I've decided to start writing some blogs specifically for other photographers. I don't know that I consider myself in a position yet to be contributing as an educator, but I have to believe that no matter where you are at there's someone coming up below you who could use a hand. So some of this stuff may be common sense to more mature photographers, but they are things that I've had to learn along the way.
As a professional photographer, you're bound - at some point - to have clients ask if you can just send them all the RAW files from a session. Or, once they've received their images, they ask if you can send them a few extras. They'll assure you that you don't need to bother editing them, just send the RAWs, to save time. My answer, without exception, but not without explanation, is no. There are very specific reasons as to why I've made this my policy. If you don't feel as strongly about it as I do, by all means - send the RAWs!
1. These are RAW files. They're meant to be edited. Without getting too technical, RAW files contain far more information than JPEGs. They include more detail and colour information, particularly in the shadows and highlights. However, they tend to come off the camera looking flat and lifeless. The contrast is poor and the colours are bland. As a photographer, you shoot knowing you will go back in and pull all that information out. A RAW file is the equivalent of a film negative. You will need specific (and usually expensive) software be able to do anything with them. Plus - they're huge. Because of the amount of information each file contains, sharing, uploading, or downloading these photos is a time intensive process. Once these files are edited, they're compressed and exported into manageable high-resolution files (JPEG, PNG, etc.).
2. I spend hours culling each shoot. Over the past few years I've gotten much quicker at this process, but it's still where I spend a significant amount of the total editing time. For each good shot the client receives there may well be a dozen variations of the shot that are slightly less good. Whether they're mid-blink, or the focus isn't exactly where I want it, or a hair blows right in front of their eye, my job is to look through every one of those photos, and often spend time going back and forth between them, until I'm confident that I'm sending them the best. I promise I'm not looking at an incredible photo and thinking "nah - I'm not gonna send this one...". The point of culling is to sort out the best photos. This is a big part of what they're hiring a professional for.
3. Photographers work hard to brand their images. To create work that is true to their unique style of shooting and editing. As soon as you allow photos to be sent or shared by clients unedited, those photos are now out there in the world representing your brand. I can't think of a scenario in which unedited photos would accurately represent my brand. It's a way of protecting yourself and the business that you work so hard to curate. Make sure you're happy with every image you're sending out. Ultimately you're in control of how potential future clients understand your brand. Clients should be hiring you because they love YOUR work. Giving them unedited files is like being a baker and being hired to make cupcakes for a party, but then just giving your client the uncooked batter. Sure - who doesn't love licking cake batter? But ultimately it's not what you've been hired for. You gotta bake those things. Decorate them the way only you can. Otherwise just tell them to buy a box of pre-mix from the store and make them at home for whole lot less money.
Now I want cupcakes.
4. The RAW photos do not belong to the client. They are the property of the photographer, forever. Although you've been hired for a shoot you most likely have a contract naming the amount of photos they will receive. Personally - I can never keep to that amount because I always find more I want to send the client. But anything above and beyond our agreed upon amount is my choice to send, and I am still responsible for managing the quality of those photos.
There you have it. The reasons I never release RAW files. If there are any other topics you have questions about, feel free to send them my way and I'll do my best to answer them or refer you on to someone who can! 'Cause hey - we're all in this together.
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