Why Wedding Photographers Won’t Give you Unedited Photos

Tips & Advice // Published by Sam, Editor - July 26, 2018

When it comes to wedding photography there are some common questions and thoughts you hear, ‘why is wedding photography so expensive?‘ ‘all they do is take photos’ ‘I only want a few photos at the ceremony’ and ‘why can’t I have all the photos?’.

With wedding photography you have to understand what you are paying for, but more importantly you need to understand the value in this. Before we delve into the reasons why photographers won’t give you all the photos taken it is firstly important to understand the reason why you are hiring a wedding photographer in the first place.

All of us here place a high importance on it and have many articles about this, such as 5 Reasons why you should hire a professional wedding photographer. However, the key things about wedding photography is that it captures your day, it captures moments you may not have seen, it captures emotion on your parents faces.

It captured that cute little smile you make as you walk down the aisle and see your husband to be, it is about capturing you getting ready on your wedding day with your bridesmaids, that moment you travel to the church with your proud dad, it goes on. The point is a wedding photographer doesn’t just take and capture photos, a wedding photographer tells a story.

Why Won’t My Photographer Give Me all the Photos

When you hire a wedding photographer you are not just hiring them to provide a service, yes they will be there all day taking photos, however for a wedding photographer that is just a small part of the job and what you are paying for. Once they day is over your photographer will go away and edit your photos, over the course of the day they will have taken hundreds if not thousands of photos.

Do you really want your photographer to just go and print all these photos off and give them to you? Wedding photographers are not hiding anything from you, however what they are doing is putting together a beautiful story.

If you go and watch a film you know it has been edited, on DVD’s you can watch different ending sometimes and you can also see deleted scenes, some of the scenes are not needed for the film or the storyline, when it comes to the end there are different scenes, however there maybe only one ending that truly reflects the story and that is what is used.

Again the same can be said to a book, it would be like asking a photographer to hand over a memory card, USB, or DVD of raw images is akin to asking an author to present you with their book in manuscript format, unedited, unformatted, and including the paragraphs and chapters that didn’t make the cut.

How many photos should a wedding photographer give you?

Your wedding photographer could take a number of photos at any one moment, do you want 200 photos as you walk down the aisle. Some maybe out of focus, some may have someone stood up with the phone in view, some may have you and your father both with your eyes closed.

Do you want these photos? Really? This is only part of the process, photos are also processed and adjusted to get the colour balance just right, also some photos are adjusted to be black and white where they are more suited and also look better.

As well as paying your photographer to take the pictures, you are also paying them to edit them, ensure each photo is the best is can be, ensure it is beautifully cropped and adjusted, the colour and exposure is just right, to ensure that each photos that goes into your album shares a beautiful moment and as a collection tells a magical and romantic story.

You are paying for your photographer to use their knowledge and years of experience to get this just right, to make sure that they don’t just present you with a folder full of hundreds of photos, but a single album of a beautiful story that you can’t wait to relive.

Remember you are not just paying your wedding photographer to take photos, you are hiring them to capture and and tell a story, not just any old story, but your very own unique story of your beautiful wedding day.

Why Won’t My Wedding Photographer Provide RAW Files?

When it comes to photography there are a couple of common questions that come up quite a bit, can I have the unedited photos and can I have the raw files? Both of these questions have similar answers, in terms of firstly why would you want them, and secondly understanding the reasons why you are not given unedited photos, or the raw files.

Firstly what are RAW Files?

RAW refers to a file format which can secure all the image data taken by a camera sensor, image scanner, or motion picture scanner. It is referred to as RAW because of its unprocessed nature, hence not ready for printing. To produce high-resolution images it is of utmost importance to understand RAW files functionality.

Lets take a step back, I am sure your phone has a camera on it and you also may have a small compact digital camera, now when you take a photo with these and it will create a JPEG file where your image is saved. The beauty of JPEG format is that the file and image can be compressed selectively, removing unnecessary image data (information not generally perceived by the viewer of a reproduced image) which helps to make the file smaller. On your camera phone you will have apps, music, emails, messages, and photos, all taking up space, so here you save space by making these files as small as possible so you can get more photos on your phone. Now for the typical person out and about taking photos this is great.

Now if you are a professional photographer you won’t be using a camera phone to captured someones wedding day, you will be using a high spec SLR camera to capture with, however there are huge benefits to shooting in Raw, and it benefits you as the client and the person who will receive these photos.

What are the benefits to your photographer shooting in RAW?

High-quality resolution images – RAW file format guarantees high-quality pictures, as well as the ability to correct problematic images before processing. This means that you can take control of such vital elements in shooting as color space, and proper color balance.

Efficient workflow – RAW file format combines very well with professional photography programs such as Aperture and Lightroom, thereby processing large batches of picture images very fast.

Better Prints – RAW files format can attain the best print due to the finer shade of colors, and tones engaged.

Non-destructive edit mode – Making adjustments on an RAW file is possible without interfering, or altering anything to the original file. This means that one can always reset the changes and save again, without the fear of ruining the image. This is contrary to JPEG files which lose quality every time they are saved as it goes through its compression function each time.

Details – Shooting in RAW facilitates access to noise and sharpening algorithms contained in such programs like Lightroom, which are way stronger than those inbuilt in your camera. This means that one can always take advantage of upcoming technology, to make improvements on RAW files saved.

Flexible White Balance adjustment – With the RAW file format capacity to accommodate more data, adjustment of the White Balance is easily attained. Perfect coloring and great balance are essential ingredients for a splendid image. This combination comes inbuilt in RAW file format, thereby enabling easier and faster adjustments with tremendous effects on the pictures.

Best exposure – Sometimes images can get out underexposed, or overly done, something that needs correction before final print is handed to the consumer. RAW file format makes the requisite correction and editing, without interfering with the quality. At the same time, it is possible to recover clipped shadows and blown highlights.

Excellent levels of brightness – The higher the level of light, the better the outcome of the images captured. RAW format files record the highest standards of light compared to JPEG files.

What the hell does that all mean?

You may have read through the last bit wondering what it all meant and why do you need to know that. The point is you don’t need to understand this or know what any of it means, however what you do need to understand is that when a photo is taken, that is not just it, the taking of the photo is a stage in a longer process.

If you took a picture on your phone and wanted to upload to Instagram, you will take a photo, you may then adjust the brightness, you may crop it, you may add a filter, change the contrast, and then upload. The image you upload may look completely different to the original photo you took. Why did you make these changes? You wanted the photo to look better, you wanted the photo to have a style to it to match your other photos on Instagram.

So what did all the above mean? By shooting in raw a wedding photographer can make lots of complex adjustments to photos to make them look the best they can, they can do this by using professional software where things in the photo could be corrected, like underexposing for the sky.

It is also important to understand that the RAW files are huge in file size, and even if you had the files you cannot just print the images off, you also need special editing software to even open the files. There is certainly more to photography than meets the eye.

Why Photographers Don’t Give Away Raw Files To Clients

The raw files are a bit like an authors first draft, the core story is there but each chapter needs little changes, tweaking, bits removing, bits editing or a little sparkle adding. Do you want to read the first draft that isn’t perfect and has bits that will be changed or removed to make it better, or do you want to read the final edited version which is complete and perfected? The author will want you to read the finished and completed version that’s for sure.

A professional photography doesn’t want to give you the raw files because they are not the final images, they may not look great, they won’t have been edited to match the photographers style, remember you have picked a wedding photographer because you also like their style of photography, you like the way the photos are edited and look, so let your photographer give you the images you hired them for.

Bottom Line

You are paying a wedding photographer to capture the story of your wedding day through photos, each photo will be part of that story, a moment of your day, so why would you not want each photo and moment to be the best photo it can be? You are paying for a finished product, a finished story, your story.

The raw files are not important, what is important is that you get the best wedding photos you can of your special day so ensure you hire the best wedding photographer you can afford, take time to check out different photographers and their different styles, look through lots of completed albums and find a style that you love.

Your Thoughts - 29 Comments


  1. Great Article on Wedding Photography

  2. This doesn’t just apply to wedding photography, It applies to all photography. Only the most amateur of photographers who don’t know what they are doing would hand over unedited photos. As this article says a photographer will provide a full service and that’s what you are paying them for. Wanting unedited images would be like going to a restaurant and just ordering a plate of ingredients.

    Paul

  3. Absolutely spot on. Much better for you to inform brides and grooms to be, rather than us telling them ourselves, as they absolutely fail to envisage what they can’t see …. Real prices for wedding photography are actually lower than they were 10 years ago, as there are now more wedding photographers than there are weddings! Consequently there are more wedding photographer who have 5 or 5-10 years experience as it requires huge stamina , very long hours, perseverance, and great love to survive as a wedding photographer, as well as skills and talent.
    I also love Paul’s comparison with a plate of ingredients! It is like wanting a Picasso but only valuing the canvass and paint!
    xx Elaine

  4. All too true! I’m glad you’ve emphasised the fact that we’re telling a story, and an individual and unique one at that. The client is also paying for the expertise the photographer brings, often many years of experience, developing an eye for detail, for lighting, for the perfect framing up of a scene, or simply capturing one of those moments which seem to be so easy and obvious once it’s been captured, but extremely difficult to get right. You only have one shot at the day, and there’s a great deal of pressure to get it just right. I spoke to someone who said they were going to get a friend to do their wedding photography as they had an expensive camera! It takes far more than equipment to be a photographer, as indeed it does any craft or art form, of which photography is one (though sadly undervalued in my opinion). It is also heartening to see that you mentioned post-production: one day’s shoot will provide me with a week’s worth of post-production, whittling down perhaps a thousand photos into the low hundreds, and working on each and every one of the photos I hand over to the couple. That’s another huge skill much overlooked these days, and where most of the work and time is taken up that contribute to the overall costs. The fact is, if you can’t see the photos have been edited you’ve done a good job. It’s meant to be invisible, to look natural, and of course it’s easy to overlook precisely because of this invisibility. I understand that a lot of people book their photographer last. And yet in some ways it ought to be first, to ensure their day, and everything special and unique about it, all the thought and effort that went into it, will be captured forever. One final reason why we photographers wouldn’t hand over every photo is because we’re passionate about photography; we care deeply about the images we take and present, for they represent a part of ourselves too, and are not merely handed over as part of a business transaction.

  5. Good comparison with a authors manuscript.

  6. So true. One of the problems the industry has is cheap photographers who just shoot and burn – shooting on P for professional, in jpeg and then burning the images to a DVD and handing them the images without any editing. They tell their friends they had 2000 photos from their photographer and then when the engaged couple look at photographers they expect to get the same. Wedding photography IS story-telling.

  7. great article! must read for everyone

  8. I ended up with no choice but to put a possibly patronising sentence on my website as I got fed up with some people assuming I am just someone who happens to own a camera. On my site I state “I have a pair of the latest, sharpest scissors but there isn’t a bride anywhere who will let me near her hair on her wedding day”. A £1,000,000 camera will not make you a better photographer.
    With regard to unedited images, my response would be that the chef pays for every bit of the ingredients for the meal but the couple would think it ridiculous if he gave them the peelings from the potatoes, the fat trimmed off the meat or the water and oils he used in cooking and preparing the wedding breakfast. Professional photographers must decide which images they wish to put their name to and should be allowed to dismiss those which don’t meet their standards for whatever reasons. Sadly things are not going to change and so we must adapt. Professional bodies should do much more to promote professionalism and bridal magazines should stop advising couples to get a friend with a ‘good camera’ to take the photographs to save money. All the couple will end up with are images the same magazines would not deem worthy of gracing their glossy pages. I can’t imagine a magazine printing a cover or centre page spread every month taken by someone with a ‘good camera’.
    Sorry rant over. 🙂

  9. It’s worth mentioning that it’s not always the couple who think they should be entitled to have the unedited RAW files. There are a fair number of photographers out there telling clients that they will provide the RAW files as a matter of competitive (and misplaced) professionalism. As in “Booking me is a better deal for you because I supply you with the ‘Real’ photos”.

  10. RHarrisPhoto says:
    Posted May 13, 2016 at 1:15 PM | Permalink

    I agree with Alexander above, it’s one of those things similar to “copyrights”, where the people actually offering the services are misusing words and adding to the confusion.

  11. Absolutely bang on and I agree with Alexander too about giving away RAW files. That’s why my contract says “you will get all final, edited images.”

  12. I have to agree with this whole heartily, but sometimes couples just don’t see it and it can take a lot of explaining.
    Even then I have had couples saying we still want them ALL!!!!

  13. Great article!

  14. Yes I agree with everything said in the article and subsequent comments – I particularly like Ray’s cook analogy.
    The trend I am beginning to see is that couples don’t now have the time to go through too many images so maybe that will help us all

  15. A great article with sound sense rather than the usual make believe from some wedding blogs. Love some of the analogies here, the cooking ones especially. Glad I don’t get asked the “Raw” question too often, had a client who asked this year who was politely declined. It’s all about educating clients and this article really nails it. well done!

  16. Another well written educational article that conveys my own thoughts. Thank you!
    The way I think about it is that I hope my clients hire me because they love my particular style. This includes the particular way I compose, expose and edit. All these come together to give each photographer their own ‘look’.
    The way a photographer edits their photos, in any genre, will often distinguish them over others and is one of the factors, perhaps even subconscious factors, that a client uses to select their photographer.
    Give a palette of paints and the same subject and every artist would produce a different interpretation. Give the same camera, same light and subject to a group of photographers and each will deliver a very different photograph. The editing style provides the final aesthetic look and can dramatically alter the ‘focus’, mood and emotional response to the photo.

  17. Absolutely, couldn’t agree more! It’s a bit like a band recording an album – no band would dream of releasing an album of unmixed and unmastered songs. Once the sound files are recorded (the RAW file equivalent), they’re polished using compression, delay, reverb etc, and then mastered ready for public consumption. Same with photographs 🙂

  18. Charlotte says:
    Posted August 17, 2017 at 9:40 AM | Permalink

    I agree with all of the comments and of course most couple won’t want the ones out of focus or that had someone wandering in front, but on the other hand we had one of those photographers which allowed us to view a lot of photo’s that hadn’t made the cut in his opinion but were otherwise nice photo’s (I.e. In focus, good placement, just not as beautiful as the ones he’d selected). What I found is, when your photographer doesn’t know which guests are your closest friends, or what their personalities are, it’s hard to spot a must have moment sometimes. Our photographer had selected photos which were beautiful, but many were of guests we’d been asked to invite by our parents and we didn’t actually know them that we’ll at all much less want half a dozen pictures of them, however beautiful. And some of the unselected pictures had our closest friends who had decided to sit near the back because they had a young noisy child and the photographer had only captured them at the edges of other pictures. So having been involved in the selection process we’d been able to point out the important pictures for us, even if it meant cropping large portions of the image to get the people that mattered, and weed out the ones of great aunt Maud’s neighbours’ cousins’ friend, who regardless of a beautiful artistic image we didn’t particularly want as one of our prime memories…. I’m sure some people only invite their nearest and dearest to their special day, but some couples agree to invite people requested by family just for an easy life but don’t want those people in their album particularly! However some of the pictures the photographer captured of those people we barely knew were beautiful so we gave him permission to use as he wished in his portfolio, and told our friends of them so he still got to sell the images and show off his beautiful work. And we got the more special photo’s for our album.
    Of course you only want to put forward images that seem meaningful to you or ‘tell a story’, that’s what makes you a great photographer, being able to discern a stunning picture from a correct picture. But at the end of the day you’re being paid to capture the couple’s day FOR THEM. Not for you. What they’d like to have from their wedding album should be considered first and foremost and it might not be your favourite picture of someone they barely know. Xxx

  19. Mark says:
    Posted October 24, 2017 at 4:59 PM | Permalink

    Completely agree with Charlotte – the client should be asked for a right to see unedited pictures AFTER the photographer’s selection because they need to have the people that matter to them and it is unlikely that the photographer will have captured all of those people. The Great Aunt Maud example is most apt – speaking up for the client and it being THIER DAY. It is the MOST important day of many people’s lives and professional pride in work should come second to the couple’s wishes in that respect. I received 500 edited photos from my photographer with several close friends left out or only visible in the background of some shots. I had to go through Iphone shots and shots from rubbish cameras to get the full selection which is not what you want after having spent all that money. Photographer’s want to tell a story for their own artistic and promotional purposes but the couple wants it to be their story and only they know the whole story they want to tell at the end of the day…. I don’t dispute sending only edited photos but the couple should have a chance to go back and ask if there are ways of cropping other photos to capture particular loved ones etc.

  20. Rochelle says:
    Posted January 3, 2018 at 2:27 AM | Permalink

    I have to disagree entirely with this article and the issue in general. There is absolutely nothing wrong with explaining to customers the unfavourable and plentiful reasons why you believe they should not opt for every single shot taken nor unedited material BUT to refuse them out right is outrageous. Image capturing and story telling is highly subjective and personal. As some have pointed out, many important people/moments can are missed simply because the photographer is usually a stranger to the attendants of a wedding. Having photographed and edited for years, I can certainly appreciate the quality, knowledge and labour, that go into creating finalised images but not every couple needs that service. As a photographer, I would enjoy nothing more than to scope through every shot myself, select ones I like and edit them in my own time.

    Of course, the vast, vast majority of customers have absolutely no interest in such a project which is why I do agree one should explain how it is not a task for the inexperienced but again, if someone, like myself, were to explain they were an experienced photographer and genuinely wishes to work with the RAW file themselves, they should be entitled to. To have no option at all is heartbreaking, honestly.

    If I could be both the photographer and the bride for my own wedding I would, but in this cause I need help with the capturing.

    I’m at the point of having no photographer at all. Please get in touch if you can appreciate my plight and help out.

  21. Lourdes says:
    Posted January 17, 2018 at 8:27 PM | Permalink

    In my case I hired a professional photographer and ended up short on my Daughter’s Wedding Story. Most of the 750 photos are either out of focus or with her eyes closed. Would she be able to have an album? yes! but purely out of luck. We did not paid for what we got, and we don’t know how to deal with it now. He did not even take pictures in the most beautiful spots of the venue place. We can’t understand it!

  22. nixe says:
    Posted February 16, 2018 at 6:32 AM | Permalink

    as an artist that uses photography as one of my mediums.., i disagree ! all photos belong to the couple. they pay for it,they own it. for sure give them the edited story. but also back it up with all the photos that they might or might not use. it is up to them to use what they like of it. it is them that hired you, their choice, their day, not yours, their money they paid for your time and work, not just the part of it that you want to give or that you like to think will suit them. it is really patronizing and also wrong to deny them the work after they paid for it! There may be many ‘imperfect’ photos that they will like better than the polished ones. people blinking, out of focus, all of it works when it is your own day in your own way, you are there to document their day as is, not to adjust it to your own liking. i would not hire a photographer that is selling me their ‘vision’ of my wedding’, i would have a true photographer that knows and values the work of recording with quality and without affectations.

  23. It’s a good article and something that does need to be used as education for the potential bride and groom. If they are asking this question maybe we haven’t set expectations or maybe you haven’t delivered what they wanted? If they were completely happy then they would have no need to ask you. They hire me as a wedding photographer to create a story of the day, and that’s what I set out to achieve every single time.

  24. How many edited photographs would you be expected to offer to the couple, is there a minimum? also is the price given for a particular amount ?.

  25. Great article! It should have more information like this online. Some clients don’t know how much work it cost in pros production.
    Thanks!

  26. Great Article.

    Agree that Raw Pictures should not be given to clients but on the other hand feel that since tgey are the ones that paid for the wedding – it should be their right to see all the pictures and make a selection.


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