If you've been doing photography long enough, or even if you happen to be starting out and are providing your services in a very metropolitan area, chances are you've come across a client or 2 that has asked for your RAW files.
So what do you do? Do you give them the files without a second thought? Or, do you tell them (in the nicest way possible) there's no way that's going to happen?
Here's my take on the situation.
I've been shooting for almost 7 yrs now.
Wait, seriously, weird how 7 yrs just happens lol
Anyway, I shoot mostly domestic type things: families, kids, couples, yada, yada... and I've honestly lucked out on the type of client I attract for the most part. They see that I shoot a certain way that is more natural and light driven and clients come to me for that specific style I've created.
However, I'm not immune to the occasional, 'I don't need the images edited/ converted/ whatever.' conversation. Which really has only happened a sprinkle of times, but can still turn into a bit of a pain to deal with if you happen to have a very persistent client.
Recently, this did happen where the client was very persistent (which is what spurred the birth of this article).
Generally speaking, people who want to gain something specific from a shoot will ask upfront about it. I am personally this way when I plan shoots that are separate from my job and appreciate anyone who knows how to do this. So before booking, clients should ask if the photographer can accommodate whatever their request may be. It's not only polite, it's common sense to only do business with the person you believe can provide the service you are looking for.
Now, assuming you've had a talk and everyone is on the same page, you should be good to go. If you haven't had a talk, you're still fine if you have it written somewhere on your website, contract, or wherever what sort of images you will be providing. Most clients assume they will be getting some sort of digital file(s), but if you don't have it written somewhere, you need to do that now and specify what type(s) of images you will be releasing. If there is a miscommunication (as there seemed to be in my recent case), this written statement is what you will need to reference (possibly multiple times).
Now, the end to my story is that I didn't end up giving the client the RAW files they kept trying to say I agreed to give them. 1) because there's no way I would have ever done that and the many written emails and statements on my website say exactly what clients receive after shooting. 2) because she wouldn't pay for them.
That's right. I don't mind giving my RAW files to clients who ask for them, but only if they pay the price.
As far as photographers go, I'm pretty laid back. With clients, I have a little consultation, we talk, we laugh; We shoot, we talk, we laugh, we hug; I give them their photos where I leave some of the 'you blinked one wonky eye while sneezing' ones, we laugh, they pick their selections, we part ways with mutual thanks. So I'm not opposed to giving away freebies and RAW files.
I do charge for the RAW files though because of what it can mean for your business.
Depending on what and how you shoot, your finished images could look very different from what the camera initially captures. If you are a photographer that is really good at editing and you provide excellent edited photos after a shoot, releasing your RAW images, could be detrimental to your brand. If you are a beginning photographer who is just working out the kinks and just don't want clients to see what an image started from to what you shaped it to be, releasing RAW files should not be for you. But, if you are like me and your clients expect photos that are minimally edited and generally meant to look like you haven't touched them. You have the option of selling your RAW files.
Selling. That is the key word here. I say you can sell your RAW files because of 3 things:
Art is still a business, and that is supplemental income
Once those RAW files are in someone else's hands, it's not necessarily the lack of contrast and 'pop' that will kill you; it's the subjective editing the person who is not you will do to the image that they will likely then post onto social media and slap your name on (if they are familiar with internet photo etiquette).
Because you will lack the creative control over in-depth editing now, you should be monetarily rewarded for the potential clients you could lose, or the headache you may get from the new ones that see this 'not your style' edited photo, book shoots and then want to do the same thing or want the look you didn't fully create.
All in all, what you choose to do with your RAW files is your choice and the conversation about it with a client can be hard. Try to explain why you don't give them out (if you don't) instead of just saying no. You can use the "Cake" method - RAW files are flour... if that helps. Generally, I just let clients know that they don't need them and jpegs are actually much better for them for a variety of reasons. However, if they still really want those RAW files, they can pay for them.