What the hell are RAW Files and do I need them?!

Tips & Advice // Published by Sam, Editor - May 27, 2016

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.

Watch this great video by photographer Jessica Kobeissi which explains the reasons why photographers don’t give away Raw files.

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.

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