Five reasons why you shouldn’t give RAW files to your clients

Jan 23, 2018

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Jan 23, 2018

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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Should you share RAW files with your clients? There’s no universal answer to this question, but photographer Jamie Windsor believes that the answer is no. In this video, he gives you five reasons why you shouldn’t let your clients own the RAW images you shoot. So, let’s dive in and see if you agree.

YouTube video

1. People don’t know what RAW files are

The first reason not to give RAW files to your clients is that many people don’t actually know what they are. An average client expects that they’ll get unedited JPEG images and be able to view them. When they try to open a RAW file, expect a message or a call where they ask you why they can’t open it.

2. RAW files are huge

As you know, RAW files take up a lot of space. You don’t want to burden the client with gigabytes of unedited photos. And frankly, I wouldn’t burden myself with uploading/copying them either.

3. RAW files don’t look right

RAW, straight-out-of-camera photos look unfinished. While editing, you can retrieve the details, crop the photos, edit something out, emphasize something else…You have a vision, and the client doesn’t know what this vision is. They don’t necessarily know what your editing software and your editing skills are capable of. To an average client, the unedited photo simply looks like a bad photo, and it makes you look like a bad photographer.

4. It damages your reputation

Your photography is your brand, and it includes everything you put into making your final images. The editing process is a big part of creating the final product. It adds to your personal style. This is why you don’t want someone else to edit your RAW file badly, publish it online and credit you. It’s not something you’d put your name on.

I have to add something here. Sometimes, not sharing RAW files will still not save you from this. Many people like to take even a perfectly edited photo, add a horrible Instagram filter to it and credit you. I know photographers who are really annoyed by it, so I suggest you talk to your clients about it before you deliver the images. It’s not a guarantee they won’t do it, though, at least judging from Jamie’s experience described in the next remark.

5. People are selfish

While there are many nice people in this world who make great clients, I guess you already know that not everyone’s like that. People can promise not to do something (even sign a contract), and then still do it behind your back. Jamie shares his experience: he delivered RAW files to a client and they agreed that the client won’t share them online. Despite the agreement, they shared it. The client took the unedited photos down when Jamie asked them, but uploaded them again after a while. So, judging from Jamie’s experience, it’s best to prevent the situations like this by not sharing the RAW files in the first place.

As I’ve mentioned a million times earlier, I mainly take photos as a hobby. But when I do have a client or take photos for an interview, I still don’t send the RAW images. Fortunately, I’ve never had the situation that someone specifically asked for them. But if it happens, I’ll make sure to do my best and explain why they can’t have them.

What’s your policy on sharing RAW files? Do you share them with your clients, or you’re strict about keeping them to yourself? And how do you tell your clients they can’t have the RAW files?

[Should you give clients RAW files? via SLR Lounge]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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23 responses to “Five reasons why you shouldn’t give RAW files to your clients”

  1. Tj Ó Seamállaigh Avatar
    Tj Ó Seamállaigh

    See, I really didn’t read the article and only the title; I admit. But, who the hell would give a RAW to a client whoever that client is??????????? I thought this is a given and a second nature for any photographer.

  2. Luigi Barbano Avatar
    Luigi Barbano

    looking at the pictures I think this shows more the reason why photographers need to learn to expose properly instead of correcting underexposed files in post production… to not talk about the composition with the person behind the bride…

    1. Grant Watkins Avatar
      Grant Watkins

      Have you shot a wedding before?

      By this comment, I will assume you haven’t shot one before.

    2. Luigi Barbano Avatar
      Luigi Barbano

      Grant Watkins Many weddings, but I prefer advertising/commercial photography. I shot weddings both in film and in digital. And an underexposed image is an underexposed image. There is no excuse for that if not a rare mistake in the camera setup. I mean… if you do not know how to expose just put the camera on P! But wrong exposure is just wrong, in any genre of photography.

    3. Seann Alexander Avatar
      Seann Alexander

      Wait how do you properly expose an image without adding light, when the exposure is so unbalanced? Isn’t that why we have dynamic range in film and digital?

    4. Luigi Barbano Avatar
      Luigi Barbano

      Exactly as he did in post, blowing the light in the window. But also ask yourself if the ugly slice of the window is needed in the composition.

    5. James Avatar

      Well, this is weird. I find my video embedded on some random site. Not sure how I feel about that.

      The photo has been picked out by this site. It’s not a great photo. I had my camera on the wrong settings and grabbed it and snapped a quick shot as the bride rushed out of the door. I have much better photos of that wedding. Here’s a properly exposed photo of that bride if you want:

      I was using it to make a point that you can pick out lost details in a RAW file and so there might be a great difference in what a RAW file looks like and how a finished image looks.

  3. steve simmer Avatar
    steve simmer

    A RAW file is analogus to a film negative. It has no development applied. Every digital camera takes a RAW image to start with. Only some of them let you save it. A JPG is a processed image. You can let your camera apply its algorithms to produce the JPG, or you can take the RAW file and process it yourself. Since RAW files have no processing applied, they are all pretty much dull and lifeless. Give this to someone and let them process it themselves? They may create a garish monstrosity and put it out there with your name on it. No thank you!

  4. Stewart Norton Avatar
    Stewart Norton

    Depends what you shoot and what the agreement is. I shoot mostly weddings and part of my “look” is how I post produce so no they do not get raw ever.

  5. KC Avatar

    Isn’t this a similar argument to the old “who owns the negatives/transparencies” from film days? I commented on a similar question on another site.

    In commercial photography, we’re providing a service for someone else. We’re taking their ideas/concepts and capturing images. Maybe there’s an element of our creativity in there, but it’s not our concept. Rarely do we start from zero. We may not even be able to take credit for the final piece (byline). If I want to show a project in my portfolio, that I did not originate, I ask for approval and give accreditation. Yes, there are times I’ve started from zero, but even then, I was working from someone else’s request.

    In art photography, we have complete control. We originated the entire project.

    In film days the thinking was “well, they’ll HAVE TO come back to me for….” That’s nice. I don’t work that way. I’d rather my clients come back because they want to, not need to. I’m up front about that. Yes, there’s that “strange place” where the client might want to see the “rejects”. You proof 10 images out of 100, and they want to see the other 90. OK by me, I explain that there may be test shots, “duds”, and some I personally don’t think meet the criteria. Maybe they’re just curious. Maybe my sense of “best” isn’t theirs. I explain that I don’t proof everything because of time/cost. People like options.

    There’s a liability and cost, too. If you hold onto images, how long do you hold onto them? Who’s paying for that storage and backups? In the long view, how many reorders are you getting? Digital makes storage easier and less space consuming, but there’s still overhead.

    There’s no “best answer” because it depends on your business model. I can think of a lot of funny/clever things, too. If a client can make a better image from one of my Raw files, I’d better up my game. Derivatives brings up the copyright debate. I’m curious. Did the natural media masters go through this? (Nice work, DaVinci. Can I see the sketches, too?)

  6. stewart norton Avatar
    stewart norton

    Depends what you shoot and what the agreement is. I shoot mostly weddings and part of my “look” is how I post produce so no they do not get raw ever. Would you go to a top restaurant and ask them to bring you out a meal that was 70% ready ? Or pay an artist to paint a family portrait then ask for the pencil sketch and paint the rest yourself ? No because you have paid for thier expertise at delivering the FINISHED result.

  7. Liam Bluck Avatar
    Liam Bluck

    If they pay for them yeah ha ha

  8. Jia Chen Lu Avatar
    Jia Chen Lu

    For reputation sake, if client asks for raw file, you give the raw files.
    If you have a contract, you still need to. Why? Else the client will be unhappy. An unhappy client will make it his perogative to leave bad comments and bad talk you at any time possible until he calms Down. He may not even know what a raw file is, but he’s friend says “it is good” so he wants it.
    I’ve even had a client request me to bring a macro lens to an event shooting… I brought that macro lens… Later I asked the client if he knew what a macro lens was… He said it was to shoot group photo. I did not correct him.

  9. Jia Chen Lu Avatar
    Jia Chen Lu

    Basically, until the client has fully paid you… Some clients may think they own you. Why? Because they have the power to leave bad comments and bad reviews… So… Basically u do everything they say and hope not to see them after you get paid.

  10. David Bell Avatar
    David Bell

    Whatever you include must be spelled out in the contract. That helps prevent ‘the ask’ later.

  11. Christine Alexandra Beckett Avatar
    Christine Alexandra Beckett

    It would never occur to me to give RAW files to a client.

  12. Joline Scheepers Avatar
    Joline Scheepers

    NO raws go out to my clients. It’s an unfinished product….

  13. DLS Avatar

    As a client, if you give me JPEG files I will not pay you even one cent.
    I’d expect at least high bit depth TIFF files.
    Also you can give the RAW files with all the processing saved as metadata and a JPEG preview embedded or separate.

  14. KM Low Avatar
    KM Low

    RAW files = uncompleted product = uncooked dishes (would the customer eat?)

  15. KC Avatar

    It’s interesting reading all the comments here. Like I mentioned earlier, there’s no answer that fits all criteria. I held onto some negatives and transparencies in film days, purely for the convenience of the client. These were commercial projects and the chances were good that they’d need more images. Otherwise, everything was returned.

    As for digital and Raw, it comes down to “same difference”. It’s the same as a negative, only digital. I haven’t had anyone ask for a Raw file. If someone ever did, I could send a copy, without editing info. A final, edited, digital file is a whole other matter. That’s a different form of output, a finished piece.

    The question really is who owns the results of a photo shoot? What are the legal liabilities and boundaries? This just popped into my head: who is the copyright holder? Am I, because I created the digital negative and final images, or the client who hired me, that I delivered a finished project to? That seems to be a gray area.

    It’s clear cut with an art photography, with commercial not so much.

  16. David Avatar

    Hi. I asked this question in an active facebook group mostly associated with landscape but there are lots of wedding shooters as well and it went ballastic until the admin shut it down. I couldn’t see the issue myself. My daughter was getting married and I wanted the raw files. I am mostly a landscape shooter but do some portrait and sports. I would not consider myself either a wedding or professional tog. That said, I work with raw files every day 90% in LR and 10% in PS. I found a great tog who would “run and gun” by the hour. Cheaper for them as there was no processing or albums etc needed. They ended up processing about 20 shots for us but I did the rest after giving them a 1TB external drive. There were lots of great shots that had people important to us but probably wouldn’t have been in their final list. Very happy with the result and would use them again (daughter #2 one day)! I would give a verbal or written reference anytime.

  17. stefano Avatar

    This is a discussion I never fully understood and I think it’s down as the way you see a photographer. Personally, I request the photographer to use my own SD card and that’s it, I don’t want someone else to have photos of me. I’ve done post production for 15 years, I know what I want, I can’t take photos of myself during an event, that’s it.
    I had a photographer telling me they can’t share RAW files, I just hired someone else.
    I understand why a photographer doesn’t automatically share RAW files (I don’t generally share them) but I don’t understand being against it. With the current technology improvement an AI might be able to take a lot more out of a RAW files in 5 year that we can imagine (think about Adobe motion removal), why would I exclude a client the possibility of such future?
    Another point of discussion is when you get a logo or something else, don’t you ask for the source to make later editing?

  18. Windlasher Avatar

    I have three kinds of contracts, #1: These photos are yours, Once I deliver them to you, they are yours to do with as you please. I will not retain copies of them. These are most Expensive. #2 – These photos are ours. You can do with them as you please, but so can I, as long as I inform you first and do not commercialize them.. #3: These photos can be used as WE please. Least expensive.