If I had a dollar for every time I've heard this question, I'd have a lot of dollars.
Ask any photographer, and I'm certain they'll tell you that they've had many a client ask them for RAW files. It's not that the clients aren't happy with their gallery or that they think they paid for the session so the images belong to them, I truly think it's rooted in FOMO - fear of missing out. I'll explain...
Think about the last time you had a session with a photographer. You received your gallery - it held 93 of the most beautiful images of your family you've ever seen. The light, the composition, the way the colors all worked together, the huge toothy smiles of your kiddos, the classic black + whites that make your heart sing - perfect. But you also thought to yourself, "I KNOW they shot way more than 93...where are the rest of the images?"
Here's what happens - your photographer shoots 100's of images during your session, uploads them to their computer and then sorts through them ( a process known as culling ). They basically do a draft pick of your images like the NFL does for players, round after round and boil it down to the very best of what they captured. Once they have the best of the best, THAT's what they edit for your final gallery. These are tweaked + polished and then checked again, and then uploaded into whatever gallery sharing platform they use to deliver the images to you.
"But Lindsay, where are the rest?"
I can't speak to what other photographers do, but I can tell you what I do - it's simple. Ready? I DELETE THEM. That's right - trashed, canned, removed from my hard drive and wiped off my memory cards, never to be seen or heard from again. The reason is this - if they aren't part of the final delivered gallery, then they didn't meet my exacting standards and are no longer needed. You trust us as artists to use our talent, our gear and our eyes to capture and create a gallery that will stand the test of time. If Da Vinci just slapped paint on a bunch of canvases without vetting them or refining his craft, and brought them ALL to his clients, we wouldn't have the masterpieces from him we have today. It's the same for photographers.
But here's what you may not know -
"What is a RAW file, and why can't I have it?"
A RAW file is the "uncompressed and unprocessed image data captured by a digital camera." What that basically means is it's 1,000 of pixels arranged in a certain way that create an image - what that means for you is nothing. What that means for us is that it's a MASSIVE file FULL of information that we can manipulate and tweak to create art. We have the software necessary to handle a RAW file, and when we export it to you, it's been saved and compressed into a much smaller, more manageable image - or as you know it, a JPEG.
The reason we don't give out RAW files is three fold -
- They really are seriously HUGE...you probably wouldn't be able to upload them all without running out of disk space.
- There are SO MANY images that are blurry, poorly composed, under or over exposed, 7 of the same shot ... the list goes on.
- You need specific software capable of handling and editing a RAW file. Sorry to say, iPhoto or the editing app on your phone isn't it.
When shooting digital, many photographers will "spray and pray," or shoot several images of the same scene and then pick their favorite. You will receive the best one; you don't need the other 11 that weren't great, but are identical to the naked eye. This goes back to the idea that you've hired us to do all this post processing work for you. We should be the ones that sort + narrow down the best images - not you.
Not to mention, the unedited RAW images look vastly different from the final gallery. Here's an example -
You can see the RAW image is darker, feels cooler, and looking a little flat and dull - like there's no life to it. The edited version is brighter, has much more contrast, the colors are more saturated and overall the tone is warmer...feels alive, right?! That is the power of editing - AND knowing what to do with editing software to help bring an image to life.
Fun Fact of the Day : the average user of Photoshop only utilizes around 7% of what the software is capable of. Professional photographers use around 12-15%.
Believe me when I say to just be happy that you aren't responsible for the post processing side of things :)
SO! To wrap all that up, please know that it isn't because we photographers are stingy, or never learned how to share properly in Kindergarten. We don't share RAWs because there's no need to, they aren't all a perfect, ready-to-be-edited file, and as the client, you won't really be able to do anything with them other than look at it.
We'd rather you have something SPECTACULAR to look at, rather than 17 versions of the same image. Don't worry, there's no FOMO to be worried about. You literally aren't missing ANYTHING.