“Can we have the raw files?” Suggested by blog posts as an important question to ask your photographer, this questions has little weight. Misconceptions about RAW files are everywhere, and it’s time to clear the air. After a few thorough internet searches, I’ve put together the most common objections, misconceptions, straight falsities, and the truth behind what the RAW files are and how you should actually feel about them regarding your wedding photography. In the following paragraphs we’ll answer: should I ask for RAW files?
RAW TRUTH ONE: RAW is a file type, not a description.
The first thing to clear up is what “RAW” even is. While typically regarded as “raw”, the actual item you’re asking for is a noun, not an adjective. While you may think asking for the “raws” is asking for the unedited, untouched images (and you’re not wrong) what you’re actually asking for is the “RAWs” – RAW being a file type. This file type varies by camera, but with my equipment it ends in .RAF (other camera brands use different endings, like .CR2 or .NEF).
Without going into the technicalities, RAW files are a file type that sucks in as much information from the scene you’re photographing as possible. We’re talking as many colors, light variances, everything as possible. They are an unfinished file type that needs to be edited and reformatted. They are typically reformatted and delivered as JPEGs. While there are programs and editors you can purchase that can open these files (such as the programs professionals use) many computers don’t even recognize the file, and cannot be viewed in your standard photo viewer.
These files are designed this way, to be enhanced and altered. Opting not to do this will likely result in flat colors, flat contrast, and a less-than-quality product. Additionally, RAW files react to environments in different ways – so some photographers shoot intentionally darker or lighter, making the RAW files look low-quality. It’s the edited process that brings images to life.
RAW TRUTH TWO: “I want to hire a photographer for their skill, equipment, experience, ability to capture great moments in creative compositions, and I’ll just do the editing to save money.”
While this may seem like it’s going to save you money, it’s not. Remember above how I mentioned the programs needed to edit those files? They are NOT cheap. Additionally, many professional photographers are known not only for their work with composition and camera settings, but also for the colors they choose to edit with. I can recognize the work of many of the local professionals in my area just based on the editing style alone.
Not only that, but when you boil it down: editing your photographer’s images is typically illegal. Almost every professional photographer has a clause in their contract that outlines what copyright infringement is, and that includes not having the right to edit the files. Editing your wedding photographs typically breaks this contract, and can cost you a heck of a lot of money in legal fees if you knowing break the law.
RAW TRUTH THREE: Most photographer’s RAW files actually look identical.
When photographing in this file format, most of the time everything that comes out of our camera looks very similar to what would come out of another professional’s camera. The way our camera’s capture light is often very true to scene, so if you’re hiring for RAW files, you’re going to have a heck of a time trying to find a difference in quality.
LAST: Should I ask for RAW files? No. So what are you really hiring a professional for?
What you’re really hiring a professional for, is the experience and the way they take care of you, your family, and your event. Every photographer is going to have a different process: do they deliver online galleries? Do they have an amazing wedding premiere that’s pretty much a movie in your living room? Do they consistently send you email updates with advice and hilarious blog posts? Each photographer has a different way that they take care of their clients to make sure they feel loved and appreciated and respected. That is really what is going to separate the value of each photographer you speak with.
I’d love to have a conversation with you about the images we could create together. Reach out, and let’s talk about what story you’re excited to tell.
Hey! I'm Makayla, a wedding photojournalist based in Duluth, MN and Saint Paul, MN.
I believe that stories are best told untouched, undirected, and with intentionality and meaning.
This blog is a space to share advice for couples about weddings, advice for photographers about witnessing events with intention, and steps to create decisions based on your values and what matters most to you.
Grab your favorite beverage, pull up a chair, and let's get to know each other.
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