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News & Insight

Your Raw Files Don’t Define You As A Photographer, But Neither Does Your Post Processing

By Kishore Sawh on February 7th 2016

It’s not a new discussion topic, it’s not novel, and it will be discussed again – to give or not to give your raw files. When you’re a working photographer for some time, or even if you’ve been in these circles, you don’t too often pay attention to the question because you know the answers. In fact, the answer to the question itself, whether or not one should hand over raw files to a client, is, in my experience, to educate a new photographer and more so a client.

As a modern working photographer you know, even without dedicated thought on the matter, why it is you wouldn’t want to deliver raw SOOC images to your client. Why? Because you’ve seen them; we at SLRL make presets for a reason. You know that the amount of time you spend taking your image is but a drop in the overall ocean of time you spend making your image. We spend most of our time in post, typically, and for good reason.

It’s those reasons where the answers to this question are rooted. That your raw files are not your finished files. They are the wireframe to your model, the traced outline to your sketch, the bud before blossom, the blueprints before the building, or whatever analogy suits you – they do not represent your vision as an artist.

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images by Jessica Kobeissi

The problem typically exists because those who are not photographers don’t understand what’s involved. They’ve existed entirely from the consumer’s side of the lens, having only taken images and developed the film at a pharmacy photo lab, or just with their phones, and of no fault of their own haven’t been privy to what happens behind the scenes. After all, the rather widespread knowledge of post processing is a relatively new phenomenon that has arisen with digital. If you’d like to get an idea of how much and how photos were manipulated with film, check out this post.

Before that technological shift, there were far fewer photographers, and much less of the world understood that much of what made an image took place in some dark or red-lit room. So we can hardly blame the client, and in fact, I believe it’s just par for the course to educate the client (or new photographer) on the reasons why we don’t hand over the files. But as with anything, understanding something has much to do with how and from whom the material is brought across, and photographer Jessica Kobeissi has an atypical voice that is sure to strike a chord with many. She’s just released a video for the reasons why she and many photographers don’t hand over their raw files to clients, and her list is rather complete. It’s short, and it’s good, touching on the key points and some not typically discussed.

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While she has a unique voice and her points are generally solid, I do take some issue with one particular point she says

Raw photos look like any other photographer could’ve taken them. They don’t have your signature style, or editing, or lighting. Our editing and our post processing is what makes us distinctive as photographers. That’s what gives us our style. That’s why people book us.

I’ll admit right now that there is a vein of truth to what she is saying, and it certainly rings true for many photographers and many clients – but that’s not always the case. I think it’s a little bit dangerous for budding photographers to take this too much to heart. Your editing and post processing can and certainly will help to define you, but your signature style doesn’t have to be made in post.

If you study some of the greats in any photo genre, past and present, there’s more to their signature than their processing. It does matter what you do in camera, and what your lighting set-ups are like outside of post, and understand too that there are other reasons you’ll get booked or overlooked as a photographer.

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If you understand a particular industry and are reliable, that counts. If you are known to be able to entertain and make a session an occasion, that counts. Composition is massive and helps make some people’s careers, and that’s not done in post. Richard Avedon was one such and was known so well for being absolutely obsessive about lines in imagery, such as lining up models’ shoes – and while it may not sound like much, believe me, it matters. And let’s not forget that if you shoot people, being able to engage and bring out of your subject what you want and have that expressed in the image is massive.

[REWIND: MAGNUM PHOTOS DARKROOM MAGIC | THE GENESIS OF PHOTOSHOP & LIGHTROOM]

This stuff cannot go understated, and should not be pushed aside, and cannot be done in post. Evidence of this is if you’re a commercial photographer, because, in many instances, you do actually hand over the raw files, and that’s understood, as it is understood that you’re hired for much more than what you do in post. This isn’t a complete list, but just to serve as a cautionary reminder that your post processing is a lot, but it isn’t everything.

You can see some of Jessica’s fine work on her Facebook page, and YouTube.

Source: ISO1200

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. robert raymer

    Greg Avedon (model and fitness guy)?

    I think you mean Richard Avedon (whose before/after of film printing is in the article.

    That aside, the idea that retouching is as important to a photographer as the ability to shoot a decent image in camera is somewhat distressing to me. As you mentioned, there are a ton of other things you need to understand to make a good image, and if you don’t get things correct in camera you will have a much harder time producing the image you want. Sure, you might be able to snap a picture and make an aesthetically pleasing image, but that is nothing more than a bunch of math applied to the light that happens to hit your sensor. It might look good, It it was not really “created” by you since you did not really make any conscious decisions (other than maybe adjusting a few sliders) to make it “your” work.

    Of course, this is not to discount the need for post processing. Almost all photographers, especially those who work in digital, spend a lot of time in post processing. What sets the good and great ones apart is that they have a vision, and know what they need to do in camera to get the look they want AFTER it is processed rather than just applying post processing to images that are not well thought out or well executed.

    Lastly, one distinction that I feel needs to be made is that what constitutes a good image or photographer is not always what constitutes a successful one. I have seen plenty of relatively crappy (in my opinion) images make fairly large sums of money and I have seen many people who may not be the best (sometimes not really even all that good) at what they do become quite “successful” due to connections, good marketing, and or just the luck of being in the right place at the right time.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I don’t know what the hell I was thinking of – Richard Avedon is one of my favorites but I guess some old Men’s Health article was on my mind. Thanks for that,

      That aside, I think we share similar concerns. and far be it from me to critique someone who has found some manner of success in their work due to processing, but I do find the utter reliance people have one post now is largely, so immense that it hurts them in the end, and I really don’t want that for the new breed. Hopefully the resurgence of film will continue, and assist in this department – in photographic competency versus retouching reliance.

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    • robert raymer

      Its funny because it is something I have been thinking about in my own work a lot over the last year and that ultimately led me back to film. Not long ago I bought a 4×5 monorail specifically to get back to my film roots, spend more time slowing down, paying attention to composition, light, and exposure, and more time developing. I still don’t use film in any paid work (for a number of workflow/time/cost reasons) but I am planning on using 4×5 for a long term personal project (originally planned for digital) of large format portraits of firefighters I’m starting in the spring.

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    • Andy & Amii Kauth

      Certainly some thoughts worth pondering …

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