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Photo Proofs: Proofing Guide for Clients & Photographers

Confused about the process of proofing in photography? Whether you're the client or the photographer, this guide answers the most common questions.

Photo proofing is an essential step in the delivery of images to clients.

I wrote this guide to help my clients as well as other photographers I mentor.

The first section is for clients who may have heard the term ‘photo proofing’ for the first time.

We’ll discuss what are photo proofs, why they’re important and how long they usually take to receive.

The second section will be advice on photo proofing for professional photographers.

I’ll offer recommendations for proofing software as well as best practices to make the post-production workflow more efficient.

Proofing Advice for Clients

What is Client Proofing in Photography?

Client proofing is the process by which a photographer sends unedited images to clients for them to make a selection.

The client chooses the images they’d like the photographer to work on.

Once they’ve made that selection, the photographer does the post-processing (colour adjustments, cropping, retouching, all that sort of thing), and sends the final selection back to the client.

Why is Client Proofing Important in Photography?

Client proofing is important for the client because it gives them some control and a say over which edited images they’ll receive from the photographer.

That’s especially important on jobs where the client won’t be receiving many images, or for example, where they might have a very different opinion on which shot is best for them, as in with portraits or headshots.

Client proofing is also important for the photographer, as it saves time, and therefore money.

There’s no need for the photographer to cull the photos, or edit anything that won’t end up being used.

It also means there’ll be no time-consuming back and forth after delivering the final photos, which can sometimes happen if control over the final images is left to the photographer.

The client may ask if there’s a photo ‘more like this’ or ‘more like that’ or that ‘has this person in it’. With proofing, the client has already seen every photo and made a selection they’re happy with. Once the final photos are delivered, the job is done.

How Long Does it Take To Get Proofs Back from a Photographer?

It really depends on what the job is (and who the photographer is).

Is it a headshot session, a multiday corporate event, an engagement shoot, or a commercial job?

The size of the job and the number of pictures taken will influence how long it will take for your photographer to get your pictures to you.

Also, is it peak season? Does your photographer have a lot of other jobs at the moment?

Once you’ve selected the images you want the photographer to work on (usually using online picture proofing), they still have a lot of work to do to finalize them.

If you need your images to be turned around within a particular time frame, make sure to talk that over with your photographer when you’re booking them, and get it put in the contract.

Can clients request edits during the proofing process?

Of course. Requesting edits is the whole point of the proofing process. You select the photos you want to be edited and then tell the photographer. Hopefully, you won’t need re-edits to all the images, though!

Is there an additional cost for client proofing?

There shouldn’t be any additional cost for client proofing.

Proofing saves the photographer time on photo editing; time that can then be spent on finding or working for other clients. So there’s absolutely no reason you should be charged for it.

If you’re talking about test prints as opposed to digital proofs, however, there may be a cost for the photographic paper and printing process associated with getting the test prints printed.

Often, though, the trial photographic print options will be discussed prior to engaging the photographer’s services.

Do all photographers offer client proofing?

Not all photographers do.

Some photographers prefer not to show their clients their unedited photos from the photo session, and would rather you leave it up to them to deliver their best shots without client input.

Not all photography jobs require proofing, too or can fit the process in.

Also, not all photographers wish to pay for and manage online proofing galleries.

For example, corporate events often have a very quick turnaround time for delivery, so the photographer often just needs to get straight to work with culling and editing.

Proofing Advice for Professional Photographers


What should I communicate to my clients before the proofing process?

It’s a good idea to remind them that what they’ll be looking at is not the final product.

Many clients aren’t aware that the photos you take are just raw digital information, and that there’s a lot of work to be done after the photos are taken to get them looking the way you want.

So, just remind them, so they don’t feel somewhat sad when they look through the online picture proofing gallery.

If you haven’t already, let them know how many photography proofs they need to select, how to do that, and how to send you their selection.

Also tell them how much any extra edits will cost, and how long after their selection you expect it to take for them to receive the final, edited images.

Should I edit all images before proofing?

No, you shouldn’t edit all the images before delivering your photography proofs.

You should do a quick cull to get rid of missed shots (for example, when your flash failed to fire), and any that are obviously unusable (strange facial expressions, out-of-focus images)  -there’s no need to upload images that are sub par to online proofing galleries.

If you like you can batch-run the photos through a custom-made preset in Lightroom, for example. Set it up to add a tiny bit of contrast, and add lens corrections. That’ll ensure your photos have a little more life than the out-of-camera versions.

But aside from that, the point of photo proofing is to save time, so you shouldn’t be doing anything apart from this.

How can I make the proofing process more efficient?

The key to making the photo-proofing process more efficient is communication.

You need to have it stated in your contract how many images the client will get. If you don’t, things can get messy, and you can end up wasting a lot of time and energy.

Make sure from the beginning (that is, when you book the job), that the client has a clear idea of what the proofing process entails.

They should know how they will receive the proofs, how to make their selection, how to send that to you, how much extra edits cost, and how long they should expect to wait before receiving their final images.

If everything about the photo-proofing process is clear from the beginning, there’ll be no need for extra, time-consuming communication to clear up any confusion that arises.

There should be no confusion at all. After all, it’s a very simple process designed to save everyone time and make sure that everyone’s happy at the end of the day.

How Do I Share Photo Proofs with Clients?

You can go old-school and mail the photographs as a printed contact sheet.

You can send your client a USB stick of the photos.

You could email that contact sheet as a PDF, or send the low-res files as an attachment.

You can use a file-sharing service.

Or, you can set up an online client gallery, either on your own website (this is the best idea for marketing, as it gets more eyes on your business), or by using a third-party online gallery provider.

Online Photo Proofing Software Recommendations

If you’re a professional photographer who needs to share photo proofs with your clients, you’ll need to use online photo-proofing galleries like these:

  • ShootProof – A one-stop-shop where photographers can set up a website, or sell prints, but also send clients proofing galleries. Easy to set up and use, and easy for clients to navigate. They charge according to the number of photos you host with them, rather than the amount of storage you use. See ShootProof vs Smugmug.
  • Pic-Time – An aesthetically pleasing option, especially loved by portrait and wedding photographers. Like ShotProof, it does more than only client proofing, but for proofing, it has a very intuitive interface for both photographers and clients to use. Easily send password-protected photo-proofing galleries for clients to make selections from.
  • PhotoProof Pro – This is really a no-frills option. Upload your photos and send the online photo-proofing gallery to your client. There’s literally nothing else to do. Simple, and effective.
  • Zenfolio – There’s also more than proofing available through this company, you can run your whole business through one of their sites. The proofing galleries themselves though, look good on desktop and mobile and are a seamless way to share images with clients. They can easily make selections and also send you feedback and comments on individual shots.
  • Photonesto – With these guys, you can set up a good-looking online photo-proofing gallery for very little cost. Prices start at just $2 per gallery! It costs more depending on the number of photos in the gallery and the duration you want them to be online for, but it’s still good value. It’s extremely simple to use at both ends of the process.
  • Pixieset – A very popular choice among professionals. There’s a free version with limited storage and Pixieset branding, so it’s worth paying a small monthly fee for more storage and the ability to use your own branding. See Shootproof vs Pixieset.
  • Collect by WeTransfer – A free way to send your images to a client from an image board. Very simple and easy to use. You can either set the gallery for clients to view only or for them to, for example, delete images they don’t want you to edit.
  • PicFlow – features collaborative digital proofing, fast uploads and affordable plans for professional photographers/

As you can see, there are a lot of options out there for online photo-proofing galleries.

Some more you might want to look into, that do the same or similar to those above are, Cloudspot, Pass, Lightfolio, and Pixellu.

Should I watermark my photos for client proofing?

Yes, you should definitely watermark your photos before undertaking any online photo proofing.

The likelihood is that your client is trustworthy, but you never know.

It’s worth taking this extra small step to protect yourself and your images just in case.

But make sure that the watermark is in one corner of the image rather than in the centre, and ensure that the opacity is set so that it doesn’t interfere with the client’s view of things.

There are also other ways to protect your images.

Of course, you should be sending your proofs as low-resolution images to begin with. This means that if anyone does steal one, how they can use it will be very limited.

If you’re sending them an online photo-proofing gallery, make sure it’s password protected too, and disable the download and ‘right-click save image as’ functions.

How many photos should I give my client?

That’s something you need to agree on at the start of the job and will depend both on what you are shooting and your client’s needs. Every job will be different.

What should be the same though, is that you aren’t figuring this out at the proofing stage!

Deliverables should be in your contract, and the client should be aware of any fees they’ll need to pay if they want extra images.

What should I do if a client is unhappy with their digital proofs?

A woman is holding her head in front of a laptop.

First of all, you need to find out what exactly they are unhappy with. Is it the amount of photos, their quality, the style of editing, or something else?

Actively engage with their feedback without getting defensive, and try to offer solutions. Also, allow your client to present their own solutions.

The key to solving this kind of issue is clear communication.

Try to find a solution as quickly and peacefully as possible, so that the situation can be dealt with efficiently.

Learn from any mistakes you’ve made but also remember, in some situations, you may not be at fault.

Whatever the case, once you have a solution, get to work on it, and then follow up to make sure that the client is happy.

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Shotkit Writer, Product Tester & Instagram Manager

Jeff Collier is an experienced film photographer who enjoys experimenting with modern digital photography equipment, software and apps. He’s also an ex-world champion triathlete and avid cyclist, clocking hundreds of km each week in the beautiful Tweed Valley of northern NSW, Australia.

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