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I want to talk a bit about images. Specifically, I want to talk about RAW files – files that come straight out of most photographers’ cameras. By definition the word raw is defined as:
(of food) Uncooked: “raw eggs”.
(of a material or substance) In its natural state; not yet processed or purified: “raw silk” etc.
A RAW file (or digital negative) is exactly that – the image in its natural state, not yet processed. It is somewhat like a negative from film photography days – it plays a part in the entire image creation process, but you cannot utilize a negative in the state that it is in. The RAW file cannot be edited in standardized graphics editing programs until it goes through steps to convert it to the more commonly found format JPG.
Most professional photographers choose to capture their images in RAW for a few key reasons:
1. The RAW file captured off of the camera’s sensor contains information about the scene (light/color) and captures it as closely as possible to the original scene, with minimal loss of information.
(In addition to this, it also captures the data regarding the technical settings used: aperture, shutter speed and other user selected settings as well as camera model type, lenses used etc.)
2. When you photograph in JPG, the camera ismaking decisions based on predetermined algorithms in order to convert the RAW data inside of it to the JPG format. It doesn’t always make the right decision either. RAW format lets the photographer make far more precise decisions at a later time.
3. To me anyway, the most important reason I only edit in RAW is that it is lossless. When I open a RAW image file, I can choose to change settings like color/contrast/cropping – a wide range of flexibility. I can take that file that is possibly underexposed or overexposed and correct it. The possibilities are great. When I’m all done, the program I’m using creates an extension file that stores all of those settings but it does NOT change the original file. This allows me to be able to open and re-open the image, see the changes I have made, and I can go back and make more changes or even revert the file back to its original settings. The flexibility of a RAW image is extensive and that’s what makes it so appealing to professional photographers. This editing flexibility is not shared by JPG files.
Anyhow, that’s enough technical jargon – I tried to keep it simple, but I got carried away
The real issue here, is a question I have been hearing about – a question asked of me and my peers with growing frequency:
Can you just give me the RAW files from my wedding? I can edit them myself.
In a word, no. However, there is great reasoning behind this and I want to try and enlighten my clients as to why we don’t give them away, and for my photography peers – why you should consider saying ‘No’ if you have been saying ‘Yes’.
Our Images are Our Product
As photographers, we can offer varied print packages, albums and other photo-related items. However, the key product that we offer is our images. Without them, the rest of the image presentation methods we have available are useless. It is important that any product maintain an expected level of quality, both for our current clients and for potential clients.
For example, after we photograph a wedding, we put the photos through a culling process. This process allows us to remove photos that are duplicates, accidental snaps, blinks or to mark images for combining (sometimes we do this for you blinkers out there!) Right off the bat we have begun the process of putting only our best work out there.
Personally, while I move through the cull, I do basic corrections (white balance, etc.) so that there is uniformity between images. This is very important if more than one photographer is working – you want your images to blend together, not stand apart.
After this, there are small tweaks, crops and on some of the bridal portraits I do more extensive editing. I also take some images and using my artistic intent, I process them with textures, filters, or in black and white. We will talk more of artistic intent in the next section.
When a potential client views our work, it creates their expectations of us. These are the expectations that they have when they book us, and the same expectations they have when they receive their finished product. It is imperative that we are able to live up to (and exceed!) their expectations.
By handing over our RAW images for our clients to edit, we not only fragment the process, but we allow our work to be changed and presented in a way that misrepresents our ability and finished product. It is imperative that we always present ourselves in the best way possible, because it is often our work that brings us new clients.
I will pose it this way: Would you ever walk into a full service restaurant and ask the chef for all the ingredients used to make your dinner and then cook it yourself? I would imagine no!
Professional photographers spend years developing not only their technical ability but their creative ‘eye’. This is part of what defines them; helps them stand out in a sea of other photographers both professional and prosumer. For most professionals, photography extends so much further than the pushing of a button; it is an art.
I know that Laura and I both admittedly pre-edit our images mentally as we go through the day. By this I mean that we already have intentions for the presentation of certain images. We mentally catalog these moments/images and when we sit down to edit, we recall our intent and act on it.
Recently I did work for another company as a contractor and handed my images over to them at the end of the day. I nicknamed it ‘photography adoption’ – and I hated every minute of it!
I had an idea, and I grew this idea into an image. I had hopes and dreams for this image – I wanted only the best for it. Then I had to give it to someone else to raise (edit), and I could only hope they would do the best by my image, finish it the way I intended and then release it to the world. Too often, my artistic intent was missed by impersonal batch editing, and my art pieces released to clients with small tweaks missed. My images lost their luster in the translation. Luckily, they do not have my name on them – I would never let some of the things that were left sneak by in my own work.
Suffice to say, this is the reason I rarely take commissioned contract work, and the same reason why my RAW files will never be passed to a client.
If I want to ensure artistic intent is carried out to the fullest, I must do so myself.
The most important reason really, is that of magic; of mystery. Your wedding day is a whirlwind of activity: friends, family, drinking, dancing and yes, photography. Everything is moving by so fast – you’re wrapped up in the emotions, the joie de vivre, and a bit of champagne.
Hopefully, it was everything you ever wanted – the fairytale you had planned at sleepovers since you were a small girl. All the details fell into place and behind the scenes the dedicated friends, family and vendors made sure that your day ran smoothly and went off without a hitch.
You disappear to the tropics or somewhere equally exotic and spend time together in newly married bliss. Unfortunately, you must come down from your cloud and return home – but look forward to starting your life together. Not long after, a package arrives – attractively wrapped, and outside it is stamped with ‘Digital Cocoon’.
Your excitement swells, and you get butterflies – as you look at your images (or flip through the album), you get to relive your day again. You laugh and cry and share with friends and family. In later years, you may share with your children and grandchildren the images of your special day – the ones that still bring that fluttering in your stomach and smiles.
There IS magic to your photos. We work hard to create it. I know that it may frustrate some to be asked if the photos are finished yet. It doesn’t bother me one bit. Why? Because their excited squeals at their teasers, or tearful thank-you’s mean that we created that magic for them.
There is no magic in RAW files. There are just pictures, waiting to be transformed into stunning memories and breathtaking works of art.
All of these things being said, we hope our clients understand now why we cannot provide them with the RAW files. We love requests and suggestions and welcome them – after all, we want the photos we capture to reflect each of our clients’ personalities. I truly believe this:
If I let my clients walk away with their RAW files, I would be failing them.