Wedding Photos: What are Digital Negatives?

sybilvaneJune 10, 2006

Hi there,

I've seen some good posts on here with regard to wedding photography and use of negatives, so I thought I'd ask if anyone knew of an industry standard for what a "digital negative" is (if one exists), and what you'd expect if you paid for "digital negatives."

This is referring to photography using digital cameras.

Here are MY expectations as a consumer:

1) a "digital negative" is the original file that is created when a photographer takes a photo with a digital camera. It is an untouched, uncompressed image file.

2) assuming #1 above, this "digital negative" should not have any icons or whatever with a logo or name of the photographer on the photo when printed.

3) when one purchases "digital negatives," they may reprint them and distribute them at their leisure.

Please note that I do not intend to take credit where credit is not due; I will sing the praises of anyone who takes a good photo! I just need to know what to expect when I pay extra $$$ to purchase a "digital negative."


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In my experience the "digital negatives" serve as proofs and the photographer expects you to order prints from him/her, not reprint them yourself. Therefore, the digital negative usually contains a logo or some other type of identifying marker that indicates who owns the copyright. If you find a photographer that will sell you a file with the unretouched digital pictures, be sure that he/she gives you a signed copyright release as well. Otherwise, you may have problems making copies unless you plan to print all of them yourself, which can be very spendy for paper and ink. Also, photos printed on an ink jet printer have a limited life. Therefore, you will want to have your favorite photos either printed on a color lazer printer or commercially printed.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2006 at 12:21AM
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If you pay EXTRA for them, I'm w/ you--there should be no shadow logo, etc. It should have the same effect as buying the literal negatives--you can reproduce them all you want, and they bear no logo or credit info imbedded in the picture.

Because what you are paying for is not the physical negative, but the COPYRIGHT--the legal right to control those images. Which would mean that they should come to you pristine, and that ONLY YOU would have the right to reproduce them.

The logo is intended to protect the copyright. But YOU would own that copyright.

"digital proofs" are another matter; if your photographer wants to e-mail you (or give you a disk) as proofs, for you to look at when choosing the photographs you will have reproduced, they *should* have a logo or identifying marker, to protect the photographer's rights (which he has retained, since you didn't pay for them yet).

Sweat pea10 is right--you should get a copyright release, whether they're digital or negatives.

But what we think isn't necessarily industry standard, and not every photographer follows industry standards even when/if they exist. So be sure to ask your photographer.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2006 at 5:44PM
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I'm a wedding photographer and I offer digital negatives to all of my clients at no extra cost. These are untouched and original photos captured during the wedding. I also included a copyright release with the images so my clients can have them printed anywhere they wish. For more info please visit my web site at

Here is a link that might be useful: Wedding and Engagement Photography by ZIBA STUDIO in San Francisco, Bay Area

    Bookmark   June 28, 2006 at 8:42PM
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As another wedding photographer, please consider this advice. First a little disclaimer; it would be 10X easier for me to shoot a wedding and hand you a CD of all the images. That would literally save me about 10 hours of work AFTER the wedding day processing images and also money to provide you with the proofing. I could charge you for the dig. negs and the copyright release and be done with it, moving on to the next wedding much faster.

Here's why you should consider NOT buying digital negatives. Color Calibrated monitors of the photographer will give you the colors you think you're going to get. This will almost surely NOT happen by taking a CD to WalGreens or Walmart. Archival quality prints from the photographer means they'll last. ...and probably the biggest reason to order prints from the photographer is the post processing involved. This includes, aspect ratios, color-correction, sharpening, saturation, contrast, noise-reduction, dodging & burning, B&W and Sepia conversions and MUCH more. Like I said, I spend about 8-10 hours doing this processing for the average wedding. Unless you want/know how to do this yourself, digital negs may not be as good as it sounds. Few, if any, photographers are going to spend this time processing images to hand over to you on a CD. They are going to give you the untouched, unprocessed digital images. short, they aren't going to look as good as you'd expect. Why would they, they haven't been 'developed' yet in the digital darkroom. The professional digital wedding photographer has skills that extend way beyond the camera into the areas mentioned above.

...just something to consider. My goal with wedding photography is to leave Brides & Grooms with a feeling of satisfaction and amazement! I feel strongly that a good portion of the "art" of digital photography is finished in the post processing. A photographer selling you unprocessed digital negs is selling you an unfinished product, in my opinion. Now, if you happen to be a whiz on the computer and are capable of and have the time to process your own digital wedding negs, then go for it!

By the way, if you are a bride /groom who has purchased digital negs from your photographer and have realized that the prints don't look like you expected... I offer to process those images for you (as long as you own the copyright) for a minimal fee. Get in touch!


    Bookmark   July 1, 2006 at 3:12PM
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I agree with both above me... I actually do post processing on EVERY image before it leaves my studio on a disc, however I don't charge extra for this service and I also don't charge my client to "purchase" the disc either. I just think it's important that they receive them. Keep in mind that digital data is MUCH easier to "lose" than hard copies so BACK IT UP multiple times...

I think either some photographers either don't want to take the time or they don't have the experience (or the professional software) to correctly adjust digital photos.

There are many skilled photographers out there. Just make sure you ask a lot of questions to understand EXACTLY what is included before signing a contract.


Here is a link that might be useful: visit www.lusterstudi

    Bookmark   June 8, 2008 at 12:44PM
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My site is...

Here is a link that might be useful: visit

    Bookmark   June 8, 2008 at 12:47PM
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There is no such thing as a "digital negative" in regard to digital photography. They are "files", or "image files". In any legal sense a ridiculous affectation such as the term "digital negative" will only serve to undermine or invalidate a contract.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2009 at 10:59AM
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I think 'digital negative' is something like an oxymoron but I think a term designed to be more descriptive of what it is - most of us understand the 'negative' to be the original, whereas "jpg" or .psd or whatever may not be so clear.

I wouldn't necessarily say such terminology 'undermines' a contract; usually courts will allow some leeway when the intention is clear (but there are always exceptions)

Unless otherwise stated, and most photographers have standard contracts that clarify their stance, copyright is usually passed to the person who commissions and pays for the photographs. If a photographer does work on their own or on spec, the copyright is with them. As of a few years ago, Canadian law changed to state that copyright remained with the photographer until their fee was paid, which is kind of nice, because there's nothing worse than being stiffed.

Of course you need to seek clarification, but I would say that "digital proofs" are low-res samples or watermarked copies, whereas 'digital negatives' ought to be the original raw file.

I never ran my own studio, but I did work for a portrait/wedding studio and did a few odd weddings on the side. My main business was in film/tv but I never succumbed to the wedding siren call because for one, it's an awful lot of work if you do all the printing etc, owing to the retouching etc, and there are many ways for things to go wrong....I've never been quite so nervous on a film set!

The weddings I did on the side for the most part, were for people who did want the negatives handed over and for me, that was fine, I got paid and they could do what they liked. A one-hour shop is no substitute for a pro lab though, I guess in this day and age a lot more people know a bit about retouching in Photoshop, but a real photoshop artist can charge just about whatever they like.

If you are going all-out on your wedding (and for me, I could never quite see the whole $50k wedding thing unless you are ALREADY rich, I'd rather have a moderately nice affair and pocket the rest - I think my second wedding cost under $1k and it was a lot nicer than my first, which was still modest but cost more!) by all means go with the studio who will do all the printing and fancy stuff. Personally, I'd want copies of the original files too, but not all studios will do that...and don't expect to get the same results getting subsequent prints done yourself.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2009 at 1:13PM
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I would never dream of handing over my unedited files. I do all the post processing and give the couple a CD and one set of prints, as well as a digital download to a photo processing site. What they do with it after that is of no consequence to me.

And I agree, there is no such thing as a digital negative...

    Bookmark   May 18, 2009 at 11:50AM
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I wasn't doing the cutesey posed formal stuff when I did the weddings myself, but also worked for a photography studio who did and would have had the regular policies about negatives. In this day of high resolution scanning, I would think you have less control over the final images once they leave your studio.

In my personal situation, they were one-off jobs, I did my utmost to produce good images but was not doing them for 'art' or an ongoing business, so I didn't really want to be chained to them for reprints etc, nor did they, so I was happy to walk away in those circumstances. I was happy to do the photographs more as 'reportage' than the fancy stuff, if they wanted that, I said I'd be happy to do that under the boss' umbrella.

Had I chosen to make it my profession, and I did have the offer to join the studio permanent full-time (and I do still enjoy portraiture, and cringe when it's badly done, then it would have been a different thing.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2009 at 4:18PM
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