Edited Photos vs. Digital Negatives

Although we include the digital negatives in all of our packages, many people have misconceptions about what digital negatives are and what can be done with them. Hopefully this guide will help you to understand a little bit more about this popular item.

What are digital negatives?

Think about what film negatives are.. Small, unedited, easy to store, with lots of potential. Digital negatives are similar. These files have had minor editing, no retouching, no resizing. They have lots of potential, if you know how to use them. However, digital negatives are NOT the images you see in our portfolio, in our albums, and on our blog. The photos we present on the website have had extensive editing and retouching.

Why would I want them?

Many people want these files because they feel better about having a digital copy of all of their wedding images, or because they want to print the photos off themselves, or because they want to post their photos online, such as on Facebook, Instagram, or a personal wedding website. You are welcome to do whatever you please with your negatives, as long as it falls under the usage agreement.

When I get the digital negatives, does that mean I own the copyright?

No. By law, we retain the copyright to every image we take. When you purchase the digital negatives, you receive the digital files as well as a usage agreement that gives you permission to use the images for certain purposes, such as making prints or other photo products, posting on a website, or for personal use. The release is specific to the bride and groom.  If you wish to purchase the full copyright, you can do so for an additional $5000, which includes a Non-Disclosure Agreement specifying that we will no longer possess or use the images in any way.

What CAN’T I do with the digital negatives?

First and foremost, you cannot transfer or sell your usage agreement to anyone else. Only the bride and groom have permission to use the images. You also cannot make significant changes to the images we give you.  Cropping and resizing are ok, but please leave the image editing to us – that’s what you pay us for!  You also cannot sell digital files or prints of the images to anyone else.  We also ask that you do not send the files to wedding blogs, magazines, or your other vendors without speaking to us first.  We are more than happy to share the images with media and the vendor team at no fee, but we prefer to do it personally so that we may discuss our usage and credit policies with them.  This also allows us to be on the same page with the entire team regarding where the images have been submitted or published.

When will I get the digital negatives?

All of the digital files are packaged together and delivered after all photo services have been completed.  If you need a few digital files before the wedding, such as for a Save The Date card or newspaper announcement, we will be happy to provide that for you. Once you receive the digital files, we strongly recommend backing them up immediately in case you lose the files or they become corrupted. There may be a fee for replacement of the digital files, so make sure you back up your files!

Is there a difference between printing through you and printing somewhere else?

Yes.  The process that each image goes through before being printed can take hours, and is very skilled work, so we charge accordingly for this service. This is why there is such a big price difference between taking a digital negative to your local neighborhood one-hour photo and getting a 4×6 for $.20 and purchasing one from us for $15. At the one-hour photo place, you will get low quality paper, printing, and automatic adjustments which often makes the images WORSE, not better. When you purchase from us directly, you are getting an image printed by a professional photo lab on the highest quality photographic paper and the time it takes us to carefully tweak and retouch each individual image separately and then calibrate it to the specific printer that our lab will be using, as well as our guarantee that if something is wrong with the print you receive, we will replace it free of charge until you are satisfied. This requires expensive software and hardware, as well as lots and lots of time (roughly 15-30 minutes per image). For large prints, we also have a special process that allows us to enlarge the image to virtually any size without any loss of quality. We also include all  retouching on prints ordered through us, which can be substantially time-intensive.

If you would like to see a copy of the usage agreement, let us know and we will be happy to provide a sample.

What exactly does “editing” a photo entail?

This is truly a big question, and it’s hard to answer with words. It can mean increasing contrast, adjusting the white balance, changing color hues, removing pimples, slimming down unattractive body parts, opening closed eyes, erasing debris or distracting backgrounds, adding special effects like vignettes or sepia, etc. The possibilities are endless, and every single image requires something different.

Furthermore, each image goes through two different rounds of editing. The first round of editing is where we make minor tweaks to the image to make it presentable for proofing.

It’s much easier to answer this question visually. In the following examples, the “unedited” photo is the image straight out of the camera, the “proof” photo is the photo after the first round of editing (this is the image that you would see in your proofing galleries, as well as the image you would receive with your digital negatives), and the “edited” photo is the image after extensive retouching work that we will use for prints, albums, canvases, etc (this is the image you would receive if ordering a print directly through us).

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I love the look of the edited photos, but I want the digital negatives. Can I pay for you to retouch all of them?

For an average wedding with 500 proofs, it would take us around 250 hours to do this, which would take six weeks of working full time, and the cost would run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Frankly, we cannot sacrifice that much of our time or we would be forced to neglect our other clients. We can do retouching on individual digital files for $35 an hour (typically two images per hour), or if you purchase a 16×20 or larger of any image, we will provide you with the edited image file at no extra charge.

  • Joelene Mills - Brilliant ;) thank you Stacy

  • Jason Huang - This is great! Mind if I use some of your text for my own site? :-) Thanks for putting this up.

  • Kirsten - Hey Stacy, this is so great. Would be helpful for a lot of clients. If I ever want to use it I will absolutely give you credit. Most of all, just got my mind running.

  • Sandy - I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Emily - Once again you said what I was thinking, but in a much more professional, elegant way. Well said, thank you for posting this.

  • unscriptedmoments - very well put!

  • Schonafrye - Wow Great info! Thanks for this post!

  • Vashti Wood - Eloquent. Concise. Comprehensive. Well done. I, too, would like to include something like this on my site – would you mind if I used this as a base from which to start?

  • Dallas wedding photographer Stacy Reeves » Updated info page, and outsourcing - […] Edited Photos vs. Digital Negatives […]

  • Tabitha Norris - Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! This is a great explanation. I would love to use this as a base on my web-site, name your price. By the way, I love your work. Really inspirational.

  • Gail - Thank you for making this clear. It will make it easier for me to explain this to my clients. Really appreciate your work.

  • Jason Hermann - Thank you so much for sharing all this info!! I learned a lot and the way you explain things makes it very easy for customers to understand which is key :)

    Thanks,
    Jason Hermann

  • Craig - Thank you for sharing examples of this. It is important to educate our clients the difference between taking the time to make images look there best and those that just shoot photographs and throw them on a disc with no editing.

    Craig
    http://www.lusterstudios.com

    -

  • jon - Wow, this is a great run-down of copyright and editing costs. I always wonder how to word this stuff and you mastered it, thanks for the insight!

  • Zach (nerf @ flickr) - Excellent explanation! And thanks for the pricing guide, too. See you over @ flickr.

  • Donna Beard - Thank you for sharing this information – I found it extremely useful in answering questions I had about offering the digital files.

  • Ben Godkin - This is very informative and very help to Brides and Photographers alike. Thank you…

  • Michelle - Would you mind if I linked this from my website? I’d just have an external link to this page.
    Please let me know.

  • laura-dolcepics - I’m just loving all your FAQ’s guides! Thanks so much for taking the time to make all this very important information available.

  • Another Time for Honesty | Michelle Gardella Photography » My Blog - […] So, I just posted and then someone read it and sent me this link. Thank you for the beautiful validation, Universe! This is precisely what I was talking about! […]