How to choose the right wedding photographer
PART 4 - RAW files and digital negatives - do you need them?
Here we discuss RAW files and digital negatives and give you all the information you need to know. So to start with, do you need these RAW files? And are they an imperative part of a wedding photography package?
Well it all depends on your wants and needs of course, and these are differebnt for everyone. For the large part I would say that it is unneeded. But to begin with let us start with actually breaking down what a RAW file is so you can see why this might be the case.
A RAW file is simply a file as seen by the camera's sensor. This sensor determines the size and amount of data included in the file it produces, and the file is free of any computer alterations internally from the camera. It is, in essence, a totally raw and unfiltered file with layers and layers of unfiltered data. However, the data is largely hidden to the viewer at the first instance and can only be coaxed out by professional dedicated software and by someone with the skill and time to use it.
Often people think of a RAW file as a digital negative, meaning a digital version or equivalent of a analog film negative (but digital) and this is a good starting point. However, a digital negative can mean many things and each photographer may well give a different interpretation of what this phrase actually means, so be sure to ask for a concise breakdown as not all digital negatives are made equal. Also, it is often the case that the names RAW files and digital negatives are interchangeable, but this does not mean that they are exclusively the same thing, so it is worth being in the know.
Sticking with the analog analogy for a moment, I will explain why people use this. With film photography, the roll of film would be sent away to a lab for processing and printing or done in-house at a photographer's studio. then printed in the darkroom, where adjustments would be made at the time of the print process. The image could be made darker or lighter depending on preference. Likewise, adjustments to things like contrast, hue and saturation could also be altered. And the same and more is true with a modern RAW file. You use dedicated computer software in place of a darkroom with its equipment and chemicals that are needed. The computer and the software is what we use to read the file and apply those same edits before exporting to a more readily known file, such as a jpeg which is for printing or viewing/sharing digitally.
So now that you know what a RAW file is and what it is used for, we go back to the original question, do you actually need them when it comes to your wedding photography?
My thought is that you don’t! And it comes down to a few reasons.
Number one: is the simple reason that you are paying a professional wedding photographer to do a job for you. So let them! They not only take the photos, but they will edit them as well, giving you a finished product you can be proud of, so why would you ever need these files?
We talked before in the previous parts of ‘How to choose the right wedding photographer’ about what you should be getting for your money, and a finished product should be it. After all would you go to a restaurant, take your own food, go there and cook it? Surely not! That is the whole reason for going to a restaurant - you are going to pay your money, and other people are going to do their jobs, giving you the desired outcome. It should be no different with your wedding photography. I know it is not exactly the same thing, but I think the analogy works just the same in getting the main point across.
Number 2: The actual Raw files are pretty much, for most people at least, next to useless, unless you have the right computer software and know how to make the relevant edits. They also take up a lot of hard drive space and can take up a lot of your time to make the relevant edits. Not to mention that you don’t even use the RAW files to make prints, so if this is what you want them for, it is simply overkill.
Some people like the idea of making a few edits here and there, but there is no need to have the RAW files if you just want to apply a few Instagram style filters or do some basic edits for fun. You'd also need to make sure that your photographers are happy with you doing this (more on why this is important in the copyright information in the following blog piece), then a jpeg is fine, although I can not see why this would even be needed if your photographers have done their job in the first place. Why would you need to make any edits yourself if the job is already done?
If you do decide that you want the RAW files or digital negatives, just make sure you know what you are asking for and what you are getting in return. Many photographers will either point blank refuse to give RAW files or will offer them at an extra cost.
We at Lucria take the second approach when it comes to our wedding photography packages. It is important to us that you get everything you need. So this is why we do make them available. But so far, 100% of the time, after anyone has enquired about the RAW files and we have explained that they can have them, but because of the size of the files, they warrant that we supply them on a separate external hard drive with an associated cost. As well as explaining all I have written above about the nature of the files and how to use them, people have seen that they really are not needed.
But the option should be there for people. We would not presume to tell someone what they can and cannot have in this regard. We just hope to give them all the relevant information and options to make their choice with.
When we have the RAW files conversation with our clients, we also go on to explain that with each package we include the digital negative of the original images and what is meant by this. This is important and the main reason that the RAW files are simply not needed. With our wedding packages you get all the original images and the artistic edits from your wedding day, so nothing is missed out. We only envisage you ever needing the artistic edits, but should you ever want to see and have copies of the originals, these come as standard.
Edits can still be made using files like this, but not to the same degree and without the need for dedicated professional software such as is needed with RAW files. So it is these high resolution files, that we at Lucria Creative call a digital negative. And this is the difference between this and the RAW file, and why no one has yet opted or needed for the RAW files. People see that they get everything they actually need included in their chosen package and the reason that the RAW files are not included, is simply a cost saving to them. But remember, if you are going through another photography studio, they may term a digital negative to be something different, so it is wise to clarify.
I still have this conversation with many fellow photographers, whom still feel that they would never, under any circumstances, include RAW files or digital negatives of any kind. But times have moved on. It is not exactly the same as giving away your negatives (which a photographer would never do). We still have a copy of the RAW files after all. We live in a digital age, so we can make a digital copy should it be needed.
And that is all there is to RAW files. There really is no big mystery but it seems to still be a big divider of opinion among professionals and customers alike. People are so often told that they need the RAW files which is rarely the case. And just to add, when a 'shoot and burner' gives you all the images on a disk, these will most likely not be edited or edited to a high standard and they certainly won't be RAW files. They might not even be high enough resolution files that you can do much with. So if you might be thinking that this is the best option as you can save money on your initial photographer because of the belief that this way, you get all that you need, and believe me when I saythat many people do think this and nearly always come to regret it. So please think long and hard if this is an option for you. And I hope this blog post goes someway to explaining the mystery that still clings to RAW files and clarifying why there is a high chance you will not ever need them. It is not worth the extra cost or consideration if you have all you need in your package such as we offer at Lucria Creative, and if you do, then your chosen studio should be able to supply it for you. So just ask.
For our next, and last part of this blog series we will be briefly touching on copyright and ownership rights. This can be found here in part 5.
Or if you have happened to tune in to this series further down the line, and would like the rest of the inforamtion on how to choose the right wedding photographer then just click here to find out all you need to know.