Despite the fact that this question is as old as professional digital photography, it still comes up a lot and many professionals are still struggling with clients who demand the RAW files.
After all, at the end of the day, they are paying for them. But before answering this important question, I think it’s important to address another. Why do clients ask for the RAW files in the first place? From my experience over the years, there are a few admitted reasons:
- They simply want everything they’ve paid for, regardless of whether they’re going to use them or not.
- They want to “play a little” and edit some of the photos themselves.
- They want to see how their face looks unedited.
Whatever reason your client might try to use, you do not give RAW files! The end. I know a lot of photographers who have trouble saying no or explaining why they can’t give out the RAW files so here are a few thoughts that might help.
I like to compare my services with that of a chef or a tailor. Whenever you hire either of them, you pay a certain amount of money for the finished product. It might be a well-tailored suit or a fancy dinner. In either case I think you will agree it’s absolute nonsense not to mention a sign of disrespect for the pro’s work to ask for the remaining bits.
The exact same goes for photography services. The RAW files are exactly what the name says: raw materials. You use these files to create a finished product. Taking the photos is just the first part of the process. Post production is the second and even though it’s not something I like to admit, it’s often the more important stage of creation. That’s because post processing is usually when you add your personal touch. That’s how you give the images you take that unique look the client hired you for in the first place.
So the next time a client asks for the RAW files, tell them what you’ve read here and remind them that digital photography is nothing like film photography where you would just take the pictures, have them developed and cash the check.
It is a two, sometimes even three stage process that relies on RAW files and your clients need to be informed of this before you sign the contract.
Here’s Jessica Kobeisi, another photographer with a similar view on things.
Learn more about photography from these recommended books:
- Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera
- DSLR Photography for Beginners: Take 10 Times Better Pictures in 48 Hours or Less! Best Way to Learn Digital Photography, Master Your DSLR Camera & Improve Your Digital SLR Photography Skills
- Tony Northrup's DSLR Book: How to Create Stunning Digital Photography