Photo of Golden Retriever dog playing in the creek.

Trust me, you don't want RAW

by Kris Phillips

For the record I’m not weighing in on the the decade old debate on what to feed your dog. I’ll leave that conversation for your vet or Petmd. I’m going to make the educated decision here to stay in my lane. What I’m talking about is RAW files.

For some unknown reason asking photographers for RAW files has become a trend encouraged by Insta-influencers and DIY hacks. It’s usually encouraged as a way to get more for less. While this request may sounds harmless, it’s becoming a strong point of contention for professional photographers. While some (generally newer) photographers may hand over those raw files,  you’re probably going to wish they hadn’t. But I don’t want you to just take my word for it.

Let’s start with some background info. I don’t want to bore you with too much technical detail but here goes. Digital cameras use a small plate called an image sensor to capture the light details that come into the camera when the shutter is clicked. This images sensor functions in a similar way to how film worked. Except of course the image sensor takes thousands of data points and records them as a RAW file. All that data doesn’t actually mean much until it’s fed into a computer processor and converted back into an image, that processed data becomes either a dng (digital negative) or jpg file. This process can happen on an external computer, or instantly via the camera’s own software. This is also how your cell phone camera works.

Camera Diagram

A RAW file is exactly what it sounds like, all that raw, unprocessed data. These files are massive, and can’t be printed, or even viewed without programs designed to decipher them. This is often where the technical skill of photography meets the artistry of it.

Most professional photographers will shoot in RAW and then transfer those files to a computer to fine-tune and create the kind of images you see in their portfolio. Especially if the photographer is known for images with high dynamic range. This process can take hours and the use of multiple high-powered image processing software programs, commonly Adobe Lightroom and better know Photoshop. In case you were wondering, this is also the reason most photographers have a lengthy turnaround time.

Dog at sunset

There is a misconception that what you get is produced solely in the camera. For most photographers the in-camera data is just the starting point. That data still has be good to produce a great image, but it’s not the be-all end-all.

Think of it like going to a restaurant. Most really great chefs are obsessed with getting super high quality raw ingredients. But what that chef does with those ingredients is what makes the meal amazing. The same raw ingredients in someone else’s kitchen may not lead to the same amazing result. Don’t believe me? Head to Netflix and checkout the show called “Nailed It”. And even if you do believe me, seriously check it out, that show is hilarious!

So when you ask a photographer for their raw images, it’s kinda like walking into a restaurant and telling the chef “just give me the ingredients, I’m going to cook it myself.” It begs the question, then why did you come to the restaurant if it wasn’t for the chef’s cooking?

Back to photography. While most established photographers will simply give you a solid “no”. Some may take offense and opt out of working with you. Think the “No soup for you” type. And some newer photographers may not care enough about the final outcome and simply hand you the card from their camera unculled & unprocessed. This is usually a sign they are either very new and letting the camera do their editing or a sign they’re a little burnt out. Either way, it’s probably not a good indicator that you’re going to get the one of a kind artwork you deserve.

 

The camera has a built in algorithm that will do all the cooking for you by averaging the information it thinks is useful and making global adjustments. If you’ve ever tried to take a sunset pic on your cell phone and couldn’t get it to look like you saw it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. One part of the photo is too bright while the other part is too dark.

This is why most pros prefer to process their own images instead of trusting the algorithm. Raw files have an insane amount of data to work with giving the creator a whole array of possibilities. Processing raw data into a beautiful images takes time, skill, and often some artistic creativity. It’s also frequently in the final processing that a photographer makes their reputation. 

Select your photographer because you LOVE their portfolio and trust their process.

 

 

 

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