Yes, I did just use Smeagol in a photography reference. This is my website and I'll do as I please.
Today I want to briefly touch on RAW camera files, and why it's not typically something you'll find included in your price package with your photographer, but also why you may not want them anyway!
So far during my time as a working photographer, I think one of the most uncomfortable questions I've had to answer is "We love them! Hey, can we also get our RAW unedited files too? We want all of them!" It isn't a question I get asked often, and just to note, this isn't to hate on this client at all. I'm happy they asked, because there's a first for everything and it's helped me formulate a more clear and concise answer for future clients, if I ever get this question again.
First, I want to start off by clarifying that in general, you'll find that giving away RAW/unedited files is not a common practice among most portrait and lifestyle photographers. An exception might be if a company is hiring a photographer for commercial purposes, but they have their own in-house design team. In this case as a photographer, you might sell them the complete buy-out rights to the files, so they can edit and use them as they need.
But when it comes to your average family and wedding photographer, these files aren't usually going to be part of the package deal. You might be wondering, why not; isn't this what I paid them for?
Before we talk about the "whys", let's talk about the "whats".
What is a RAW file, and what is the difference between a RAW file and an unedited jpeg? A RAW file (.raw) is a type of file format that you'll find almost all pro photographers have their cameras set to shoot with. These files are extremely large, as they contain unprocessed and uncompressed data, and also require special programs to be able to edit and even just to view them. Understandably, even if the photographer did give access to these files, most average clients would not have the software to even be able to open them anyway.
From there, photographers retouch and edit these RAW files using this special software. This means cleanup, adjusting the lighting, coloration, balance, as well as designing the images into one cohesive style and tone for the final album. The selected files are then processed and saved into the user-friendly jpeg files that are delivered to you.
Now, the new question that may pop into your head is wait, "selected files"? But shouldn't I be getting all of the pictures that were taken?
So during your photoshoot, it's understandable that when you hear your photographer's shutter click 500 times, you expect at least 498 photos. But let me explain why you aren't getting cheated out of your money's worth!
Before a photographer even gets to the retouching, our first job is to go through the culling process. It may sound a little counterintuitive, but that is actually part of what we are being paid to do – get rid of a lot of your photos. Now before you get freaked out, I want you to understand that the files we're getting rid of are not files that you want. Here's a couple of reasons why some files may qualify for getting culled:
Now, the last note I want to touch on is, if we don't give out RAW files, and we don't provide the culled photos, why won't we give you unedited jpegs?
This is where it comes down to a bit more code of conduct than anything else. When you hire a photographer, it's safe to assume that you liked their style and that it's a big part of why you've chosen them. When you hire a creator or freelancer of any sort, you're giving them your trust to use their professionalism and expertise to deliver you something that is reflective of their current portfolio.
An analogy I've seen used several times while researching RAW files, is to imagine you've just booked a reservation at a high-class restaurant with a renowned chef. Except when you go to order the chef's special, you ask if you could instead just get all the separate ingredients brought to your table.
This would obviously be a bit unorthodox and upsetting to the chef, for several reasons. Do you not trust him to cook it properly? You'd be paying a lot of money for all of these separate raw ingredients, most of which you could probably purchase at the store yourself. But when you go to a fancy restaurant, you aren't just paying for the ingredients – you're paying for the skilled and experienced way in which they're going to be prepared for you by a professional.
In a way, this is a little similar to asking a photographer for completely untouched files. These files are rough drafts, and poor examples of what their work truly looks like; they were never meant to be viewed this way. It's good to keep in mind that most photographers view their work like an artist or musician would, and don't want to associate their name with it until it's completed, and much less want them to be edited by someone else.
In the end, what we want you to know is that we aren't keeping mysterious files hostage with any miserly intents. Now, if you have any reason to believe your photographer is actually withholding something that was meant to be a part of your written agreement that you paid for, discuss with them to find out if there was a problem. Otherwise, our only goal for you is to make sure that we gather up as many moments as we can from your shoot, and edit them together into a harmonious collection that you'll want to cherish for years to come!
Morgan Ofsharick specializes in proposal, engagement, wedding, maternity, newborn, and family portrait photography, servicing New Haven, Fairfield, Hartford, Middlesex, Litchfield, and plenty of other regions around Connecticut! –MEO Photography