"Can we have the raw files?"
Ah, the raw question. Asked by many couples only because some fabulous wedding blog suggested it was important, or defined as a life-or-death decision between photographers. But misconceptions about RAW files are freakin' everywhere, and it's time to clear the air. After a few thorough internet searches, I've put together the most common objections, misconceptions, straight falsities, and the truth behind what the RAW files are and how you should actually feel about them.
FIRST UP: raw vs. RAW
The first thing to clear up is seriously, what the heck "raw" even is. While typically regarded as "raw", the actual item you're asking for is a noun, not an adjective. While you may think asking for the "raws" is asking for the unedited, untouched images (and you're not wrong) what you're actually asking for is the "RAWs" - RAW being a file type. This file type varies by camera, but with my equipment it ends in .CR2 . Without going into the technicalities, RAW files are a file type that sucks in as much information in the scene you're photographing as possible - as many colors, light variances, everything as possible. They are an unfinished file type that needs to be reformatted - they are typically reformatted and delivered as JPEGs. While there are programs and editors you can purchase that can open these files (such as the programs professionals use) many computers don't even recognize the file, and cannot be viewed in your standard photo viewer.
SECOND UP: "I want to hire a photographer for their skill, equipment, experience, ability to capture great moments in creative compositions, and I'll just do the editing to save money."
While this may seem like it's going to save you money, it's not. Remember above how I mentioned the programs needed to edit those files? They are NOT cheap.
Additionally, many professional photographers are known not only for their work with composition and camera settings, but also for the colors they choose to edit with. I can recognize the work of many of the local professionals in my area just based on the editing style alone. Any time I have green in a photograph, I make it this dark, deep warm toned green; but another local photographer loves green to be bright, vibrant, almost neon in a manner. The way we work with color in our final edits is often what we are known for.
Not only that, but when you boil it down: editing your photographer's images is typically illegal. Almost every professional photographer has a clause in their contract that outlines what copyright infringement is, and it's a big deal. Editing your wedding photographs typically breaks this contract, and can cost you a heck of a lot of money in legal fees if bad things start happening.
THIRD: Most photographer's RAW files actually look identical.
When photographing in this file format, most of the time everything that comes out of our camera looks very similar to what would come out of another professional's camera. The way our camera's capture light is often very true to scene, so if you're hiring for RAW files, you're going to have a heck of a time trying to find a difference in quality.
LAST: So what are we really hiring a professional for?
What you're really hiring a professional for, is the experience and the way they take care of you, your family, and your event. Every photographer is going to have a different process: do they deliver online galleries? Do they have an amazing wedding premiere that's pretty much a movie in your living room? Do they consistently send you email updates with advice and hilarious blog posts? Each photographer has a different way that they take care of their clients to make sure they feel loved and appreciated and respected, and that is really what is going to separate the value of each photographer you speak with.
Alright, show me yours!
Below is a before and after of one of my favorite images. This image perfectly shows the warm greens, perfect skin tones, and deep emotions that you'll find in my photographs. And the RAW is nothing groundbreaking, or worth deciding on who you're going to hire.