Recently, I’ve been asked by couples to deliver the RAW files along with or instead of the normal JPEG files I usually send to a client. I also have heard from lots of other wedding photographers out there about people asking for these files. The fact of the matter is that we (the photographers) don’t like giving these out, but the reason is not what you may think. I am here today to put this myth to bed and help everyone get exactly what they are looking for.
One of the origins of the RAW photo delivery myth is the comparison between RAW files and negatives from the film era. In a previous generation, you’d ask to get the negatives along with your prints so that you could make more prints down the road. You didn’t want to have your album disappear or decide that you want to make a bigger print for the wall, but be stuck without the negatives. Those were the key to more prints. In that sense, a RAW file is NOT the same thing.
RAW files are the extremely large and complex files that a professional grade camera makes. It is all of the information that the sensor acquires when the shutter is open. The camera doesn’t compress anything, change anything or adjust anything. In that sense, it is kinda like a negative. But, that file is not usable on it’s own. It is absolutely massive (30-50 mb per file), which means a 800 photo delivery would be over 28 GB of information (on a wedding day, I can take over 100 GB worth of information). Many can only be opened in specific photo editing programs (like Lightroom or Photoshop). It’s also possible that your photographer uses a less common camera (like a Fujifilm or a medium format) and those RAW files may not even be readable by many computers. The whole point of getting the files is that you want to see the photos.
The next trouble with a RAW file is that it is un-touched. It is all the information the camera sensor took in, but with none of the stuff added. Photographers love these files because they then can either apply their own look to the photo or even be able to fix a photo the camera may not have accurately photographed. See these two photos below. One is the information, un edited from the RAW file and the other is how it looks when it’s done. We can all agree that the edited photo is the one ready to be hung on your wall.
I often compare RAW files to an un-painted house. The house is basically done and it looks like a house, but there is still work to make it pop like you really want to. Personally, I never want you to see photos as they come out of camera. I only want you to see the finished product. Even personal photos I put on Facebook for friends have been color corrected so they match my vision for the image.
There is only one situation where you may want to get RAW files from a photographer. That is if their style is to photograph the day and then give you all the photos un-edited to do whatever you like. In that case, you may want to get the RAW files because you can get them edited and color corrected down the road. The files won’t be printable right now, but it allows you to still bring out the best quality photo possible from the information the camera sensor pulled in on your wedding day.
Some of you might be also wondering about trendy color treatments. I can see the draw in asking for RAW files so that if in 10 years, you decide that you’re no longer a fan of the VSCO look, you can get them re-edited and printed. I do get that, but if that’s a worry, I’d suggest considering a photographer who has a more timeless color correction style.
I hope this helps everyone. Please know the most important information here. When the photographer says they won’t give you a RAW file, it’s not because they are trying to keep things from you. They want you to only see their best work as it’s meant to be.