I started reading about how to become a professional wedding photographer some time in late 2010. Whether it was on DWF, POTN or Whirlpool, the same advice was being recycled.
Never give away your RAW files
What does the literature say?
Lookabough argues that the editing process is as vital as one’s shooting skill. Motal agrees with this by saying that his RAW files are for his and his eyes only. RAW files are like uncooked ingredients explains Anguelov (oh, they’re also difficult to view and are big in file size). Bowker tries to compare the act of photography with a book analogy. And in a five-and-a-half-minute video, my understand of Kobeissi’s reasons for not releasing RAW files is that she is afraid of letting paying customers and potential clients see anything prior to post-processing.
I even came across this quote from an anonymous DPReview member:
No photographer worth their salt would hand over RAW files except for an extreme amount of money. I would recommend crossing any photographer that’s willing to off your list.
So basically, the primary argument against releasing RAW files to a paying customer is based on one thing.
Am I right or am I not wrong? You’re afraid that unedited work is a misrepresentation of:
- your professionalism,
- your work ethic,
- your hard work over the years, and
- your overall photography expertise.
You’re afraid that you will be unfairly judged on your competency with a camera if unedited versions of your intellectual property are released.
You’re afraid that you’ll be bad-mouthed within the industry.
You’re afraid that you’ll lose all future contracts because images without the right colour, contrast, exposure, and cropping will destroy your career.
You’re afraid that your client will edit the RAW images without your consent and misrepresent your professionalism, your work ethic, your hard work over the years, and of your overall photography expertise.
Rinse and repeat. Blah blah blah.
All your arguments are belong to us
I can think of only a handful of rational reasons as to why you should not release RAW images to a paying client (and they’re usually extreme cases).
Yes, I agree with Lookabough and Motal in that photography is a union between photography and editing. Yes, I can follow your analogies Anguelov and Bowker. I disagree, however, on your use of comparison between writing a book, cooking a meal, and photography. I particularly dislike Anguelov’s patronizing attempts at telling customers that RAW files are big and difficult to view (storage is cheap and even OS X preview can view most RAW files).
Now, as for Kobessi’s 10 arguments:
1. RAW files are not the final product: You’re right. They’re not the final creative visual product but for certain commercial job briefs and for particular reasons (e.g., a customer may want to have all RAW files for archival reasons and they are willing to pay), they may have an external editor they wish to engage.
2. Prospective clients may get the wrong impression: Welcome to the Internet of things. If a prospect is turned off so easily, you have bigger, systemic problems at play (e.g., poor/unknown reputation, no branding presence).
3. Special tools and processing are needed for RAW files: Once again. Who cares if they do? If a customer is willing to pay for them, they probably have the necessary tools. You’re deflecting.
4. It allows editing and manipulation without our consent: News flash! If you’re giving any sort of deliverable (print or digital), if someone really wanted to, they can edit and manipulate your work without your consent.
5. Sometimes editing IS necessary: So basically fear and #2?
6. Many clients are unhappy with unedited photos: From what I’ve seen from wedding clients, they’re incredible happy with any image (blurry or otherwise) to use as their latest social media DP.
7. Quality over quantity: From 2,000 unedited, dimly lit, average-looking images, I’d expect a minimum of 400 beautiful retouched photos from a professional. Your benchmark of 150 is severely low.
8. We aren’t out to get you! Talk to us about it: Great advice. And as part of that advice for a genuine two-way dialogue, should the client wish to purchase the RAW files, perhaps oblige?
9. We don’t want judgement from unfinished work: Once again, insecurity at play. Once again, not our client’s problem.
10. Loss of potential clients: When you do your job as a professional, you’re going to get repeat business either from direct/indirect referrals or from repeat business from the same client.
Let your work ethic be the foundation of your reputation and your clients will sing your praises. RAW images lacking in the right amounts of contrast, brightness, blacks, saturation, and Fuji 400+ vscoFILM filter is not going to lose you potential clients.
You know what will though? Your fear.
Being a professional ≠ hubris.
As creatives, we often lose ourselves down the rabbit-hole of self-centred confidence. Its our achilles heel. We need to believe that our work is good and at the same time, project that confidence externally without arrogance.
I reckon that 99% of us are afraid. Being a small business owner in the creative field is daunting AF. There are good days and there are really bad months. As Yoda famously says, fear leads to the dark side. Don’t let fear control your business decisions.
Always remember that we’re all providers of customer service. In an ocean of competition, what differentiates us is essentially who we are as individuals. Photography (as much as you don’t want to admit it) is an undifferentiated commodity to the consumer’s eye. So set yourself apart by being flexible, understanding and take care of your clients. Profits will follow. Trust me.
About the author: Daniel Cheung started his career as a professional photographer specializing in weddings. He is the co-founder of Angus Porter Photography. Together with his wife, Daniel now focuses on providing Sydney families with affordable and ethical visual memories. He also admits that he is rather opinionated.