If I paid for photographs on my wedding and the photographer has supplied me only with low res files (200 kb approx for all) and says she is unable to save them edited in high res, am I entitled to ask for the raw images? I have no pictures of my wedding that I can even frame. When I asked for the raw given she can't provide anything but low res, she said she doesn't give raw files, the same as any other photographer. Legally, is this true? I would appreciate any help. Thank you!

  • 25
    If I read your question verbatim and she is unable to save high-resolution edited images, that sounds to me like gross incompetence. If she is unwilling to, without further payment, then that should be determined by the contract.
    – Moriarty
    Dec 3, 2013 at 6:50
  • 8
    Are you concerned about the RAW files, or do you simply want high resolution images? If you simply want higher resolution image files, that is very different (to a digital photographer, at least) from wanting "the raw files", and you should make your desires clear. Even if the photographer didn't shoot in RAW, an unprocessed image out of a DSLR generally takes some processing before it looks good.
    – user
    Dec 3, 2013 at 10:02
  • 2
    I would be ashamed if I was a wedding photographer and I was unable to produce high res images in a digital format for my client these day...10 years ago, yeah that might have been in issue...As far as the raw files go, if it isn't in the contract then she has no reason to give them to you, but a compromise would be to sell them (along with the rights, because at that point she is giving you creative control).
    – TheXed
    Apr 26, 2017 at 21:01
  • How is this not spelled out in the contract? Instead of asking here, read the contract! Sep 25, 2017 at 11:56

8 Answers 8


Legally, and in typical business practices, what the photographer told you is completely true — she has no obligation to give you RAW files, unless the contract says otherwise.

Presumably, the photographer will sell you prints of her work. This is how she makes her living, after all. Kind of harsh to discover after it is too late, but if you wanted something else, you should have arranged it beforehand.

These days, many photographers will sell you high resolution digital copies, although RAW files are more rare. (See for example Copyright Was Released to All Images: Does this include all RAW photos? for a case where copyright license was given but not RAW files.) However, if the deal doesn't include the opportunity for the photographer to make money from prints, one of the following is certainly true: the price will be higher, the work not as good, or the photographer is paying the bills with some other job.

The issue of RAW vs high-quality JPEG is a separate one, but also important. RAW files are just that — unbaked data. You wouldn't go to a bakery and demand that you get the flour, sugar, and eggs with your cake. And, if you did, the baker might be justifiably concerned that you might take those, mix them up and throw them in the oven and then serve something that doesn't represent her brand — but with her name attached. You might say "but I'm the paying customer!", but, consider what you are actually paying for: the expertise and skill of the baker. Same with a photographer. If you wanted the ingredients and a recipe for printing your own photos, especially with all of the latitude RAW gives you, that's beyond the normal deal.

In any case, in the situation you are in, the photographer has all of the cards both legally and technically. And, although I sympathize with you, probably morally as well. Always read contracts and know what you are paying for.

  • 3
    +1 Great analogy! I am only nitpicking but if you could mention a bit more about contracts - this answer would be very complete. Also I would add "the price for the sitting fee will be higher" or "session" to the third paragraph.
    – dpollitt
    Dec 3, 2013 at 13:35
  • I love the analogy!
    – Joanne C
    Dec 3, 2013 at 15:24
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    The bakery analogy seems like a bit of a stretch to me. Most of the work in taking photographs usually comes from setting up the shot reasonably, being there at the right time, and curating the collection of shots. Unless you're paying extra for retouching ($$$), the editing tweaks at the end of the process are likely to be more like writing a message in icing on top of the cake than baking it. Not baking the cake would be like asking the photographer to set up the lights and frame the shot, but not take any photographs—behavior that would likely get you branded as insane. :-)
    – dgatwood
    Sep 25, 2017 at 4:11
  • @dgatwood To continue your own analogy, the writing on the cake is often the first thing that people notice. If you the customer insist on doing the writing yourself and it looks like crap, or if you misspell something, or just generally don't finish the cake consistent with the baker's own high standards, then the baker might reasonably be concerned about damage to her own reputation. Similarly, the "tweaks at the end" are often the difference between an unimpressive photo and one that makes people say "What's the name of your photographer?"
    – Caleb
    Sep 26, 2017 at 22:00
  • And yet any bakery will sell you a cake without writing.
    – dgatwood
    Sep 26, 2017 at 22:20

The answer to your question isn't yes or no to "legally, is this true?" because the contract you should have signed should spell out very clearly what you're entitled to with respect to the images.

In general, the vast majority of photographers will retain copyright over their images and restrict access to the raw files. Typically, as a result, the contracts will specify the nature of the images that will be provided. These may be JPEG images, printed images, or some combination thereof. It's very rare, and usually much more costly, to get the raw images.


It is entirely up to the decision of the photographer. If you read the contract, you probably paid her to take photographs and not to give you them. By default, the photographer owns the copyrights on the images she takes and you have no rights to them other than what she grants. The details of those grants should be spelled out in your contract. If the contract doesn't explicitly mention getting anything you haven't gotten already, then you are out of luck.

It sucks that you fell victim to a contract that you didn't like, but this kind of thing is fairly typical behavior in the industry. Personally, I give high quality JPEGs of my best photos and will give RAWs on request, but I'm also an extremely permissive photographer and am not an example of the industry standard. I also don't do it as my primary source of income, so I don't need creative ways to get more money out of people beyond my initial fee.

So technically, her statement that all photographers do that is incorrect, however for many (a majority perhaps) she is correct. She is also almost certainly well within her rights to deny your request.

  • 2
    Is that a legally valid contract? Taking the photographs and giving you nothing is not consideration. I'd be tempted to refuse to pay anything. If your business model is to treat the photos as a product then you shouldn't charge anything to show up. Imagine if a bakery charged once to bake the cake and again to give it to you.
    – Random832
    Dec 3, 2013 at 14:34
  • 3
    @Random832 - it's perfectly legal and quite common. You are paying for a service of them capturing the images and then paying for them to be produced in to photos as a separate step. Playing devils advocate, if you decide you don't like any of the photos, you don't have to pay anything else to the photographer other than the sitting fee (the cost of them capturing the images). This would generally be much cheaper than the cost of paying someone to come and take photos and give them all to you.
    – AJ Henderson
    Dec 3, 2013 at 14:42
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    The sitting fee (the cost of the photographer taking the images) is generally a minimal cost to compensate the photographer for the time and resources that go in to capturing the images. It isn't covering the costs of any production of those images and they are not finished products. As an alternate parallel, it would be a bit like paying a baker hourly to cook for you. If you decided to stop paying them half way through making a cake, they wouldn't have to give you the half baked cake because it wouldn't be their product. It all depends on the contract and is perfectly legal.
    – AJ Henderson
    Dec 3, 2013 at 14:44
  • I'd even say it's moral as long as they are up front about what the costs are and make sure that people understand the contract, but some photographers choose to use a low sitting fee to entice people in and try to conceal the true costs. This is unfortunately legal because it is your responsibility to read any contract you sign, but I personally think it is immoral when they don't make sure you know what you are in for. Particularly for something like a wedding.
    – AJ Henderson
    Dec 3, 2013 at 14:45
  • @Random832 - another thought on your example, the sitting fee would be a bit like the fee that the baker would charge if he got half way through baking your cake and you decided to cancel. He's already spent money and time working on the cake and someone needs to pay for that. That's the point of a sitting fee. You had the intent to buy photos and if you decide not to, the sitting fee covers their time.
    – AJ Henderson
    Dec 3, 2013 at 14:51

If I paid for photography am I entitled to raw images?

No, unless that was agreed upon beforehand.

Am I entitled to ask for the raw images?

You can ask, but unless it was agreed beforehand in contract form she's not obliged to give them. She may choose to sell them for an additional fee. She may choose not to.

she said she doesn't give raw files, the same as any other photographer.

Well, that's not completely true (though it's possible those weren't her exact words). There are some photographers who give raw files. I wouldn't say it's standard practice, or that you'd necessarily even want raw files, which of course won't contain any of the editing and retouching work you paid the photographer to do. But there are some photographers who will provide raw files.

If raw files is something you'd want, it's something you'd have to agree upon beforehand, or assume it's not part of the deal. You cannot assume that a photographer will give you raw files. And if you do want raw files, consider whether you see any benefit in the post-processing (retouching or corrections) done by the photographer because a raw file won't have any.

Some photographers may decide that they don't want to ever provide raw files as a matter of policy, and they can have legimate reasons for this:

  1. Financial reason: their business model is that they make more money from selling prints, and charge less for the initial photography.

  2. They feel that an important part of the service they provide is the retouching or digital editing which they do, which may even form their "personal style". If you pick a photographer because they have a unique personal style, but a big part of that is the way they edit the photos, the raw images would miss out on any of this.

  3. They don't want potential clients seeing uncorrected versions of their work which still contain easily-corrected flaws

  • Note I've edited the answer a bit to improve Mar 12, 2020 at 23:00

In most cases the photographer does not give out the RAW files. That depends on each individual photographer but the contract should definitely have information regarding this. I am not sure why someone would give out low res images maybe because they want you to purchase framed images from them so they can have a much bigger profit from your job.

As a photographer I would not release RAW images to my clients because it is unfinished work and I just want to give them a good final product that they can cherish for years.


As stated above, you say you paid for "photography" seemingly without defining what photography is explicitly. As such you're entitled to absolutely nothing that isn't explicitly mentioned in the contract signed beforehand. There is no law for RAW images, nor do you own the originals or have any rights to them, unless those rights are covered, agreed and signed in the contract.


I do weddings and I provide all photos at 5000px.

Then you get a small set that are 1500px

both on a DVD labelled small for loading quickly and large for prints etc.

If she doesn't do this for you then she has probably had the wrong setting on and recorded all small images. I don't know of any cameras that I would use that would creat a 200kb image.

She should also have a copy of pre edited images. I would go back and find out exactly what steps she performed and why she didn't back up her work as she went along?

  • 3
    Many photographers shoot at full resolution but will only provide web sized images in digital form. Because as we all know from experience: once you sell a single copy of a full resolution digital file it is almost certain you will never sell another print of that photo. If your fee to show up is enough to cover the loss of revenue from selling prints, then this is not an issue for you. But if the contract is structured around a lower shooting fee and the photographer is making their living off the prints, then providing hi-res digital files is not a good business model.
    – Michael C
    Dec 3, 2013 at 17:15
  • 1
    Nah I charge for time spent. I don't charge for copies of originals etc.
    – Greg
    Jun 12, 2015 at 14:17
  • You may charge for time spent, but that doesn't mean Teresa's photographer (or many others) structure their charges that way.
    – Michael C
    Jun 12, 2015 at 23:30

If the advert says that they are giving digital copies of the physical photos, then it is within the consumer reasonable assumption that they are giving us the digital equivalent of a photographic film.

A photographic film can be used to produce photo of bigger size than the one that was originally commissioned to print. The digital copies should have this ability.

  • 2
    I don't think your logic on "reasonable" assumption of equivalence follows at all. But beyond that, copyright law in most countries does not provide for making your own reproductions (of any size) except for in narrow fair use cases — which tend to be much narrower than people assume.
    – mattdm
    Apr 23, 2015 at 18:49

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