During every photographer’s career, it’s inevitable they’ll come across clients who ask for access to all the photos from a shoot – including the raw, unedited photos.
This can be a hot topic, and everyone comes down somewhere differently on this one. Just do a quick search on any forum, or in your favorite photography group and you’ll see: the opinions are all over the board. Some will say to sell them, but price them high and make money off of it. Some will say to meet your client’s demand and hand them over in the name of customer service. My professional opinion and my business standard is to not deliver RAW files.
So How Should You Respond When Clients Ask For Unedited Photos?
It’s always a difficult scenario when responding to a client who asks for RAW photos. You want to stand your ground but you also don’t want to sound like a jerk as you want to address the question promptly but be firm with your answer, too.
Unfortunately there are plenty of clients who ask for RAW files and it’s not realistic to just expect them to stop. Why people ask is beyond me; I can only speculate that there are lists of questions to ask your photographer that include discussions about RAW files or perhaps a misunderstanding about what a RAW file really is.
RAW vs. JPEG. Many clients do not understand that, unlike JPEGs, RAW files are not universally compatible and require special software to even view them. Furthermore, unlike JPEG files, which are automatically processed in camera, RAW format captures data with the intent of processing and editing to make a final image, and does not represent what is seen with the natural eye.
As a professional photographer, your job is to educate your client when a question like this is asked. You want to explain to them what a RAW file is and how it’s not a usable product to them. By educating the clients, you open up the opportunity for them to see you as a leader in your industry and a genuine professional because you’re acknowledging their concern and explaining your stance instead of giving a blanket “no”. Remember; it’s possible that they’re asking because someone simply told them to – give them the benefit of the doubt.
RAW are Unfinished products! A lot of people ask for RAW files because they think it’s a higher quality file; the truth is that a RAW file is actually an unfinished product. It’s not directly usable – it needs to be edited. How a photographer edits a photo is a part of their artistic identity. When you hire a photographer to capture your day, you’re choosing them because you like how they capture the images and how the final product looks – we use the RAW files to create the finished product for you and that is what we sell: the finished product.
Asking your photographer for the RAW file is like asking the chef at your restaurant for the raw steak after you enjoyed a Beef Wellington, or your cake decorator for an extra bag of flour on the side; the steak or flour is a raw product, an unfinished product. It means nothing on it’s own. Just as the cake decorator uses the flour to mix with other ingredients to make a finished product, we do the same with our RAW files. They are of no use on their own; they are an unfinished product and they aren’t sold.
JPEGS can be high quality & high resolution We use the RAW files to create the final images; high resolution JPEGs. JPEGs seem to get a bad reputation as they are seen as lower-quality files; but when exported with the high resolution parameters, they are beautiful finished products. All the images you see here in our studio and in our sample albums were created from JPEGs.”. JPEGs can also be saved in low resolution to suit the required format of social media platforms.
Usually at this point, about 90% of the clients are appeased. I’ve had a lot of my clients state afterwards that “I was just asking because I heard I should.” This is why I believe in explaining why you’re saying no; it helps provide a little education within the wedding industry.
For the remaining 10% that continue to fight you on it, this is where you need to make the decision as to how you want to proceed. If your potential client continues to state that they want RAWs because they want to do their own editing you can either:
A) Continue to explain your position. If you really want to continue having this conversation, this is where you have to state: “Editing of the images is just as much a part of our identity as artists as the method we used to capture the image in-camera. Re-editing of the images is not only a breach of contract but can have legal repercussions if posted online as it’s a mis-representation of our identity and brand.” I personally don’t like having to go down this road; no matter how you phrase it, it sounds super stodgy and formal and not very friendly at all. I prefer option B….
B) Explain they may find a better fit somewhere else. There’s nothing wrong with simply saying “I see you’re very passionate about this but I’ve explained our policy to you. We would love to work with you but there are policies, like our RAW file policy, that we don’t negotiate on and you may find that you’re more comfortable with another photographer. We want you to be happy and find your best fit, even if that means not booking with us.”
If a client is asking, persistently or not, for things that are making you uncomfortable before they even sign the contract, it could be an indicator of what your relationship with that client will be like in the future. I’m a firm believer in going with your gut feeling: if you see a red flag in a situation, try to avoid continuing in that situation if at all possible.
Refer to Your Contract So maybe your client does know what RAW files are, and maybe they want them anyway. Perhaps they feel entitled to everything that you shoot because that’s what their other photographer did.
This is where you need to make sure you are doing two things: 1) Managing your client’s expectations while being clear about what is included ahead of time, and 2) Utilising a contract. When all else fails, refer to the contract. If the client is not on board with your business process, perhaps they aren’t the client for you.
Gaining the trust of your client is something that many experienced photographers might take for granted but this is what will ultimately help put the client’s mind at ease – in turn, satisfying their curiosity to see all the photos. Stand by your decision and avoid making exceptions. If you can manage their expectations from the onset, clients will understand that it’s your reputation, your career and your livelihood that makes you the best judge of what photos to provide.