Wedding photography digital files explained
Wedding photographers may include digital files with certain packages, charge extra for digital files, or not include them at all. This should be very clear on their pricing and packages page, or after you receive their price lists on request.
In this article I will explain what you should be looking for when considering or comparing the value of wedding photography digital files.
Firstly it is really important to understand exactly what you are comparing. Any wedding photographer who starts talking about digital files with a certain DPI (dots per inch) are either misinformed, or are not telling the whole picture.
The DPI setting of photos when exported as JPEGs into digital files has absolutely no bearing on the information and quality of the finished JPEG. The only thing that matters is pixels at the longest edge, and the underlying JPEG quality (or the relative amount of compression).
While you may not need 100% JPEG quality for every image in a practical sense, it is still better to have 100% JPEG quality than something less than this (especially if printing large artworks with subtle gradients in the skies).
DPI is only relevant when preparing and exporting a photo for printing at a specific final size (normally from Photoshop).
If you already have the digital files at the maximum resolution (pixels at the longest edge) and JPEG quality, then essentially you have the highest possible quality, and optimal digital files.
As the number of pixels is reduced during export by specifying a pixel size (of say 2000 pixels) you are getting a smaller file with less information, and this is of less value.
Professional photographers shoot with a wide range and variety of camera makes and models, all with different megapixel counts. While the megapixel count of your photographers camera is somewhat important, anything over 20 megapixels is probably more than enough. And in any case, if the photographer crops the image this size will reduce anyway from the maximum value.
What is really interesting is that the quality and sharpness of the lens being used can actually have a much greater impact on overall perceived sharpness than megapixels alone. So when comparing the quality of your digital files, you should in theory also compare the relative quality of the lenses being used (which isn’t really practical).
Personally I use only professional Canon L lenses and Sigma Art Series lenses (exclusively). I don’t compromise on lens quality and sharpness for my clients, and most professional photographers will also be using similar lenses, so that shouldn’t be a major factor.
You will no doubt be keeping your wedding digital files for a very long time indeed, perhaps forever as they are passed down generation to generation. It is vitally important when thinking about the resolution of future viewing technology (which is always going to improve) to get the maximum resolution digital files.
For my wedding clients I provide the digital files only at smaller resolutions (2000 and 3600 pixels) for the convenience factor (they are quicker to download). These are provided within 7-14 days.
I also offer them at the maximum resolution (and JPEG quality) which makes them very impractical to email at about 15MB each photo, but these are as close to the digital negatives (blueprints) as you can get. They are not the raw files, that is a completely different topic, but in most cases you probably don’t need the raw files if the photographer has done their job editing them correctly.
Maximum resolution and JPEG quality digital files contain every pixel of information that the camera generated, and are what you should be looking for to archive and keep long term.
So when comparing digital file packages between photographers just focus on two things. The number of pixels at the longest edge (either a specific number or “maximum”) and the JPEG quality when exported (either a specific number such as 80% or 100%). In the case of JPEG quality, 100% is obviously the best quality!
Do not get confused by DPI because it doesn't matter, and do not worry about whether they are called “High Resolution” or not (because that is just a label and doesn’t actually mean much).
For photographers that don’t include digital files with their packages, it is important to know how much extra they charge for the digital files, and factor this into your pricing and package comparisons.
Photographers that do not offer digital files at all are normally those photographers that sell prints, canvasses and other artworks and very strongly believe in the value of printed photos and artworks.
Often however, if you are intending on purchasing prints and other artworks then these photographers will provide digital files once you spend over a specific amount (at no extra charge).
In conclusion, my recommendation to all couples is to ensure you do get digital files at maximum resolution and JPEG quality, and to factor this into pricing when comparing photographers.
One final thing to check is your actual printing rights. Do the digital files come with unlimited printing rights for you and all guests, or are they just for safekeeping? This might be buried in the fine print of the photographers contract, so make sure you can actually print from these digital files without extra costs or permission from the photographer as the copyright holder.