Before I address the etiquette portion of the discussion about a client asking photographers for RAW files, let me give a brief rundown on what RAW files really are. They’re an uncompressed file format containing the most file information of any format in camera. Photographers use them to have the maximum latitude with adjusting exposures, highlights and shadow levels, color, etc. Image editing software is needed to even read them, not something the average person has. Skills are needed to work with RAW files, as well as creative retouching.

If you’re hiring a photographer, particularly a wedding photographer of any decent caliber, you should be looking at their work with regards to lighting and composition, feeling passionate about their skills and style of post production. Consistency in style will tell you a lot about the end product you will receive. I very rarely get asked for RAW files, but the answer would be no. That clause is even in my wedding photography contract. Asking a photographer for RAW files is not the standard or really acceptable to ask (except rare exceptions, such as an unqualified photographer shooting a wedding and them not having the skills to improve them. Then the client have a skilled retoucher try to save some of them) Perhaps then it can be negotiated.

If I’ve completed photos I deliver to a client, I put work in them, part of my style and brand they come to me for. No one in the film days asked photographers for negatives. Just because the format changed, that doesn’t make it ok today. Unqualified people altering my images that I put my efforts into is not ok. No, nein, nada. In fact altering an artist’s work without consent is a copyright violation. None of us want any animosity with anyone, just as we respect the client’s needs, our process needs to be respected as well. Grocery stores sell ingredients to cook with, chefs prepare food. I hope this clears the RAW file discussion up 🙂