Request for RAW images. Can I have them? Do I need them?
For everyone that knows our organization, they certainly know that we didn't follow the rules or the book on creating a wedding photography and video business. We built our services based on what the client needs were and not what's already known in the WEDDING photography industry. We deliberately set our sights on understanding what matters most and delivering exactly what was needed, educating clients on a quality assurance process and finding our niche' that complimented our services. The result has been hundreds of weddings and events with rave reviews, awards, accolades and development of a professional media core/system that is simply amazing. Our success is due to having great clients that understand our process and are generally a good fit for our services. Our consultations are pretty detailed and when potential clients come to us, we make sure to let them know that while your event is going to be fun and unforgettable, there will be certain vendors that you absolutely have to ensure have a strong management background, track record and can deliver everything as agreed upon in your contract.
Folks, as a seasoned military veteran with over 21 years of IT experience coupled with multiple years managing media projects for USO, I will tell you. It's NOT easy. The wedding photography business is one of the most unregulated, uncontrolled, mis-managed, undervalued and sometimes disrespected businesses to be in. There are thousands upon thousands of horror stories told through the eyes of past brides that have made mistakes. If you want to see the pain, visit www.weddingwire.com, search for photographers and sort reviews by stars. This will give you a dark view into just how bad an experience you may have with vendors that are not professional and have no idea what they are doing because they saw an opportunity to capitalize on your life event. My hopes that by sharing little details about what's involved when we receive requests, how it's viewed and to share that it is NOT something that we simply do to market our services, but is only a good opportunity/measure to ensure that we educate each client we work with during consultations. It can somewhat help clients understand the firms direction and helps to bring sense to the imaginary madness involved in wedding media services mostly caused by everyone except the professional Studio. That said, this brings me to a very popular subject... RAW images.
Occasionally, a couple will meet with us and ask if they are allowed to retain the RAW images or "RAW files" from their wedding. Many of them have found websites and pulled questions verbatim and have incorporated those inquiries into their vendor interview when trying to build some type of process in to making a selection. We find that many inquirers do not understand exactly what an actual RAW file is, how to process it and what the purpose of it is.
Technology is moving at the speed of light and more applications are allowing for importing RAW files, however, Information Technology costs sometime limit the processing power and structure that most couples need to process high volumes of RAW files. While I could go into detail and present a 10-page article on RAW files and the technology behind the process to manage volumes, I'd like to simply provide the readers digest for visitors reading this passage.
Commonly known, a RAW file is a native format (and now optional) for DSLR cameras that produces the high resolution capabilities within, most times above (18 mega pixels). Here's the things you need to know most:
First, what are RAW files and how does it look in your photographer's system? Let's dive:
Canon, the raw file is named .CR2 (Canon Raw Version 2)
Nikon's name is NEF (Nikon Electronic Format).
One Image = 25MB
Average Wedding = 800 - 1000 images
Average Folder File per Client per Wedding = 24GB
DVD Data Disk = 4.6GB
Required DVD's = 6 (options are to provide a thumbdrive/harddrive)
Tools to Process = Lightroom, Aperture, Photoshop, PhotoMechanic and others
Knowing this above, each photography firm should have a policy on what they are to do with RAW files and what options/restrictions are to provide to clients. When a client requests RAW files, I ask the following questions:
Why do you want RAW format files? Are you looking to edit a few pictures or reprocess your entire wedding day after we've provided your product?
Do you mean, you want larger file sizes? (possibly to make additional products on your own in the future i.e. books, large prints etc)
We find that the majority of clients that ask questions concerning RAW images confuse it with "negatives" and "larger file sizes". Each client that we work with receives a "product and process" that involves review of every image taken from an event and not every image makes it to the client. There are various reasons (flash mis-fires, unattractive angles, guest interference, focus/sharpness, etc). When the editing process begins, it is a VERY detailed service that the client is paying for (i.e. Editing Labor). This involves providing a carefully reviewed set of a 1000+ images and ensuring that they are 99% accurate and reflect the true atmosphere in which the image was taken. This is called Quality Assurance and EVERY wedding project must go through it.
When a client asks for "RAW images", they are asking for a different product. We've seen the analogy used when buying a car. You don't go into the car dealership and say, give me all the parts for the car. I want to put it together myself. When you buy a car, you expect that all of the parts are assembled and operating functionally. If the dealership gives you the parts to the car, you have the option to assemble the car yourself and drive around showcasing a car that is not the specific car that the dealership sells you and is a direct misrepresentation of the quality the dealership is known to have. Purchasing the car the way it's supposed to be purchased leaves no guess work in knowing you have a well operational car design and also assures the dealership that their brand is never disrespected or misrepresented.
The same concept applies in photography.
We take mostly all of the pieces from your wedding day coverage and provide them to you according to the expectations of what you should expect of the reputable photography brand and firm. Although some of the capabilities exist in some cameras, a wedding day assignment is simply not the time to alter settings which would include the most basic post-processing edits such as:
Vignettes (the dark ring around images to give it a polished look)
Coloring and Toning (your day is a combination of different lighting settings that may require editing to reflect the natural atmosphere)
Sharpness Adjustments (Not every picture is intended to be sharp)
Cropping on the fly (sometimes pictures delivered need to be straightened first)
Skin retouching (camera's don't retouch skin themselves)
Clarity/Contrast control (ever wonder what hard and soft editing is?)
All of the above are post-editing functions that are primarily and normally done in a controlled environment which allows for greater flexibility for providing an amazing wedding photograph collection. When a client wants RAW files, they are asking for all of the unprocessed images that do not represent the photographers final product. Clients that request RAW files are normally provided with larger file-size images to ensure they can use them on other projects but rarely should a firm provide a Client with raw unprocessed data directly from a camera. It's a hugh risk to any firm that values a public image for quality and control of a specific wedding product.
Has ArtsGroup provided Raw files before? Certainly. Every organization learns and adjusts to the rising demands and the knowledge of the client is much different than it was 5 - 10 years ago. We watch these requests closely and ensure the client gets what they want, however educating the client on this request is the first priority for us. Normally, after discussing, the client normally wants larger files and we process accordingly. Asking for RAW files is not an indicator that a photographer sees a major issue with the request, but moreso of a question on liability. When interviewing photographers firm for potential "good fit", firms that freely provide RAW unprocessed images may be a good indicator of someone that isn't concerned about their liability, quality and appearance of their brand... which should be a far more serious concern than other factors as you begin your selection process.
ArtsGroup Photography and Cinema
Johnny is a Certified Photographer with over 21 years in Project Management of Information Technology and Media Management. For over 3 decades, he has been involved in the Arts, IT and Non-Profits activities worldwide. ArtsGroup Photography and Cinema (AGPC) manages over 60 wedding projects yearly. AGPC is a division of ArtsGroup Inc, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization specializing in Arts Education.
www.artsgroupphotography.com | www.artsgroup.org | firstname.lastname@example.org | 202.573.9159