How to price RAW image files properly

canon camera

Is it okay to share RAW image files with your clients? There is no universal answer to this question. Some photographers like Motal will tell you, YES, and others like Kobeissi will say it is not okay to share the digital files. So, who is right? Photographers okaying sharing or those against releasing the RAW files? This article walks everything you need to know about sharing the RAW images file and how to value them.

raw file

Fear

The main reason why most photographers never share unprocessed digital files is because of fear. They fear misrepresentation of their:

  • Professionalism. The fear they will be judged unfairly on their competence with a camera if customers get to see the edited images.
  • Work ethic. The fear of been bad-mouthed within the industry.
  • Hard work and expertise. They fear clients editing the RAW images without their consent will hurt future contracts and eventually hurt their careers.

Why letting your customers see RAW files is not a good idea?

adobe photoshop

Now let’s dive deeper and see some of the common reasons why a considerable percentage of photographers are still against sharing the unprocessed image files.

  • RAW files are not the final product: The editing process is as vital as shooting. The editing process makes sure the final images are presentable and tailored to the customer’s satisfaction. Additionally, the editing process allows photographers to show off their creativity. That said, it is okay to say no to releasing RAW files. 
  • Customers may get the wrong impression: Most unprocessed images are below the standard of what a customer would like to have. Sharing them can thus damage the excellent image clients initially had. You are not in the business of leaving your clients unhappy.
  • Unique tools needed for RAW files: Special tools are needed to edit RAW files. In most cases, customers are not aware of these tools. And those who do, using them is a big challenge. It, therefore, makes sense only to share the final product.
  • Quality over quantity: Photographers shoot many photos but only send a few processed images to their clients. The editing process allows them to select the best pictures, work on them, and share the best of the best. This will not be the case when you decide to release the RAW files. And if you do, the customer will be received may images that are likely to turn him or her off.
  • Loss of potential clients: A good job will always result in repeat business. Sharing unprocessed images with your clients will, in many ways, hurt your business growth. That is not something you want to happen when seriously focused on expanding.

Why you must offer RAW files

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Saying no to a customer is not always the best option. If you keep saying no to your customers, at the end of the day, you may find closing your business. Adapting to changes and evolving as the industry change is the key to remaining competitive.

In other words, be unique. Don’t be proud and stubborn. Listen to your customers and quench their demands. Once you give them what they want, taking your photography to the next levels will not be a tall order.

Below are the reasons why it is worth sharing those unprocessed files:

  • More money: One of the apparent reasons for letting your clients access RAW images is you get more money. Repeat business thrives better once you give your clients what they are looking for. If they want RAW files, why not give them and make more money?
  • People love getting what they want: It is natural people go back where they feel appreciated. One way to make your clients feel at home as a photographer is by giving them what they ask. Keep in mind that you are in the customer service business and must do everything possible to keep your customers always happy. Remember giving them the unprocessed images will not take away your editing skills. 
  • Seeing the images gets people excited: Showing your clients what you got after shooting is not a bad idea. In fact, doing so makes some customers happy and keen to see how the final product will look like. That simple act of showing RAW files can nurture a good relationship, boost your editing skills, and take your business to another level seamlessly.
  • Increased ROI: You are not just a photographer. You are also a business person who is keen to improve ROI. Now, if your customers are willing to pay for the RAW files, why not release them? By sharing them, you won’t worry about editing, and this gives you extra time to focus on other things.

Assigning a value to your RAW files

We have seen the benefits of giving RAW image files to paying clients. Now, if you decide to offer them in exchange for money, it is crucial to assign a value to each and especially if serious about increasing your ROI. Please don’t treat them as throw-away products. Treat them as valuable products and position them well so that they don’t appear less-than-desirable to other alternatives, such as print products. Simply make sure your unprocessed files are affordable than the alternatives.

How to price your RAW files

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To help you understand this, let’ s first compares digital files and prints.

How you price your digital files is totally different from how you will charge for prints. Often, when charging for prints, the cost-of-goods model comes in handy. But applying the same model when charging for digital files is not always a good idea as you are certainly going to get little return. So, what is the best approach? The answer is using the opportunity cost, pricing model.

But first, let’s consider this. For a single digital file (using the cost-of-good model), your labor input (time spent):

  • 5 minutes retouching the image
  • 1 minute uploading the file for your customers to download
  • 1 minute to email your client the link to download
  • No material cost

Note that when using the cost-of-good model, you add up the inputs (labor + material) and then multiply by your mark-up factor to get the price you should be charging.

With that in mind, let’s complete the example above.

Labour input is 7 minutes and assuming you are paying yourself $60,000/year. It means the cost is $3.5. Now multiply this cost by mark-up factor of 2.85; you get $9.98.   

This means you will be charging $10 for a digital file.     

 Using the cost-of-goods model, let calculate the cost for an 8* 10 print.

  • 5 minutes to retouch the image
  • 1 minute to order the image from your lab
  • 1 minute to unpack the print from your lab
  • 2 minutes to package the print
  • 5 minutes to meet with your client when they pick it up
  • $2.50 for the print from your lab
  • $5.00 for shipping from your lab
  • $3.75 for the presentation and packaging

Assuming the salary we used in the example above does not change and using the above numbers, your cost-of-goods is $7 in labor and $11.25 in the material. Now added together and multiplied by the same mark-up 2.85, you get $52.

Now comparing the above two examples, you can see a significant difference. It is also apparent this model is not suitable for digital files. Or, in our case, RAW files. In that case, the opportunity cost pricing model comes in handy.

In the opportunity cost pricing model, an opportunity is defined as “what you have to give up.” For example, if you sell digital files, it is very unlikely you will sell a print of that file. Thus, by selling a digital file, you are missing out on the sale of that print. Therefore, the opportunity cost of the digital file is the income that you would not be making in selling the print.

Going back to the examples we used above, let’s assume you did not sell the digital file and instead sold a print of that image. In this case, the opportunity cost for the digital file is the price of the print – $50. Thus, we suggest you price your digital file higher than $50, something like $70.

Here is an example where you sell all the digital files from a session. What’s the opportunity cost? If you didn’t sell all the digital files from that session, what would you be selling instead? Perhaps a wall portrait, prints, or a portrait book?

Now, add that up. What is your average sale? Let’s say your average sale is around $1500. Therefore, your opportunity cost for the entire set of digital files from that session is $1500. For this example, we suggest you price your digital file from a session around $ 1800.

Now, replace digital files in our example, with RAW images file and price them. It is that simple to make extra cash from those unprocessed digital files your paying customers want.