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Do You Really Need the RAW Images?

We read about clients asking photographers for the RAW image files on a nearly daily basis now. Looking into it, we have discovered that there are quite a few articles floating around the internet telling people that they should ask for the RAW images. Some of these articles are even coming from large wedding industry companies. But, here’s the thing to realize: the people writing these articles aren’t photographers and often are only parroting what they’ve heard elsewhere and don’t actually really fully understand what they are telling you.

Sound harsh? Yes, probably, but it’s true. As a bride (or groom) we understand that wedding costs are expensive and you want the most for your money. Truly, we get that. But before you jump on the RAW image bandwagon, we’d like to take a moment to explain why you probably don’t need them (or want them).

What is a RAW image?

When most people (who aren’t photographers) talk about RAW images, they are mostly talking about unedited images. But a real RAW image is more than simply unedited. A RAW image is a file type, like .jpg or JPEG. It’s a format that many photographers (us included) prefer to photograph in because it does not compress the image and allows for the most information captured to use in the editing process.

This format requires specific software in order to open and view the file. Remember film negatives? You couldn’t really do much with those little strips without a darkroom to develop the images. RAW files are essentially like negatives.

You probably don’t need the RAW images.

You can’t open RAW files.

Like we already said, RAW images are essentially negatives and require specific software to open them. The software required to open these files are not cheap and most people don’t have this software just sitting on their computers.

You won’t be able to edit them.

If you are able to open the RAW files, you won’t be able to edit them legally without the permission from your photographer. Because of copyright laws (as we’ve discussed in a previous post), your photographer is the copyright owner of your images (unless copyright has been signed over to you). This means that you do not have the legal right to alter the images in any way without written permission from the copyright holder. This means that you also won’t be able to send those RAW images to someone else to edit them for you either.

They take up a lot of storage.

Seriously, RAW files are big! They take up a lot of storage space. If you aren’t able to open these files or edit them, there really isn’t much need to have these large files that will take up your valuable storage. A full wedding day of RAW images can easily take up 64+ GB. To put that into perspective, a new base model MacBook Pro comes with 250GB of space.

So what should you be asking your photographer for if not RAWs?

We always highly recommend making sure that you are familiar with the editing style of whichever photographer you choose (or interview). Make sure that you love their editing style and that it is what you want your images to look like. Ask your photographer what their editing style is and to see as much sample work as possible to check out consistency.

If you like darker, moodier photographs, then a light and airy photographer is probably not the right fit for you. Or perhaps you prefer a more true to color editing style. And that’s ok! There are plenty of photographers out there that edit in the style that you like. It may just take a little homework on your part to find them. Overall, you will be much happier if you hire a photographer that specializes in the editing style that you love.

What if you still really want/need RAW files?

If after reading this and understanding what RAW files are, you decide that you still really want or need them, here’s what you should know.

Ask for them before signing a contract.

Many photographers have a strict policy about not giving away RAW or unedited images (ever). Part of a good photography service is the art of the editing process. This is something you are going to want to know before you sign a contract and pay your retainer fee. If you wait until after signing or paying your retainer to discuss this topic and realize you will need to hire someone else who is willing to hand over RAW files, you may lose out on that fee (as they are often non-refundable). This could be a costly mistake. So, please be sure to have this discussion at the consultation meeting.

RAW files probably won’t be cheap.

If you do find a photographer willing to hand over RAW files, they are likely going to charge for them. And they will probably cost a pretty penny. Why? Because they are sacrificing part of their art. If you are editing the photos, they will likely not be on brand with their other work and as such, will want to be compensated for that. You may also find that photographers giving away RAW images will ask not to be credited or affiliated with those images anymore.

You’ll need signed permission to edit your images.

Because of copyright laws, you’ll want to acquire written permission that legally enables you to edit your RAW images. This may require you to buy the copyright from the photographer or you may just receive a signed contract/document stating that you have permission to make edits. Copyright ownership and an editing release are not the same thing so be sure you know the difference and you are aware of what you are receiving.

 Be open and non-confrontational when discussing RAW files.

Photographers are artists and as such can be very sensitive types. When you are asking for RAW files, let it be a discussion and not a demand. Some photographers may be quick to throw up walls and become defensive which can lead to unnecessary confrontation for both parties. Simply state why you want/need the RAW files and be understanding if a photographer responds with some hesitance. It is quite heavily engrained in many photographers not to give away RAW files and they may need some time to consider your request. Allow this time and be willing to have a conversation about it. If a photographer decides they aren’t willing to give/sell RAW files, then you can move on to find one who is.



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