Mark Kenny

        You don’t differentiate about levels of client in your article, in fact,
        point 3 you talk about creative director of clients-R-us, and I don’t now many small companies with their own creative director, that’s an agency title. And most of the comments, the photographers are almost angry in their refusal to
        supply the final image only, and no raw files.

        I’ve read through all the comments, (although at 130 and counting I may have missed some), and I didn’t see anyone saying “apart from high level clients”. And where would that put me and my family portrait session? I’m a better retoucher than photographer, and better retoucher for print than a number of the photographers I work with, so I wouldn’t get raw, or ideally DNG files?

        It appears to be very black and white to photographers here not to supply raw on any occasion, which is a shame, but I, like many of my colleagues in advertising here in Amsterdam, will only work with photographers who will work with us, and our team to provide the clients product, and that means handing raw files to a retoucher and then un-sharpened data to the pre-press house.

        • Jim Johnson

          If you look above a Jeff Guyer’s (the author of the article) comments you will see he mentions several times that he does negotiate giving RAW files for certain clients, specifically clients with art departments/retouchers on staff, which I agree with.

          Having said that, you’d be surprised at the difference between large agencies and regional/local agencies, particularly in the US. And a lot of mid-level companies have a “marketing” department with fancy titles, but no idea how to handle images.

          The article is probably geared towards the audience for this website. There are not many high level agency photographers reading about DIY Photography. I’m here because after 15 years in the business, I now teach at a university, and this site often has some good ideas for novices.

          • Mark Kenny

            Point well made. I’m here cos I’m a bad photographer, but well experienced in the legal and post-production side 😉

  • Andrew Sible

    I just tell them I provide JPG files and I’ve never had one beg for raw files, except one friend. Perhaps I haven’t had enough clients to run into this, or I’m picking the right jobs and avoiding picky snobs who think they know what a RAW file really is.

  • Nathan White

    Very well written, I had just run into this problem not even a few weeks ago. Much better handled in here than I did haha.

  • Jean Valjean

    Why don’t give some several budgets at first:
    1, just jpeg edited beautiful photos. $XXXX (normal)
    2, jpeg edited beautiful photos and raw files $ XXXXX (higher)
    3, just raw files $ XXX (cheeper)

    And that way you can keep the client and avoid those fights later.

    • Wing Wong

      Nothing prevents that, as long as that is what was agreed upon beforehand. :)

      I would imagine for a #3, there would be a stipulation in the contract that the shooter’s responsibility ends with delivery of images shot after the session. :)

  • peter

    I can’t say I am professional photographer, but that’s only because I don’t make a living out of it. But let me tell you what I do, for you to understand my point of view.
    As a hobby, I shoot on 16mm film, 35mm film, medium format film, m43, aps-c and full frame. Recently got into raw 4K video also. For the last few years I have bought professional equipment to be covered from capture to delivery. My latest purchase is an Epson 7900. I also have a Creative Cloud subscription. With all the equipment I have, I could easily open a studio and offer a complete range of services. Fortunately, my job pays enough to have all this as a hobby.
    Life has taught me that money kills passion. Not sure how many professional photographers out there are still driven by passion.
    I appreciate this is just business for you, but for me it’s so much more. Colour grading is very intimate and personal; and I want to do it myself. So when I hire you, I want your ability to capture the essence of the moment. I want you to be able to come close to people, for them to feel comfortable around you. I want you to be able to capture emotions.
    And I want the best possible output from the equipment you’re using.
    It doesn’t mean I will pay you less for your work. If anything, I am saving you a lot of time and effort.

    So why won’t you give them to me? In my case, what would hold you back from giving me the raw files?

    • photographingphotographer

      Because a RAW file is not what you hired the photographer for. You hired a photographer because you like their work, and their work is an edited and finished product from the perspective of a photographer you paid to have photograph of yourself done. It’s not a hard concept. Also, if their photography is their main income, they’re not going to give up the files because they are the ones you’re paying for prints. It’s pretty basic, really.

  • Volen Evtimov

    I’m not giving any RAW files. At no price. Because I’m shooting in JPG. (For studio sessions I’m still shooting in RAW but not providing them to the client.) The clients simply doesn’t need the RAW files. If I ask my clients what they did with the RAW files I’ve given to them (yes I was providing the RAW files to the clients before, when I was shooting all the time in RAW), 9 of 10 will answer that they simply lost them somewhere.

    • msundman

      So, you’re saying that you got more money for the raw files and the clients lost the raw files so no harm done. Seems like a big win-situation for you at the very least.

    • photographingphotographer

      I just feel bad for anyone that pays for a photographer that is shooting in JPG.

  • frankvine

    I had a client who requested the original files, paid the premium to get them and lost both dvd copies that I graciously produced for him. One copy of the original and one copy of the edited files. He still had the audacity to ask if I kept the files. Since then any contract with me stipulates the client receiving only the finished product files and/all source files stay with me. Hey if you are confident in your work so will the client be.

  • Wing Wong

    Everything is negotiable.

    If the client wants the RAW files and the usage rights that go with them, then quote them a price for that access. You’re not saying “No”, but at the same time, you are helping them to understand, if that’s what they want, that’s what it will cost. If they want unlimited usage rights, then they had better have the monies to back up their request.

  • James

    One more reason customers ask: BAD PHOTOGRAPHERS!

    Had a 3 hour engagement shoot, after which I received 25 photos from the photographer, 15 were sepia, 8 were black and white, 2 were in color. The 2 color photos were of my fiance’s shoes. We didn’t have a single photo for a save the date, after explaining EXACTLY what we wanted, a color picture of us in front of a brick wall. When I asked for a color version of one of the B&W shots I was told it would be an additional $50 / photo. I was so happy we did an engagement shoot, giving me the opportunity to fire him before the wedding.

    We asked the next photographer for RAW files, but what we really wanted were copies before any major editing (B&W, Sepia, etc) were done to them. We received unedited JPGs, but have no need as she delivered an amazing final product. I love B&W, but it’s not always appropriate. A BAD photographer caused us to make the request.

  • Corry

    In regards to providing RAW – If you go to one of Gordon Ramsays restaurants and order a meal, do you expect the recipe to be included? After all, you may want to tweak it later…

  • sdavidweaver

    Very interesting story. A couple of comments… fifteen years ago the Client did not want the negatives, they might have wanted to transparencies. Commercial/advertising photographers would shoot transparencies and hardly ever negatives, which were mostly used by portrait and wedding photographers. You probably started out with digital and never had to shoot on film.

    Very few clients would ask for the negatives or transparencies. On a commercial/advertising assignment typically the photog would have specified that client would view the edited shots, not everything. Commonly agreements would stipulate the photographer was granting rights to a certain number of shots for their use, and that’s it. If the client wanted “everything” then that was (and still is) called a “buyout”. Hardly any photographers agree to this. If they do the client is expected to pay MUCH more for all of the rights, which would include the photog giving up his copyright and any control over the images from that point on. If a photographer were on staff (such as working for Hallmark, or something corporate like that) the corporation owns all the photos the photog shoots any way.

    I have not had clients asking me for many years for all of the shots. I only show the edited shots (as PDF’s) and I charge an hourly fee for retouching/preparing each shot they want. So I don’t really limit the number of shots, but they must pay for all of my time preparing requested shots, which gets more and more expensive. They don’t need more than a few shots anyway, with rare exceptions.

    I’ve never had anyone asking for my RAW files. I would laugh out loud, truly. How could they possibly know what to do with them? Do they know what my intentions were with exposure, contrast, etc. etc? Of course not. I would never have turned over my black and white negatives fifteen years ago because no one but me knew how I wanted to print them.

    So, these must be some strange clients indeed to ask for such a relatively arcane thing as for the RAW files. That’s super techy stuff that only photographers or very experienced imaging professionals are qualified to even touch.

  • Guest

    Hi everybody,

    I’m a newcomer in the photography market but I think that, when someone is dealing with you as a photograph, he’s borrowing your “eye”, your talent and your creativity.

    These are the variables that will help the customer choose between this or this photographer and, one of the way of storing these value during the creative process, is by keeping them into raw files.

    That’s why they belong to the photographer. When you leave a store with a vase you felt in love with, you don’t bring it home with an extra bowl of clay and some water.

    A message for my customer : be as pround of your photo as you would be of this magnificient vase and leave me the dirty work! :o)

  • François Panneton

    Hi everybody,

    I’m a newcomer in the photography market but I think that, when someone is dealing with you as a photograph, he’s borrowing your “eye”, your talent and your creativity.

    These are the variables that will help the customer choose between different photographer and, one of the way, for the later, of storing these value during the creative process, is by keeping them into raw files.

    That’s why they belong to the photographer. When you leave a store with a vase you felt in love with, you don’t bring it home with an extra bowl of clay and some water from the artist.

    A message for any customer : be as pround of your photo as you would be of this magnificient vase and leave the dirty work to your photographer! :o)

  • Alexandros

    I am very thankful to Ron from that he send me the link, after I told him that my new bicycle trip will get covered by an Agency who will take care about my images.

    A small story before all that: As you can see under (sorry guys, I have not the aim to make some promo here, and if you continue to read, you will see this) – so under that link, I am running a small blog with stories about my bike-trip life. India, Bangladesh – countries where you can not just cycle for fun, because you will get confrontation with cultures, which are totally different, like the one that I experienced for example in Europe (Greece, Italy, Swiss, Austria) – anyway. You see on that start page that I have good images. I am not a PRO, I am just a young boy who got an eye for some nice moments, but I never edit them. It´s a X20 from Fuji, which I also bought because Ron from this blog was talking good about that cam. Thanks for this big support by the way.

    So here we go: An Agency in Germany comes now and tells me, that in case that I will work with them (they will edit images, take care about social media etc) – I have to provide them the RAW Files.

    I mean, in my case it could be ok, because they just use it for the blog and some facebook. But on the other hand I thought about this, when my brother told me: “Man, you giving away all the content that you took during your traveling. Why ?”

    And now I think that I am not sure how to handle that subject. Maybe telling them, that they have to take the images, if they want RAW. (in the way, that they coming with their own equipment etc to take the shots)
    I mean I can give them Fullsize JPEGs and it would be enough for the blog…

    I am thankful that Ron send me the link, I am sure he wants to support me with my trips, so I am not doing some fast and wrong decision…

    In this sense, thanks that you took the time to explain about this subject!

    From Greece, Europe

  • Joseph-Louise Simone Portrait

    We never give our raw files to a client. First because we are selling a creation with our signature and a creation can only be final and complete ounce it is by the artist himself.

  • Joseph-Louise Simone Portrait

    We never give our raw files to a client. First because we are selling a creation with our signature and a creation could only be final and complete ounce it is by the artist himself.

  • KerrBear

    Thank you for this article! This helped me answer a client…and ease them down gently. Thank you so much!

  • ajfudge

    Thank you for this. I’m always ready to say “No”, I just didn’t have any explanation.

  • Jellybean

    I have a question : I hired a wonderful wedding photographer to capture my wedding in June 2014. She did an amazing job at capturing everything and delivered in every way except one. She provided only 560 photos of my wedding , 500 of which are ONLY in black and white. I hate black and white pictures. Why would she do this? Was it an attempt at saving time on editing? I have asked her two times now to please send me the photos in color, but she hasn’t responded very well… telling me that I am questioning her integrity. I feel that her argument is completely ludicrous – who wants all of their pictures in black and white only? I responded that I am willing to wait a while for the pictures. I even sent her a short list of only 50 pictures that I really really want in color (for framing and gifts) and she still refuses. What should I do? I asked for the RAW files, she refused (understandably and totally what I expected). I just want my photos in color. Any advice?

    • Jim Johnson

      Did you look at her work before hand? Is it all in black and white? If not, you expected to get what she represented her work to be. That would be easily enforceable in small claims court.

      As for why she did it, I would guess that it was a lighting issue. Either she underexposed the images (which correcting doesn’t stand out as much in black and white) or there was a mix of lighting that created weird color casts (ie sunlight, fluorescent and tungsten lights all at the same time) that really cannot be corrected in post.

      My advice, take her to court if she has somehow misrepresented what she would give to you.

  • Peter McCaffrey

    I’m a hobby photographer myself, I shoot in RAW on a lower end DSLR, and if I was having a large event or a wedding I would want all the RAW files too.

    You wouldn’t be able to convince me otherwise, I’d go elsewhere.

    • jim

      No one is trying to convince you of anything, go somewhere else please.

  • model

    I personally Like to see all of my photos from a shoot so I can learn what looks good & what doesn’t. If I never get to see my bad images I wont be able to learn from them.

  • JimmyDee

    Wanton idiocy. Business suicide.

    There are two types of client: consumer and business.

    If it’s a consumer, obviously you are going to want to hold on to your RAW files so you can make money from prints.

    But the scenario you outlined referred to pics you showed from your business portfolio.

    Which means that they are probably a business.

    Now a business will ask for RAW images for a different reason. Businesses are not interested in “reprints”. They are interested in re-purposing it for different digital formats.

    Got a nice clean 5472×3648 RAW file? A business will look at that as something to put on an A4 cover page, pull 2-4 slices from for a photo collage or cutaway on a webpage, build a provocative thumbnail, play with color and texture, limited only by the creativity of the art department as they stick to the existing branding styles.

    I am a photographer of sorts myself (Canon 7D, 70D etc), and I work in a company were I need to obtain photo assets and prep them for many different uses, print, web and maybe even video.

    For event photography, we rely on freelancers and event shooters. Image quality is often less-than-desirable, so RAW is important (but not critical).
    For product photography, we rely on a local studio shooter. We do a lot of pictures, so we get a special price. *ALL* of the photos are processed in Adobe Camera RAW on our end. We maintain archives of RAW files (around 25-30mb each) instead of the studio’s preferred format of 8 bit TIFF (120-200mb each). Using RAW is *critical* for this because our product often has black surfaces and shiny metal surfaces in the same area, meaning highlights need a lot of attention.

    It took me nearly 2 years to convince that studio to start giving us RAW instead of TIFF, but now that they have, it has saved them a TON of time, saved us a TON of time, and allowed a much smaller hard drive footprint for photo archives in our server.

    The studio who has provided us with hundreds of RAW files has lost precisely $0 because of giving us RAW files, but has saved countless hours that he used to spend on giving the pics a quick once-over in an ancient version of Nikon’s RAW program – typically destroying blown out highlights, missing sensor dirt, oversharpening the heck out of everything, ignoring noise and being inattentive to obvious attempts to remove fishing line supports. Most of the photos have been printed in catalogues and used on our website.

    We are transparent with our usage and he’s happy to have a regular customer that keeps giving him business every year. He has received thousands of dollars from us over the past few years and it was all “easy money”.

    Contrasting this, almost every event photographer we have encountered won’t give us RAW files and bumps up the price anywhere from 3x to 5x. In response, the uneducated, non-photographer boss has vetoed 80% of my photo purchases and cut down a potential photo pool over the past year from over 350 images to a possible 50. Except now, that leaves just two photographers, and they are no longer interested in selling us 3 images for $450 US because we were previously talking about buying 35 images for $650 at “non-commercial use” rates.

    Wanton idiocy. Because they hear the words “commercial use”, they think it’s a great idea to inflate their prices and pretend that we are going to be interested in the same number of pics. Oh and RAW? Yeah, that’s extra too!

    Between the mismatch in ideas of the boss who can stand in the way of purchasing images and the delusional ideas of photographers who think that businesses don’t know the difference between buying 30 images at $20 each and buying 30 images at $120 each, the total number of images I am now likely to add to the pool this year is… 0.

    This represents thousands of dollars in lost revenue for photographers who *already spent their own time to shoot the events*. Nice business plan there.

    If you are a photographer providing pics to a business end user, don’t jack up your prices and deny RAW images. You’ll probably just be talking yourself out of a sale – to a customer that otherwise could be both a regular returning customer and is probably more than happy to display a link to your services.

  • Leah O’Connell

    Just came across this article and am so grateful for these tips – I am mainly a portrait photographer so when I had my first small commissioned work and they asked for the RAW files I was really thrown off! Next time I will have a thoughtful, educated response to protect my work. Thank you!

  • Oggy Dimitrov

    The discussion appeared to be more like two grumpy kids arguing about who gets the toys and who doesn’t. Everything is a matter of agreement between the clients and the photographer. The photographer has the right not to give the raw files and he client has the right to require. If they meet somewhere in the middle then they have an agreement. This is business and everyone has the right to negotiate. Usually if I buy ceramic cup I don’t get the original clay as a bonus right ? The problem with the people is that we often get arrogant and we think that if we buy something we almost buy the factory that produces it. We might have our rights protected by the law but the manufacturer possess certain rights too. They won’t give you the original blueprints or tips and tricks of how you can make the product yourself. The same counts about photography. It is a product and it contains different amount of shooting and post production for every photographer and if one is more that the other it is just a decision not a mistake. Usually if a client wants something to play with, they should buy a camera (as they do and the moment they press the button they think of themselves as master photographers/artists/retouchers etc.) ans play with the results. If they call a photographer they call for a style not for raw files. Everything else is a matter of negotiation between both sides. Any further discussion of the matter is useless.

  • photographingphotographer

    The comment section is hilarious. You can definitely tell 100% who is a photographer and who isn’t. All I have to say is, you picked a photographer because you liked their work. You liked their work because you saw their best photos. You saw their best photos because they don’t allow anything that isn’t their best into the world. If you can’t understand that, then you just need to find a photographer that doesn’t care about their reputation and will submit to the grossly far fetch’d description of a photographer only being a “framing button pusher.” I will never give my raw files out to anyone because I will not have a picture exist in the open world with my name attached to it that went through someone elses process.

    Van Gogh didn’t give his half finished paintings to anyone to have them add their imagination to his art, who do you think you are that you could ask an artist to hand over half finished work? How audacious.

  • Phil Darlington

    If they really are pushing for the RAW pics tell them its $100 a shot.

  • Michtou

    The client doesn’t own the photoshoot, only the photos they have paid for.

  • Louie Neira

    For me, it always depends on the circumstances and the client. If one of the stipulations is providing RAW file, it should be so stated in the contract, not as an afterthought. When working for publications, RAW images are required to ensure the image meets with the style of the magazine.

    When shooting for non-industry clients (the private sector), RAW images should also be mentioned in the contract where it is stated the client may or may not have access to them, and – if available – only at a commensurate rate.

    In either case, I retain all rights, unless otherwise stated and agreed upon previous to the assignment.

  • jenne

    Hey Jeff, thank you for the article. I really wish I fond this last week. I am a student and did not learn anything about rights for raw files and copyrights. So, here’s me learning the hard way. I photographed a guy who said he’s famous (but I have no idea who he is nor does he have much of an online presence). However, I thought it’d be great since he seems to have a lot of character and would go well with my school project. I did a dumb thing and signed a piece of paper he had because I was in a hurry to shoot. I trusted him without asking any questions. Later in the night he said I had to deliver him the RAW files within 72 hours of our start time otherwise he will charge me a talent fee. He’s been obnoxious and sexually inappropriate with me from the day of the shoot. Ok, so I’ll get to my question. Have I lost all my rights to the images since I did not have him sign my release and agreed to give him raw files? I see that you wrote this article last year, so I’m reaching for an answer. Any insight would help and I really appreciate this. Thank you again for the article! Great job!