I have shot an event (a pool party) for a client for free as a first test so that if that worked out we would continue working together. All that was communicated was that I cannot publish photos without their approval. I then sent them selected and modified photos (corrected WB, denoised, exposure corrected, cropped, effects, etc.) and now they feel that they are too dark and ask me to send them unmodified photos. Is this a common practice? I have then even sent them jpegs of unmodified photos and now they ask for raw photos.

What is a common practice for this? I was / am very cooperative, so they didn't ask that of me because I didn't want to brighten them or anything like this.

But it does leave me feeling a bit weird about the whole thing and unprofessional. Are my feelings unjustified?

I came with a professional attitude and more than $10k of gear (just to tell that I didn't come with a pocket camera :)).

What would you do in this situation?

  • 1
    "Sorry, I washed my CF/SD in washing machine by mistake. I don't have RAWs anymore. Did you liked my photos? We can sign a contract on next event ;)"
    – Kromster
    Oct 31, 2011 at 5:59

6 Answers 6


No consideration, no contract. Unless and until they provide valuable consideration, they can't even claim an enforceable verbal contract.

You are not obliged to provide them with anything at this point, and should be legally entitled to prevent them from using any work you have provided (JPEGs, etc.) to date since copyright in the images still resides with you (even under laws as stupidly client-biased as the ones we have here in Canada).

If it were the case that they provided consideration (payment or the equivalent), or that there was a contract that involved consideration on their part not yet given, but provided for (subject to delivery or what have you), then your rights would depend on jurisdiction as well as the warrants of the contract. (In Canada, for instance, the copyright for photography rests with the commissioner of the work barring a legal agreement to the contrary, and would be entitled to everything.)

As other people have said, though, I hope this ends your "on spec" career. It's perfectly fine to give your work away (in the charitable sense), but when you work on spec you'll always come out the loser—there will never be anything more than auditions.


Professional don't do shoot and deliver the products for free.

Would you visit a restaurant ask for a free meal just to test how good they are?

Wake up, the only reason for asking for the raw files is so that they can get it processed and printed elsewhere.

  • Yes, I get that. But it was a good opportunity for a long-term cooperation and an opportunity to expand my portfolio. Also, my portfolio didn't include enough photos of this kind (event photography) for me to be chosen to cover such an event. I don't regret doing this, but now I am asking how others would feel or do. Pretend I said I was paid ;)
    – duality_
    Oct 30, 2011 at 14:43
  • 4
    What @Gapton said. Your client has no reason to expect RAW files. In fact, the expectation that he or she can post-process the files better than you did is a red flag. The future cooperation thing cuts both ways: If this client is asking you to do more free work over and above the free work leads one to wonder how much free work they would expect had you been paid for the original work. I would politely decline, but offer to do post-processing of selected images at your customary rate of [fill in number]/hour.
    – Steve Ross
    Oct 30, 2011 at 16:13

Have to agree with Gapton and Steve here...your client is trying to swindle you, no question there. They used you for free, and are not trying to get YOUR product, the actual photography, for free. A client has no reason to need or want a RAW file...they should be paying for a professionally finished product.

Tell them NO! Its the responsible, professional thing to do. You can't be a professional if you work for free and give your product away for free. If they ditch you for being too stingy, well good riddance! Find another customer who is reasonable, honest, responsible and timely with payment, and who does not expect everything to be free. Have a written contract between you and every client as well, to give you some legal power to ensure payment when the time arrives.

I also recommend keeping track of how your clients are. As a professional you should expect nothing less than to be paid for all of your work, in full, and on time. Not every customer is going to be a trustworthy person, and there are a lot of people out in the world who will stoop to any level to serve themselves as cheaply as they can. If you encounter clients who are regularly trying to get your work on the cheap or for free, or who ask for RAW images (thats like asking a film photographer for his negatives), its a side duty to remember who they are. Warn any other professional photographer friends you may have about them if they happen to work for (or have an opportunity to work for) the same people. Keeping such records gives you something to fight back with if a customer tries to use the fact that you refused to serve up your RAW versions without payment.

Don't sell yourself short, even if you have not done exactly the kind of photography a customer is asking for. Take a few sample shots of their event and show it to them, but don't give them everything for free. You might also try taking a few shots of a similar event ahead of time to boost your portfolio, and demonstrate your ability up front so you don't have to give the customer anything for free. As a professional, you have a right to sell your skills and your product for a fee.


You made two mistakes:

  1. You worked for free - never do this, when you work for free they value your work at exactly the price they paid for it, working for them for free makes it unlikely you'll have get paid work from them and very likely they'll be demanding and unreasonable (if you work for no money ask for something else in return - like the rights to use the images in you portfolio - and then make it clear you are shooting for your portfolio and they are models not customers).

  2. You didn't set expectations - when you start working you must make sure both you and the customer agree on what you are going to deliver, asking for the raw files or the film negatives is completely legitimate as long as it is agreed on in advance and worked into the cost of the contract.

Whenever I did any work for free or without agreed on deliverables (not photography work - I'm not a pro photographer) it always ended the same - badly.

Now you have to get out of those mistakes, what you do is up to you but I say give them the raw files - you have noting to gain by not giving them and it's never smart to burn bridges, also, since they value your time at zero they are likely to ask for a lot of small modifications and re-processing, by giving them the raw files you get to stop doing more free work for them.

Give them the raw files, forget about them and consider this a learning experience.


I don't know the right answer for this particular situation, but I think it demonstrates something to keep in mind for the future: make a comprehensive (even if short) written agreement in advance. Then, anything beyond that is a new negotiation. Here, it sounds like there was a difference of expectations, and without a clear agreement it's a difficult situation no matter what.

You might decide that it's reasonable to say no, and accept that this might damage the relationship. Or, you could decide that other factors in this case override the normal expectations — you could explain that you're doing a special favor and it's not your norm, let alone professional standards. But either way, make sure it doesn't happen next time, by making sure everyone's expectations are the same — or at least, written down.

  • But it will happen again. This is, unfortunately, part and parcel of delivering piece work in photography. If you have a solid contract with an agency or a reliable client (say, "Time" or "Newsweek"), then you will have established terms that won't change on a whim. When you are dealing with individuals, it's a total crap-shoot. And the worst of the worst are small-event, baby, and family photographs. This is not an isolated renegotiation or a single client, way out on the curve. It's a constant battle.
    – Steve Ross
    Oct 30, 2011 at 21:07
  • But if you have no contract at all, you're really in an uncomfortable place. If you have a basic understanding in writing: "I'll trade your time as a model for some prints or medium resolution post-processed JPEG images; anything beyond that from either of us and we'll make a further agreement", then you have a reasonable starting point.
    – mattdm
    Oct 30, 2011 at 21:55
  • Agreed. Something is better than nothing. You'd be surprised (maybe you wouldn't because you've been burned) how often even a well-crafted contract goes wrong, as people reserve the right to change their minds when it comes to photographs -- particularly of themselves or their families.
    – Steve Ross
    Oct 30, 2011 at 22:10

This all comes down to CYA and your contract. This outlines the importance of a written contract that is signed by you and a client prior to the shoot ever taking place. Your obligation is always to follow that document, nothing more, nothing less. You have that in place so you do not need to bring up questions like this, you would rather consult your contract or a lawyer.

Even if you are just starting out, I would encourage you to find a simple contract and either adapt it to fit your needs, or seek out professional(lawyer) help to do so. This is really the only way to go about becoming a professional, and without this you risk your entire financial life, personal or otherwise. Even just starting out and doing photo gigs for friends I made a basic contract that they read, agreed to, and signed. It really was for both parties and was the right thing to do. Even friends will understand as they then view you as more professional and taking the work seriously.

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