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

Jul 22, 2014

Jeff Guyer

Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class three years ago, where rumor has it he learns more from the kids than they learn from him.

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

Jul 22, 2014

Jeff Guyer

Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class three years ago, where rumor has it he learns more from the kids than they learn from him.

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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.

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Jeff Guyer

Jeff Guyer

Jeff Guyer is a commercial/portrait photographer based in Atlanta, GA. Still an avid street photographer and film shooter, Jeff also launched a kids photography class three years ago, where rumor has it he learns more from the kids than they learn from him.

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221 responses to “How to Tell Clients They Can’t Have the RAW Files”

  1. Nick Cavanagh Avatar
    Nick Cavanagh

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

    1. kastamonugezgin Avatar

      nasıl filim ki o resim bence

  2. Jonas Astorson Avatar
    Jonas Astorson

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

  3. lilewis Avatar

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

    1. udi tirosh Avatar
      udi tirosh

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

  4. Dustin Grau Avatar
    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.

    1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      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.

    2. Jacques Avatar

      “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.

      1. Dustin Grau Avatar
        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.

        1. Jacques Avatar

          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

          1. Dustin Grau Avatar
            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.

          2. Kristina Adams Avatar
            Kristina Adams

            I know this is an old thread, but I wanted to chime in. I disagree with you. You say “Is there any harm in modifying them for personal use, at no risk to the original creator?” There is risk. The risk is their brand. When a photographer takes pictures, editing is part of their brand. It is how they gain referrals, and how they get more clients. I think your only safety cushion for getting the RAW photos was the fact that your photographer was apparently retired from photography, and that he didn’t care about his brand. If I shot a wedding and was proud of my work, I wouldn’t want someone else making my photos better even if they could. That isn’t a right representation of my art and who I am. If I am dedicated to my work then I will strive for perfection and delivery of the best product I am capable of, and in the process, my photography should begin to have a certain continuity. It’s art, and you are just really lucky you had the opportunity you had. And I will add, (ironically) that I too have the raw pictures from my wedding, but it was because the photographer just sold me a service and I guess was doing me a favor by putting all the unedited images on a disk for me. Unfortunately I got married young and had no clue what I valued and got pretty average photos…like anyone could have took, but I am able to play around with them if I wanted to. Ah, oh well. I wasn’t into photography at this point in my life. Anywho. Carry on.

          3. Frank Pereny Avatar
            Frank Pereny

            When you are under their employ, you have an obligation to give them what they want. I understand you feel it may damage your brand. That is fine, but you should clearly explain to them why you don’t give them out, and not be offended when people walk away. Instead of trying to make customers ignorant for your own protection, you should educate the consumer.

          4. Frank Pereny Avatar
            Frank Pereny

            I also want to mention that I don’t believe photography is art. It CAN be art. But, for example, wedding photos should not be art. Your photography can product art, but photography itself is meant to capture the images that can best be turned into art. It is great you take pride in your work, but to deprive people of the ability to transform those images into anything they want is very selfish.

  • Marcus Krebs Avatar
    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.

  • marg93 Avatar

    Well you probably belong to those 0.000001% percent of people, that is, you’re an actual photographer who knows what RAW really is, so there is meaning in asking for it.
    But giving RAW files to someone who doesn’t know what he’s dealing with can be dangerous to your reputation; imagine what would happen if someone who has basically no clue what he/she’s doing is to “develop” your RAWs by some free sofware found on the internet thus creating a disaster out of it (though he/she probably believes it to be good), and later attributting it to you if someone asks about it. Not a good situation.

  • Edouard Avatar

    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).

    1. Cedric Avatar

      “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.

      1. Edouard Avatar

        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?

        1. Jim Johnson Avatar
          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.

        2. Wing Wong Avatar
          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.

    2. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      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.

      1. Edouard Avatar

        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.

        1. Bryden Smith Avatar
          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.

        2. Wing Wong Avatar
          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.

      2. msundman Avatar

        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.

    3. Lyle Avatar


    4. Wing Wong Avatar
      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. :)

    5. marg93 Avatar

      I don’t know if you knew about this, but RAWs are the first to become incompatible/unreadable because of the sheer multitude of formats and licences surrounding them. Almost each camera manufacturer has it’s own proprietary RAE format and codec /the thing for reading RAWs) only they are allowed to publish. When they cease support or switch to another format, you could get into some serious issues. Get some info on this for your own good.

      1. Edouard Avatar

        Looks like a pure FUD to me. “Fear the raw files you won’t be able to read next year” . Ahah I still have ciff and other raw files (cw/cr2) ante circa 2000. No problem to read them. Of course would have been the same with jpeg but I rather have raw files for backups. Could you provide some raw files that are now unsupported?

        1. marg93 Avatar

          No, I’m not that much into it so that I could provide some specific RAW file that can’t be read. What I was sharing is general concern with the situation.

  • Lisa Robinson Avatar
    Lisa Robinson

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

  • Marcus Wolschon Avatar
    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 Avatar

    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?

    1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      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.

      1. Dorothy Brooks Avatar
        Dorothy Brooks

        My Head is reeling from all of this!! I just worked with a floral designer who became enraged about not getting the raw images I thought he was going to jump through the computer.. and Ive had many other clients with same behavior, I DO NOT GIVE RAW IMAGES AND KNOW ONE SHOULD EVER THAT IS AN OUTRAGE AND RUDE TO ASK A PHOTOGRAPHER FOR!!

  • Ben Avatar

    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?

    1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      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.

      1. Forever Avatar

        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?

        1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
          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.

          1. msundman Avatar

            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.

          2. joe_average Avatar

            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.

          3. msundman Avatar

            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.

          4. aTiela_theHun Avatar

            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.

          5. msundman Avatar

            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.

          6. JimmyDee Avatar

            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…

    2. marg93 Avatar

      You have not considered the whole picture. In that case it’s probably better for them to have JPEGs because they already look how they are supposed to. They are more likely to get good results editing JPEGs than RAWs. Using RAW development software by someone not educated about it can lead to devastating results. Adding “filters” to JPEG and other layman’s editing methods can give cheap looking results, but it’s better than “default” RAW look that is flat looking, under/overexposed, geometrically uncorrected, high on noise and whatever else.

      I must wonder if you’re really a photographer, because it seems strange to me that you think like that.

  • marg93 Avatar

    ” 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. ”

    You’ve hit the nail on the head :)
    I really don’t get what’s not clear about this to other people. There are “technician” photographers who can do the clicks for you and there are photographers who are paid to have a complete vision. Being both is also unproductive because people will probably have mixed feelings about your work if they see totally different things being attributed to you, though in one case you just did the clicks and in another the whole thing. It’s to be assumed that they won’t go into depths of figuring out what’s what.

  • msundman Avatar

    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 Avatar

    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 Avatar

    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.

    1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      Jeffrey Guyer

      Good points, Steve. Thanks.

  • Çağatay Belgen Avatar
    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.

    1. Jim Johnson Avatar
      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.

      1. Andre Avatar

        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.

        1. Wing Wong Avatar
          Wing Wong

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

    2. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      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.

      1. uthomas Avatar

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

        1. Jim Johnson Avatar
          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.

    3. Çağatay Belgen Avatar
      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.

      1. Jim Johnson Avatar
        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.

      2. Veronica Avatar

        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.

        1. Çağatay Belgen Avatar
          Çağatay Belgen

          everybody with a $5000 equipment is an artist nowadays…

        2. Çağatay Belgen Avatar
          Çağatay Belgen

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

  • Wil Fry Avatar
    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.

    1. Jim Johnson Avatar
      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.

      1. Wil Fry Avatar
        Wil Fry

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

        1. Jim Johnson Avatar
          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.

    2. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      Jeffrey Guyer

      Great perspective, Wil.

  • Jim Johnson Avatar
    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?

    1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      Jeffrey Guyer

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

  • Endy Muhardin Avatar
    Endy Muhardin

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

    1. Mike Avatar

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

      1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
        Jeffrey Guyer

        Hi, Mike. See my reply to original comment.

    2. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      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.

    3. joe_average Avatar

      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.

    4. Wing Wong Avatar
      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 Avatar

    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.

    1. Mike Avatar

      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.

    2. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      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.

    3. Paganator Avatar

      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.

      1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
        Jeffrey Guyer

        Great solution.

        1. JimmyDee Avatar

          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.

    4. Virginia Solomon Avatar
      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…

      1. JimmyDee Avatar

        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 Avatar

    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.

    1. Jeffrey Guyer Avatar
      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.

      1. Veronica Avatar

        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 Avatar

    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.

    1. Jim Johnson Avatar
      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).

      1. rea5245 Avatar

        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.

        1. Jim Johnson Avatar
          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.

          1. Subhash Chandra Avatar
            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?

          2. Wing Wong Avatar
            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.

          3. Subhash Chandra Avatar
            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 Avatar

    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?

    1. Jim Johnson Avatar
      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.

      1. Forever Avatar

        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.

      2. Jim Johnson Avatar
        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.

      3. JimmyDee Avatar

        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 Avatar
    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.

    1. rea5245 Avatar