There always seems to be a lot of debate amongst photographers about whether or not to sell unedited files to clients. Originally, I was of the “No photographer should EVER do that!” mentality. I still am—for my own business. But this isn’t necessarily an all-encompassing rule. Let me explain why I do not do this, and I will leave it up to you to assess your situation, and figure out what will work best for you. More than likely, you will find that selling unedited images is not in your best interest, though this may work for some photographers.
Why I Don't Sell Unedited Images
I do a lot of editing on my photos. The images that are on my website all have a certain “look” to them, and when a client hires me, nine times out of ten, they say they’re hiring me because they want that certain look. My unedited photos look nothing like the finished product. I do my best to nail composition, exposure and white balance in camera, to save myself time in editing, but from there, I add textures, multiple curves layers in Photoshop, and I almost always finish off with a combination of presets in Lightroom. I am a bit of a control freak with my editing, so I spend a lot of time on each, individual photo. So, to summarize, my unedited images look completely different than the finished product, and not at all what the client was looking for when they hired me!
If I sell unedited images to clients, and they upload those photos to Facebook, for example, the photos will not be a true representation of my style. Also, what’s really dangerous is the client may take the liberty of editing my photos themselves, and then uploading them, a scary thought, because most non-photographers have very little concept of editing, which would further distort my unedited images. I know someone who this happened to – they gave their client the original images, and the client completely maimed the photos in editing, and uploaded them to Facebook with the photographer’s name on them. It wasn’t pretty, and it was an untrue representation of that photographer’s work!
Why This Might Work for You
Now, if you are the type of photographer who does little-to-no editing, then selling unedited images may not be such a bad idea. I know a handful of photographers whose style is minimal with no editing - very clean, studio-type portraits. They may convert them to black and white, but other than that, the images on their websites are unedited. If this is your style, then selling unedited images to clients could be a great avenue for you, because you would be able to include a CD with all original images into your packaging and pricing.
These are just a couple of points on the pros and cons of not selling, or selling, unedited images. Your style and your brand are ultimately what you need to take into consideration, so gives this idea some thought, and proceed with caution in this area.