If you are a hobbyist or just getting into photography you may have heard of a term floating around called RAW files. RAW files are a pivotal point of photography and necessary to understand if you’re hoping to grow as a photographer. Without said what are they? In short RAW files are original and uncompressed images straight from the camera. This means that they hold more information in the file and are significantly larger than other files like jpegs & tiff. RAW files are quite literally raw images; as they are the images that were shot in camera without editing.
There is a lot of controversy in the realm of photography about giving your RAW files to clients. If you are a photographer you may know the struggle of clients asking for your RAW images. And if you are a client please stop asking your photographer for the RAW files. We’re begging you! A lot of the time clients don’t really understand why there is so much stigma around asking for RAW images; so I wanted to take the time to explain it because some people genuinely don’t know the reasons why photographers hate when you ask for them. So grab a cup of coffee and keep reading while I explain all of the reasons why photographers don’t give out their RAW files.
The primary reason photographers don’t like to give their RAW images is because they had spent a great amount of time culling through the images and editing all of the best ones. I promise your photographer is not withholding any images that are worthy of seeing. Most of the images that don’t make the cut are blurry, have weird faces, or are not composed properly. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Photographers love upselling! If you package that was for X amount of photos but there ended up being a great deal of useable content photographers will try and upsell you the additional ones! A lot of people ask photographers for the RAW images because they want to cull through the photos themselves, but trust me photographers spend a great deal of time culling through the images picking and editing the very best ones. It is a waste of a photographers precious spending hours culling and editing to just to give clients all of the unedited photos. Photographers are paid for more than just shooting your images.
This goes into my next topic which is the fact that photographers edit the RAW images. When someone is buying images from a photographer they are paying for their art; which comes with their artistic approach to editing as well as the photos they deem worthy to show. When you ask for RAW images from your photographer it is almost undermining the hours of work that they put into transforming your images into artwork. Additionally, it leads photographers vulnerable to clients editing their RAW images; which ultimately alters the stylistic approach to the images they created. Photographers work incredibly hard keeping a consistent brand and unique editing style and giving out their RAW files threatens their artistic approach. Building a brand is difficult and photographers have to ensure that future clients are seeing accurate representations of their work on social media platforms.
Another major reason why photographers do not give their RAW files for free or at all is because when they do so it is relinquishing their rights to the photos. Photographers are always on edge making sure that their images do not get stolen, especially because the digital age makes this incredibly easy. Having the original RAW files aids a photographer in the event of a legal action because it is definite proof that the images belong to them. This isn’t to say that a client cannot purchase ownership of the photographs, but photographers are at their own discretion to charge you want they feel is appropriate pricing for ownership of their work.
Another reason photographers get frustrated when clients ask for the RAW images is the fact that the images are incredibly large and not easily accessible. As I had previously mentioned RAW files are obnoxiously large in their format. To give you perspective a jpeg file is around 4MB while a RAW file is around 20MB. Typically when I shoot a standard portrait session the RAW files take up anywhere from 10 to 20 GB. The files are so large that they cannot permanently live on my desktop, but are rather transferred onto an external drive that is 1TB. It also take a very long time to upload and transfer the RAW files. Additionally, RAW files can only be viewed through photo specific applications like Photoshop and Lightroom. So unless you know your way around Photoshop and Lightroom it wouldn’t be useful to have RAW files, because they are not something you could even view without those applications.
I hope that shed some light onto the reasons why photographers don’t hand out their RAW files for those of you who didn’t know. I also hope that if you are a beginning photographer you learned a little bit about RAW files, and can now make the an educated decision as to how you would handle this situation. The moral of the story is photographers are not gatekeeping their RAW files, but rather they just hold a lot of meaning to us; so next time if you do ask for them just be nice we get the question more than you would think!