Ask any established, professional photographer what is at the top of their of things that make them cringe and I would bet it is when our clients request our RAW files. In short, my answer is always no and I must admit, it makes me cringe a little bit. Of course, I sprinkle my “no” with a dash of diplomacy but I am firm in my response.
All high-end professional camera systems like Canons’ 5D Mark III produce images that are the equivalent of unprocessed film. The information that the camera records for that particular image is embedded in the RAW file. This gives us photographers the highest quality of images with the most information that we can then play around with in post-production. This is kind of like having all of the ingredients for making a cake and you can modify whatever you want to your tastes. Coconut sugar or regular sugar? Vanilla extract or almond? Wheat or white flour? Not only that but you can play around with how much of a certain ingredient. The possibilities are endless.
The opposite of this is shooting in JPG mode. What happens here is that the camera does it’s own adjustments and processing to the image while also losing a great deal of information. Now, this is like having that cake already baked and the only way to change the taste is to add something on top like ice-cream or chocolate sauce but you cannot change the flavor of the cake itself without sacrificing quality.
As fantastic as the professional cameras are these days and I say this humbly, they are not as smart as me and not even close to being as smart as my image editing program. Rather than having the camera make the final decisions about exposure, contrast, saturation and all of those other bells and whistles that happens when you shoot in JPEG mode, shooting in RAW allows us to process the image to our liking without breaking down the technical value inherent in that image.
Here’s the Breakdown:
1.) The processing of the RAW images is a part of my style and vision. As a commercial photographer, everything I shoot is a representation of my brand. When letting go of the RAW files to clients there is always the possibility that the images will be edited and reproduced in a way that is contrary to what I would do. Keeping control of my brand is a must.
2.) I’ve worked super hard to develop relationships with my clients that are built on trust. I’ve been hired because I’m able to figure out what’s a great shot, what’s not and always deliver what my clients are looking for. So, when I go through all of the images and cull down the shoot to the best selections, trust me….I picked the best ones. I’m not holding out.
3.) The Raw files are not the finished product. Shooting an assignment is only one part of the job. The other part is when I’m at the computer, essentially my digital dark room. There are so many variations and adjustments that can be made and each modification caters to that particular image and that specific personality that is featured in the photograph. Once I have had my time playing with the image, it gets my seal of approval and off it goes to my client as I only release the product once it is complete.
Just to give an idea of some of the tools available for image processing, here’s a partial list from Adobe Photoshop CC 2015.5: temperature, tint, exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks, clarity, vibrance, saturation, tone curves, sharpening, noise reduction, hue, saturation, luminance, split toning, lens, corrections, dehire, post-crop vignetting, camera calibrations, crop. Keep in mind, a majority of the tools listed above also have drop-down menus where you can tweak the images even more. So, it’s quite a bit to work with and much of this can also be tailored to the camera system that was used to create the photograph.
Hope this helps to understand why some of us commercial photographers experience peaks in blood-pressure when asked to share our RAW files. We put a lot of time, effort and love into each image we produce, from start to finish so with kindness and a little bit of “trust me on this”, I must decline when asked.