What to Say When a Client Asks for the RAW Files

I see this question a lot: My client is asking for the RAW files from their session, what do I say? This can be a hot topic, and everyone comes down somewhere differently on this one. Just do a quick search on any forum, or in your favorite photography group and you’ll see: the opinions are all over the board. Some will say to sell them, but price them high and make money off of it. Some will say to meet your client’s demand and hand them over in the name of customer service.

My professional opinion and my business standard is to not deliver RAW files. Ever. Below are my reasons why, as well as ways to discuss this with your clients while still offering top of the line customer service.

RAW files

Reasons Not to Deliver RAW Files

They are Unfinished Images. RAW files are unedited and therefore are not an accurate representation of your work or your brand. If you are taking on clients, it is vital that you deliver to them only your very best work. If you ordered a cake from the best bakery in town, would you expect the baker to deliver you a tray full of the ingredients? I wouldn’t. I hired the baker for a cake. Not an unfinished product.

It Removes Your Discretion. As a professional, YOU must set the standard for your business. YOU are the person responsible for setting the bar for your own presence in the market. This is why we cull images and remove those that aren’t up to our standard. This is also why it is important to only deliver products that meet your standard of excellence. I don’t know about you, but an unedited RAW file does not meet my standard of excellence. If I decided to deliver these files to my clients, it removes my discretion from the process, and that doesn’t sound like a smart way to run a business.

Explaining Your Reasons to Clients

Understand the Why. When you understand why someone is making a request, it can guide you in your response to make sure you are providing the best customer experience possible. In the case of asking for RAW files, I always try to respond specifically to what their concern is. Giving a blanket “I don’t give RAW files” response can leave your client frustrated and feeling unheard. Are they afraid of missing out on great shots? Do they want to edit them on their own? When you understand what they are wanting, you can address that concern and specifically assure them that they are getting the absolute best from you.

RAW vs. JPEG. Many clients do not understand that, unlike JPEGs, RAW files are not universally compatible and require special software to even view them. Furthermore, unlike JPEG files, which are automatically processed in camera, RAW format captures data with the intent of processing and editing to make a final image, and does not represent what is seen with the natural eye. Which leads to…

They are an Unfinished Product. Clients hire you based on your portfolio: Your finished work. Editing your images is part of that process, and is a major factor in the process of creating a final image. While we mentioned above the need to protect your brand, keep in mind that your client may not understand the need for “brand protection,” but will be more likely to understand that you won’t deliver a half-finished product. It helps to remind them that this is part of the service you provide, to ensure they are fully happy with their final images.

Refer to Your Contract So maybe your client does know what RAW files are, and maybe they want them anyway. Perhaps they feel entitled to everything that you shoot because that’s what their other photographer did. This is where you need to make sure you are doing two things: 1) Managing your client’s expectations while being clear about what is included ahead of time, and 2) Utilizing a contract. When all else fails, refer to the contract. If the client is not on board with your business process, perhaps they aren’t the client for you.

But what about client satisfaction? I don’t want to lose a client! Shouldn’t we do what the client wants? Yes and no. When you run your business well, you learn to manage your client’s expectations, and this includes educating them, coaching them, and assuring them you are capable of and have a history of ensuring they are satisfied with your service. Ultimately, the decision is yours as to whether or not you deliver RAW files to your clients. That is one perk of being in business for yourself. Only you can decide what you want to put into the hands of your clients!

So what about you? Have you had a client ask for the RAW files before? Let us know in the comments!