Blog 012. Why you should never deliver RAW images.

Blog 012. Why you should never deliver RAW images

I get asked about delivering RAW images from a shoot on a regular basis and from my discussions with clients I feel that there is a huge misunderstanding on what a RAW image is. 

In this blog we’ll cover why for the most part you should never deliver RAW images to your clients and the exceptions to the rule. 

First and foremost there seems to be disconnect between what most people consider a RAW image and what it actually is for a photographer.

The definition of a RAW image is an unprocessed data file and while the file formats are different between camera manufacturers they all contain all the data captured through the camera sensor. 

Now let’s draw a parallel that you will be familiar with. This is the definition of the word “raw” from google.

“raw /rɔː/ 1. (of food) not cooked. ”raw eggs” Similar: uncooked, fresh, underdone”
-Google Dictionary

Raw refers to the unprocessed ingredients used to make up your food. It’s not the final product. 

For the sake of argument, when was the last time you went to a restaurant and asked the chef to provide you with the ingredients so you can cook the food yourself? 

Just like you trust that your favourite restaurant will provide you with a great experience, you should trust that the photographer you hired will do the same. Here are some examples of a finished images versus captured images.  Which one would you rather have?

I believe that, for the most part, when clients request the raw images from the day they are actually referring to the “contact sheet” and not the raw files.  Essentially they’d like to have a copy of all the images from the day just in case the photographer missed an image, or that they decide they like a different one from the day down the line. 

It’s our job as photographers to alleviate these concerns for our clients. Unfortunately years of failing to do so and horror stories of bad photographers has lead to a mistrust from clients.  

Similarly, the photographer is concerned about their own brand.  It’s not so much about the client profiting from an unprocessed image, but the photographer losing from an unfinished image being promoted. Look at the examples above. Which one would you choose to represent your brand? Now you probably know which ones I want representing my brand.

A note to anyone looking to hire a photographer. Do you due diligence before hiring, ask questions and be sure to communicate throughout the process. Once you do however you need to understand that my product isn’t just taking the image on the day. It’s the whole experience.  It’s the preparation, the communication, the day of the shoot, and of course picking and editing the images. That is all part of the process and why you hire a professional to get the job done. 

And a note to my photographer friends. As a professional you get paid to take, choose and deliver the best photos within the brief that was agreed in advance. That doesn’t mean choose and deliver what you like with disregard the client. However, it’s your job to guide them through the process and ensure that the client gets what they need. Keep in mind that I didn’t say what they think they want. A lot of times the client doesn’t know that. Instead they go on what they heard or what someone told them but it doesn’t necessarily meet the requirements of their project. You are there to let them know.

Finally a note to both sides. Communicate!

How about the exceptions?

Just like every rule there are exceptions to this one as well. There are situations where the client will have a very good reason to request RAW images. 

Sometimes we work as part of a bigger creative team. The client will have a team on board who deal with the post production and they require the raw images in order to produce the final image. 

I class this as an exception because in this situation you are working with an educated client (in terms of the photography process) and have a very specific problem in hand which you are there to solve. It’s very unlikely that you have to explain the difference between raw and final images to them, and I would expect that you’ve had a conversation with the client and possibly the design team well in advance of the shoot to make sure you can fulfil the brief.