Should we ever sell raw, unedited images?

Should we ever sell raw, unedited images?

Over on my post 6 Tips for Setting Your Photography Prices, there has been some discussion about whether a photographer should ever sell original, unedited files. There’s also some questioning whether photographers should sell any digital files at all, edited or not. But then, that’s a common dialogue always going on amongst photographers.

I just thought I’d pick up on this idea that we would ever sell raw, unedited images. One reader commented that since she’s a photographer, her wedding photog sold her the complete package of raw files for her own editing pleasure. Honestly, as a photographer myself, I can understand why she would want more creative control over her wedding photos. But as with any facet of the photography biz, if you compare photographer practices to any other service, they don’t always make sense.

For example. You’re a chef. You’re hungry. You go to a restaurant and order your food. Then you knock on the kitchen door and ask the chef to please just prep the ingredients. You’ll cook it yourself thankyouverymuch.

An unedited image is a raw ingredient. If you were the chef of a restaurant, you wouldn’t let a customer order a plate of raw chicken no matter how much they begged. Because this would not only be bad for them, it would reflect badly on you when they get food poisoning and then tell your friends they ate at your place.

For me, the option of buying unedited images should never be available and never be entertained. As with any form of out-of-the-ordinary client request, this may be down to expectation management. Did they see your website beforehand? Are they familiar with your style? Did they clearly know that you lean toward soft and ethereal and then ask you to re-edit all the images in bold colours? Or take a disliking to the finished product and request the photos SOOC?

I fully understand that non-photographer clients might not know the ins and outs of photography the way we do. I understand that brides might claim that they “heard the shutter click a thousand times” so why don’t they have a thousand pictures in their book? And I understand that clients won’t be likely to know that the images straight out of your camera are just raw ingredients. Kindly and gently (without being condescending) explain this to them.

Bottom line? Don’t sell plates of raw chicken. It’s not good for them and it won’t be good for you.

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Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • Dale Wilson June 5, 2013 07:34 am

    @PO ... the answer could be relative to where you live. In fact, what you are raising is not copyright but moral rights - that being the right of the creator to maintain the integrity in their work. Under Canadian copyright law, transfer of copyright does not imply nor transfer moral rights. Only the creator can waive moral rights in a work.You will have to rview the appropriate legislation in your country of residence.

    My suggestion would be to go back to the photographer, review your contract and discuss the deliverable. You may have to spend a few hours reviewing the RAW files with your photographer in a software such as Lightoom, and do an edit identifying which images you want.

    If there is that much of a difference between what you saw during the shoot (presumably the studio had a tethered preview device that was tied to the camera) and the finals, it would make me learn toward a work flow calibration issue. This then leads to the question if the photographer used a Colour Spectrum Wedge, or other calibration card in each set-up. This would eliminate any doubt if colour accuracy is the issue. (I cannot imagine a photographer doing product shots without baseline calibration for post production reference.)

    I have never met a professional photographer who was not willing to sit down and come to some mutually beneficial conclusion; their livelihood depends upon it.

  • PO June 5, 2013 01:01 am

    Hey there,

    With respect to product photography, what would be the guidelines?

    I recently hired a photographer to shoot my products. We discussed the look we wanted & I was very happy with the photos she took at the shoot, and we both agreed that they'd need very little editing.

    However, when I saw the edited pictures, they were unsatisfactory. Neither were they faithful to the look of the actual products (a necessity for online retail), nor did the products look their best.

    I'm familiar with photo-editing myself & can very easily get the look I need, using the originals. She seems reluctant to give me the RAW files, though was sort of willing to give the original JPEGs.

    I don't want to infringe on her rights as a photographer. However, I'd rather do the editing myself, than go through multiple rounds of requests for changes. I understand there may be copyright issues involved, but as far as I'm concerned, the photos are hers, irrespective of who edits them. Plus, I don't think I'd be misrepresenting her work, for my editing of the photos has them look closer to the original product & photograph (as agreed by us).

    I would love your comments on this issue.

    Thank you.

  • tb May 11, 2013 02:19 pm

    If photographers aren't going to give clients the RAW images they should consider allowing the clients to go through the pictures and choose what ones they want edited, rather then the photographer deciding which photo they 'think' the client would like best. Just my opinion as a "client".

  • AE August 10, 2012 09:17 am

    Here are some of my thought and questions, if someone can take time to comment this I would very much appreciate your time.

    I feel that if people pay for your services, then there is nothing wrong about them having the raw images. NOW, if they decided to edit it themselves and the photo turned out really poorly and terrible, who responsible for that. It takes time to build our names and portfolio and when you have inexperience people do the edit themselves however they want it, would that has reflection to your professional work.

    This have done paid assignment and some credit work for friends, but I find that when they decided to demand on seeing all the raw images and that they want you to email them ASAP, there is something really wrong there.

    We are to called 'professional photographer' for a reason and when people ripped your expertise apart with their attitude and practice, it just blew me away. I started as make-up artist so I know the aspect of make-up, years ago before I start to picked up photography, I had a photographer who did a very good job on his work but did a terrible job editing my make-up work, I remember that I hated it because my make-up work also has reflect to my name that tight to his work.

    Model wise, I work with number of in-experienced model and I know that I did a good work on those photos. However, what should I do when I start seeing them posting their self-portrait work with their hand tripod on their social networks and those people are so in love with themselves but have a ball to criticize the photos that you took for them and more professional. I cannot get my mind unwrapped around this. Would appreciate comment from those who have been in the industry for long time. I talked to few friends and we tend to have the same idea but I keep getting some stupid comment from the newbies.

  • Kristen February 1, 2012 01:38 pm

    For certain sessions, I only show a certain number of EDITED pictures. It says this in the information even before anyone books a session. A boudoir session I just did it said 30 edited images. I have two girls keep asking me for more and more images- I don't know if they don't know how to count or what. Also, I have had girls ask for al of the images edited or not and I have to kindly tell them that I put a lot of work into my post-processing an that I choose carefully what images I think they should see as a final product

  • Kym November 23, 2011 03:36 am

    People here are saying "What can it hurt if you give raw unedited to the clients with a hefty price tag"... That price tag is not worth my BUSINESS!!! Have you ever seen what people do to a good photo, that doesn't know what they are doing?? Then they say YOU took the picture?? I had someone (a friend) that took one of my photo's and printed it on her own printer without my knowledge... (it was a freebie pic I took at her son's birthday party) She posted it up at her heavily traveled hairdressing station with my card underneath it... I just about fell out of the chair when I saw that horrible excuse for a print job... I ripped it down, and told her, I'd get a good one printed out for her... Which I did... She told me that before, nobody ever looked twice at her photo she had up, once I put up one of MY prints... She has to restock my cards regularly... Don't let the customer have that kind of control over YOUR images!!! It could very well destroy your business..

  • Jenn September 24, 2011 02:25 pm

    I am actually being sued for this exact thing...a client wants ALL his unedited images, even though my contract clearly states i will not give anything other then edited images, great article!

  • gaby September 23, 2011 04:22 pm

    Not allowing people to be able to have digital raw files is passing on a business opportunity IMO.

    Photographers get way too hung up on being an artist and delivering a final product. There is art in the act of taking the photo itself. And the ability to take a good raw photo has more value in my opinion. That is why I hire a photographer in the first place.
    Keep in mind that a main street regular joe (like myself) just wants to keep memories of good times and the ability to have digital versions I can place on a digital frame at home.
    If you don't give me the option or charge me crazy amounts of money, you WILL lose business and repeat customers. period.
    I will never again hire a photographer that won't give me the options to have digital versions I can place on a digital frame.

    Whether raw or not, It is a digital world and you need to adapt. You can see offering the digital raw files as a business opportunity instead.

    Also remember technology always finds a way around these thing. Exactly what happened to the music record industry.

  • Steve September 3, 2011 04:51 pm

    Yay, it's good that people are now starting to actually look at the copyright laws and contracts applicable to them not just assuming they know or what someone else thinks they know. Copyright laws have become an absolute mess because they were designed to protect individuals but are now being applied to corporations. This means that works will never pass into the public domain, a corporation never dies - it will become bigger or part of another corporation so the copyright just keeps going. That's the reason your local amateur theatre likes Shakespeare so much, no royalties ;-)

    Copyright time frames got extended in the 1990's so that the copyright on Mickey Mouse didn't expire, costing Disney massive amounts in royalties. They should be OK until 2036 now but I wouldn't be surprised to see the US push for more changes extending copyright.

    In my opinion, if you commission someone to take photos for domestic events then you should own the copyright. Realistically the photos are of no real value, other than for promotional purposes, once the commissioner (is that the right term?) has purchased all of the prints, albums, books, etc just after the event until event anniversaries like 10, 25, 50, etc. Digital technologies mean that people are much more likely to want use those images again, but not in any way that the photographer envisioned 25 years ago. Remember, the Berne Convention prevents someone making derogatory use of your works (Article 6bis).

    By the way, if you haven't guessed I'm from Australia, just like DPS.

  • Mark Kenny September 2, 2011 09:12 pm

    @steve In the Netherlands, so not too bothered about US or Aussie copyright. I've tried reading the Dutch one, but I only speak bar and restaurant Dutch ;-)

    Anyone see the story of AP claiming copyright of the monkeys photos? Was the monkey shooting professionally or domestically? ;-)

    Sorry folks, not trying to belittle or trivialise the conversation, my professional work is global so copyright and ownership is important to me, I'm lucky enough to work with a team of lawyers who work this stuff out.

    Very interested to hear other opinions here.

  • Andy Mills September 2, 2011 08:37 pm

    @steve this is where you need to be careful - Copyright law can and does vary slightly between countries. The link to the document you have provided is valid for Australia and not other countries such as the UK and/or America.

    Before replying to this, I did double check and various sources confirmed what I said previously - the following link is just an example (this is a link to professional solicitors/lawyers based in the UK, so should be reliable):

    If you commission a photograph you will only be the copyright owner if there is an agreement to
    assign copyright to you.

  • Steve September 2, 2011 02:15 pm

    @Andy & @Mark - did you actually read the copyright legislation I have linked too? The US is a signatory to the Berne Convention & has agreed to the same copyright regulations as other countries like Australia. The contract must specifically state that copyright stays with the photographer when photographing "for domestic purposes", like weddings, or the copyright belongs to the client. astra has found now that her contract does in fact give ownership of copyright, so she can (and should) get the RAW files.

    It is you guys who won't look at the regulations, they're only 13 years old, that mislead people about copyright. I assume that you guys pay the $65 and register every group of images with the US Copyright Office to ensure your copyright in the US? Australia doesn't have such expensive regulations ;-)

  • Astra September 2, 2011 12:35 am

    @Mark, @Steve, @Andy thank you all for your help. I have actually got a piece of paper that states he signs over the copyright of the images to myself as of the date on the bit of paper. He has signed it too. I don't know if this means anything or if i could actually still demand the files?It may just mean i own copyright of the edited images and not the files, i don't know? He has now agreed to send over a CD of unedited photos in a high resolution JPEG. I am hoping this will be enough for a professional company to be able to work with...What do you think? It seems to me he just doesn't want me to hand over his work to another company as the photo's are so bad he must realise a real pro will tear his work to shreds. I doubt he has insurance, in fact i doubt he is a real photographer at all!

  • Mark September 1, 2011 06:26 am

    @Astra Sorry girl, Andy Mills is right. You paid the photographer for your pictures, but you don't own them, he does.

    I believe the copyright model for photogaphy in the digital age is wrong. I believe it needs to change.

    Are photographers artists or technicians? Is it art or production? Do they/we have a technical marketable skill or a black art?

  • Andy Mills September 1, 2011 06:04 am

    @Steve - please do not confuse the situation further. The photographer is the legal copyright unless the contract says otherwise. Even if the contract does not state anything about the copyrights, they still remain the property of the photographer. @astra will only be able to grab a copy of the RAW files if the contract says that the client is entitled to them (over and above what's been started as part of the package @astra bought). That is even assuming this "photographer" had a contract.

    @astra, I'm sorry this has happened to you. The only thing that I can suggest at the moment is that you can say the images are "not fit for purpose" and ask him/her again for the files as a "good will" gesture on their part. Otherwise, you may be able to sue and get your money back - a decent photograpjer will have measures in place (like indemnity insurance) for if and when these things happen.

  • Steve August 31, 2011 11:40 pm

    @astra - you need to look at the contract you have with the photographer. Does it specifically state anything about copyright or ownership of copyright? If it doesn't you should tell the photographer that you want them because you own the copyright. Download and print the relevant copyright laws for your country and take them with you.

    Unfortunately, if the photographer has chopped of heads when taking photos, only captured people with closed eyes, taken poor photos, etc there is not much that post production with Photoshop can fix. You won't know until you get the RAW files to browse through. You may have a small claims case to take to court to get your money back, so I'd try asking for legal advice through consumer affairs in your country.

    It's sad to hear so many of these cases occurring, so many people think it sounds cool to be a photographer and good equipment is relatively inexpensive these days making it easy for them to claim to be a "professional photographer". I hope you can get at least a few good photos of your special day.

  • Astra August 31, 2011 08:35 pm

    We have just had our wedding photo's back from our so called professional photographer and they are just hideous. We have photo's with people's heads chopped off, people with their eyes closed and some photo's so bad i had to ask him to take them off his website so our guests couldn't see them.
    I have requested the RAW files to try to see if another company can salvage them in some way. The photographer has said no, he is obviously not keen for someone to try to improve his terrible work. Can you help us? Are we entitled to the RAW files? As it stands i am going to end up with no decent professional photo's of our special day at all and it is really very upsetting.

  • steve December 10, 2010 10:20 am

    Hi Jim,

    That's a totally different situation. You are the copyright holder of photos you have taken, unless they are taken for purposes that I outlined above.

  • Jim December 10, 2010 03:49 am

    I run into a similar problem in that my wife can't understand why I don't want to have my raw images posted on facebook.

  • Steve November 28, 2010 11:07 am

    Hi Natalie,

    However, under current international copyright legislation they own the copyright on images taken for domestic purchases, unless you specifically reassign these rights in your contract. The bridal magazines are telling people to ask for the RAW images because they own them. They won't the hassles of trying to get the originals in 25 years from your defunct business for their silver wedding anniversary.

    Images taken for commercial purposes are treated differently - go and research the legislation and talk to proper legal people and put into place proper contracts which covers all of your photography situations.

  • Natalie November 27, 2010 05:50 am

    I would never give away my RAW images. There's a good reason for it: if I do a session with someone and they take my RAW images and make them look awful in some way, they reflect badly on me because MOST people don't expect anyone but the photographer to produce the final results. I'm talking portraits, headshots, weddings, etc. If the customer makes poor edits (bad cropping, selective colour), it reflects badly on me and my business. If someone doesn't like my style of photography and its end result, they shouldn't be hiring me, period.

    I do provide the retouched photos to the client on a CD or in an online gallery in web resolution and in smaller sizes so that they are available for web use.

    I have turned down a couple of people who asked for the RAW files. They are few and far between.

  • Steve November 1, 2010 09:24 pm

    Hi Amy,

    Thanks for pointing out that Copyright Australia have just redesigned their web site. The new link is

    The particular section is:

    "For photographs taken on or after 30 July 1998, the general rule on ownership depends on the purpose for
    which the photographs were taken:

    • if the photographs were taken for “private or domestic purposes” (such as family portraits, or wedding
    photographs), the first owner of copyright in them is the client, unless the photographer and client agree
    otherwise; however
    • if they were taken for any other purpose (e.g. commercial shots), the photographer will be the first
    owner of copyright, unless the photographer and client agree otherwise."

    You will notice that family portraits and wedding photography are particularly mentioned as the client owning copyright.

  • Amy October 27, 2010 05:30 pm

    @ steve (Oct. 4, 2010 at 9:48 pm)

    Just wanted to mention about the mis-information you wrote about current copyright law. For one thing, the link you added is no longer available and it is about Australian copyright info, not International copyright laws.

    You wrote: "Copyright laws have obviously changed since you last looked – Photographers and copyright (Note: PDF from Copyright Australia). For weddings and other domestic events the clients own copyright (since 30 July 1998), so they have every right to the RAW files. This is why wedding magazines are pushing brides, and grooms for that matter ;-) , to ask for the RAW files (RAW, NEF, PEF, DNG, CR2 or whatever the camera format is)."

    ("Virtually all works created or first published after January 1, 1978 are protected by copyright. Many works created prior to 1978 are also protected." - per the Federal Copyright Act)

    Check out the following link: the one who owns the copyright is NOT the clients, like you wrote, but the "person who trips the shutter"

    A few things in particular to read:

    Q. What if I have an idea and I hire a photographer to execute my idea, pay for his or her expenses including models, film, processing, assistants and special equipment, does the copyright belong to me?

    A. No. Usually, the person who creates the work: in this case, the person who trips the shutter -- owns the copyright. Of course, the parties can make other arrangements such as assigning the copyright or agreeing in writing to create the photograph on a work-for-hire basis. Also, under some circumstances there could be joint ownership of the copyright.

    Q. Who owns the copyright?

    A. Generally, the person who creates a work is the owner of the copyright. Thus, independent artists, photographers and writers own the copyrights to their works. The only exceptions to this rule occur when a work is created by an employee as part of his or her job duties or when a work is created under a written "work-for-hire" agreement.

  • Marcelo October 22, 2010 07:05 pm

    Many people seem to draw parallels to the way things were done "in the film days." This is not the best way to look at it. Digital is not the same as film, negatives are not the same as raw files, etc. As to whether you give your clients your raw files depends on what line of work you are in. I have dealt with magazines that insist you provide them a raw file with the associated XMP file from ACR. I have also dealt with magazines that only want tiffs, and I have also dealt with publications who want a jpeg. It depends on the client. Speak of "film days," it was very common to provide clients with a duped 35mm slide. Providing them a raw is nothing different.

    PS - "Editing" in photography is the act of narrowing down a group of photos to the selects. Many of you, including the writer of this article are actually referring to "retouching." Just a point I thought I'd throw in there.

  • Mikki McGee October 10, 2010 06:38 am

    I have to concur with Ms Hartford. Seems crazy to even consider selling raw. I believe the only time it would be possibly understandable would be in the case of family. (ie: your a photographer, your daughter or son is also a photographer, you do their special occasion, interject your artistic gift, but allow them their artistic expression as well, not feeling challenged by their self expression.) I feel territorial over the photos I take, and if asked to take pictures, as stated by Ms Hartford, they know my style, that's what they hired me for. Not to mention that my passion is getting that cool shot and making it stand out.

  • Rachel Twitchett October 8, 2010 09:07 am

    but then I am talking about what I do personally, weddings and portraits, it would probably different for a commercial customer as that is a different type of work altogether.

  • Rachel Twitchett October 8, 2010 08:02 am

    I agree. editing to your own style is a big part of the job and something that i personaly take pride in, i wouldnt show let alone sell raw unedited files im not saying that every single one requires editing but each needs to be looked at individualy to make sure it is the best it can be even if it only needs a slight tweak of levels or nothing at all.

  • Gareth Hector October 5, 2010 11:21 pm

    "An unedited image is a raw ingredient"! Elizabeth, I couldn't disagree more. The components and composition of the image are the raw ingredients. In one swoop you've devalued the taking of the image to merely a bit part of the eventual outcome, placing more emphasis on the processing than the capturing.

    The format that images are sold in, to me, is largely irrelevant so long as the copyright and licence is crystal clear. I don't have an issue with someone playing with one of my RAW images, it is still my RAW image and they still can't distribute it. That being said, I'm not a fan of issuing digital images for a catch all rate and again, even if I do the licence is for personal use only if it is not rights managed.

  • Clarice Dejeneux October 5, 2010 01:18 am

    I sell each and every individual image complete, as a single image not a series 1 of xx but a 1 of 1. The image I sell is edited, the client receives the raw/original file with it.
    This image is done and dusted, up to the next series. Whatever the client does with it is his/her responsibility.
    Silly business model, perhaps but I do make more than 80% of the so called "artists" doing their best to guard their product and name, and it's a business modell in its self.... the client knows the end product is the only one, he/she can either destroy the original raw file or do something with it, I really don't care.
    2010 up until today I have sold 78 images. Last year, 2009 I sold 96 in total. I edit them as I see fit, I don't do alterations, I don't resize.

  • Steve October 4, 2010 09:48 pm

    Copyright laws have obviously changed since you last looked - Photographers and copyright (Note: PDF from Copyright Australia). For weddings and other domestic events the clients own copyright (since 30 July 1998), so they have every right to the RAW files. This is why wedding magazines are pushing brides, and grooms for that matter ;-), to ask for the RAW files (RAW, NEF, PEF, DNG, CR2 or whatever the camera format is).

    Commercial clients are different, that is why they specify the RAW files must be supplied in the contracts. The photographer owns copyright in this situation, unless specified.

    Of course, the US makes copyright more difficult and expensive - you need to register every image at a cost of $30 - $US65 per image for copyright to apply in a courtroom. The cost depends on you filing method - see U.S. Copyright Office Forms for more information.

    For those worried about badly edited RAW files harming their reputation, a photographer's moral rights prevent this from occurring. You should also clearly point this out to clients who are being supplied with RAW files.

  • Swashbuckler October 4, 2010 06:02 am

    "Event photography sessions like weddings, are an agreement between a customer and a business to provide a service that results in a defined output of finished images. And the customer is only buying the images for personal use! They cannot then sell that image to a publishing company to use in a bridal magazine because they do not own the copyright!!!"

    It depends upon the contract. If it's specifically a "work for hire" then the couple would own the copyright.

  • Robert October 2, 2010 02:13 pm

    A professional photographers images and graphic style is their signature, it's their brand... A professionals brand is essential to promoting sales and business - it's a no brainer?? On the other hand, if you never plan to go pro and don't care what people think then it just doesn't matter. I think the only thing to debate is to sell or not to sell?! If it's worth doing it's worth doing right!

    For example: I once heard that Arnold Schwarzenegger went so far to protect and promote his brand that he would go to great lengths legally (and otherwise) to ensure only official images and stories that promoted his best look ever got into the marketplace. At the same time he would go to equally great lengths to one-up his competition by encouraging them to failure by what ever means possible. From what I can tell, it seems to have been a winning plan for him.

  • Rob October 2, 2010 12:15 pm

    @Texas Mama - I agree with you that there is an underserved market for "good enough" and I hope you are successful. I tried and wasn't. The problem comes when people expect anything digital to be free. If you give the digital files, you will not sell prints no matter how reasonably priced because Costco is going to be cheaper. Not a knock on Costco because I use them for proofs but I only use WHCC for finals. Why? Because then I know that no matter who is working that day, I will get prints the exact color I intended, cropped how I wanted and with what ever boarder I put on them. I have had the guy at Costco "correct" all those things on my proofs. If my clients want prints, I sell them at just over cost and only from my printer. Reprints are even less. I do this so that I know when they show someone a print (or digital for that matter) and say who shot it the image will be how I intended. As soon as you get into the "referral based on price" market you start a race to the bottom and all your referrals will be looking to pay less than the person before. Eventually someone is going to dork up one of YOUR pictures and claim YOU shot it that way. And they edited the original instead of a copy using MS Paint so it even has your file naming and copyright notice. They are not being evil, just too embarrassed to admit they screwed up You might get more referrals in the very short run allowing your images to be freely edited but in the long run you will likely have someone trashing your reputation without even knowing it.
    Again, good luck.

  • Diane October 2, 2010 07:58 am

    I agree entirely Elizabeth and thank you for writing this, even if not everyone agrees. The only time I have sold RAW images is to commercial clients and magazine editors. But I don't have to worry they're going to bugger up the image or make it look bad. But for portrait clients, absolutely no RAW images.

    If someone really wants RAW images, there are all kinds of amateurs out there giving them away.

  • Mark October 2, 2010 05:00 am


    You are absolutely correct! If all parties come to an agreement like you did, then all is well. The problem in most cases is "unmanaged expectations" where the client incorrectly believes that because the subject of the image is them, that they own all rights to those images. They usually want all of the originals so that they can do as they wish with them. They do not understand that simply having a copy of the RAW file does not give them unlimited rights. It is our job to clearly explain and find out what they want. Then an agreement can be negotiated that works for all parties. Personally, I do not need such clients period. They will damage your reputation, supply no referrals, and never buy prints that will make me successful. In your case, I would have also asked for model releases so that if they make it big time, you could sell the images later!

  • Killian October 2, 2010 04:46 am

    For me, I definitely see the potential pitfalls of selling RAW images. They screw it up, your name is on it, and your reputation is gone like a fart in the wind.

    That said, I did it for a local band. Three of their members were graphic designers/artists and they asked me for two hours of my time shooting, and to then hand over the untouched images. I agreed with the stipulation that I retain the rights to the images, and that I have the right to edit and use any that I wanted in my own portfolio or advertising. 2 hours and $100 later, we were all happy. They got to play with the images to their hearts' content, and I had shots that I then edited to my own liking later.

    Maybe the real chef's analogy that should be used here is "Too many chefs spoil the soup." If the client wants a good, hearty Tex-Mex chili, don't bring in a crew of French chefs to make it. =)

  • Golfzilla October 2, 2010 04:45 am


    I suggest you take a tour of the Adobe web site and search for Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). Both Lightroom and PS use the same raw engine. I use 'em every day. DNG is Adobe's "standardized" version of raw. While individual manufacturer's raw will be opened by ACR, you can also translate something like CR2 into DNG.

    Adobe's gotcha is they do not make ACR compatible for "new" versions of a manufacturer's raw. They want you to buy the latest version. However, you can download their DNG converter without buying a new version.

    Just to be picky, raw is not an acronym.

  • Mark October 2, 2010 04:30 am

    Too many people think that because they are the subject of the image, that they "own" the image. That is simply not true under any law that I have ever heard of. The photographer "owns" the copyright privileges to that image until it becomes "public domain". I cannot remember exactly when that is, but it is something like "25 years after his death" in the US.

    Event photography sessions like weddings, are an agreement between a customer and a business to provide a service that results in a defined output of finished images. And the customer is only buying the images for personal use! They cannot then sell that image to a publishing company to use in a bridal magazine because they do not own the copyright!!! Even displaying those images on the internet is a violation of the law, unless they have the written consent of the photographer!!!

    It continues to amaze me that so many photographers here seem to be in business without any idea of what the laws say about their work. How can you run a successful business when you don't even know what you own?

  • Mark October 2, 2010 04:13 am


    Yes there are a few occasions where selling the RAW file is reasonable. An international ad agency hires you to take photos of rock climbers for a sporting goods ad or something might be such a case. But in that instance, you are not getting credit for the image and so their editing has no damage to your reputation. A normal retail customer like an event shoot DOES NOT HAVE ANY RIGHTS TO EDIT YOUR WORK EVER!!! They are buying a finished product and editing that image in any way is a violation of copyright law. If they want a black and white version later, they must request it from the owner of the copyright who is the PHOTOGRAPHER!!!! If he has since died, then hire another photographer to take a new one!!!

    Check it out! That is the law!!!

    That is not to say that the customer and the photographer cannot negotiate a transfer of copyright but that is above and beyond a normal photo shoot. I for one will not sell a copyright for less than $5000 US per image. If they want it that bad, then pay for it!!!! Check out what a lawyer charges to file a transfer of copyright and you will understand that this is an expensive proposition usually only done by large corporations.

  • Mark October 2, 2010 04:02 am


    Photoshop CS5 will only open image files. It most definitely will not open a RAW file like .CR2 however Ms. Dennis has already replied that she uses Adobe Bridge to convert the RAW file and then exports it to CS5.

    This has been my point throughout this whole thread - too many people are confused on what a RAW file is!!!! It is most definitely not a JPG!!!!

  • Golfzilla October 2, 2010 03:34 am

    Photoshop CS5 is the most used program for opening and doing initial edits of raw files. Ms. Dennis has that program. Wassup?

  • djdawson October 2, 2010 03:26 am

    I'm not suggesting that RAW is an ideal image format. I am saying that it is the original, master version of the image and therefore has unique value. Anthony said it himself when he said "The raw image is *only* needed for editing.", and that's why I think it's justifiable for the customer to want to own the original, at least in some circumstances. I doubt that it's unusual for a customer to want a photo re-edited for whatever reason, either because it's too dark, too warm, or they've decided they want a black and white version. They may even have that desire or need several years later, possibly after the original photographer has retired or died. It, therefore, seems very reasonable to me that they would be interested in owning the original image files. As others have said, if that's not a business opportunity an individual photographer chooses to pursue then that's his/her choice.

  • Rob October 2, 2010 02:43 am

    @Mark you are dead on with the comparison to undeveloped film. But Adobe DNG is an open RAW format and just as "safe" as TIFF or JPEG. For me, DNG is the way to store/archive my images.

  • Mark October 2, 2010 02:39 am

    Ya know, the more I think about it I start to realize that many photojournalists have worked on the payroll for years. They draw a paycheck from a big news service, go to war zones and other dangerous places and shoot hundreds of rolls of film. Then they simply post the undeveloped rolls of film back to the nearest office and never see it again. For some photographers, "work for hire" is just what they like.

    Then there are the "artistic types" like Ansel Adams, who never parted with their photo plates or negatives under any circumstances. Even after they are dead, their estates still guard them as valuable assets.

    So I guess it really depends on who you want to be, but I will say that the photojournalists did not spend thousands of dollars on their own equipment!!!! If you are doing work for hire, they should supply all of the equipment. If they cannot, they should pay the full going rate for an artist or pay a premium on the photographers time to cover the investment and replacement of cameras and all of your other equipment.

    I for one have had enough of this thread and have decided who I WANT TO BE so I am unsubscribing from this thread now. Good luck on deciding WHO YOU WANT TO BE!!!!

  • Rob October 2, 2010 02:33 am

    @ William - If someone hires me for a shoot it is because they saw my work and wanted the same quality (in every term - both good and unique). That quality was created in post. If you want someone to point and shoot and then deliver the memory card, you can do that but that is not a job I would take and I doubt many photographers would. And you are right, $4500 for a days work is pretty good. But I have NEVER had a shoot take a day. I normally count on a 3-1 or 4-1 ratio of time spent. For every hour of shooting, I spend 3-4 hours on prep work and post work. Those picture ideas dont just appear. I plan the shoot, scout the location, buy the clothes (if needed), arrange the makeup (if needed), and on and on. And if it is an outdoor shoot, I have to scout two alternate locations in case weather or other factors mess up the first one. Once done processing starts. Just moving images off the cards from my last shoot took an hour (I ate lunch 3 hours late). Scanning for potential edits took another hour and then editing started. And I dont know any wedding photographers who shoot alone. Most have one shooting assistant at a minimum. For a big wedding three shooters and a non-shooting assistant is a must.
    Good luck finding a point and shoot pro.

  • Mark October 2, 2010 02:28 am

    @darlene dennis

    Thank you. The missing key was Adobe Bridge. That program does indeed allow for RAW conversion and will create an image file that you can edit with the other programs. Sorry, but your previous post confused me a little .

  • Rob October 2, 2010 02:03 am

    I would never "sell" RAW/unedited files but if I was doing for hire work I would price accordingly. If it has my name on it, Im going to process and edit it so that it is mine. And once I edit it, I am not going to release it in a digital form where that editing can be stripped away with the click of a button. Its not my image anymore.

    I think a better analogy than chicken is a painter who instead of delivering a finished painting gives you a canvas and paints along with a paint by numbers instruction set for the picture you want. Everything needed for making the picture is there. But it is the act of the painter that makes the picture his, not the paint or the canvas.

    I hate what I do being lumped into "art" because of my terrible interactions with members of the "art" world. Most buy into the belief that all we do is point and shoot and the technology does the work. But as I have progressed in abilities both pre and post shoot, I have moved further from formulas and settings toward my own style. In another decade or so, someone might even be able to recognize something as "mine" :) An unprocessed, unedited RAW image will never be "mine."

  • Anthony October 2, 2010 12:51 am

    There's a major problem with the analogy of raw images to photo negatives. Historically, a negative was needed for top quality when replacing a damaged print, especially a large print (*). A negative can act like a backup, especially if the processing of the negative was simple and standard. So I could see a customer asking for a negative of a photograph of a special moment, in case their huge print gets damaged. And, for the right price, I would sell it to them. But in the digital world, a processed TIFF serves the purpose of a backup just as well as (in fact, better than) a raw image. The raw image is *only* needed for editing.

    (*) Nowadays, you can probably make a TIFF from a scanned negative which is just as good if not better for backup purposes as the negative itself, so that's an option if you still shoot in analog and you'd rather not part with your negatives.

  • Darlene Dennis October 2, 2010 12:42 am

    you asked what software did I use to convert the raw files. Again I am not a professional photographer and certainly no super tech so I'll just describe what I do. I have been using a Sony A 700 for 2-3 years. I know it came with programs for the computer that my husband installed. I don't know if that is what you are asking. But I download files from the camera into Adobe Bridge and double click and the photo opens up in the Raw editing program that came with it. I then open the photo up in CS5. I access onOne, Topaz, Imagenomics, Graphic Authority, etc through there. Are other cameras different? If so I'd recommend you get a Sony because it is pretty easy.

  • A@EPOCH October 1, 2010 11:29 pm

    I am sorry, but I do not understand the criticism that Mrs. Halford receives about this article. There are a couple of points that need to be addressed. One is that a trend in wedding photography magazines is to make sure the bride obtains a copy of the RAW files in addition to her other prints. I find this ludicrous for the average consumer, if it is another photographer who is capable of actually using them then I would understand but when is the last time someone who purchased images from you knew what Adobe Camera RAW was? Secondly I understand why the raw chicken analogy is semi nebulous, however it is the entire process that a bride and groom see on your website, your marketing material, your blog, so why would you sell them short of your creative process? I feel like if my photos have not made their journey all the way from me posing to me editing then they are not truly my work, but a collaborative effort on the part of two parties. Just my 2 cents....

  • wii October 1, 2010 10:47 pm

    [quote]Paul Says:

    September 30th, 2010 at 7:26 am
    Couldn’t you just as easily compare it to a grocery store where they both sell the ingredients and also sell prepared food? Acting like there is only one answer to this question is ridiculous. What’s the pain in selling the raw images at a higher price? I just don’t see the downside.[/quote]

    Agree 100% with Paul. IMO, when we (photographers) become unwilling provide files to our customers what we are really saying is that our skills with the camera are not very valuable, so we need to inflate them by making things such as RAW files difficult to come by

  • Robin Oberg October 1, 2010 10:44 pm

    The chicken analogy didn't seem to go home that well, and neither does the spice-analogy imho. I never eat raw chicken, and I never use spices, but that doesn't mean I don't develop my raw photos. An analogy is supposed to make different experiences relate to eachother. In this case, the simple idea of saying that a raw photo is the same as a negative suffice more than enough.

    And sure, if you've agreed upon giving away your negatives that's your choice. But it does sound a little stupid from a business/artisan point of view... :)

  • Nabieh Salim October 1, 2010 10:34 pm

    Totally agree, if selling RAW materials starts to be a habbit (by ignoring the results from selling them), then the value of photographers will be reduced!
    The photographer is an artist, this art has two parts, taking the light, and adding his own style/touch to it. Giving up the RAW shape will never address your art to people/friends/customers.

  • Sime October 1, 2010 08:07 pm

    William - I don't subscribe to your point of view.

    So, I give you my RAW files which I shot with a finish in mind, you negotiate to take my raw files (or fire me, nice) develop them how you want and, if it's awful, people don't say "Oh William's editing ruined that image" they say "Oh, $4500Photog is rubbish, why would I hire him"

    Would Henri Cartier-Bresson give you his negatives? not a hope in hell...


  • William Dobson October 1, 2010 07:27 pm

    My take on this is it depends on the job. To me this is a simple business transaction the customer hires you to photograph a subject and wants the raw and jpg files. You can say no and they move on to another photographer until they find one who will comply.
    This year my daughter got married and hired a photographer who did some great work but I insisted that she negotiate for all the files. My reasoning is that she was hiring a contractor for the day for a price and lets face it for $4,500 for a day's work is not bad. OK I can hear all you pros moan now but I have been hiring contractors to do work for me for over 40 years and have neve had any one hold hack from giving me what I want. If they did then they did not get work next time.
    I appreciate his work but I wanted to work with the raw files later and from my point of view you are buying the photographer and what he produces during that time. Like I said if you don't want to do that then don't take the job they can move on to someone who will. I can't see how you have lost anything as you still have an opening spot to be filled by someone else.

  • i October 1, 2010 07:08 pm

    Ever been to the Melting Pot? They DO sell plates of raw chicken (and beef, and seafood)! Maybe there's a place for it in the marketplace, but I prefer my food and my photos to be finished products. ;)

  • Mark October 1, 2010 04:22 pm

    I think I have finally hit on the true comparison. The RAW file is the undeveloped film. Each darkroom technician, whether it is the photographer or not, had their own "recipe" for the chemicals to change this unexposed film into the negative for printing. Those minor changes in the chemicals resulted in very different outcomes. That is why most photographers preferred to develop their own, but if not, they still had a favorite lab to do it. Some might even specify a certain technician in their favorite lab! This is why we should never sell the RAW file, only the physical print or in some cases a digital print in an image file format.

  • Mark October 1, 2010 04:01 pm


    Your argument is mistaken. The equivalant to a film negative would be a high resolution TIFF file or JPEG file that already has the basic adjustments made to them. No data is lost if they are processed correctly and these are real image files that are ready to reprint. Furthermore, they are a digital file that have a long track record. I shoot Canon and my RAW files are IMG_xxxxx.CR2 and there is no guarantee that software will be able to use a .CR2 file in the future. This is a format that does not have a long track record and is not supported by a non-profit over-site committee. This really seems to be a deep set error in most peoples ideas. A RAW file is incomplete and does not equal a film negative in any way. I must ask - have you ever opened a RAW file in Lightroom or equivalent software??? If you have, then you know what I mean when I say that the colors are very flat and the picture is very low contrast before you start processing it. This is even hard to talk about because it is not an image file until after the export from the RAW processing software. Maybe the best comparison is that it is like the exposed film BEFORE it is chemically processed into a film negative!!!! Would an old school photographer, just take the film out of the camera and give it to the client without processing it through the darkroom???? I think not.

  • djdawson October 1, 2010 03:04 pm

    @mark - The aspect of RAW files that is very much akin to film negatives is that both represent the original, unmodified information that was captured by the camera. It's that pristine original information that has value to people who may want to purchase the RAW files, since many of the adjustments you mention to bring a RAW file up to the functional equivalent of a print-worthy film negative destroy or irreversibly modify some of that original information. So, the same reasons why you would never delete the original RAW files even after you've made adjustments you're very happy with are why the customer may also want to own those RAW files. As an example, our wedding photographer told us he would only keep our negatives on file for five years. After that time he was willing to sell them to us, and if we didn't want them then he destroyed them. They obviously had virtually no value to him once it was unlikely that we would order more prints, but just the remote possibility that we might have to replace even a single print made those negatives quite valuable to my wife and I. We've never actually had to make additional prints, but I'm glad I have the negatives nonetheless. Digital RAW files are very much analogous to film negatives in this regard. Would I have the skills to completely reproduce the original photographers work if he had shot digital? Perhaps not, but it's not even possible if those RAW files aren't available.

  • Crystal October 1, 2010 02:31 pm

    Oh and with everyone freaking out about the chicken/chef thing.
    I can elaborate slightly.
    Photographer decides composition, lighting, settings etc.
    Chef decides supplier, cut, grade, prep etc.

    With both professions, decisions are made before that raw chicken is served on a plate just like decisions are made before the shutter is pressed.

    Just sayin :)

  • Mark October 1, 2010 02:29 pm

    @Darlene Dennis

    I am curious, what software did you use to convert the RAW files so that you could use the software that you listed to edit the image? Maybe I am wrong, but I checked each of these programs you listed and did not see any that would be able to open a Camera RAW file. Could you please explain?

  • Crystal October 1, 2010 02:26 pm

    Ok first of all I think the biggest problem with this "debate" is that a lot of people don't seem to understand the topic.
    He means "RAW" as in "an unedited photo" not the actual file type "RAW".
    With that being said, I agree with the article. I have often wondered why photographers do this? Of course I am speaking of weddings, family portraits etc, not commercial or product photography.
    I have done a few "shoots" with a friend (maternity and newborn) and I gave her all the edited files on disk. I did this mainly because I was doing it for free since she's my friend, but not only that, I only wanted her to have my best work.
    Long story short, I would never include all "raw" images because I would want them to have the best.

  • Mark October 1, 2010 02:15 pm

    For any that don't understand - a Camera RAW file is the raw data that comes from the sensor after the shutter closes. Most imaging software, including Photo Shop cannot even see a raw file. You need special software to convert the raw data into an image that editing software can see and work with. The most common software that can convert the raw data to an image is Adobe Lightroom, although open source software like UFRaw can also do this and most DSLR cameras come with the camera companies software for this as well. The typical output of a Camera RAW file is very flat colors and almost no contrast. The conversion software lets you step through the process of adjusting the white balance, the contrast and the saturation. In some cases you can also sharpen the image in the conversion. It is only after all of this adjustment that you have something that approaches a film negative that is ready for printing.

  • Mark October 1, 2010 02:02 pm


    You have got things REALLY MIXED UP and your attitude is part of the problem. Part of your statement above, "he is capturing in photos MY that case, i’m also an owner of whatever picture he will get" is not only wrong headed, it is not the legal situation!!! When a photographer presses the shutter button HE OWNS THE PICTURE under copyright law, unless a contract exists that he is working as an employee of a company or has signed a contract to do "work for hire".

    What you expressed is the most likely reason that a client might ask for the "original" files even though they would not know what to do with a Camera RAW file if they had it!!!!! It is our job to "teach" these clients that US and International law recognize the photographer as an artist and that HE OWNS THE COPYRIGHTS TO HIS WORK BARRING OTHER CONTRACTUAL AGREEMENTS!!! So if I would do a wedding or other event and they wanted the original files, I would simply agree at a higher price or I would pass on the job. And when I say that I would want a higher price, I mean about five times as much since they will not be any good for buying prints and I would not allow them to use my name so I would get no referrals from their event. They would also have to sign a contract that said they could only use the files for personal use and no public display including the internet!!!!

    I still feel that some commenters here are confusing digital files with Camera RAW files. There is a very big difference as a finished jpg is your final product, whereas a Camera RAW file is an unfinished work.

  • glen October 1, 2010 12:33 pm

    based on the comments above, i can see that the main issue why pro photogs are reluctant to sell the RAW files is that their reputation might be ruined if the client made a pisspoor job in tweaking the files and putting the photogs name on it. i'm not a pro but if i put myself on the client's shoes, i would also want the digital image aside from the printed one..this is because if i hired the photog, i'm also giving him the right to be in the event, whether it be a wedding, graduation or any event..that gives him some time to showcase his talent as part of promotion to others who are attending the event..and he is capturing in photos MY that case, i'm also an owner of whatever picture he will get...i agree with one of the comments above that we are in the new generation and that we rarely print (or i think it's just me) pix..what i can suggest to pro is maybe you can sell the RAW provided they would also buy the final product (that is, the printed product) so that if the client did a poor job in editing, they would always have the final product of the pro to be the basis of a way, it can serve as a security for your reputation..

  • Darlene Dennis October 1, 2010 12:12 pm

    I am not a professional photographer, rather more the prosumer level. I do have editing software (CS5, onOne Suite, Topaz Labs, Imagenomics, Graphic Authority). When my daughter chose a wedding photographer that was one of the questions we asked. In writing he agreed to give me the raw files. We purchased a package deal ($4200) that includes engagement, bridals, editing, album, etc. I offered to pay for the raw files but he said it didn't cost him anything to give them to me so not to worry about it. Could be I just caught him off guard with a question no one had ever asked before. I appreciated his flexibility.

  • Didit Mehta Pariadi October 1, 2010 11:31 am

    RAW files? I dont think so, even for corporate clent.
    Edited digital files? Yes, for both corporate and wedding photography. Edited TIFF file is more than enough if what they want is to have another printing or do some minor touch up.

    I agree with some comments that unedited photo is not raw material. It's already included the photographer's years of experience in taking sharp image, get the best and creative lighting, astonishing composition and get the story out of a shot.

  • Mary McGrath October 1, 2010 10:48 am

    I have given unedited photos as part of an agreement to go on a press trip. Although I didn't really like doing it, I wouldn't have been able to go if I didn't comply. I looked at it as an investment.

  • Anthony October 1, 2010 10:44 am

    I'd let a photographer have access (not rights) to the raw images (those that I had selected), "for her own editing pleasure", if I liked her work and could trust her not to distribute the images to others without my approval.

    I'd be willing to do work for hire for a person or company with a track record of producing good end products which they then delivered (as finished products, not as raw images) to the end consumer(s). I might even do this inexpensively if they had a track record of producing better end results than I could produce myself.

    Would I sell raw images to a client who wanted them because they disliked the finished product? Hell no.

  • Andy Mills October 1, 2010 09:50 am

    @Paul Said: "Couldn’t you just as easily compare it to a grocery store where they both sell the ingredients and also sell prepared food? Acting like there is only one answer to this question is ridiculous. What’s the pain in selling the raw images at a higher price? I just don’t see the downside."

    The downside is damage to your reputation.

    Selling an unedited image to Mr and Mrs Average, you have no control on the paper used, the printer it's printed on, whether or not it's colour balanced, whether or not they actually know how to print properly and so on.

    It could mean that they print on the wrong type poor quality paper, there could be colour casts, artefacts from printing at the wrong resolution, using a plain paper profile when using glossy photo paper, poor cropping to fit a certain paper size. I could go on.

    When they show that photo with its faults, the person they show it to won't know that you didn't print it and when they ask who did it and your name is mentioned, that person will make a note to not use your services.

    I know in the commercial world you often supply an unedited image, but the image is passed on to professionals who know how to edit images properly. Your average punter has little or no clue.

    Give the raw ingredients to a professional chef and you'll get a great meal. Give the exact same ingredients, and full instructions, to someone who hardly ever cooks and you can end up with a inedible disaster.

    And, knowing what people can be like, they will probably blame you as well.

    As a result, I will not just sell an unedited image where I have no control over end product's quality, or where I have no confidence in the person who is editing that photo. However, I am realistic and may sell a raw image - for a high price and with a signed contract saying that I am not named, etc., without at least inspecting the final edit and giving my approval.

  • Golfzilla October 1, 2010 09:33 am

    Hey, this is a simple business decision. Don't make it life or death, but CYA and make a few bucks in the process.

    In the days of film, there were lots of photographers that never touched a negative except to put it in a box. Someone else did the processing.

    There are lots of shooters that despise editing and would welcome such a deal. Also, think about "second shooters" at a wedding that never touch their files at all.

  • Mark October 1, 2010 09:31 am

    @Texan Mama

    The typical suburban mother would not know how to edit a JPG file much less a Camera RAW file so I guess the main point of all of this is that your post confused me. And that I am sorry if I offended you.

  • Mark October 1, 2010 09:26 am

    @Texan Mama

    I meant no disrespect, but your posting seemed to be off topic. You start by saying "I am just a novice..." and then you talk about Moms who cannot afford a professional photographer while then continuing to talk about "snapshots" and for the life of me, I could not connect this situation to the topic of discussion. What was really confusing is that you talked about adjusting "white balance" which would not be involved in selling RAW files. Mothers with young children would not know what to do with RAW files, and RAW files have nothing to do with "snapshots". So what did you really mean to say? I am sorry if I seem blunt or course, but many "novices" confuse terminology and might not know what a RAW file is.

  • jlmiller October 1, 2010 08:44 am

    I never sell anything but a completed hi-res jpeg with copyright on it. Selling the raw file allows the buyer to create the image the way they think it should be done and then they will blame you for the poor shooting if they cannot produce a good image. Big no no!!

  • Texan Mama October 1, 2010 08:36 am

    Yes, of course I shoot in RAW. And, while you certainly have a right to your opinion, you don't have to hammer me over the head with it.
    Your coarse response is why I've been apprehensive to respond with comments to other threads in the past. I was hoping this forum could be a place for learning and sharing opinions respectfully. I guess I was expecting too much.

  • Lon October 1, 2010 08:29 am

    Giving away your RAW images implies that someone else will do the post-processing. If I don't trust that the finished products will meet my standards I won't want to put my name on them, and I wouldn't see the point doing any post-processing myself. That takes away from what I as an artist am trying to do and it takes away part of my business. I think most photographers would want to avoid such a situation, because they'd have to charge more for their time and lost recognition, opportunities and business. If you and your clients care at all about the quality of your work then selling your RAW files is a liability.

    On the other hand it may be an opportunity to do more session-work if that's what you're into, and if it were part of a collaborative effort with a graphic designer and director I trusted to take those images to the next level, of course I want to share in the credit. It all depends how you want to market yourself and who you want to market yourself to.

  • rd October 1, 2010 08:06 am

    Depends on what you bought when you bought the photographer. I realize that places like Olin Mills (if they still exist) and other photo businesses only sold you photographs - so you wouldn't make a zillion copies and give them away. However - what's the real chance that you will ever use those raw photo's again? I agree you shouldn't give them away - hey - it was your time and your expertise. I also see no reason to keep them, whether you delete them or otherwise destroy them.

    If a client wants to edit your work, it doesn't necessarily mean they don't appreciate your work - if they didn't, they wouldn't have hired you.

    If you are selling a wedding album of 25 or a hundred images - then that is what they bought you for. If they subsequently would like to play with the raw - hey - they get to pay additional.

    My second question is why did you tell them you had raw anyway. Just be up front about what the client is getting from you. It's your job to do your usual best and make sure the client is happy with your work.

    As I said, I wouldn't give anything away, but if they want to purchase my raw work, time, expertise - hey - just how often do you throw your money away.

  • Noelle October 1, 2010 07:49 am

    I'd NEVER give away my RAW's. I do try to get the best SOOC photo I can but you only get one shot to make an amazing first impression and sometimes my RAW's don't give that amazing first impression I want. If you give away your RAW's they'll associate you with using cheap photoshop skills and not photographic skills. I'm also not willing to give away my photos for them to tweak. That's just insane to me!

  • Steve (keeping my amatuer status) October 1, 2010 07:24 am

    Why is everybody absolutely right and everybody else absolutely wrong?

    Strike a deal with the customer. If you will not surrender the RAW, then don't, but don't chastise others who do. I have hired contractors to do work on my house and kept certain tasks for myself. I have had a landscaper prep a garden bed, while I fully planned to do the planting myself. They have the equipment that I would deem single-use. I brought in their gear and their expertise for the segments of the task that I needed it for. A few general contractors didn't want me to do any of the work, so guess what... I didn't hire them!

    You are the only person you'll see when you look in the mirror. As long as you can do that and be content with your choices, more power to you!

  • Adam October 1, 2010 07:06 am

    I would disagree with your analogy to this point. The raw photograph isn't an ingredient, its the meal. The meal (photograph) has already been prepared through taking the picture. Any sort of editing done to the photo is similar to a master chef sprucing up the plate, adding parsley or arranging the plate in a more appetizing fashion, putting those little umbrellas in the drinks.

    I think as a photographic community we often lose sight of this. The original artwork is taking the picture, capturing the moment. Allowing the world to see its self through the photographers eye, as an artist does through painting. "Photoshopping" a photograph is sprucing up your image with things that were not necessarily on the plate in the first place.

  • AngryNick October 1, 2010 06:42 am

    Call me a wh0re, but I'll sell anything if the price is right. Yes, there are times when the negatives/RAW files should be held close, and other times when maybe they're only offered with a package, but I don't think you make a blanket statement that they should never be sold.

    Sometimes I think we take our profession to seriously, expecting to one day cash in on our righteousness and piety. Meanwhile, we're fighting for every dollar, shooting events we shouldn't, and otherwise commoditizing the industry to the point where department store studios can compete directly with the "artists" among us. Your RAW files might be the differentiator.

  • jm October 1, 2010 06:18 am

    You guys are breaking apart this chicken analogy too far. The point of the analogy is that the chef provides a value-added to the raw product. When you go to a restaurant, you should expect to get, and pay for, a final product.

    When you hire a photographer, you should expect to get, and pay for, a final product.

    It has nothing to do with food safety, salmonella, Whole Foods, or anything else you all are using as a red herring. Take a look at your own work and your own business practices, and take to heart some of the great points this article brings up. If a client wants to edit your work, it means they don't appreciate your work. Move on, next client please. If you don't seek out clients that value YOU, then you will burn out very quickly.

  • Gia October 1, 2010 06:03 am

    Many clients are apt at touching up RAW photos and many do ask for the RAW, so businesswise I actually think it is smarter to provide the RAW. On the other hand, I partially agree that that the finished photo is considered THE product (not the FINAL product) and often bears quite little significance to the RAW, therefore the photographer ranks higher in terms of skill etc... I think it is really down to the photographer to decide, everyone here acting as though there exists one universal answer to this question.... Both make sense, just the situation varies.

  • Mark October 1, 2010 05:37 am

    @Texan Mama

    Do you even shoot in RAW or just JPG???? This discussion is about the raw camera data that hits the sensor and selling that file without any adjustments! The major problem with this is that the customer may or may not do a quality job of interpreting that data and if they do it badly, it could ruin your reputation. Do you want your name connected to images that you did not process and finish??? I for one, want more control than that. What if they mess up the white balance, blow out the highlights and/or crush the blacks into a blurry mess??? Is that the kind of work that you want your name on???? It seems like the road to NO REFERRALS to me.

  • Texan Mama October 1, 2010 05:21 am

    I'm just a novice, so here's my 2 cents:
    Elizabeth Halford once told me: "Work smarter, not harder." If my client wants me to just shoot snapshots, then that's what I'm going to do. Along with my price for portraits, I also have a price for event photography that is specifically for snapshots only. It is designed to allow the client to hire a photographer to catch the memorable moments, but without breaking the bank. When I shoot an event and only do minimal tweaking (like cropping & white balance), I see it as doing just what Elizabeth suggested: working smarter, not harder. I am aiming my marketing towards moms who have lots of friends and can make lots of referrals. I also am thinking about moms who are a lot like me: if the price is right and not TOO high, I'll pay it. But I would never pay a professional photographer to come to my son's birthday party or my daughter's dance recital - it's just too expensive. I just end up taking the snapshots myself, and I miss enjoying the activity. But if I had a way to get the memories, on a budget, I would do that. THAT is why I am okay with taking decent snapshots and releasing the images. Granted, I would not release images that are bad or blurry or uncomplimentary. And, I will tweak for white balance and some cropping.

    I am just starting out, so my plan my change over time. Perhaps, once I've gotten more experience, I will quit releasing those files. But I think this is a service that many families would employ. At least, that's what my research has shown so far and that's what I'm hoping for.

  • Dan October 1, 2010 05:17 am

    As many have pointed out, the chicken/chef analogy is flawed in many ways. As many have mentioned, you can get raw ingredients from a grocery store, parbaked bread, etc. In addition to those situations, there are restaurants where the client (diner) selects their own ingredients rather than the chef. There are also restaurants where the client cooks their own food (a steak house in Texas comes to mind. Are there risks? Sure, but this is what the client/diner wants and it's the restaurants job to provide it.

    Much the same with photography. If you are running a business, you are fulfilling a client need. If the client needs the RAW or unedited photos, it's your job to figure out how to provide it to them in a manner that satisfactory (e.g. making sure they do not associate your name/company with work you did not approve) or letting the client know they need to go elsewhere.

    Another issue to consider is the changing times. More and more, people, especially younger people, are expecting raw/unedited files in a dump. I'm a photographer and a Photoshop geek, and while I couldn't shoot my own wedding due to the unfortunate inability to be in two places at once, I would actually like the opportunity to process the raw images myself, to do the selects and the tweaking and would seek out a photographer that would be willing to work with me in that way.

    In the end, however, it seems to me that as many before have stated, it depends on your business and situation. If your brand/company relies on only the best images being seen and associated with you, then perhaps selling the raw files is not an option you should entertain. The end product is what you're selling, the service, the actual act of photography is just a tool to get to the end product.

    If however, you feel that what you're providing to your client is a photography service which may or may not include the final end product, then you should definitely consider selling the raw images as I'm willing to bet that more and more people will be asking for them. . .

  • Anita October 1, 2010 04:34 am

    I wouldn’t entertain it in the vast majority of cases, but there are specific instances in which I can imagine that handing over the unedited files would make sense. The way I see it, and to take up the writer’s awful analogy, a photographer is more like a grocer than a chef, because photographers, depending on their style and specialization, can cater to two types of people:

    - People who are looking for ready-made products; this would be the majority of clients who are looking for portraits, event photos, product shots, whatever, and who don’t have the knowledge and/or ability to process these things themselves. For this category, I can understand the outrage at the idea of releasing unedited images.

    - People who are looking for raw products with the intent of applying a certain look to them themselves, and who do have the knowledge and ability to do it. These would be people like other photographers (if someone took my picture, I’d appreciate an edited copy so I can see their style as well as an unedited one to see what I might do with it), graphic designers who want to incorporate a photo into their work (and who, for whatever reason, do not resort to stock photography), web publishers who want to edit the image for their web site design, and other such creative professionals. In cases where having absolute control over the image is important, and when I can trust the person’s skill to not mistreat an image, I really don’t see the problem with releasing an unedited photo.

  • Becky October 1, 2010 04:17 am

    Personally I disagree with this article. I see no problem whatsoever with selling your RAW images. An image is so much more than just post-processing! I am engaged and have been looking around my area for a photographer that clicks with me and my style and vision- luckily I think I may have found one- and while I love his style and processing if I were to do a shoot with him I would want both the edited and unedited images.

    Yes, I would happily pay more for the RAW images- the only reason I would want them is so that I would have the originals of my special day to edit as I choose over time. Yes, I would still want his edited images as his vision and style is never going to be the same as mine- probably much better! Not to mention that I don't even have time to do much editing, it would be a very slow but memorable process. =) However, I would never dream of adding his name to one of the RAW images I would edit without asking for permission first.

  • Darryl Hill October 1, 2010 02:48 am

    First, I want to say that the idea of protecting your images from being misrepresented by a poor processing job is futile. Any final digital image can be touched up after the fact and probably to more detriment. Prints can be scanned and touched up after the fact, as well. On the flip side, a client might actually be able to do a better job than you. Your client might be Scott Kelby :-) I am all for "give the client what they want", but of course, charge a premium.

    On the other hand though, I totally agree with only release/show your best work. Therefore I would not release any bad RAW files; out of focus, bad composition, overly poor exposure, etc., even if they could somehow be rescued.

    One solution might be make them sign a contract that if the picture is shown/published, they must list/state the retoucher as well.

    My 2 cents.

  • TrentReznor October 1, 2010 02:08 am

    I don't see the point why you would be so bitchy about selling the RAW files. What's that crap about "People want to buy the finished product". How do you know what people want? Obviously that's NOT what they want or they wouldn't ask for the RAWs. Give the customer what he wants IF he's willing to pay for it.
    Many photographers give their customers choices like "black & white", "sepia" or color. That's it, although there are a quazillion ways to edit a photo. Your "artistic" sense of beauty might be completely different to the customers', why not give them the chance to get creative themselves? If they suck at editing photos, who's gonna know, you shot them in the first place? As soon as the customer gets the photos, they are his and whatever he does is his business. You should just distance yourself from anything derived of your work. You got paid for your work, you can't claim them for your portfolio, you can't do anything with those photos anyway, unless the customer signed a release. So WHY go through the hassle, the photos mean nothing to you but quite a lot to the customer and he's paid for them. Give him what he wants. If you're hired, you're not an artist, you're not creating art, you're doing a job and you do it the way the customer wants you to do it.

  • Ricky October 1, 2010 01:29 am

    There is no way I would sell or give my unfinished work to anyone. I do understand the argument, I'm just not going to buy into it. When I finish a photo session, my clients want the "FINISHED WORK" and that is what I give them. Since my name is tied to those pictures, I feel like I'm the only one that can and should be able to edit them, and I say so in my release to my clients.
    I haven't, so far, had any problems with anyone that wanted the unfinished pictures, which is good, because they would never get them.

  • Bill October 1, 2010 12:33 am

    I'm most enthused by how passionate so many photographers are on this subject--no matter which side of the debate they take.

    I think it all comes down to what works for a given business relationship (assuming that's what we are in fact talking about). There's a fine line between doing what we as photographers think is best for the client, and doing what the client thinks is best for the client. I tend to try to convince them that if they've hired me to produce photographs it involves post-production--even if it's as simple as subtle contrast and color tweaks. But if they insist on another approach, and they're willing to pay me accordingly, I believe I should provide it.

    Ultimately it's my choice: take the job or pass on the job. I make that choice all the time for things I don't want to shoot, or budgets that aren't ideal, or clients that just seem like a pain to work with. And I'm losing business when I do that, but that's in an effort to gain business in other ways. In this case, theoretically the jobs you would lose to the clients who want RAW may be recouped by the clients who see only stellar work with your name on it and hire you because of it.

    I guess ultimately what I'm trying to say is that if you draw that line in the sand--ANY line in the sand--understand that you will lose jobs. That's okay, even beneficial to your business in the long term, as long as you're making an educated decision. And a forum like this is a great way to get educated on how other photographers are handling it.

  • John Doe September 30, 2010 11:36 pm

    I am only an amateur photographer and not a pro so take my opinion for what it is worth. First off, your comparison to a plate of raw chicken is not valid. Nobody gets sick or dies on a raw image. You are comparing virtual goods to physical goods and in most cases there is no real comparison to be made.

    I can summarize my opinion by saying that the digital cat is out of the digital bag and is not going back in. This is the information age and people are becoming more and more tech savvy. They know you have unedited raw files and they know you have hundreds if not thousands of them. Your deal should be to deliver the best product you can. Part of the product, for those that want it, should be image files, raw or edited, whichever they prefer. Also part of that product is an education as to what they are receiving. That is also part of the expectation management you mention. An educated customer is a good customer.

  • Eric Blair September 30, 2010 11:35 pm

    Actually, I think the raw ingredients aren't the unedited digital files, but rather the subject and the light. I would liken setting the exposure and framing the image within the camera to cooking and preparing a meal. The final post-processing might be compared with seasoning a meal, or maybe dressing it up for presentation...just giving it that last bump to make it that much more special.

  • John September 30, 2010 11:29 pm

    This could not have come at a better time. In the last two days I have been somewhat embroiled in a battle with a talent agency. My package had generally included small watermarked versions of ALL photos after I had done a batch color correction and a few minor crops. As a courtesy to my clients the agency was always given a copy of the talents photos. I had recently come to the decision that no longer would any images leave my hands that were less than what I would want published. This is not going to go well with the agency, but neither will my change from an unlimited license to one with tighter controls. Once burned twice learned. Its up to us as copyright holders to protect our image. I really appreciate the restaurant analogy, it gives additional reasons to go forward with my plans

  • Gemma September 30, 2010 10:18 pm

    ooops, I am not the post Author :)

  • Gemma (Post Author) September 30, 2010 10:17 pm

    Great article Liz,
    and interesting to read through the responses.

    Control over editing is such a personal thing, especially at the RAW stage. This is something I prefer to always do myself.

    I only supply RAWS to advertising clients and these terms are well established prior to the shoot. Everyone else gets JPEGS or TIFFS and that seems to work just fine.

  • Lee September 30, 2010 06:20 pm

    There are famous painters who set up the whole raw composition and together with pupil painters finish the work.

    If the customer of your photography is somebody who want to put the your picture on a wall, the answer is simple: provide the end result.
    If the customer however is another artist, reusing your "base" work into a magazine, or as part of a new composition. Yes I can imagine that he/she likes your "raw" work, and so have maximum freedom to use your picture in a new context. If you don't like that, don't sell.

    Lee Smith

  • Mark September 30, 2010 05:58 pm


    You are correct, an international ad agency does qualify as a special case but then we would be working with a very specific contract and all of us would know the expectations in advance! And it is my experience that you know you are asking for more, so you pay for that privilege. The printers I have worked with are in CMYK and would not accept an RBG image anyways! And I would guess that your bad experiences were with questionable photographers. If their work flow in RAW produced blown highlights and crushed blacks, they are not very experienced!!!

  • Your Competition September 30, 2010 05:35 pm

    I urge all my competitors to do that. Meanwhile, I'll provide services the customer wants that they can't get from anyone else. :-)

  • Mark September 30, 2010 05:26 pm

    I've received processed TIF and PSD from photographers that looked stunning on their photo proofs, but the supplied RGB files are not useful for production; crushed blacks, blown out highlights, products not matching the products shot, pretty important data. For processing images for print; newsprint, magazine, building wraps etc, having the RAW file allows us to make our final image for the paying client, which isn't the agency.

    We've worked with photographers who are hesitant to hand over RAW files, but for us it's a deal breaker. The idea of the artist (photographer) controlling the final output is outdated, a licensed image becomes an asset, the clients asset, and the more it can be used the more valuable it becomes to the client. It's the photographers job, and retoucher and production company to ensure this is the best quality is all stages possible with education and advice.

    OK, an international ad' agency maybe isn't your typical client and doesn't scale down to John and Anne Does Wedding shoot, but maybe John works in advertising too ;-)

  • Mark September 30, 2010 04:23 pm

    I have often heard RAW files compared to "digital negatives" and wish that was the truth. RAW files are not even the quality of a film negative if you do not run a workflow on them. Film negatives had the saturation and contrast that was close to acceptable for printing although most great film photographers used some dodge and burn among other tricks in the darkroom for final prints. RAW files are just the data that the sensor picked up and are very flat and low contrast images until you set the white balance, saturation and other adjustments before exporting. That is why I believe that a high res TIFF or PSD file as the output from my RAW file would be the minimum quality that I am comfortable selling in MOST CASES. That output would be more comparable to a film negative in reality.

  • Mark September 30, 2010 04:13 pm

    @ mike

    Another thing to think about: if you give them the raw file you might just as well sell them the copyright at the same time. This is essentially "work for hire" again. Now in work for hire, they should pay me for my labor AND rent my camera, lenses, tripod and other equipment. If you just charge them labor they should supply everything you need!!!! So work for hire jobs are EXPENSIVE if you do it correctly!!!

    I don't know what you have invested in equipment, but almost any time I go out to shoot, I have about $5000 US in my backpack and I am just an amateur! If I only charge for my time, how do I pay for all of this equipment and future replacements??? This is a basic idea in business: you have to be making enough to cover your tools or you will not be in business for very long!!! And if you question the price of my backpack, add up two Canon L series lenses, two other prime lenses, a Canon XSi, extra batteries, a stack of 58mm filters plus another stack of 77mm filters, shutter releases, two tripods, and miscellaneous goodies and you get there very fast!

  • Mark September 30, 2010 03:56 pm


    What you say is true, however they could really screw up the post processing and then put your name on it if you don't have a contract stipulating the usage of the RAW file. And what if they just take it straight from the raw file with little or no processing? RAW files are very flat with little contrast or saturation when converted using no work flow process! Do you really want everyone to think that you are a lousy photographer because of the poor job that they did to your raw file???

  • mike September 30, 2010 03:39 pm

    Most of you are putting no value in what leads up to the actual shot. If they want it raw, they can have it. My skill comes in getting a good shot, not the editing.

  • Mark September 30, 2010 03:30 pm

    After rereading my first post, I should make it clear. I have no problem with doing "work for hire" if they are willing to pay enough. I don't think that keeping the copyright to images is the most important thing for me. I much prefer to pay my bills and buy new lenses! But if I take a work for hire job, it will pay enough to be worth it to me or I will pass.

  • Mark September 30, 2010 03:24 pm

    Every thing has a price! I don't care what it is, period.

    However, to get my RAW files is going to take more than the average consumer can afford, AND they better not use my name on their processed images!!!! Once they take control of the quality of the final product, it is not my work and they better not damage my reputation.

    I can understand a news outlet asking for both a final jpg file to use and a RAW file to prove that the image was not manipulated to change the content, but I would be willing to show then the RAW one time and promise to keep it safe for future legal action at no charge as a preferred way rather than asking them to pay the HUGE price I would need to sell them a RAW file. Advertising agency's are another place where RAW files might be asked for, but I would again hesitate to part with them. I would propose to supply a high res TIFF or a PSD file instead of the RAW. That should be workable for them and I would retain some control of the quality of the final product.

    The bottom line is that the only way to part with a RAW file is to make it legally unusable, unless you are selling the copyright with it. That brings up the question of advertising agency's again. In most cases, you are doing "work for hire" where they own the copyright and have every right to demand the RAW files. IF you are totally freelance and not doing work for hire, they have no rights to anything but the final product and that should be negotiated beforehand.

    If I own the copyright, they are going to pay dearly for a RAW file and they are signing a contract stipulating that I own the copyright and giving them limited usage for a specific purpose and giving me rights to reject the final product before public use. So what is in it for them???

  • Daniel Korzeniewski September 30, 2010 02:01 pm

    I couldn't agree more, I have requests to get the original raw very often, but I try to do my best to be polite and explain the reasons of why I not do that....

  • djdawson September 30, 2010 01:40 pm

    I think a better analogy is that the unprocessed images are like the negatives in the film world. I think it's sometimes appropriate to sell the negatives/unprocessed images, such as cases where the buyer wants all the rights to the images and their future use. A lot of the work needed to produce the final image goes into the composition, lighting, etc., and not just in the post processing, so it doesn't seem unreasonable to sell that work. Also, in the area of news/journalism one could reasonably argue that there are situations where *only* the unedited images should be sold.

  • Dan September 30, 2010 01:34 pm

    Alright, I had a comment all typed up when I realized I might be arguing the wrong point.

    If a client wants the RAW image files, set a price. If they don't agree, then they or you won't book the session. Set it in the contract right away and it becomes a non-issue.

    Is this article a result of mentality-holdover similar to the massive blind-spot the RIAA seems to be suffering from or am I just expanding "RAW image" to encompass any digital copy of a photographer's work?

    Because I would much rather have digital copies than prints. Heck, I'd like processed AND raw copies, just so I can remind myself why I hired a professional photographer to take and post-process some pictures of stuff.

    I can't say I agree with the analogy of the cook at a restaurant, though. The comparable photography situation would be the hired pro handing the client the camera, some lenses, an SD card, and saying "hit it, and keep the files".

  • Adam September 30, 2010 01:20 pm

    I'm happy that you don't want to sell your RAWs. Your call. But it's silly for you to claim to speak for all photographers in all circumstances and say never do that.

  • DrGerm September 30, 2010 12:47 pm

    Fine analogy with the restaurant cook. Likens your images to something that is consumed in a few minutes and turns to poop the next day.

  • cavale September 30, 2010 12:18 pm

    it looks like that lady just killed that man and is about to start eating him.

  • Joseph Woodworth September 30, 2010 12:11 pm

    Some of my favorite restaurants here involve cooking my own meat and vegetables.... It`s a product with a buyer, it might be niche, but I doubt it is something that shouldn`t be done - though a very clear contract is probably needed

  • GS September 30, 2010 11:56 am

    Well said...I like the analogy! If someone wants you to take photos of them but they want to do the "processing", then they better show up with their own camera and take it home from there. If one is hired to take photos, then he/she should finish the job! I'm not going to hire a handyman to do a job, let him bring all the materials to my house, and tell him I'm going to do it myself! I want a finished product!!

  • Rich D., Wedding Photographer September 30, 2010 11:42 am

    Consumer Clients (weddings, portraits, seniors, etc.):

    My opinion is absolutely not. The point of running a photography business is to create art and profit. By handing over the RAW files , you immediately begin reducing your profit, and you no longer control the quality of the finished product.

    Thus, you potentially harm your own reputation if the client is an amateur and people see what he or she adjusted and printed.

    Even if you sell (not give away) the RAW files, you are still reducing the potential you could earn in selling prints, albums and other products.

    Consumers pay for service. They do not pay for copyrights and proprietary products (i.e., RAW files).

    Commercial Clients (small to mid-size jobs):

    For head shots, PR assignments, and corporate events, I wouldn't give or sell the RAW files. Same rules as consumers.

  • Tim September 30, 2010 11:13 am

    You've made a comparison to the chef - but that choice was biased around how you see yourself & your skills.
    There are plenty of other jobs that we could compare a photographer to, and doing so would lead to a different conclusion.
    e.g. A butcher. There's a lot involved in being a good butcher - finding the best dead cows and turning them into beautiful steaks - but there's more work to be done after the butcher has finished their job.

    Underlying your comments seems to be the foundation that you see yourself first-and-foremost as an artist.
    So, you want clients to hire you on those terms.
    That's a good thing - if that's the approach you take, then you need your clients to understand it, and be happy with what that means.
    But you also need to realise that a decision you have made about how you want to position yourself.

    But an artist is not the only type of photographer and it's not the only market for photographic work.

    Some photographers see themselves as people who take good photos. Once there's a photo, they've done their job. There's both skill and art in taking a good photo, and not everyone wants to spend their time in lightroom/photoshop - nor is every gig is asking for it.

    It's perfectly fine for some gigs to just be a person for hire. "Here's $x to come and spend a few hours applying your craft behind a camera". At the end of the gig you hand over the photos and the job is done.
    You need a certain type of client to make that work, but that doesn't make it "bad" or "wrong"

    Different jobs, different people, different rules.

    The most important thing for a photographer is to work out which types of jobs they're happy to take on, and which ones they're not.
    If you're the artist type, and only want to provide polished, processed prints, then make that clear to clients, and don't accept a job that requires a different approach.
    If your great love is standing behind the viewfinder, and you find laying out photo-albums and books to be incredibly boring, then don't take those jobs.

    But it's also important not to get upset when other photographers have different rules to you, and take jobs that you would turn down.

  • Bill September 30, 2010 11:03 am

    I once interviewed a very, very successful commercial photographer--world class, I'd dare say--and I asked him about turning over unprocessed, unretouched digital files. He didn't hesitate to say that he absolutely would sell them. "They're the client," he said. "If that's what they want, I'm happy to provide it." He went on to say that he'd be more than happy to finish them (for a fee) as that's how he prefers to work. But if that's what the client wants, so be it.

    I think the analogy about 'condiments on the side' is fairly accurate. Though I'd go so far as to say it's more like asking for all of the spices--in unmeasured quantities--served on the side. The meal would be edible but bland without them. And seasoned by the customer it might taste fine, maybe even more to the customer's liking, but it probably still won't taste as undeniably great as if you'd just allowed the chef to do his job.

    It's no fun when people undervalue your expertise, and that's basically what a client is saying when they ask for a RAW file: "I can finish this just as well, or in fact better, than you could." They're probably wrong, but that's their prerogative.

  • Heather Katsoulis September 30, 2010 10:37 am

    For me, I just wouldn't want someone to edit a photo poorly, then print it with little to no color correction, on less than high quality printers and papers then say to someone, "hey look what my photographer did."

    I must maintain the quality control of my seen work.

  • Stephanie September 30, 2010 09:48 am

    This is a really hard question.

    On one hand, I can understand wanting to have RAW images as a consumer.

    BUT as a photographer, I have dealt with issues where we wish that we hadn't provided images and let the client edit them.

    We shoot a lot of headshots and it's "standard" to give the client high-resolution versions of all gallery images. We do this for those clients and also include a certain number of retouched images in their package, but in one case, the client wanted extra images retouched but didn't want to fork over the $25-35 each, so s/he had [a relative] do the work for free. When we saw the finished results with our name attached to it -- AGHH. It makes you cringe, really.

    I am cool with people expressing their own artistic sensibilities or whatever, but the issue is, whether you like it or not, your clients ARE posting/sharing these photos and labeling them with YOUR name, even if they photoshopped the heck out of their skin or ridiculously amped up the saturation or any number of egregious crimes. The biggest fear is that a badly-edited shot might give a potential client the wrong idea of your style, or that it might turn someone important (like an agent, in our example) off of you entirely. And if your client has your RAW images, well, they have even more control of the photos.

    Does that mean we'll stop giving out high-res photos? No. But are we giving them RAW? No. Way.

  • JT September 30, 2010 09:48 am

    I just went through this with some clients. I think that the Chicken analogy stands well. There are two things to consider; digital photography requires good editing (especially with RAW) and the client is hiring you for the finished product be it jpeg files or slideshows, dvds etc. (not just prints).

    By having a client purchase the RAW files it basically says to the photographer "I can do this better than you" The point about companies needing the RAW is true but they also have a team of designers that know what to do with the files. They also are buying the files for the subject and that subject will most likely get a pro treatment and be used for a specific purpose.

    For most, they are purchasing the final product. I mean, I would love to just fire away and then just dump my files on the clients computer, but I believe there is more to it than that. The treatment that the photographer give the image in the digital darkroom adds a lot more to the image. This is a big thing to consider.

  • Justin September 30, 2010 09:43 am

    I consider myself an artist not a photographer........that being said would an artist sell you a half painted oil painting with thier name signed on the bottom? Probably not.

  • Seneschal September 30, 2010 09:35 am

    There really is no right or wrong answer, only matter of opinions.

    Personally, I think not selling something is bad business. I'm a small outfit... if someone wants to buy something (meaning give me money) then I'll sell it to them. Granted, I've never been asked for the RAW images... Most customers are shaky on zip files. So

    Anyway, if a customer asked me for the RAW files, my response would be 'yes', then I'd name a price. Why wouldn't I proide something the customer wants/requested and is will to pay for?

    Also, I really don't like the raw-chicken-to-hungry-customer analogy. Because a photo client who wants to edit RAW files is nothing like a hungry customer at a restaurant. Why not just give the would-you-sell-a-well-water-bucket-to-a-person-who-is-trapped-inside-a-burning-building analogy?

    Bottom line, if the customer wants a service that I can provide, I'm offering it. Kudos to the people who don't want to sell their customers products and services for money... I'll take their money WHILE making them happy (and yes, someone who will request a RAW file isn't too stupid to understand what a RAW file is). I don't like the implication that customers are too stupid for their own good.

  • Chris September 30, 2010 09:11 am

    I also will not use a photographer that doesn't provide digital files. I have little to no use for prints. If your pricing model is based off selling prints then you need to add another option. Don't undersell your service, it might be prohibitively expensive to purchase the files but at least make the option available if requested up front.

  • Debbie September 30, 2010 08:50 am

    I agree that there are some instances where yes, we do sell the unprocessed file....and sometimes not. If I were hired to do a wedding, then the client is purchasing a completed photo, and the chicken analogy would be a perfect comparison. If I am hired to take a particular shot that will be used by my client in their business, then I am being paid for the file, not the photo.....and my prices would reflect the difference.

  • Matt Austin Smith September 30, 2010 08:41 am

    Are you insinuating that the photographer did not account for the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focal distance and composition of the original RAW file? All of these things are usually accounted for before the shutter clicks. Therefore there should be some value to a RAW unedited image based on skill, technical ability, composition and schooling (degree/years of experience).

    Just a thought.


  • Michael September 30, 2010 07:56 am

    Whole Foods is perfectly willing to sell me a parbaked loaf of bread when I ask them so that I can finish baking it at home. Since there's not a risk of food poisoning with raw digital images, that's a better analogy. You're worried that the client won't value your talent at choosing composition, focal length, or exposure, your people skills at getting the posed shots you want and your ability to be unobtrusive when shooting candids, and all the other reasons that go into hiring a photographer other than your finishing and editing skills. Show your clients the strength of your finishing and editing skills, and then respect them enough to make a decision if they want to tackle some of that themselves.

  • Joe September 30, 2010 07:45 am

    I think selling RAW photos is more akin to ordering a meal and asking for the condiments on the side, so you can tweak the final product to your taste.

  • Mark September 30, 2010 07:44 am

    I wouldn't book a photographer UNLESS I had the RAW files. If I've paid for the session, and this is the 21st century, so I don't need prints, there's no way I'd give photographer a model release form if they won't give me RAW. Same for my business (advertising), we only accept RAW files or DNG.

    I understand I'm a niche customer, most people don't make their own print profiles at home, but if a photographer point blank refuses to deliver RAW, then they won't get my business.

  • Swashbuckler September 30, 2010 07:34 am

    Uh... I see a whole lot of words, but only one nebulous analogy to raw chicken here. Would a chef sell someone a raw apple? Yep.

    So, to go back to your chicken analogy, would you care to put a little meat on the bone? In other words WHY would you not recommend doing this? Makes the photographer look bad? Cuts into profits? Something? ANYTHING?

  • heather September 30, 2010 07:29 am

    Thank you for writing this! :D this is very encouraging to me. I was the person who started the discussion on your last article, because I have been really struggling with this issue with clients. I've been really degraded and very rudely used. Thanks to your help, and the help and suggestions of others, I will never again allow it to happen with any other clients. I was afraid and worried I wasn't being a good enough photographer because I wasn't doing what they had asked... Though in my case, I was so taken advantage of, I lost a lot of money and work in the process. So, anyone reading this, take it from me, DO NOT SELL OR GIVE AWAY pictures that are not your finest work. If it's a bad picture, or you don't deem it your finest work, then don't even consider it taken.

    Thank you for your help. I've learned a lot, and lost a lot, but I'm back on my feet ready to go back at it, and try this again. This time with the knowledge you have given to me.


  • Paul September 30, 2010 07:26 am

    Couldn't you just as easily compare it to a grocery store where they both sell the ingredients and also sell prepared food? Acting like there is only one answer to this question is ridiculous. What's the pain in selling the raw images at a higher price? I just don't see the downside.

  • Adrien September 30, 2010 07:25 am

    This is so deeply wrong. A plate of raw chicken did not require any work from a cook, it's just the most basic starting point of his work.

    An unedited photo, on the other hand is the fruit of a work. What lens should I use ? What aperture/ISO/shutter speed ? What angle? How should I compose my shot ?

    Taking a picture is much more important for the final result than buying a piece of chicken (unless you consider that all your added value resides in your editing capacities), and no, SOOC images are not just an ingredient.

  • Matthew Dutile September 30, 2010 07:21 am

    The answer is conditional to what type of photography you are in. In wedding and portrait photography I would say that it's not the best business model. In commercial photography you're often selling a RAW image, especially if the client would like that for their graphic designers to edit in a specific manner. So yes and no.

  • Jared Polin September 30, 2010 07:18 am

    I dont think you should sell your RAW files as a lot of what makes my images pop is how I post process my files. Its like Ansel Adams selling his terribly exposed negatives to someone and seeing what they do with them. What made is work so good is his post processing.

    So no I don't think you should really ever turn over your raw files to let other people tweak them when your the artist behind the image.

    Jared Polin AKA the FRO