Photography, like any other commercial art, is a profession where you need to have a couple of tricks up your sleeve to stand apart from the rest. In commercial photography, one such way is to digitally alter the RAW file so that the picture looks more interesting. When you do hand over the final file, you always send the altered one and not the RAW one.
Why do photographers not give the RAW files? The reason why photographers do not give RAW files to their clients is that the RAW files are a form of negatives owned by them. Even when a photograph is being commissioned, the client always pays for the final product such as JPG or TIFF and not the original image itself.
But is that the only reason? No, but it is one of the main reasons. As per copyright laws, ownership of a photograph will always belong to the individual who took it unless it is specifically stated in a contract or agreement. Let’s take a look at why most photographers never hand out their RAW files.
Why do photographers not give RAW files?
There are many reasons why photographers never give out RAW files. Some of them are:
- Ownership – Like any other industry, there is always the looming threat of getting one’s work stolen. The RAW files are proof that the photographer took the photograph and may come in handy when you are legally fighting someone who plagiarized their work. Even for commissions, the client is owed only the final product and not the RAW files unless it is specifically mentioned in the contract.
- Brand value – Today almost all photographs are digitally enhanced to make them look better or to convey a particular mood or message. If the RAW files are given, then anyone can put their spin on it by digitally altering it and uploading it online. If someone who doesn’t know the photographer’s work comes across that picture, they may mistake it for the original one. This can hamper the photographer’s reputation and brand value as well. So even if they credit the photographer, a prospective client may define him/her based on a copy made by someone else.
- Size and accessibility – RAW files are huge and are a huge pain to transfer to someone else. A single file can be several gigabytes and so sending multiple copies will always be a big waste of time for both parties. Moreover, even if they are sent to the client, they will need a compatible software program like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom CC to view them. So if they do send them, they will have to waste time and effort teaching them how to view them or why they are so big. Some clients are well versed with the industry but many don’t know how big RAW files are until they see it for themselves.
- Prospective clients and reputation – RAW files are almost always very unappealing to look at because all the magic happens once the image is processed and edited. Every photographer will have a unique way of digitally altering their images and that specific style may be what defines them. So by giving their RAW files, their work will no longer seem to have the same magic or edge as before. This can be disastrous for the photographer as reputation is all they have when it comes to getting new clients.
- Wasting time and effort – Once the shoot is over, photographers go through dozens or hundreds of photographs to pick the final ones for editing. By giving the RAW files, they are essentially wasting all the time and effort they took to choose the final files. Some believe that by giving the client the RAW files, they will commission them with more work if they find any images they like from the batch. However, this seldom happens because most of the time, the client ends up either outsourcing the editing to someone else (more affordable but less skillful) or doing it themselves. Either way, the photographer’s reputation goes down the drain.
How to let clients know why the RAW files cannot be shared?
Not everyone will be knowledgeable about the work they commission and it’s perfectly natural for someone to be unaware or even be ignorant about it. As long as the client is willing to understand, the photographer can help their clients by letting them know why RAW files aren’t usually shared.
- RAW and JPEG – One important thing to understand is that RAW files are meant to be flat and feel unfinished. Why? Because with today’s technology, it is possible to do digitally in an hour or two what might take four to five hours in the real world. With software programs, one can do wonders with a photograph and completely transform it from a bland picture to a vibrant and alluring one. A JPEG, however, represents the final product and not only looks way better but it is a lot smaller in size too.
- Setting up clear agreements – Before the project starts, the client and photographer needs to discuss and set the scope of the commission. How much money will it cost for the work and whether it will be paid per photo or as a whole package? There might be times when the client needs the RAW asset as they want complete ownership of it. In such cases, the contract will have to specifically mention that the photographer is not only selling the final product but the RAW files as well as ownership of the files. A little communication, in the beginning, can go a long way.
What is the RAW format in photography?
A RAW file is an uncompressed digital image file stored in your camera. Unlike JPEG files, RAW files don’t share a single name across different cameras as each manufacturer has its own RAW formats such as .CR2 or .CR3 for Canon and .NEF for Nikon. RAW files are present in smartphones too as Android phones come with DNG files whereas iPhones have their ProRAW format.
Whenever you use a camera, you have the option to use either JPG (JPEG) or RAW. Most smartphones use the JPG format as it is significantly smaller in size (as they are compressed) than the RAW format. The more compression an image has, the greater the loss of quality but the smaller it becomes. A RAW file, on the other hand, is uncompressed and therefore very large. When you shoot a picture, the data in the image is taken from the sensor and stored in its original, uncompressed format.
Generally, the size of the RAW images is the same as the number of megapixels in the camera. So a 20-megapixel camera will usually have RAW files that are around 20 MB each. The same image shot in JPG format will only be around 4 MB which makes JPG about 5 times smaller than RAW files. Unlike JPGs which are a universal file format, you can’t upload and share RAW files easily as they take up a lot of space and can be accessed or opened only by a select few software programs.
Advantages of shooting in RAW format
Professional photographers always shoot in RAW format for a variety of reasons. Some of them are:
- Retaining image data – RAW formats help you save all the image data whereas compressed formats always lose a portion of the data. Since it has all of the data intact, it is a lot easier to edit which makes it an invaluable file format for a photographer. So a RAW file will allow you to change the brightness, contrast and shadows as per your vision. Even if you shoot a scenic picture of a hill where the clouds are blocking sunlight, you can enhance the low light areas and make them bright without damaging the picture. This is possible because all of the original data is saved in the RAW format.
- Color tone – The color tone of a photograph can entirely change the mood allowing you to showcase your vision. Images that have a warm white balance will have a golden yellowish color tone whereas a cool white balance will make the image more blue-ish in overall tone. When you shoot in RAW format, it is a lot easier to change the white balance after. So even if you don’t have the right light source when you shoot the image, you can change the color tone in post-processing to make it more visually appealing.
- Sharpness and noise – When you shoot in RAW format, you can adjust the sharpness and noise with more control. So even if you had to shoot in low light areas where you couldn’t use a flash (wildlife photography), you can adjust the sharpness and noise to make the image look cleaner. This will be almost impossible when you shoot the same image in a JPG format due to its compression.
Why should RAW files not be delivered to clients?
While there is no rule that RAW files can never be given to clients, they aren’t sent usually due to several reasons. One of the main reasons though is because the RAW files are a sort of digital negatives to a photographer and therefore proof that he/she took the image. Moreover, these files are also very large and cannot be opened as easily as a JPF or PNG file.
There is also the issue of theft because if RAW files are shared online, then anyone can download them and edit them to their liking and sell them to someone else. There are times when clients need the RAW files because they entered into a contract with the photographer to transfer ownership of the images but in most cases, only the final images are sent.
Is it rude to ask a photographer for RAW files?
It’s not rude to ask a photographer for RAW files but it may get frustrating for them. It is important to understand that photographers get asked this question a lot of times and so they may get annoyed with it over time. If you need the RAW files to get complete ownership of all the photos you commissioned, then you can discuss it with the photographer before the project starts and enter into an agreement with them. Do note that gaining ownership of all the commissioned photos may cost you more money as the photographer may have to relinquish all of their rights to them.
Do photographers have to shoot in RAW?
No, they don’t. The RAW format is not the only one the photographer can choose to shoot in. Some opt for JPG, instead. However, by doing so, they will be forfeiting many benefits. JPG files are already compressed and therefore don’t offer the photographer the ability to fine-tune the image in post-processing like a RAW file can. In terms of white balance, sharpness, contrast, shadows and noise, the RAW file format is far superior to a JPG. Those who are new to photography or who work in a fast-paced environment (like fashion shoots) shoot in JPG as it takes up less storage space and is processed automatically.
Why does JPEG look better than RAW?
They look better than RAW files because the camera processes them automatically and adjusts the sharpness, contrast, color saturation and other tweaks when you choose the JPEG format. However, you will also end up losing the ability to edit the image yourself. A JPEG is a compressed file and therefore doesn’t contain as much data as a RAW file. So there will be a limit to how you can edit it further before the image starts getting damaged. On the other hand, if you are proficient enough to shoot great images in JPG, it will be extremely convenient for you and reduce a lot of time and effort.
What if I really need RAW files?
As a client, if you need the RAW files and complete ownership of all the images, you can discuss it with your photographer and draw up a contract if he/she agrees. Do note that the photographer can charge you more as per their wishes. If they are giving up the rights to their images, then you might have to compensate them for it. You will also have to discuss whether the photographs can be shared by the photographer on their website or portfolio. If both of you are in agreement, there should be no problem in getting the RAW files.
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