I’m going to attribute this question to The Knot. It’s a request I’ll receive maybe 2-3 times a year, and I know the request is coming from a good place- a bride thinks she’s supposed to ask this question, and that’s totally fine! I don’t mind answering it one bit. Today I’m going to explain the why behind answering “no” to the question “Can I also have the RAW files from my wedding?”

Why you don't want the RAW files from your wedding photographer- Abby Grace

At any given wedding, I’ll shoot between 2000-2500 frames. Because each RAW file is between 25-30 MB, that means I end up with 75-100 GB total in RAW images Just to give you an idea, my MacBook Pro came with 500 GB of storage on the hard drive, so that’s roughly 20% of my computer’s capacity to store just the RAW, unedited data. (I work off of external hard drives, but I’m just trying to illustrate. Bear with me). *This doesn’t include the file I used to edit (a LightRoom catalogue) or the final collection of high-resolution, edited JPGs.*

Now, once I’ve uploaded those 2000-2500 RAW files, I take on the task of culling, or selecting, all of the images that are worthy of the final crop of images that I’ll deliver to my couple. This means I’m looking through hundreds of images that to an untrained eye, might look the same from one photo to the next. And that’s a HUGE number of photographs to look through if you don’t know what you’re looking for. It’s easy for me because I’ve come to know right off the bat what constitutes a “keeper,” but if you didn’t have the same kind of eye, can you imagine sitting down to sort through thousands of photographs?

So what kind of images am I NOT flagging/keeping? Images that fall into any of these categories:

  • duplicates
  • under- or over-exposed
  • out of focus
  • where someone’s blinking/making a weird face/images that are just plain unflattering due to a number of variables
  • composition is off
  • something super distracting in the background, like a car or large garbage can

See what I mean about duplicates? I overshoot, especially at the beginning of the day when I’m getting warmed up by photographing details!

Why you don't want the RAW files from your wedding photographer- Abby Grace

Basically, I skip the images I know my couple won’t want anyways. “But how do you know they won’t want them?” Because I’ve been photographing weddings professionally for five years now, and I’ve learned the difference between what someone actually and truly WANTS, and what they think they’re supposed to want. And there’s a huge difference!

What is it that my couples want? They want photographs from their wedding that show what a beautiful, fun, joyful celebration they hosted. And they want to know I’m going to take care of them. So to help assuage fears, I assure each and every one of my couples that I do not hold out on them when it comes to the number of images they’ll receive. I never, ever cap the photos my couples receive- I give them a ballpark figure of 500-700, but also promise that they’ll receive as many quality images as I can give them. If that’s 650? Awesome! But if it’s 900? Then I send them 900. This way my couples know I’m going to take care of them. And isn’t that what they wanted in the first place?

Why you don't want the RAW files from your wedding photographer- Abby Grace

As the professional, it’s my job to not only capture gorgeous images, but then deliver them in a professional manner that I know will benefit my client the MOST. And unedited images aren’t a product I’d be all that proud to deliver, because simply clicking the shutter is one of many steps in doing what I do. Editing is a necessary part of my photographic style, and is a crucial step in being able to deliver the kind of images they chose me to capture.

See what I mean? RAW image on the left, edited on the right. The RAW image isn’t bad, but the edited one is FINISHED. Warmer skin tones, livelier colors, brighter whites, etc.

Why you don't want the RAW files from your wedding photographer- Abby Grace

Plus, if you had 2500 images to look through, let’s be honest; you’d probably never get through them all. Which probably means you’d never print your wedding images (it’s true!), which means your children and grandchildren would miss out on having every day, inspiring visual evidence of the day your love story took on forever. Your images weren’t meant to live on a computer hard drive, a DVD or a flash drive! Those photographs were created to be displayed on the walls of your home for decades to come, and I want to remove every obstacle I can that could get in the way of that happening.

So there you have it! A not-so-brief explanation behind the answer “no.” As always, feel free to chime in with thoughts and questions in the comments section!

Dear Bride, here’s why you don’t want those RAW files

February 17, 2015

  1. Urška Majer says:

    I agree with every word you’ve written here!

  2. Jean says:

    Great explanation. You surely do have an eye for this! Your work is gorgeous!

  3. Gah! This makes so much sense! The last wedding I photographed, after I gave the bride her finished images, still asked for ALL of them “It’s okay if they’re not edited”. I’m still new (this is one of my excuses for why I caved), so I thought I did something wrong. Did I miss something she wanted (even though she was the most lax bride and didn’t give me a shot list)? So I sent them to her. I still feel weird about it and now I have more of an understanding (thanks to you, yay!) as to why I should not do this. I’m glad I at least experienced the situation so I can learn from it! Thank you for the post! 🙂

  4. Absolutely LOVE this blog post! It’s extremely informative and you wrote it in a way that’s easy to understand and truly gets to the heart of it all!! I love that you wrote about what a bride truly wants and what a bride thinks she is supposed to want! xo

  5. Natalie Britt says:

    I think these are all wise words. I only wish I’d heard them for years ago when I was making photography decisions for my own wedding. My best friend’s husband is a photographer (though not a wedding photographer), and was willing to give me a great deal to photograph my wedding. So I took it, and have regretted it ever sense. It’s not that the image quality is poor, or that he didn’t have the right artistic vision for our day. We have a great library of beautiful edited images that has a nice cozy home on our hard drive. Just as you said above, hardly a single one of those pictures has ever been printed or hung on the walls of our home. Honestly, the only pictures we have are two canvases that my mother had printed for us. I do intend to eventually have an album printed, and have a beautiful portrait of one of my bridal shots made. But that “eventually” always seems to be trumped by other financial needs, especially now that we have two children! If I could go back and do it all over again, I would sacrifice several of my budget “splurges” that I can’t even remember now in exchange for a high-quality, edited photography package that included products. And I bet my best friend and her husband would have enjoyed the day more if they hadn’t been working!

  6. Tarah says:

    Thank you SO much for this Abby! This is a perfect way to better explain to my brides that we really are doing what is best for them even if they may not quite understand it! Thank you for breaking this down and sharing with everyone!

  7. Wendy Byrd says:

    YAY! I’m so glad you say “no” and you are willing to informatively explain why you, as a professional, know best about your industry than we (myself included) do as one (or two) time brides.
    For your next FYI blog you kindly tell the audience why having an experienced wedding photographer vs. a friend with a good camera, is the right choice to capture wedding pictures! Your eye and creative mind and editing skills and experience and commitment and awesomeness have SO much to do with it!

  8. Sydni says:

    Random question, but this post reminded me… I received well over 1,000 images from my wedding photographer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I kind of wish that she had narrowed down the number a little bit more, because when I tried to narrow down my favorite images for facebook, wedding albums, personal photo books, printing to put pictures on our walls, etc. – it took foooooooooorrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeevvvvvvvvvvvvveeeeeeeeeeeeeeer because there were SO many similar pictures.

    SO anyways, my question is, how DO you narrow down between very similar pictures? Even with personal photos from a vacation or Christmas or whatever. Because there might be 5 pictures that look very similar, but all have pros & cons, none of them are perfect. Like, one has slightly better facial expressions, one is a little bit crooked but with better smiles, one the lighting is not as perfect but the composition is better, etc etc.

    HOW DO YOU CHOOSE??!?! Haha clearly I also have problems with being indecisive.

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