Why Your Photographer Doesn’t Give You RAW Images

April 27, 2022

You’ve completed your session with your photographer and are patiently awaiting the photos. 

You finally receive them, but wait…

There are only 35-ish photos, and the RAW images aren’t included. 

You paid for the session, and you could swear the photographer took hundreds of photos. So why the limited number, and why no RAW images?

First of all: 

You signed a contract stating how many photos you’d receive. In that same contract, it stated that you would not receive the RAW images. 

Always read what you sign. 

But you still don’t understand. 

The truth of the matter is that you don’t want the RAW files. Here is why. 

And for those of you thinking, “What the heck is the RAW thing we’re talking about,” here’s a quick explanation. 

What is a RAW File?

The RAW file is the uncompressed file stored in the camera. It is like the digital negative. You know, the dark brown strip you used to get with your film cameras. 

Just like those strips, the photographer needs to process the photos, perhaps with Photoshop and Lightroom, before sending them to the client. 

What the client receives is the JPG version of the photo. It has been edited to the likes of the photographer and compressed so it can be used practically universally by the client. 

But why don’t clients receive the RAW file?

Well, you could. Technically. But like I said (even if you found a photographer who would agree to give them to you), you don’t want the RAW files.

Because RAW files are uncompressed, they are huge. The size usually corresponds with the megapixels in the photographer’s camera. 

A camera with 20 megapixels will produce a RAW file the size of 20 MB. Compared to the JPG files you’ll receive (about 4 MB), this is five times larger than the JPG. 

RAW files also have different formatting depending on the brand of camera the photographer uses. Canon converts to .CR2 and .CR3 while Nikon uses .NEF for their RAW files. 

So using a RAW file (like you would a JPG) would be infinitely more difficult. 

Not to mention uploading a file that big would be time consuming for everyone. 

So Why Do Photographers Use RAW?

Photographers use RAW for a number of reasons, but these are the 3 main ones:

1. RAW saves more data and therefore more detail. 

Because it is a bigger file, all the image data can be saved. This is vital when a photographer goes to edit the photo. 

This format and increased detail allows the photographer to change brightness, shadows, etc. according to their artistic style. The entire photo data is saved and is much easier to adjust an original than if you had lost some of the data in a compressed file. 

Have you ever taken a photo and suddenly the sun appears? Just like that, shadows are everywhere, your color is washed out, and there’s a horrid glare on the glass behind you. 

RAW not only allows the photographers to remove those shadows and the glare, but it also allows them to change the white balance. Suddenly, your washed out skin is golden again.

Photographers wouldn’t be able to do this with such ease and accuracy if they had shot the photo in JPG (which would sort of be Iike editing an already edited photo).

2. Color Grading

A RAW file allows the photographer to manipulate the color balance. 

Shooting in different lights affects the color of the photo. Natural light versus light from a bulb can drastically change the tones of color in the photo. 

Shot in RAW, the photographer can change the white balance for a more natural looking color tone. A warm balance uses more golds and yellow, while a cool tone enhances the blue-greys. (Personally, I prefer a warm balance.)

3. Sharpness

When it’s not possible to shoot with a flash as with night photography, RAW format allows for more control for sharpness and noise. Adjusting these make the image look cleaner.

So now we know why clients shouldn’t want the RAW file, but let’s talk about why photographers won’t give clients the RAW file.

Why Photographers Don’t Give Out RAW Files

There are 5 main reasons photographers keep the RAW version of the photo. And they’re all pretty important. 

1. Ownership

Photography is an art form. Which means that the final result can be stolen. This is why some photographers use a watermark until you purchase prints. It is the photographer’s property until a client buys it from them. 

A RAW file is proof that a photographer took the photo, and it is protected by copyright. 

2. Brand Value

As I’ve explained, RAW files are an unedited version of the photo. And in truth, it’s often a bad version of the photo. A client wouldn’t be happy with a bad photo, and a photographer doesn’t want to be represented by that version either. 

Editing the photo allows the photographer to put her mark on the photo. She creates a vision and displays it with the photo she has created by editing the RAW version. 

To give out the RAW file to the client, not only does it not represent the photographer’s work, but it allows anyone to edit the photo for their own use. Which means not only has the photo been “stolen,” but also that there are many (false) photos representing the photographer’s brand. 

3. Size and Accessibility

We’ve already talked about this one. But for the same reason a client doesn’t want to deal with a 20 MB (or much larger), unattractive, unedited photo, the photographer doesn’t want the burden of uploading such a file for a client’s unauthorized use. 

4. Respectability

Giving out RAW files is rather taboo in the photography world. And you’d be hard pressed to find a photographer willing to break this unspoken (but rather steadfast) rule. 

As I’ve said before, the RAW version is proof the photographer took the photo. So giving out the RAW file would be like giving away the copyrights (which disregards the Copyright Act of 1976 protecting photographer’s images). 

A true photographer would never allow someone else to take credit for their work.

5. Waste of Time and Effort

This is what you are paying the photographer for. Yes, she may have taken 300 photos only to give you 35, but those are the best 35 you are going to find in the batch. 

Your photographer has spent 5+ hours culling, editing, and retouching these photos so you receive the best of the best. Trust her with this. 

Don’t forget, she is the professional here. Even if you had the RAW files, you’re not going to find better photos and edit them yourself to beat what she has given you. 

If you’ve done your research, you know the style of your photographer, and you find it fits your own vibe. You should have zero need to further edit your photos once you receive them. If you’ve done your homework… 

Giving out RAW files would completely negate all the time and effort your photographer has put into your photo package. 

The Takeaway

While some of this may have seemed harsh, it comes down to respect. 

You wouldn’t go up to a painter and ask them for one of their paintings for free. And you certainly wouldn’t grab your own paint set and go about changing that artist’s canvas. 

Photography is the same way. The photographer is giving you her all by choosing and editing these photos so you can be happy and proud of the results. 

Giving out RAW files would be like the artist handing over his most famous work and asking you to sign the bottom. 

It would never happen, and you should never expect it to. 

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