Do You Really Want the RAW files?
If you’re being offered the RAW files, you might want to read this!
Recently, I had a conversation with a client who was deciding between me and another photographer. (She chose me, BTW!).
It went something a little like this :
“I just wanted to check one thing with you first; Do you give us the RAW files?”
“Oh… It’s just that….”
“…it’s just that someone else has told you that they will?”
“errrmmm….. Well. Yes”
And so it went – apparently, to try to win her business the other photographer had promised her the RAW files from him as a mark of higher quality, or professionalism, or copyright, or whatever.
This is so wrong on a few different levels. Here’s why with a few samples of my own photos. It seems obvious to me, but if you’re unsure the untouched RAW file is the one on the left!
- The RAW files are what some people refer to as a digital negative in so much as they are what is used to produce images from and these new files are usually called JPEGs and Sometimes TIFFs – (more on this later). Traditionally a photographer would keep the negative (RAW) and give the client the prints (JPEGs) – if the client wanted more copies they would need to ask the photographer to print again from the original negative, and the photographer would make more money from that one original. So far so good, except this is now 2016! The RAW file is NOT a negative, it’s a RAW file. A JPEG is not a single print. Theoretically a JPEG can be printed an infinite number of times without the need to go back to the RAW file. This is important.
- RAW files are exactly that – “RAW” files. The photographer captures a scene and wants to gather as much information as possible. Sometimes, especially at a wedding, the light changes every 5 seconds, which in turn alters the exposure values for the camera. Shooting RAW is usually the best way for me to ensure that I get a lot of detail in the highlight areas (A bright sky/A white dress) as well as information in the shadow areas (The shadows in bright sunny conditions and high contrast scenes for example). To achieve this the RAW file is by nature rather ‘Flat’ to look at retaining as much information at pixel level as possible. Personally I shoot my frames in a way that might look under or over exposed because I have learned that latitudes available to me from camera to software to output. This includes the highlights, the shadows, the general exposure, the colour or white balance, and the sharpness amongst other things. It might appear that the photograph looks dull and even lifeless if viewed only in this RAW state, that is if you can even open them on your computer, laptop, tablet, or phone in the first place…
- …Photographers know how to extract the information from the RAW file to achieve whatever ‘look’ or ‘style that they’re going for. But they don’t do this with a bag of spanners and a screwdriver! Beyond owning cameras I have a massive amount of tech including high end computers, hard drives, backup drives, more backup drives, plug ins and outs and a whole load of even more boring stuff along with umpteen different applications for managing your RAW files, JPEGS, and video and audio. Editing 1500 RAW files takes time. Processing the 500 keepers takes time and experience speeds that up. Knowing about DAM (digital asset management) and output file sizes and so on can be a head scratcher. Having the horsepower to hold and work on a library of thousands of photographs is expensive. Personally I use Capture One Pro and Adobe Photoshop, and don’t even get me started on video production software!
- Consistency and artistic vision is important to my clients. I would feel terrible if I just handed over the RAW files and said “There you go, I’m done” washing my hands of the whole affair. The final product is as much a part of what your wedding photography IS, at it’s core. The processes involved in getting to that point simply don’t register when you’re looking at a final image. I LOVE my work, and I love what photography can be and I’m always passionately striving to be better. I love processing images and creatively capturing and presenting my vision. I have a particular look to my images that is natural and fresh, and even sometimes moody, but always telling a story that is expressive and relevant to my clients. That’s why people book me and not a memory card.
- JPEGS are AWESOME! Once they have been created and processed from the RAW file, that is. The resolution is awesome, the detail is fine, the colour balance is correct, the contrast is beautiful, the file sizes are smaller, and they are instantly more usable across many more platforms including the internet. You can email a JPEG. You can even edit a JPEG! You can still turn it into a black and white picture, you can upload it to a website and have it printed and sent to your door.
- Cost – If you’re being told that having the RAW files mean that the booking will cost you less, the reason is actually because the photographer isn’t finishing their job! However – when you go back to your photographer after the wedding and ask him to now process the images for you, I’ve got a feeling that you might get a bill for that!
In over ten years of being a wedding photographer I have not once given a client the RAW files from their wedding, and I can pretty much guarantee that every single one of those clients has had the best version of their pictures to keep and print from. High quality, colour corrected, professionally converted, Hi Resolution JPEGS.
I understand when prospective clients ask me whether they will “Get the RAW files” because somewhere in the chain there’s a photographer telling people that there is more value in receiving these unadulterated (unprocessed) files that you can’t open.
It’s just inexperience and could just merely show the photographer to be naive, but it’s more dangerous than that.
It’s not the first time that I’ve heard of a couple questioning booking my services after being told the exact opposite of everything I’ve said in this article. If it’s being used as a competitive unique selling point by photographers – i.e ‘Giving you the RAW files means you get the REAL files’ then it’s just an out and out lie from someone who probably doesn’t care about what the couple end up with. The photographer wins (the booking) and the couple loses (gets files that they can’t do anything with) in most circumstances.
Owning the RAW files isn’t proof of purchase. It’s actually just laziness from the photographer.
I never found out if the other photographer in this case was charging more or less than me, but I suspect it was an attempt to undercut my product.
I’m fine with that.
What I’m not fine with is knowing that what might appear to be a throw away decision could actually be a huge mistake for most people and end up costing the couple more.
Please let me know what you think in the comments below, and please share on social media if you think it might help someone. I’m fast becoming known as the Dorset Wedding Photographer to come to, and I photograph weddings all over the UK. I’m Based in Surrey and work all through the south photographing Weddings in Hampshire, Weddings in Dorset, and Weddings in Devon.
If you’d like to start talking about making sure your photography is all that it can be please get in touch with me here.