All About RAW Files (and Why You Shouldn't Stress Over Them)

If you're a bride who's been planning your wedding for a few months or longer, you've probably run across a term called RAW in regards to wedding photography. I've seen lots of questions on the internet over the years since I started my business regarding RAW files, and unfortunately haven't found any great answers to them from a bride's perspective. As a recent bride and photographer myself, I highly value education when it comes to the investment we make in wedding photography. It's important for you to understand why we do the things we do, and that we always have your best interests in mind. In this post, I'm going to explain to you what RAW files are, how we use them, and specifically, why you don't need to worry about them.



Back in the days of film, it was typical of photographers to shoot all photos on a film camera and develop the images in a lab. Development in the dark room takes a little time, and when we're done, we're left with something called a negative. You may have also heard it called digital negative in the digital world. This term is referring to the digital version of a film negative.

Negatives are the most basic form of images that contain all the information we need to create prints, products, and scans. An unlimited number of prints can be created in various sizes from one negative alone. In other words, whoever has the negative has the ability to create multiple reproductions and variations of an image over and over and over again. 


RAW digital files make up all the unprocessed, unrefined, and unfinished data that comes directly from the camera when we take a picture. RAWs usually look flat and dull in their original state. This is because the file is unprocessed, and many clients commonly confuse RAW files with "unedited" photos. After processing, RAWs eventually turn into final photos known as JPEGs, which look consistent to the photographer's style and is what you know as your final wedding images. As a general rule of thumb, your photographer will typically hold onto your RAWs for at least one year after your wedding.


Clients often see offers from photographers in wedding or portrait packages proclaiming they will receive all the digital negatives. This is very misleading. Most of the time when a photographer is "giving you RAW files," they are giving you the processed, high-resolution JPEG files I mentioned earlier, which allow you print up to certain sizes and share online with family and friends. 

There aren't many photographers out there who are willing to give you RAW files, including myself, and here's why: 

  1. My job is to provide you with a complete and curated service. RAW files are unfinished, unpolished, and unrefined, and delivering them to you this way leaves you empty-handed with a bare and lifeless product. The high-res JPEGs you receive in your gallery are the finished product, and just as good as RAWs in terms of final print quality. They can be used in the same manner to create prints and other products that allow you to enjoy your pictures in physical form. This point is an essential part of the wedding photography experience you must understand.
  2. RAWs are large. Very large. This is because the amount data contained in the files. It takes multiple storage drives to store thousands of files from one wedding alone.

  3. Most web programs don't accept the RAW format and only a handful of programs are created to read them. If you ever get your hands on RAW files, you likely won't be able to utilize them.

At the end of it all when you finally receive your images, I want you to care more about what's in the pictures, not the amount of information your digital files contain. Quality > quantity.

The memories and feelings you get from your pictures are so much more valuable than the picture itself. That really is the point of photography, isn't it? To be able to enjoy the memories for what they are, and how you feel when you look back.

What are your feelings in regards to RAW files? Do you think photographers should be offering RAW files in our wedding packages? Why or why not?  Tell me your thoughts in the comments below! 

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Michelle Abernathy

Michelle Whitley Photography, 111 Teachers Way #1205, Gaithersburg, MD, 20877, United States