Raw vs. Edited Images

Posted By Holly Castillo Photography on Thursday 26th July 2018

I am SUPER excited about this blog post, because it's something I've never done before! I get a lot of questions from clients about "raw/unedited" versus "edited" images. They often ask if I edit my images, what all that involves, and if they can have the raw/unedited images as well as the edited ones. And my answer to that last question is always "no". For the reason that photographers rarely if ever give out the raw/unedited images simply because they aren't a finished product. The truth is, only about 25% of a wedding day occurs on the day as far as photography goes. The other 75% is behind the scenes, in uploading, culling/ sorting images, editing, exporting, uploading, and sending.  I like to compare it to going to a fancy restaurant for dinner. Say you ordered a $30 plate of salmon and veggies, and the waiter came back with an uncooked piece of fish and raw carrots- that obviously wouldn't fly with you. And although raw/unedited images won't give you salmonella poisoning, they're still "half baked"- just the raw ingredients needed to create a wall worthy photograph. You aren't paying us to do 25% of a job, you're paying for a whole job, which includes turning those unedited images into personal works of art for you and your family. 

A few weeks ago, I posted this before and after image on my personal Facebook page, and the attention it got was amazing. That was really the spark that made me decide to write this post. I wanted to explain the difference between the two formats, as well as show some examples of that, because of course as a photographer I think images speak louder than words. I've included five images, both the before (raw, unedited, straight out of camera), and the after (edited, JPEG, ready to hang on your wall).

Image #1

Back in May I photographed this wedding in Palm Springs. The sunset was beautiful, but we were behind a mountain, and it was quickly getting dark. I took a sunset photo, and although you'd never expected it to be anything special from looking on the back of the camera- I knew that within that raw data was something beautiful. 

Which is this:

Suddenly a colorless sunset and darkening landscape has color again, warmth, and beauty. That's why we don't give you those unedited images. We as photographers (I'm speaking for my community here) hope and expect that you're hiring us not just for our ability to take a photo with a camera, but to know how to edit as well. To know how to turn cold and dark into warm and beautiful. To know what to do to give you a timeless image.

Image #2

Okay, let's talk about church lighting. Church or indoor lighting is notoriously not great. Often we have these yellow-y fluorescent lights that make people look like they have jaundice. But with that raw data, it's a quick fix.

I didn't take out the warmth of this image (I like warmth), but I did tone it down a bit to make it look more natural. I also added some depth to the image, more blacks and whites instead of the flat tones of a raw image.

Image #3

This is from an anniversary session a few weeks ago. As far as raw photos go, this one isn't too bad. It's not super dark, it's actually pretty bright and warm on it's own. But there's more magic to be done. Because why would you settle for "it's ok" when you can do better? 

See what I mean? It's one of those things where you could easily look at the raw and say "it's fine!" but photographers are always looking for a way to make it better. Contrast, warmth, a little change of tone, all of this goes into every single image I give you. 

Image #4

Again, as far as raw images go, it's not horrible. But what have we learned? We can always do better. 

Is this making sense now?

Image #5

This requires some backstory. The entrance to this restaurant is right off of a street in LA, meaning the sidewalk was right in front of the couple, and then cars and the street. Not a lot of room to back up and get a nice wide symmetrical shot. I ended up almost leaning back against a parked car to get as far as possible, because even with my wide angle lens I was still super close. This was the best I could get, but it bothered me that it wasn't straight. And here's again where the editing magic comes in.

FIXED. That tree in the first corner of the image is gone, and the whole archway is now straight despite me shooting upward at a weird angle. It's not just lighting, color, contrast, noise, it's also cropping, straightening, fixing lens warp, toning down grain, etc. 

I super appreciate anyone who's stuck through this, and I sincerely hope that this "behind the scenes" info has proved educational to you in some way! I really love my craft, and I really want others to love it too. When a photographer denies raw/unedited images, please don't take it personally. We aren't trying to rip you off, or hold something back- it's actually quite the opposite! We just want you to have the fully cooked, beautifully seasoned salmon dinner that you paid for- not a floppy raw piece of fish and some hard unseasoned carrots. :)

Happy to answer questions via comments below!

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