Why does my headshot photography package not include RAW files?

Headshot Photographers Los Angeles:

“Why?” you ask,  “why does my headshot photographer not want to give me a CD of high resolution files that I can go do as I please with?  After all, my other photographer did.”

This question has come up enough times that I feel the need to respond for the collective who don’t give out high resolution files.  These are my colleagues, photographers, and artists whom I have great respect for because they truly value their work, and like to see the process through from start to finish.  Let me explain.

But before I explain, I would like to define what a RAW file is (for the laymen).  Most professional photographers shoot in RAW mode.  A RAW file is the equivalent of a film negative.  RAW files are not the same files that a point and shoot digital camera produces.  A point and shoot produces JPEG files, which are compressed images, that are pre-processed by the camera.  Meaning, the contrast, color balance, and skin tones are determined by the camera, and therefore, the images need no further processing.  By contrast, RAW files need processing in the digital darkroom, sometimes referred to as the lightroom,  just like a film negative needs processing in the darkroom.  RAW file types are available only with Prosumer or Pro Cameras that cost anywhere from $1700 to $8000 or sometiems more.

Here is an example of what a RAW file that comes out of the camera looks like, and the same file processed.

RAW Headshot vs. Custom Processed

RAW Headshot vs. Custom Processed

Everyone understands that a film negative is not a finished product or a ready image.  It is not an 8×10 headshot.  It needs to be processed in the darkroom, and then printed in the darkroom.  The printing process involves chemicals and other goodies where the photographer adds contrast, burning and dodging, and controls skin tones and brightness to produce the final print.  This can be the most creative, fulfilling, and exciting part of being a photographer.  After all, this is the only part of the process that the public sees,  the final image we create from that negative!  That’s the image that gets hung up in galleries, or published in books, or in the case of headshots, the image that gets passed around all over town with our name stamped on it (literally or not)!

Even those of us who dropped film off at the lab, for processing and printing, felt we had creative control over our final images.  This is because, to the labs we had a relationship with, we could dictate our standards and preferences, get exactly what we asked for, and even proof our images before proudly passing it on to the client as the image of our vision.

No one seems to understand that RAW files need to go through the same process of “processing”.

Here is another example or a RAW vs processed file.

RAW vs Processed

RAW vs Processed

The truth is, the average person can not take film and process it themselves in their own darkroom.  Unlike the “Lightroom”,  consisting of a computer and Photoshop, darkrooms are expensive, time consuming, and require skills not easily available to the public.

With digital cameras and the tools for processing easily available to the public, I hate to say it, but, with all due respect, every Joe schmo thinks he is an expert in Photoshop; essentially an expert printer.  Maybe so.   But I can guarantee, that nine out of ten consumers do not have the skills to process an image the way a photographer can.  Why?  Because photographers spend countless hours doing what they do (their full time job), in addition, they are constantly educating themselves, learning new techniques, investing in new software and hardware, to be able to give clients high quality images stamped with their vision.

Most importantly, the processed RAW file is the photographer’s very own creative interpretation of the final image.  My personal feeling is that no one should take that away from an artist.

Saying to a photographer that you’d like to play around with the RAW images yourself, is truly diminishing what a photographer does as an artist.  The only part of the entire process that the public sees is the final image, and that final image should, in my opinion, be created with the photographer’s vision and no one else’s.

I think a painter would very much be offended if after purchasing his painting, the buyer decides he would like to add his own brush strokes to the canvas.

A writer would very much be offended if an actor decided to change the interpretation of a line that was meant to say something else.

I could go on but you should be getting the point by now.

Sure, in the days of film, there were headshot photographers (for one reason or another) who gave away their negatives, just as they now give away RAW files, or what some people call the high resolution files.  When a photographer gave his negatives to the client, and a random lab processed the negatives and made a print, the photographer essentially gave up creative control over the final outcome and look of the image.  Chances were, that if the lab was not a trusted lab that the photographer had a relationship with, and that lab put out mediocre work, the photographer in turn looked mediocre.

By the same token you can take RAW files to the reproduction lab and have them process the files for you.  In the case of headshots, unfortunately  with few exceptions, reproduction labs don’t necessarily take the time and care to creatively process RAW files.  They merely focus on the “setup” of your name, font, border etc.  and don’t necessarily focus on things like selective burning and dodging, perfecting skin tones, contrast, and enhancing colors.

Same as a film lab, if a reproduction lab is mediocre, chances are the final image will also turn out to be mediocre.  Guess who’s name and reputation rides on that image?  Yup, you guessed it.  When the quality of the final headshot is bad, the only person that gets blamed is the photographer.  This is true mostly because people are unaware of the process the images have to go through to look good, the process I explained above.

Here is another example.

RAW vs. Processed

RAW vs. Processed

In the world of headshot photographers, there are many who don’t necessarily view their work as art, who don’t care enough about what happens to their work once it leaves their possession, and simply give away their RAW files.  These photographers generally charge less since they spend less time in post, and also don’t need to invest as much in equipment and software to process RAW files.  I truly believe that they would be more successful if they took control of their images and treated, yes, even headshots, as art.  Because in my experience, good work (on final images that the public will view) begets more work.

A quick note about the rest of the industry:  giving away RAW files is not common practice in any other field of photography. In fact it’s frowned upon.  From wedding photographers to commercial photographers, and everyone else in between,  giving away RAW files is the equivalent of giving away our precious copyright, completely disregarding the Copyright Act of 1976 which protects the value of a photographer’s images.  But that’s a whole other topic.

To summarize, headshot photographers may be viewed as lowest of the totem pole, and some may even view themselves as such, and therefore not take their art seriously.   I, on the other hand, really enjoy what I do and  take my work seriously.  By striving to become a well informed and better photographer every day,  I aim to provide my clients the unique prospective of seeing my vision come to life from start to finish.  For me, the process begins, from the minute I click the shutter, create the web galleries, CDs, proofs, etc., and ends with the final image processed, with all my little creative touches!

To uphold and to protect my reputation from bad or mediocre processing of my images, and for the sake of creative control, I feel strongly about not giving out my RAW files.

Enough examples of RAW images.  Here are more images for you to enjoy!  “LOVE” if you liked this post!

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