I've seen quite a few blog posts on wedding sites recently about asking your photographer for the RAW files. I think lots of couples ask for the RAWs without really having a good understanding of what they are asking for. Before I was a photographer, I thought that asking for RAW files meant that I would be getting more photos than had been delivered in the final gallery, but that's not actually the case at all. I've written this blog post to answer some questions about RAW photos, what they are and why you really don't want them!
So, what is a RAW file anyway?
Technically speaking, a RAW file is the uncompressed and unprocessed image data captured by a digital camera's sensors. RAW files are very large and contain a huge amount of data. They are specifically designed to be edited using professional software such as Lightroom.
When you take a photo on your camera or phone, most of the time it will be a .jpeg. This means that your camera has created an image that is an appropriate size to print/have on your phone. It has also done a certain amount of editing to the photo that you see. It has automatically chosen the settings and how much light has been allowed into the lens, as well as what colours to highlight and what shadows to fill in. Two people standing next to each other taking exactly the same photo, would get very different results if one was shooting in .jpeg and one was shooting in RAW.
RAW photos can look a bit dull straight out of the back of the camera, as you can see in the examples below. I personally, tend to underexpose my photos a little bit, making them a bit darker than I like, and then I brighten them up when editing them.
Because i've taken the photos in RAW format, I can manipulate and edit the colours as much as I like in Lightroom. I can warm up or cool down an image without compromising the skin tones of the people in the photos. I can change highlights and shadows so that both the foreground (the couple) and the background (some nice scenery) are both visible and lit evenly. I can crop photos in closely without compromising the quality of the photo, as you can see in the photo below where I couldn't get closer to the couple without climbing through the plants, so I just cropped the image in afterwards - with a .jpeg, this would have left the photo looking blurry because it was too zoomed in). I can easily edit out small imperfections, such as the cat scratch on the brides wrist in the bottom photo. I can achieve all of this, because the RAW file is enormous and can store all of that data.
Can I have the RAW files from my photo shoot?
The short answer is no. Let me explain why.
You chose me to be your photographer based on loving the photos on my website. All of the photos displayed have been edited to match my style - quite light, bright and full of colour. Actually taking the photos is only half of the job you've hired me to do. The other half of the job happens sat in my pyjamas at my cluttered table editing your photos, while drinking copious amounts of tea and eating the occasional hobnob. Why would you want me to give you something that is only half finished? I think you would be very disappointed if you paid for the right side photos below and received just the left! The RAWs on the left are not a representation of my business and my photography skills. Being a photographer is taking the photos AND editing them too.
Can I at least take a look at the RAW files from my photo shoot?
Again, the answer is no. I totally understand that you might feel like you are 'missing out' on some potentially good photos if you don't get to see all of the RAW photos, but you're not! It is true that I do not give you every single photo that I take the day of your shoot. This is mostly because I am a big 'overshooter'! I would rather take 5 of exactly the same photo just to make sure I had the perfect one, than take one photo and risk it being a bit blurry. To some extent you need to trust me that I am choosing the absolute best and most flattering photos of you. I very carefully go through my photos after every shoot and choose the best ones to edit. I make sure that I have photos of all the poses we do and wide/close up versions of the same photo in your gallery. Do you really want to see 10 of the same photo, where 2 have you blinking, 1 has your hand in a bit of an odd position, 1 has you snorting with laughter in an unflattering way, and the other 6 are exactly the same perfect shot? I think that would be rather overwhelming in your final gallery and you would have to spend a long time selecting the photos that you actually like! I do that all for you. From those 10 photos, I may give you 3 - 1 close up, 1 far away and 1 with a slightly different facial expression, but the same pose. I'll give you a wide variety of photos to choose from, because I know from experience that the photos that I love most from sessions are not always the same ones the client loves.
What you will end up with is a carefully curated gallery of images that you'll love, that isn't overwhelmingly large and that have been edited to look consistent with the images in my portfolio - the reason you hired me in the first place!