Should I Get RAW Digital Negatives From My Photographer?

posted on: March 29, 2010

Digital Negative or RAW image file is an uncompressed file straight from the camera, which contains the largest amount of image data possible.  Digital cameras have surpassed the human eye in the ability to perceive light and color, and this information is all captured in a Digital Negative / RAW file.  These files offer the greatest image flexibility and quality control, but ultimately must be processed and compressed in order to be usable for web or print.  Note: most small point &shoot cameras do NOT produce Digital Negatives (only JPG), but almost all DSLR cameras offer the ability to capture in RAW and/or JPG.


1. What do I want to do with the images?
If you want to put your images online, create prints, or make an album, your RAW Digital Negatives files will need to be processed with software into a compressed format, such as JPG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, etc.  If all you want is to have an archive of the original unprocessed image data, you'll simply need to make sure you have enough space for all of the data and the right software if you'd like to view the files. (I use an average of 40GB of hard drive space per wedding.)

2. Do I have the right software/hardware to view and process Digital Negative / RAW files?
Since new cameras, containing new RAW formats, come out every 6 months or so, software and hardware constantly need to be upgraded in order to handle the newest formats and file sizes.  Make sure the software you have can process the specific type of RAW files that you'll receive, or you can purchase the latest versions of photo processing software online.  Lightroom and Aperture are popular image processing softwares.

3. Do I know how to process Digital Negative / RAW files to achieve my desired look?
Photographers spend a lot of time learning how to process images after they've been captured in order to achieve a particular look to their images.  Everyone has a different eye, which is why even though many  photographers use the exact same cameras, lenses, and software, the end results are still just as individual and unique as the person behind the camera.
Post Production Variations

When shooting weddings with such a vast array of lighting situations, I prefer RAW capture over JPG for the ability to create high quality images even when faced with the most restricted and challenging lighting situations, however all of my final images are processed and permanently backed up as High Resolution JPG.  Once I've processed an image to the highest quality JPG possible, there's very little need or desire to go back and reopen a RAW file just to end up processing it again.  While most of my clients choose to receive their wedding images as fully processed High Resolution JPG images so that they are ready for web & print, I am also willing to provide the Digital Negatives or RAW files when working with photographers who have a great understanding of image processing, or with clients who really want the RAW image data archived.  For clients who are interested in doing their own processing, I offer variable rates for the time I'm saved in post-production.  However, if you love the finished images that a photographer has featured on their website or blog, please note that those are fully processed according to the photographer's tastes, which is often the most valuable and time consuming element in a photographer's workflow.

Disclaimer: Other photographers may have different policies for Digital Negatives, so if this is something that you're interested in, please speak with your professional photographer regarding their exact policies.

Thanks to Jim Cryan for capturing the image above, and to Janelle DePiano for modeling!

5 comments, to add [click here]:

  1. Great post! Were these all edited via ACR or Lightroom?

  2. In Lightroom, I took one image, made virtual copies, processed each one separately with my own customized presets, and then used the print module to produce the 12 thumbnail view.

  3. Anonymous8:13 PM

    I definitely liked this post. I have always shot in jpg and now taking a photo class and plan to shoot in raw in the future

  4. Anonymous12:13 PM

    Can a photographer refuse to let you see all of your photos if this was never written into the contract? My photographer took over 1000 photos at our wedding and is only letting us see the 500 she thinks are best but it feels like we are missing a lot. Can she refuse to show us the rest of the photos if this was not explicitly stated in the contract?

  5. As someone who only keeps about 25-30% of what I take... I can tell you that your photographer is probably just saving you from seeing a bunch of duplicate images of you blinking or looking much worse in almost exactly the same moments and images you already have. I do think it's in her rights to only show the images worth keeping, however if there's something specific you feel is missing, perhaps you should let her know what those are in order to allow her an opportunity to see if there's anything she might have tossed that would have been important to you.


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