“Great, so can I get the RAW files?”
“I will also need the RAW files?”
“You provide RAW files, right?”
These questions come up less than they used to, but still often enough that they beg a more thorough explanation. I know there are many “Questions You Should Ask Your Photographer” lists out there (often not written by a photographer) that insist you must ask this question and receive a, “Yes, you can have the RAW files” answer, or you shouldn’t even consider working with said photographer. But that really doesn’t make sense, so let me more fully explain why you don’t need RAW files.
JPEG vs. RAW File
Put simply, a JPEG is the file you upload to social media or have printed for your Christmas Cards. JPEG stands for “Joint Photographic Experts Group,” and is the end product of a RAW file.
A RAW file is not an image, but unprocessed data. It is information gathered by the camera sensor, formatted onto the memory card, and has not been manipulated in anyway. RAW files must be uploaded to a program and edited before being compressed into a JPEG.
Think of it like this – the RAW file is a carpenter having a whole workshop full of tools, all the materials needed to build, and the ability and full creative control to design whatever table he desires. The JPEG is buying said table at a store – you get what you get, and you either like it or you don’t.
Why You Don’t Need RAW Files
Borrowing this illustration from another photographer, RAW files are the ingredients, not the cake. They are like putting all the ingredients for a cake – the eggs, flour, oil, sugar, etc. – still in their packages in a pan, and calling it a cake without ever baking it. Those ‘unbaked’ images take of a lot of space on your computer – we’re talking 8-15 MB per image – and you don’t need RAW files taking up that kind of space on your hard drive.
Plus, those ‘unbaked’ or unedited images aren’t pretty – they aren’t even finished! They require editing, and giving away unfinished images would be a very poor representation of the brand and style I’ve worked so hard to cultivate. When someone looks at a photo I took, I want them to know it was me just from the style. Not only is this not possible if I provide RAW files, but giving those RAW files allows someone else to edit the images and claim it was me, and that’s not my brand.
The Best of the Best
Most photographers take far more images than they will ever need to deliver, and the vast majority of these pictures are actually not good. This isn’t because we’re bad at what we do, but quite the opposite. The best photographers take hundreds of bad photos for only a handful of five-star images.
Culling through RAW files is a very important part of preparing any gallery. I remove any images where I was testing lighting, images with unflattering expressions or someone blinking, duplicates, accidental shots, and images slightly out of focus. I do this work so you don’t have to, and so I can provide you with the best of the best from your session.
By not giving RAW files, I am not keeping images from you. I will never refuse to provide important images and moments from your session or day. But as the photographer and artist, I only want to give you the absolute best representation of my abilities and work, and part of that includes not giving away RAW files.
If I ever were to give away RAW files, it would be under very special circumstances – to a commercial client, for example – and would cost a pretty penny as I am relinquishing creative control, copyright, and the ability to garner further business from those images.
Ultimately, if you’re going to hire a photographer, you hire them for their expertise. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I photographed your session, handed you a memory card full of RAW files you don’t need and walked away. My job is to provide the most all-inclusive, easy photography experience possible and leave you with incredible images of your simple, everyday moments. So if you hire me, if you hire any photographer, trust that I have your best interests at heart, and want to give you my best as well.