Why Don’t Professional Photographers Give Customers All the Files?

It’s very common for a professional photographer to have a customer ask to be given all of the photo files from a day of shooting. Invariably, the photographer will try to persuade the customer against it, or even refuse outright. It leaves some customers confused—or possibly even angry. So why won’t your photographer let you have the product of the entire photo shoot?

What Is the Customer Entitled To?

In reality, the customer has no right to the work in progress. If you were commissioning a painting, would you later demand all of the sketches and studies that went into the finished piece? Or if you had a dress made, would you ask for the muslin fitting trials or the fabric cut-offs? Or the stone chips leftover from the carving of a sculpture? Obviously not. However, asking to be given every shot taken during a session amounts to the same thing. The photos that are not used are cast-offs, the detritus left over as an artist works on a beautiful piece. There can be no benefit to seeing these unused, unnecessary bits of material.

But, you’re still asking, what’s the harm in having all of the photos? There can be a good deal of harm done to the professional photographer. If a customer were to show these unedited, cast-off photos to friends and family, it could seriously harm the photographer’s reputation. A professional artist shows off his best work after all of the very best photos have been chosen and edited to their greatest advantage for pictures of the most supreme quality and beauty. Having raw, discarded photos represented to others as his work, as pieces that were supplied to a customer, would make a photographer look unprofessional and inept.

The Truth Behind a Photo Session

Let’s face it, not every photo is going to come out perfectly. A photographer will take many, many photos during your session—hundreds of them in total. From these, she will cull the very best, the ones that are most flattering to you, and have the most potential to be works of art. And then she will perfect them, editing them until they are the best they can be, balanced and natural. These edited photos will show the best possible you, which is what you want out of your pictures, right? Wading through hundreds of unedited, unused photos, sometimes dozens of the same pose with only minute differences… there is nothing to be gained from this when your professional photographer will hand you the very best shots, edited to the best possible standard.

The photos that aren’t chosen to be edited were left behind for a reason. No one wants to think of themselves as unphotogenic, but sometimes a shot will be plain unflattering, or from a bad angle, or will unintentionally highlight flaws. No matter how much a customer assures a photographer that they will not be upset by the raw, unedited stack of hundreds of photos, this invariably turns out to be the case. The customer sees themselves portrayed in unflattering ways in these unused photos and becomes upset. They’re left feeling doubtful about their photographer’s abilities. If the photos are of a particularly important occasion, like commemorating an engagement or the birth of a child, the emotions attached to these photos can be very high. And no one wants to see a newly engaged woman burst into tears when she sees her photos for the first time!

Trust the Professional

If you still want to see all of the photos, ask yourself why. Is it possible there might be a really great shot hiding amongst all of those discards—something that you might be missing out on? Your photographer has carefully combed through all of the photographs and has just as carefully chosen the very best to be edited and presented to you for your album or for framing. Trust that s/he has created these for you from the very best shots of your session together. S/he is just as interested as you are in having those photos be beautiful and memorable, highlighting the photographer’s talent and hard work. Your photographer knows his art, and you chose him for a reason, trusting him to capture your image and your essence. Now trust him to complete his work, to find the true gems among the photos, and to make them shine.

About the Author:
Alexander Soloviev is a family photographer based in Wiltshire, UK. Alexander does a wide variety of photography related to people and their activities: family, parties, weddings, events, personal profiles, nurseries, schools—you name it! Pet photography (especially horses) is another object that tightly connects to everyday human life.

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89 responses to “Why Don’t Professional Photographers Give Customers All the Files?”

  1. Deborah says:

    Great article. Never thought of it that way.

  2. JG says:

    I understand your argument but strongly disagree. I am a an avid amateur (and occasional professional) photographer as well as a customer of photographic services. When I have hired someone to document an event, say my wedding, I have always asked upfront for the full set of RAW photos in addition to the processed photos. My reasons are this: I paid mainly for someone’s time, as the subject I feel a sense of ownership to my likeness (especially after paying someone to capture it), RAW processing gets better over time so I don’t want lowly JPGs or prints that degrade, and I may want to process an image in an alternate way. I imagine the last point is blasphemy to you but that is the world we live in — no one person holds the keys to the castle. Paying clients deserve the full output of the creative process, sketches and all, if it is agreed upon and they pay for it. If that doesn’t work you for fine but you won’t be shooting for me in the future.

    • Scott says:

      JG – if you hired me and wanted the RAW’s, I would pass. You not only hire for skills of operating a camera, you are also getting good editing with hiring a photographer. Do you give your RAW files out when you do work for someone? Do you ask for the left over rubber from the set of tires you just purchased? The analogies could go on and on, but the bottom line sounds like you are a control freak and don’t trust anyone but yourself, which is totally fine, just take your own pictures, and edit them yourself. I think the only people you will find to photograph you are from Craigslist looking to start out and don’t know better.

      • Laura says:

        I agree with Scott! Great article. Thank you!

      • BORIS says:

        Scott, your analogy as analogies used in this article are flawed.
        Many amateur photographer are better in editing than photographers themselves. Many times a person have skills to do job has to hire another photographer as they are part of the events. An example. Recently I had baby boy born. In the hospital there was photographer who insisted to take picture of our boy and even unprofessionally interfered with work of nurses. She took maybe 30 pictures and some of them were decent shots, but her editing skills were horrible. Her edited JPGs came out unusable. I did not purchase and I didn’t have the option to get RAW images. I would have fix her mistakes. Her only advantage was that she had photo props.
        As you see RAW images are not left over marble from a sculpture or rubber from set of tires. RAW images are blueprints for a house. As customer I do have right for blueprints to my house from commissioned architect. Capish?!

        • Tom says:

          The analogies the author uses are perfect.

          However, yours is flawed. Using your analogy, the photographer would be the homeowner and the images are the blueprints.

          You have no right to her RAW files or anything else…they’re hers. You see, Boris, even bad art is protected by copyright. And just because you weren’t happy with the final images, doesn’t give you special rights above hers. Should of hired a photographer you trusted based on a portfolio – you had nine months to find one.


      • Jesse says:

        My thinking is this, if you pay for me to give you 6-10 prints great, that’s what you get. If you want to buy my copyright on those photos so you can do your own editing and printing, then even better. But you will pay extra for that copyright. And if you want to buy my copyright on all 100 photos I took at your event. AWESOME! You are welcome to buy my copyright on every one of them. I encourage you to. But I hope you brought your wallet, otherwise they belong to me!

        • ogs says:

          Exactly right. I believe everyone should negotiate fairly and be upfront before the event takes place. The client is told that I usually shoot and then retouch a predetermined amount of photos, say 10 images. The client has the option to purchase an additional set of retouched images. They can also purchase the entire shoot’s raw images and accompanying copyright for an added (significant) price. Who knows maybe they are an amateur retoucher who wants to play around in Photoshop later, I won’t stop them! No way they are getting the whole day’s shoot by default though, it just doesn’t represent my true, finished work. Navigating these situations in customer service professions such as photography can be tough, but quite rewarding.

      • Norman Silva says:

        My thoughts exactly.

      • AAA says:

        No. Some people may hire you for your skills, but others who are capable of post processing would want to do it themselves, they just want someone to shoot the photos so they could enjoy the moment. I don’t need your editing skills, what I prefer maybe miles away from what you think is best. What you are doing there is basically hosting those people hostage

    • Chris in WI says:

      Copyright law is setup the way it is to allow artists to own their work and make a living pursuing art. My session fee pays my bills (house/phone/internet/power/business insurance/etc)… I don’t make profit until I sell copies of the files! I have to pay into Social Security, self employment taxes, I’d like to take a vacation someday, put money away each year to make sure I can retire in 25 years etc.

      Want and need are 2 different things. You don’t need my raw files (and don’t be mistaken they are MINE!).

    • Tom says:


      Just because you think a certain way doesn’t magically make it correct. You said, “I have always asked upfront for the full set of RAW photos in addition to the processed photos”. So what? Just because you think you are entitled to something doesn’t mean you are. Who cares if you’ve always said that? That’s ridiculous. People today think they are entitled to more than they are. You also said, “…as the subject I feel a sense of ownership to my likeness (especially after paying someone to capture it)”. Just because you FEEL that way doesn’t change the fact that unless the photographer uses a photo of you to make more money, you have no right to the photograph. None. At all. Feelings and previous actions don’t trump the rule of law. C.O.P.Y.R.I.G.H.T.

      Peace, brother (or sister, I’m not sure)
      : )

    • Phill says:

      Agreed, you wrote this a good 5 years ago but I am reading this now and it rings true so loudly.

    • Cara says:

      I’ve been shooting weddings professionally for 4 years, and I will totally give my RAWs to someone… for about 500.00 per RAW image and if they sign a limited license contract meaning they can’t edit the images, or represent them as anything other than my own work and how I portray them, and allowing me to still use them on my website. The person who shoots the image holds the copyright unless the copyright is sold to someone. The client paying for a session does not legally own that copyright and can not edit those photos legally without permission. There’s no way I would allow someone to change my work. My work is my work. It’s got a particular style to it and editing is a huge part of what I do. That’s why so many people hire me. They get jpg copies in high resolution and are asked to back them up in multiple places and make prints. Your argument that a raw makes a better print isn’t valid. You can print just as beautiful images from a high res jpg. And I see you say you would like to edit the image yourself. That’s awesome. Pay me a ton of money and I’ll give you the RAWs and rights to my images. By giving you those rights I give away my rights for using the images to advertise for myself to help build other clients. I would have to ask you to never use my name with those images as I wouldn’t want my name associated with your edits. I wouldn’t want to or be able to show them to anyone. So yeah, if you paid me a crap ton of money to make it worth me giving up those rights I might consider it. But if someone is paying me my normal 4-5k dollar rate for an 8 hour wedding with about 30-40 hours of editing involved and days of communication back and forth with the client and other vendors and making timelines for the day of… nope. The images you get are just a small fraction of the work us professionals put into our craft.

  3. Great points, gives me the confidence that my instincts are correct. May I go slightly off topic and ask if anyone would give their opinion on selling digital files vs. prints? I have a client who wants both. I’ve read a lot on the topic but still confused as ever.

  4. russel Ray says:

    Reminds me of what Sir Paul McCartney said when all many Beatles’ outtakes were released in the mid-1990s on the Anthology CDs (loosely quoted): “I don’t understand why people want this stuff. There’s a reason why we didn’t release it. It’s not good.”

  5. Dominic Lee says:

    In over 25 years shooting weddings & portraits I’d say only 2 people have asked for the “unused shots”.
    However I do get asked for the digital files instead of prints every other day and I say no because one only has to look at the canvas prints on offer at the local print shop/supermarket and they are not fit to wipe your feet on but sadly many clients think a canvas is a canvas!
    I can also name the 5 or 6 studios in my area who have gone bust in the last two years and they all sold digital files, most clients understand your desire not to lose control of the quality of your finished product.
    So Elizabeth if you sell your digital files you should be prepared to rely on another job for your living like JG above.

    • Elizabeth Bishop says:

      @ Dominic Lee I agree with you. I just feel that I am in a tough spot b/c I offered to help her out. she has an new online biz she is promoting and wanted me to do her head shots etc. I do not consider myself an amateur, I’ve worked hard and need to treat myself as a professional. I made the mistake of going against my instincts. How would anyone deal with a client who wants images just for a website? OT, I know.

      • Scott says:

        Easy, give her low resolution downsized just for the web. We give a digital small size copy to our clients so they can use them on Facebook or web. They cannot get large prints this way and have to come back to us for them.

      • sasnn says:

        Well, I believe giving customer a digital file is an interesting and ambiguous subject to discuss…. I agree with your reasons, but I do thing that there are others that outweight them:)

        Actually, I’m just about to dedicate my next article to this topic….

        • Elizabeth Bishop says:

          Again, I apologize for going off topic. Your original article seemed like an opening to at least ask. I do appreciate your article. I do not believe in sharing any image I deem as unfit to share, those are the 1st to go! plus I need the space :). What I gather from both topics, like any other issue I’ve found with photographers, is that everyone has a wildly different opinion. No one shoots the same etc. It comes down to being comfortable and confident. I am an extremely honest business person and never take a short cut or cheat anyone out of anything, I provide a product that I am proud to put my name on. So for me not sharing all images is a fair practice. I have no doubts whatsoever and no one else should either. But again it comes down to personal preference. Thank you for your thoughts. I eagerly await your next column.

  6. Don Klopfenstein says:

    The photographer owns the copyright and therefore control of the images, end of story.

  7. CH says:

    JG: With standards like those, it would be wise to remain in the “amateur” category – and equally importantly, plan to only pay amateurs. It’s a joke to expect raw files from a professional. Fact is, a pro doesn’t need your business badly enough to give you their ugly, fuzzy, underexposed, poorly composed, discarded files. Best wishes.

    • R'laine says:

      In agreement here. On reading this article this morning, one picture came to my mind, from my first engagement photo shoot. I was getting candid shots of the couple as they were talking to each other, in one, the female has a look on her face as though her fiance had just farted. They still don’t know that one exists, I keep it as a reminder to myself, there WILL be images that just do not need to see the light of day. I agree with the analogy of the painter/sculptor – nobody when buying a Picasso asks for his sketches do they?

    • Tom says:

      Exactly, CH!

      Come on people, how hard is this to understand? Photographers are business people, folks. And have the same protections as other artists.

      You will always find business people who don’t understand photography but we don’t need any more photographers who don’t understand business.

  8. When a client hires a photographer for a wedding or any other event, he hires him for a final product not the whole procedure ,
    So as Don Klopfenstein says , your photos are copyrighted to you, the Photographer. Your Client when he hires you is actually giving you the right/permission to enter his private circle and you to Document it freely and for you to deliver a final Viewable product, in this case ” PRINTS “.

  9. R'laine says:

    BTW – wish we had a “Like” button here for comments!

  10. RB says:

    It’s nice to see someone try to explain this topic from an artist view point and remind the customer to be sure to seek out the product they desire.

    JG, IMO you may search out a photographer or other craftsman who will work with you on your vision of the service. However, personally I hope that the majority of photographers will present a highly select set of their services consistent with their advertising and appropriately branded by their artistic vision. I want a final product that is consistent with my research as embodied by the photographer’s trailers and advertisements. They’ve somehow represented their service and in the end that is the one I sought out and the one for which I contracted. Most photographers advertise openly how they capture and event. Some are very formal, some take a more journalistic approach others involve a great deal of multimedia and their art is an incorporation of their documentation and multi-media product and and art. Free enterprise let’s you pick the one that’s best for you.

    I fully agree with the how this topic was presented, however I feel that you are looking for a different product than the one that is discussed here.


  11. @JG – I understand you’re an amateur but I can confidently say with everything I believe and do that any customer of mine is indeed NOT paying for my time. They call me because they want my artistic representation of the circumstance I’ll be photographing. Therefore they have no right to anything I feel needs to be discarded or simply not shown. If you can’t take enough pride in your work to protect it from others not trusting you, and changing your work then by all means stay a hobbyist. I would be furious if I caught someone defacing my work.

    Digital negatives are just that. In my opinion more photographers should keep their raw work out of the hands of customers and clients. Appreciate your own work first, then others will as well.


  12. Holly says:

    I have to disagree that those photos can be of no use to anyone. I think all memories captured can be precious even if poorly lit, ect. If the photographer would be so damaged by showing the entire body of work, perhaps the photographer needs to work on his or her skill some more. I don’t have a problem showing my entire gallery and marking my personal favorites. If the customer wants them all I let them know they may not ALL be of the highest quality, but I understand wanting to see the photos that would normally be left out. It also helps them to understand why they may have been left out.

    • Jessica says:

      So reasonable Holly! I came here to say the same thing. I am not a photographer, but I figured… if I can sit and snap 50 shots of myself on my webcam – all of which do me justice. I am looking at the camera, smiling, head not tilted. Of those 50 pictures, I only like 2 of them. ALL good representations of me, but my preferences for how I look are specific – and I doubt I could show those 50 pictures to any one and they would pick the two that I like. For that reason alone, if some one asks this question, it is likely because they are dissatisfied with how they look in the pictures, and are hoping that you captured another shot that they like.

      This step does not require handing over all of your photos, if you (the general “you”) are willing to meet with the client, sit down, and sift through images with them. They may love something that your brain didn’t find aesthetically pleasing – but that they love. If they look good, and they love it, they will give you good reviews and recommend you. If the photographer is rigid and unwilling to work with their client, that client has friends, and those are people who will either never hear about your work, or they will only hear about how difficult you are to work with.

  13. Cheryl Logan says:

    JG- A pro will never work with you. You will be stuck working with armatures. I would never give my raw images, nor would I allow someone else to edit my work. My clients hire me for my talent and art. Time is secondary to my clients.

    I agree with this article wholeheartedly!

  14. there’s tons of valid arguments that can be made on both sides of this equation, despite how many of my contemporaries may feel in this area.

    to qualify that “contemporaries” remark above, i’ve been a pro since i was 18 years-old in 1988. next year makes my 25th successful year in biz, and i’ve always given all negatives and digital files. one pro scolded me back in ’98 and told me that my work was good, but that i’d never get ahead with such low prices and shabby “here’s everything” practices. hmmmm, here we are years later, i’ve completed my undergrad degree in biz, and my MBA, while he’s been busy losing business and changing his company name to keep up. and i’ve traveled the world for hire (paris, london, sydney, jamaica [more times than i can remember], cancun, and other places), been hired to take portraits of the President of the USA, and average over 60 weddings per year plus tons of other gigs. check the website – www footprintfotos com for verification of the above

    long story short, do & deliver what works best for you and YOUR market. follow somebody who says that they don’t deliver this, don’t give that, or charges “x”, and you may just find yourself out of business…or worse, you’ll find out that they’re doing the very things that they told you not to do.

  15. Very good article, Alexander…As far as it goes. My first reaction to your comment about there being “hundreds of photographs” made during your session was, OK he must be a wedding photographer. Only an amateur hoping that if they make enough exposures surely something will turn out pretty good, would make 100s of exposures during a portrait session… Since I when to digital capture, the most exposures I’ve made during a portrait session was 110…Typically I make around 60. When I used film I exposed no more than one roll of medium format film during a session. (30 exposures)

    More importantly, while you infer that the final product provided to the client is prints and or albums, you never address the issue of turning over the digital files that constitute the selected and finished portraits.

    All the years I used film, never did I provide the negatives as part of the deal. A year or so after a wedding I would offer to sell them to the client, but it was never assumed that the negatives were part of the deal! For me it’s no different working in digital medium. This is how I, as a professional make my living, and often a client will come back to me for reprints of a portrait. If I gave the finished digital negative to the client, that would kill any reorder business.

    I agree with you that nothing unfinished should ever leave the artist’s hands to possibly go out to the viewing public. And of course to insure that the digital negative is available for reorders in the future, a good, reliable backup must be in place. I just recently found a program that is excellent for backup, and anyone can try it for free by going to http://goo.gl/kqecw

  16. @ Don.. Perfectly right! So many people don’t understand that the copyright, even after they pay, belongs to the photographer unless a document signing the release is signed from both parties.
    I am an amateur and style for my mentor photographer extraordinaire
    http://www.gabrielmorosan.com one of the best “people photographer I have ever worked with.
    It his Aura with clients that creates the final result beside his camera and amazing studio.
    I am quite sure he also never would release every shot he took.
    Its very easy one can agree on the size of a photo album a couple wants to fill and how many final shots. Here are some of my styling examples http://www.stage32.com/profile/33313/photos/289697297334282635

  17. Courtney says:

    Why is “The Photographer” referred to as a ‘he’?

  18. Alex says:

    The photographer in this article is referred to as “he” because in this case, the photographer ( and author) is male and third person reference makes for a better quality article. Nothing more, nothing less.

  19. TK says:

    What are your thoughts on an agreement / acknowledgement form for the client to sign before the shoot? One could also have something like a “statement of understanding” that could be given out.? What is your input or experience?

  20. HT says:

    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.

  21. Rah Benton says:

    Finally someone puts into understandable terms what I have been telling people for years. I have just simply been shamed into giving everything up on threat of loosing business in the area. Thank you!

  22. George Michael says:

    Hello everyone
    I recently requested a friend of mine to take pictures of my wedding. He took some amazing pictures but did not give me around 50 photographs. He showed me this article and is refraining from giving me the 50 photographs. I haven’t seen the 50 photos but I am of the school of thought that even bad pictures can be good memories. My friend is not a professional photographer, he is a hobbyist but is definitely the best photographer among the friends I have. Please advice.


    • Tom says:

      Hey, George –

      Why would the photographer give you something of theirs just because you want them? The 50 photographs aren’t yours, they are the property of the photographer. Offer to purchase them is my only suggestion. If they say no..that’s it.

      Also, better communication may resolve issues like this in the future. Understanding what you will get and not get, up front, is best for all parties.

  23. My position is to give the clients only the best images from the shoot. This averages to about 100 images/hour/photographer. For example 1,600 for an 8 hour shoot. We don’t give out blurry or test shots. The client gets what we keep and those are only the processed best shots.

  24. Shane (Unsatisfied Client) says:

    My wife and I were married in 2011 and hired a photographer who delivered unsatisfactory edited wedding photos in JPG format to us. Many of the photos were chosen by the photographer to be black and white while we would have preferred color. Other photos edited in color depict my wife’s dress as washed out and print in a white-blue tone without detail of the folds. Still others show skin color as unflattering to all in the photos. To say the least, we were hoping for better edits or “artistic representations” of the photos.

    When we asked the photographer if we could have color photos of some of the black and whites, the photographer responded as follows. “In an effort to preserve the artistic quality of the images that we produced, all images are the final edits and cannot be changed to color/black & white.”

    As a paying customer, is it too much to ask to be satisfied with services provided these days? Truthfully, I know I would do a better job at editing the RAW photos myself and feel I should have the opportunity to do so if the “artist” isn’t willing to. Why should I pay thousands of dollars for improper artistic assumptions. In the end, it should be about the customer being happy which I certainly am not.

    To this date, my wife and I have not printed any wedding photos. We do not want to print bad quality photos and we cannot properly change the way they look without having the RAW photos to do so. That being said, kudos to Derrel R. Todd for his immense success despite constant criticism from the majority of photographers for giving out the negatives. He understands the concept of making his customers happy and realizes the benefits from having done so.

    To the majority of photographers who stand behind the veil of “artist” for knowing how to manipulate computer settings, please get over yourselves. I appreciate your ability for finding great angles and scenes for shots. For that I will give you your due as an artist. The photo editing process is not art. Let me have my photos to manipulate as I please. The most artistic part of the process was completed as soon as the shutter dropped.

    • Tom says:

      Shane –

      All reasonable professional photographers will work with their clients unless their client is say, rude or demeaning. I understand how much it would suck if you receive poor photographs of your wedding because there’s no going back and re-shooting the event. But just because you had a bad experience and are unsatisfied (and rude), why would you malign, “…The majority of photographers…”, by intimating that their craft doesn’t require anymore skill than anyone we would hand over raw files to would have?

      I would love to know how many thousands of dollars you paid this photographer to shoot your wedding. But, if you opted for going cheaper to save a buck, well… at least you have a buck. Mission accomplished, Shane.

  25. Michael says:

    I’m a professional record producer as well as a musician.

    As a record producer, I in much the same way am responsible for ensuring that my clients get only the best result possible. However, my professional, experienced opinion is still just that, an opinion.

    When I’m going through vocal takes, I’ll perform what is called ‘comping’. Taking certain sections, lines phrases, or even down to single words, and putting them together to create the best vocal performance I can. But I generally do my vocal comping with the vocalist present. Why? Because my opinion is still subjective, and I want to know how they feel about my selections, I want their feedback. I may have 3 great takes of a certain line, but both the artist and I may have a different preference. We may both like the timbre, or inflection or delivery of a certain line more or less. Maybe they like the shakier vibrato, maybe I don’t. I’m not going to give them all the raw vocal files, that’s absurd. But I am going to give them the opportunity to be involved in the creative process.

    As a musician, in a band. When I have a photographer, a professional I choose and trust, shoot us, the reason I’d like to go through the raw photos is not because they aren’t great at what they do, but because as both a paying client, and as the subject in the photos, my opinion matters as well. I’d like to be given the chance to cross reference the consensus of the five people in the band, with the professional opinion of the photographer. I’ve had shoots done, where I found photos they selected and edited to be much less flattering than some of the non selected shots. It would have been very beneficial for me to be able to go through the 10 head shots of me, and select one “I” like, because my self image, is a very valid consideration, how I feel about how I look is important, and if a photographer can’t understand that, I’d question their intelligence.

    I don’t WANT 500 photos, I’d like to be able to go through and SELECT, or HELP SELECT the 15 or 20 final photos etc that they will edit and deliver.

    This article seems to take the position that the professional has the ability make an objective decision based on a subjective opinion. That’s not entirely true, and there is still a very valid reason to involve the subject, or client. We as professionals have the education and experience to get most of the way there, but beyond that 75% it’s OUR OPINION, not fact.

  26. Roy says:

    I would DEFINATELY not give out RAW files. I send my wedding clients a proof disc of all edited photos with a checklist for them to choose the photos they want on a usb and album, there is also a provision for them to state what treatment they would like on certain photos ie black and white, soft focus etc. I have never had a complaint with my editing, only praise.

  27. Joshua says:

    Well here is my take, I take a lot of photos that don’t turn out so I’d be embarrassed if I had to turn over my whole CF card. But I also see it from a customer stand point they don’t always care about the quality like we do as artist, where we see some focusing issues they see their loved ones. But I’d never give away the raw unedited photos, I provide plenty of photos from every part of the wedding and when we signed the contract they agreed to the deal so I will not go back. I never made people sign a contract when I was new but after you start having problems and get more professional this is something you will have to do.

  28. Jan says:

    You hire a photographer because you trust them and their artistic abilities. If you don’t, you should not hire them. I don’t want to work with people who wish to micro-manage my work or deliverables. It’s really that simple.

  29. Julie says:

    Do you let your clients see all the photos from the day so they can choose their favorites? Is that a stupid question?

    • Tara says:

      I go through and take out all the “bloopers” (blurred, awkward mix-expression faces, etc.) then I do a rough batch edit and have them in an online gallery for the clients to select the files they would like for me to full edit and make available for download.

  30. Angel says:

    I totally agree. So much so that i’m going to recommend this article when asked for my RAW copies lol! You explained better than I ever could, words are not my forte’.

  31. Jay Farrell says:

    Great read! I literally had world war 3 with some entitled clients who tried to aggressively get all files. I’m all about making the client happy but they have to respect my process too, just as I would respect their boundaries. Wiltshire, that’s where my wedding photographer friend, Kevin Mullins lives! Small world! I met him in Bristol over the Summer, great guy!

  32. Pamela says:

    Great article. In my opinion, I think the problem is, there are still many people, that do not perceive photography as the art it truly is, nor the photographer as an artist. Nor all the things that go into being a photographer – knowledge of lighting, composition, creative vision, etc.I believe this mentality results from the technology that is available to anyone these days. Any Tom, Dick, or Harry, thinks they are a photographer, because they have the newest camera, biggest lens,or most expensive cell phone. I can’t tell you, how many times I’ve heard: your camera takes great pictures – which to me, is like saying, your stove cooks great food, or – your piano plays great music. I never give up my files to anyone. I agree with Chris in WI – my RAW files are just that – MINE!

  33. Scott says:

    Coming from a background in photography myself, it’s incredible to see so much pretentiousness in the comments. I wouldn’t have worked with my photographer if I wasn’t getting the negatives as well, it’s that simple. He was understanding of why I wanted them, his work was fantastic, and he was not hard to find. Thankfully (for those who wouldn’t do that) most average people are too ignorant to ask. So it’s really a non issue – don’t work with someone who won’t give you what you need. It’s just very disheartening to see people so quick to dismiss the idea.

    • Tom says:

      Don’t think us quick to dismiss anything, Scott. We deal with this issue ad nauseum.

      Pretentious clients exist, too, you know. And a lot of photographers have to defend their copyright or policies just because someone else thinks they are entitled something they are not. Why would you want their RAW files, anyway? Do you think you can edit them better than they can? Talk about pretentious.

  34. Disappointed bride says:

    We recently got married. Not happy with edited photos – that was posted to social media without our approval of edites photos first! Hubby looked lile he was at death’s door on the images! Photographer had to remove images and redo editing. When I needed 4 more images for a newspaper article on our wedding as I am one of the local designers, she didn’t bother amswering my calls or messages. Almost 24 hours later she sent me a message saying oh sorry, I am as sick as a dog and will see what I can do for you tomorrow, by then it was too late. We had asked our DJ who also took photos to help us out which he did, no problem. The very next morning she posted photos on social media of her and her hubby being out and about – no sign of ever being sick. Our photographer even wanted to go with me, the bride, in the wedding car and took offense when I said no! She missed the opportunity to take photos when my hair was done, didnt take photos of my shoes, jewelery and perfume as is the norm with wedding photos. She was too busy marketing herself while my makeup was being done. Not a happy client. What are my rights? There is no signed contract. She is a self proclaimed photographer. No photographer etiket and very unprofessional. She is a friend of the family and I have seen better work from her – I expected more from her. Out of loyalty I asked her to do our photos as they are having financial difficulties. I guess I was the fool. I have asked her nicely if she could give us the raw images, but she refused and wanted to give me a refund – which she cant afford and also, we lose any hope on getting our special memories. I just want my photos, I dont want this to turn out nasty or diss her editing or photographic abilities…. but if she edits our photos it is going to turn out a mess and I just want an end to all the unpleasantries. It is for our own personal use. Not for social media. Any advice would be welcomed, thank you.

  35. Aud says:

    Question. I understand you don’t want to give out raw photos. So if you take pictures during a 3 hour long party, posed and candid, you edited them and give the client only the best photos, approximately how many photos is that?

  36. Aud says:

    If you are a photographer shooting a party with poses and candids for 3 hours in raw. How many edited photos should the client get?

  37. Todd says:

    I would not expect the RAW images, but at the same time, there are cases when I might want to see them. The birth of a child, a family gathering (especially if a dear relative had passed away since then) because it’s possible that the photographer caught something specific, nuanced that would be special to you, but might not be considered special by the photographer.

    If that were the case, then possibly asking for the one image (after explaining why) would be an understandable exception, but the entire catalog, no, that’s too much.

  38. Andrew says:

    Why is the photographer in the article refered to as ‘SHE’ rather than ‘THEY?’

  39. Matthew says:

    As a professional photographer, I’ll never give the full unedited group of raw files to anybody. ANYBODY. But having as many photographer friends as I do (whose work I respect), I WOULD give raw files of my selects to those highly competent people (who’s skills I understand), with my initial (and suggested) edits applied to them. I also appreciate it when other photographers are willing to do the same for me (given the same criteria – that they know I’ll handle them properly).
    But that distinction – KNOWING what the other person’s skill set is, and knowing that they’re good editors (as in choosing images) – is EVERYTHING to this extremely narrow exception to my otherwise hard rule about never giving unedited raw images to clients.

  40. Eric B says:

    There is more than one business model today. When you look at the images from a wedding or event, many times it’s the immediate satisfaction and sharing that people want – not prints.

    Probably a better question is what return is required for it to make sense to provide unedited digital files? And what changes does the photographer need to make to adjust their work to meet the client requirements.

    For example, there is a rate of return a photographer gets on their time and expertise. This includes preparation, shooting, selection, preliminary editing, full editing, printing, materials, overhead, etc. Photographers need to understand the required rate of return on their time, the overhead that is allocated, etc. In addition, there is an opportunity cost and I might have minimum time allocations for a job as it could preclude other jobs in that time period. In reality, my return per hour might be much higher if I simply provide files.

    Overhead is a big deal. If I am running a business and need to clear $5000 per week to cover overhead and pay my compensation, I may cover most of that with 2-3 jobs in a weekend. Whether I produce prints or not, the overhead still needs to be covered by the work of that weekend.

    So really, providing digital files is a pricing exercise. We need to understand how to price for a digital environment. We need to understand how to create value for different digital options. Full size unedited files are different than web sized unedited files. Selecting and preliminary adjustments take time – and we are far more efficient than the client in that activity. They can do that work, but it’s a bargain to have a pro identify selects and provide a minimal edit.

    There is certainly an element of hiring a photographer for the artistic value they provide. But as a professional, do you really care if you are fairly paid for the job you do?

    The market is changing. How can we cut costs, reduce time, and sell the value we provide? If someone wants digital files and I can make more money with that model, that’s fine. But I can’t deliver print level work for digital output.

    • Tom says:


      I haven’t seen one single model where selling digital files (as a business model) provides more income. Not one.

      However, you show me how to make $5,000 per week just burning my images to a disc and not up-selling prints…I’m in. I will start tomorrow!

  41. Luna says:

    Ty for this article ! I liked my wedding pictures, but a little sad because first she had us do some poses, but left some poses completely out of the pictures she gave me. Most of the poses were the same too, so I think for my next event I will go with a different photographer.

  42. Deanna Chappell says:

    I have a questions somewhat related to this topic. Back in 2010 we used a professional photographer and purchased some of the photographs. I am now wanting a digital copy and/or the rights to use one of image on my author’s website for my bio picture. I have tried every contact option I have available and cannot get the company to respond. Do I have any rights if they refuse to talk to me? Can I just scan and use the image on my website, or is that copyright infringement?

  43. Tom says:

    When I push the shutter button, and an image is captured, it’s mine. I own it. Both the image and the photographer are protected. Copyright isn’t just just for “other artists”. Photographers are protected by copyright laws the same as authors.

    Professional photography is suffering from the same problem as the automobile industry; laziness and the hope of making a quick and easy buck. In the beginning if you wanted a car you had to pay full price (presumably, what the car was worth – the true “value” of the car). Then someone said, “If I discount the car, people will buy it from me instead of my competitor”. Now, every single automobile sales professional suffers from that initial decision and there’s no coming back from it. Once you discount yourself, or give away your copyright, or give someone 700 digital images on a disc for a few hundred bucks (and subsequently destroy any hope you had of them coming back later to purchase additional images from the shoot) rather than selling prints to them, you diminish the value of what you are worth. But worse, just as in the car business, you take away from us all.

    The client doesn’t pay for photographs, they pay for us! That is why we have portfolios; so the client can choose between you and me. That’s all they get at the start – that’s it. They purchased our artistry – our skill. They purchased the potential of the photographs based on the portfolio of the artist they chose. Then, WE decide, like Michael Angelo did when he created his art, which pieces to chip off and which to keep. Then, after all the artistry (again, the reason we were hired) is finished, we present our “sculpture” to the client. They aren’t the ones who get to decide if my edit is art or not. That’s not their choice – that’s mine alone. They knew what they we’re going to get by going through our portfolios and choosing whom they would hire. They already saw our work in our portfolio and by choosing us they are saying, “Ooh, I want you to do that for me”. And we do.

    After and separate from that, we sell them the products, packages, images, etc. that they want to have. There are two steps. Step one is hiring an artist. Step two is purchasing what the artist created. This isn’t a new concept. This is the way it’s been done for what seems like forever. But then someone said, “I can make a quick couple hundred bucks by just giving the client all the images. That’s easier”. And with that they may have left hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on the table.

    We have hurt the profession and the professional by short cutting this process and shooting tons of images and giving them all to the client because we don’t want to face potential conflict. We think it’ll invite conflict if we tell the client, politely and professionally (but firmly), “No, that’s not the way it works. “My time and my skill is worth more than that”. Yours is, too. I understand that it’s hard to say no at first because we don’t want to lose a potential client. But like anything that is hard, the more we practice it, the easier it gets. And there’s nothing wrong with saying no. Try it, it’s fantastic!

    I use the terms purchasing and buying but I don’t sell anything – I license. If someone is going to use the images I took (and own) for personal use, then the license is fulfilled when they purchase their prints. But if I do head shots or real estate photos, etc. for a business that wants to use them on buses, billboards, or a national campaign, the license fee is higher. If you want to use my images to make money, you will pay more, period. That’s just the way it is. In life. Everywhere. And if they want to own the images outright, it’s higher still.

    This is business. This is how it works. If you think times have changed and now we have to give everything away when the clients ask, you are mistaken and your business model is broken. Selling pictures that you’ve taken isn’t the only criteria of being a professional photographer. It also requires you to run a profitable business and to do that you have to think and make decisions with a business mindset.

    Doing things the easy way instead of putting a high value on all that you do and create is hurting you whether you know it or not.

    * That was for Boris :)

  44. Paul O says:

    Interesting article, issue, and discussion.

    I’m a professional photographer and recently shot an event gratis. I then prefer to carefully select the images, clean them up, and present only those that pass muster (to me.)

    But the sponsor of the event asked for ALL the files, even if in RAW.

    My second inclination was to give them to them, but then I had the very reservations described above (which had been my FIRST inclination.)

    But I don’t want to get on the wrong side of that sponsor of the event, so I thought of this compromise: to ask them what they want to do with the files, and to get a written promise from them that they won’t use them for anything but personal and private use, and will never give any to any professional photographer or editor – for any reason.

    I’m still reluctant to send out my failures and my raw material – for reasons others agree with.

    Any thoughts by anyone on my thought of getting those written promises?



  45. Scott Wardwell says:

    To Paul O – That arrangement is only as good as the paper it is written on and the continued good intentions of the client who may or may not keep to the letter of the arrangement. How would you know whether or not they broke their word to you?

    The client has contracted for X number of edited and final prints based on my selections and skills in post or retouching, not his. It is after all my work product. If I am hired based on my particular style, then that is what the client will receive but I will not provide them with RAWs that they can use later on, circumventing my involvement and cutting out any revenue I am due. That is really why most clients would try to get the raw files. They are my assets. If a client wants every image taken, then he can have them after I have edited them to my standards and after sufficient compensation has been agreed upon. But the RAWs stay with me.

    Giving up all the files from a shoot is just another way you steadily de-monetize photography and put everyone out of business over the long run.

  46. fo2re says:

    Why can’t female photogs hold and support a camera ?

  47. It really depends… As a wedding photographer, I give all good images to my clients. They will see them only once, but I need to do this because I don’t have a clue which people were important at the wedding and which people weren’t. I let my clients decide which images they like best and merely provide some advice about my personal prferences. Sometimes they follow my opinion, sometimes they don’t.

    I had one wedding with a really bad image which I almost deleted. Then the bride asked me two weeks later whether I had an image of the mom of her best friend because she died after an accident. They were so happy with my (unfortunately enough not very good) image!

    O.t.o.h. when doing a couple shoot or a studio shoot, I choose the images to deliver.

    Cheers, Peter
    Wedding Photographer


  48. Simon says:

    All of the issues discussed seem to be contract issues, not “this is how photography is” issues. Photographers could grant access to every RAW file or no RAW file if they wanted to. In the words of the author, the RAW files themselves could be the “finished product” or they could be the detritus that gets chiseled off in the process.

    Photographers are on the line between someone who creates art and someone who documents an event or person. They’re both (obviously) but it’s not just creating a statue of a Greek God, it’s recording images of MY private event and life that I feel like I should own. And so regardless of the copyright law or expected goodwill, it’s easy to get frustrated about limited access. To reflect back at many of the comments above, for a photographer to say, “You can’t have access to them; I own them” is sort of like saying, “I own access to your family” or “I reserve the right to all the details of your wedding”.

    Which again, is legally true (I imagine) but could be different if contracts were written differently. But professional photographers generally don’t set up contracts in a way that caters to consumers who want the files. So there’s a gap in what’s available to you if you, for some reason, want that extra control. In the end, the consumer probably doesn’t need the files, but I’m not sure that matters at all.

    • Simon says:

      Oops, need to clarify: while I’ve felt these feelings at times, my intent is not to say that I should have the right to all photos taken by photographers that I hire. Just that many people have felt that way when working with a photographer. Its the other side of the coin of the photographer-client relationship which should be worked out through a contract.

  49. Chad says:

    This article is written by a photographer. It is ine sided and highly bias. Yes, edit and send only your best, but when a photographer takes photos of multiple scenes at a wedding, there should be photos from all those scenes. If the photographer failed at capturing nice photos at even one of those scenes, they have failed the customer. Make no mistake about it, this share what they want mentality also covers up garbage work.

  50. Gary Nunn says:

    It’s a good article and something that does need to be used as education for the potential bride and groom. If they are asking this question maybe we haven’t set expectations or maybe you haven’t delivered what they wanted? If they were completely happy then they would have no need to ask you. They hire me as a wedding photographer to create a story of the day, and that’s what I set out to achieve every single time.

  51. Verity Assad says:

    I would agree with Scott. I like to edit most shots one by one. Most clients want to see themselves looking their best.This may involve using frequency seperation to get rid of blemishes. If you have 300 images on a shoot that will take time. If the customer was willing to pay for all that extra time, fair enough. I may even out source then. At the end of the day It’s your work that is going out there and It’s got to be your best work.

  52. Mark says:

    Next time a tourist couple asks me to take a photo of them in front of a landmark, I will take 5, edit as I see fit and then remind them that I own the copyright. Best thread I’ve read in ages…..

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