Opinion: RAW for clients? – Surely YES!


As photographers doing commercial work we need to decide if we are first and foremost a service provider or alternatively an artist. In other words which comes first! – Something that causes division with many commercial photographers is the conflict of wanting to remain in control of artistic content and at the same time winning clients and supplying them with what they want.  For me personally customer wishes are the driving force for any business, and the luxury of placing personal priorities over those of the customer feels wrong.  In this article I try to explore if there are more cooperative solutions…

Faced with a contract for paid photographic work, where the client wants the images in RAW format, the real question is simply “do I want the business, under these terms?”  And the question is valid.  In some cases we will choose to loose the business because the deal is bad.

However, do I have a right to be editing and using the pictures as samples of my work, when by the inverse logic my controlling the editing of the visual record of their event is totally under my artistic control?  It is argued that my pictures may be edited badly by a client and the effect on my reputation could be damaged.  What about the reputation of the business client, the wedding couple or the portrait client!?  I as the photographer, with my contract, have the right to create for them something that could be of far greater detriment.

We retain the right to control the image and have rights to publish, like an artist… We demand to be paid  for being there irrespective of the clients value, like a service provider… An artist would show what they have before the client buys; and a service provider allows the product to be adapted by the client.

We can’t pick and choose different perspectives to engineer an advantage!

Consider a chef.  As customers we can add salt, pepper and other condiments and we can eat the “bits” and leave the others as we choose to eat.  Consider a painter, sculptor or architect.  As a customer we can’t change the art, but we can see before we buy.  Photographers are the worst of both worlds from the client’s perspective…

The resulting work from a graphic artist that works for an employer, either as a fixed employee, or as a freelancer is property of the employer. Why is this different to a photographer working for a client?

Anyone that has followed my videos or articles knows that I effectively do not edit my pictures, so the results that I provide are as I intended direct from camera.  This of course is not common today and I accept that.  I do however shoot raw.  For clients? Yes, and for myself with my artistic work in the unlikely case images are commercially interesting.

The client is under legal obligation whilst they in return can rely only on trust.

It seems that the majority of photographers in business are missing the fundamentals of business, the principles of a fair contract and the respect for the client, but these things are important too!  We hide behind artistic ability, technical competency and financial investment to derive a contract and position of justification.  The contract and our justification so often inherently place the client under legal obligation whilst demanding that they in return should rely only on trust.  As photographers our contracts place us in total subjective control of what is aesthetic and gives no room for personal subjective control or sensitivities of the client, yet the client’s subjective satisfaction is the basis for any word of mouth business that may come later.

I can think of several ways in which the client can be given what they want and the photographer’s concerns can still be covered…

Client buys the rights

If we allow the client to buy the full rights to any image(s), this effectively transfers the copyright(s) to the client and they are then free to do whatever they wish.  This of course has no risk of detrimental impact on the photographer as their involvement is no longer mentioned.

This point of course comes back to the fundamental question: Am I first and foremost an artist or a service provider?  As an artist selling the rights at an affordable price will be difficult, but the client should know that from the start.  An artistic photographer needs to declare clearly: “I am expensive because I am an artist, you are buying art I choose to give you and not a service to get your event photographed as you may want!” – This may sound extreme and silly, but it is the cold truth of so many commercial photography contracts.

Adapted copyright message

Another fair and easy way is to simply allow the editing, but require images that have been edited to be sent to the photographer prior to publication or circulation.  The photographer can then decide how bad the image is.  If the image is so bad they can “free” the client from copyright attribution, which after all is what they would want.  No one wants to claim copyright on a bad image.  However, if the image  still has artistic content, for which the photographer would like some recognition, an adapted copyright message can be made a requirement…

e.g. “© copyright {20xx}, {photographer}. edited by {editor} with permission of the © holder – All derivative images are © copyright {20xx}, {photographer}, all rights reserved”.

This more comprehensive attribution means that the compositional and timing skill of the photographer is recognised, but the editing is not attributable to the photographer. Obviously such an approach needs to be in a contract clause, but it is at least fundamentally fair.

Both of these solutions remove the risks that accompany both a photographer’s perceived “artistic value” and legal rights, and gets the concentration back on serving customers fairly.  After all they paid for the images.  These options also recognise that aesthetics is subjective and the client has paid hoping for something they find aesthetic and suitable.

In principle if a photographer is advertising themselves as an artist, with artist’s prices and artist’s contract conditions, this is fair.  What is not fair is if the photographer advertises as a service, but the prices and contract carry all the penalties of an artist.  In addition if a client wants to edit images that have been provided, the photographer has failed to satisfy the client’s artistic view of aesthetic or purpose! The least we can do both as artists and service providers is to swallow our pride and do our utmost to make the customer happy!


In discussing this issue with a long time experienced photographer for weddings, it is clear that his experience with these issues has created conflicts in the past.  He needs to protect his business, but the actions of clients in posting modified images can damage his reputation and at the same time the word of mouth recommendations from clients to prospects is critical for new business.  Faced with this and in the specific area of weddings the ideas and suggestions in this article may not work; or may make for more problems.  Clearly private people tend to be less aware or considerate of a contract, agreement or simple understanding when it comes to the rights or interests of others.  In effect he is unable to sue them, they don’t respect an agreement – so the only option he has is to deny the RAW files.  His position is a good solid counter argument, with real experience to back it up.

Obviously I have not seen Jamie’s contract to know if his contract is “artist” or “service” in nature. So whilst I have used his video and experience as a basis for this article, in no way should you see any of this as a criticism.

To see his video on experience and arguments take a look:
“Jamie Windsor – Should you give clients RAW files?”

WARNING: I am not a lawyer and no legal liability will be taken for the thoughts and opinion I have expressed here.  If the topic is of concern to you, I recommend you take a copy of this document and discuss it with your legal adviser.