Can I have the raw files? It’s a question that I’ve been asked more than a few times by photographer clients over the years. Maybe it’s even question you’ve wanted to ask yourself, but you’re not sure if it’s rude to ask?
What if I told you that you don’t really want those unedited photos from your photographer?
Before you get angry, I promise I’m not here to tell you I know what you want better than you know yourself. But if you want to grab a cup of coffee (or your beverage of choice) and read on, you might just be surprised to find out … you actually agree with me.
Read on to find out what a raw photo file is, why the RAW format for photos isn’t something most people can open on their computer and what it means to get unedited photos.
First thing’s first. Let’s talk about what “raw” photo really means. The word has more definitions than you might realize.
As a documentary-style photographer, I use the word “raw” when I talk about the emotional moments I capture with my lens for families and couples. These are those unvarnished, unposed, entirely unique to you moments that you’ll cherish forever.
But that’s not the only version of raw that I — and my photographer colleagues — use when we’re talking about our photos.
A RAW photo (capitalization intended!) is a specific file format for digital images. The RAW format for photos contains minimally processed or uncompressed data captured directly from the camera’s image sensor.
In essence? When I capture images using the RAW photo format, I’m able to have more control over the final product than I would if I used the file formats available on most commercial grade cameras or even your cellphone.
Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:
This is what happens when we take photos in most formats! The camera recorded the turtle and the scene in front of you. BUT the camera decided that recording every single thing it saw would require it to hold on to a LOT of information … so much information that it would eat up half the memory on your cellphone.
Here’s where taking photos using the RAW format is different. RAW files:
Using RAW photo files is an integral part of providing you with high quality images that are well lit, have the vibrant colors I’m known for, and of course will turn out fabulous when you print them!
OK, so if RAW photos offer higher quality images, why don’t photographers share them with our clients? Are we just hoarding all the goodies?
RAW photos (uppercase) are actually pretty … well … raw (lowercase). They’re a bit like those moments I love to help families and couples hold onto — unvarnished and untouched.
They’re so raw that you can’t actually even print them … or open them on your computer or phone (at least not without special software)!
Remember how I said that using this format gives me more control over the image? It does … but I don’t get to exert all of that control until I move those RAW photos into my computer and complete what some photographers call “post processing” or “hand editing.”
During this process, photographers:
In other words? I turn those RAW photos into photos you can actually use!
Here’s an example of how I took the raw files from a high school senior’s photos taken in Callicoon and went through the steps to prepare them for a printable photo that her family would want to hang on their wall!
You can see on the far left is the RAW photo. While the photo is technically fine, it’s very flat, and the subject — a high school senior — does not stand out from the background.
My first step is to make some minor edits to create more distinction between the background and the subject.
Next, I crop the photo to remove some of the background that distracts from the overall image, and I edit out a reflection in the senior’s glasses that was created by the placement of my off-camera lighting equipment.
Hopefully you’re nodding along here and agree you really don’t want those raw photos after all.
But why don’t I just give you every photo in that file format that’s smaller and ready for printing?
Well … maybe. Sometimes what you see when you open your gallery really does represent just about every photo I captured.
You saw me clicking my shutter plenty, so there must be more photos, right?
Then again, probably not. My hand-editing process isn’t just making sure the photos are beautifully lit. It’s also ensuring you’re receiving a gallery that doesn’t have that photo of nothing but your dog’s tail as he ran through your family session RIGHT in front of my camera, that photo of your face screwed up in pain just as a bug flew into your eye, or that blurry photo of the same high school senior’s torso that I randomly captured when my finger hit the shutter while I was walking (see below).
Would you want this photo?
I didn’t think so!