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Photo proofs

If you work with clients and send them photos, you need to know about proofing...

What is a proof in photography?

In short, proof in photography is a preliminary, lightly edited version of an image that you send to the receiving party for them to review and approve before final edits are made.

For example, let's take the scenario of a client booking a portrait photography session with me. During the session, let's say I take 100 photos. Out of those 100 photos, I will remove the duplicates, ones that ended up blurry, ones where they are blinking, and the ones where the exposure is really off.

From there, let's say I'm left with 30 photos. Out of those 30, I will lightly edit them to just make them look presentable.

This usually involves applying my Lightroom Presets Bundle onto the image to save precious time. I will send those 30 photos to the client, and they will be watermarked images (I will discuss what tools you can use to send them later).

Personally, I usually send the client a lot of images, but let's say you have a package where the client only gets 10 final photos. You will instruct them to pick 10 out of those that they would like to have. Once the client picks the final images they would like to receive, then you will now add the final edits to the image.

This can include anything from finer details to detailed retouching in Photoshop (depending on your post-production skillset).

Why are proofs used in photography?

Proofs are used in photography to ensure that the final images you send to the receiving party meet their standards and are free of defects. This way, you don't waste your time adding final touches to an image that is not desired by the client.

1. Free of defects

The first reason proofs are used in photography is to ensure your images are defects-free.

The process of proofing your images before sending the proofs is like running through an essay and checking for any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. It's a nice, quick way to force you to comb through your images before sending them to the client.

2. Meets client’s standards

The second reason proofs are used in photography is to ensure the images meet the client's standards. The client should already know your photography style based on how you created your photography portfolio.

By sending over proofs, you just want to ensure that the client and you are still on the same page regarding the photo quality and overall image composition.

3. Save time

Lastly, sending over proofs to a client and getting some input (if they provide any) would save valuable post-production work and time. It can also help build trust between you and your clients by showing them that you are committed to delivering high-quality work that will meet their expectations.

Alternative process to using proofs

Let's say you don't want to send proofs or are just curious if all photographers send over proofs. Well, the truth is, no.

In fact, when I started photographing clients, I didn't know what proofs were. I would just edit all the photos as if they were final edits and then just send all of them over.

I would see some clients not posting certain photos online, which would tell me they didn't want to showcase all the images. It was then that I learned of proofing, and it made complete sense. From then on, sending proofs to clients saved me lots of time editing.

It also allowed me to understand the images the client likes. This was a win-win because it would also let me know what the client preferred for future shoots.

Types of proofs used in photography

There are three different types of proofs used in photography. They include contact sheets, digital proofs, and test prints.

Each type of proof serves a different purpose, so let's take a closer look at each one:

1. Contact sheets

Contact sheets are sheets of photographic paper that contain small versions of the images you took during a photo shoot. They are usually printed in a grid of thumbnail-sized images, allowing multiple images to fit on the sheet.

Contact sheet proofs are pretty old school and are usually useful for film photographers since they have a roll of film instead of digital cameras.

Digital photographers could also create contact sheets by using software such as Lightroom or Photoshop and then printing them out, but there is not much need for this in a digital-first world.

2. Digital proofs

Digital proofs are the most common way proofs are made and sent to clients. The main proofing method I describe in this article revolves around digital proofs.

These types of proofs are usually created in Lightroom, Photoshop, or another 3rd party tool. Digital proofs are easy to share because they do not require any printing.

You can share them via email or through online galleries.

These types of proofs are best for clients who just plan on using the photos for digital use only, such as online profile pictures, social media, etc.

3. Test prints

Test print proofs in photography are physical prints of an image that are used to verify the color accuracy and quality of the final image. They are typically created using a high-quality printer and paper and are an essential part of the printing process.

Test print proofs are particularly important for fine art photographers, commercial photographers, and photographers who produce prints for sale or exhibition.

They are also important for wedding and portrait photographers who want to provide high-quality prints to their clients.

How proofs are created

Now that we've covered the most common types of proofs let's touch on how to create each one.

Creating contact sheets

If you wish to create a contact sheet, you can do so using digital software such as Lightroom. This software will allow you to create a grid of thumbnail images. From there, you can print them out.

Creating digital proofs

If you wish to create digital proofs, they can also be created in Lightroom. When you export the photos, you can add a watermark to all of your images and tweak the file settings to reduce the file size so it's easier to send to clients.

Creating test print proofs

If you wish to create test print proofs, you'll need a high-quality printer and paper to verify the color accuracy and quality of the final print. Let's now discuss the proofing software and tools you can use to easily create and send proofs.

Proofing software and tools photographers can use

What tools should you use to actually create and send out proofs?

Color management system tools

Color management system tools are software tools used to ensure consistent and accurate color across devices.

Oftentimes, we can edit on a computer monitor with the brightness turned all the way up and the contrast set to high. If you edit your photos with these settings and then look at the images on your phone screen, you may notice something.

The edits you thought you made could be completely off because you worked with a bad "editing base."

Color management tools, such as the X-Rite ColorMunki or the Datacolor Spyder (the one I use), allow you to calibrate your monitor for consistent and accurate colors.

This should always be the first step before diving into editing and color correction on your images.

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop

Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop are the most popular editing and retouching tools for photographers, and for good reason.

Within Lightroom, you can easily manage, edit, and organize your images. It also has built-in proofing features that make it easy to create contact sheets or digital proofs.

Photoshop is more technical, but you can do everything in Lightroom, including other more advanced edits and retouches. Personally, I like to make the first edits in Lightroom and then export them from Lightroom.

Once I know what images the client wants, I make the final touches in Photoshop.

Online proofing platforms

There are a few ways to send out proofs. I wanted to mention the most popular way now, which is through the use of online proofing platforms.

The most popular online proofing platforms include Pixieset, ShootProof, and SmugMug. These platforms typically offer features such as commenting, annotation, and approval workflows.

If you choose to make test prints, then a Print Layout Software will be useful such as the Epson Print Layout. These layouts allow photographers to control how the color looks, the brightness, and the contrast of the prints and to preview them before actually printing.

How to share photography proofs

Now that we've covered the tools, let's cover how actually to send the proofs and some best practices.

Google Drive

Before I started using online proofing tools, I would just use Google Drive.

I would take all of my proofs, create a folder for the client in my Google Drive, share access to Google Drive with my clients, and ask them to let me know which images they like by file name. It worked, but it was not the most professional.

Sending out emails

Similar to the Google Drive method, if there weren't many images to send over, I would just send them over in a regular email. I would then have them let me know which images they liked.

Again, it's not very professional.

Online proofing platforms

Nowadays, I use online proofing platforms. I personally like using Pixieset, but I've also heard great things about SmugMug and ShootProof.

Using an online proofing platform is just a lot more professional. These platforms can also help add bonus points to your brand image, so this is usually my go-to way to share proofs now.

There are many great tutorials online on how to get started with them, or you could just check out their sites. I'll probably make tutorials on how to use them in the future.

Best practices for sharing photography proofs

Before sending the proofs out, there are also some best practices you should know before sharing them. We've already touched on one in the beginning with watermarking, but let's cover everything you should know now.


As mentioned, you'll want to watermark your proofs because this can help deter unauthorized use of your images. It also looks pretty professional when someone receives a custom watermarked image.

It's just food for thought.

If you don't know a watermark, it's a visible overlay that could include your logo, business, name, copyright notice, or other identifying information.

Password protection

You may also want to consider password-protecting your proofs through the online galleries or in your files to ensure only authorized individuals can access their proofs.

This is especially important if you photograph work that is not meant to be shown to the public, such as unreleased product photos or private boudoir photos.

If you use an online proofing platform, then most have this feature you can add. If you're just sending a file over to them, then just put a password on it and let the client know.

Limited resolution

Limiting the resolution or size of your proofs can help prevent unauthorized printing or distribution. This can be achieved by sharing low-resolution versions of your images or by limiting the size of your online galleries.

You'll want to go low enough where the image still looks "good" and not like a pixelated mess. Also, let the client know they are low-resolution, so they don't think you're a bad photographer.

Terms and conditions

Having a terms and conditions page somewhere on your site or for your business is important in general. Having a section about the use of your images can help prevent any future misunderstandings or disputes with clients.

This can include specifying how your images can be used, for how long, and what fees or royalties may apply.

Professional communication

Professional communication with clients can help them understand the importance of protecting your intellectual property and what the proofing process actually is.

This can include explaining your policies and procedures for sharing proofs, how and why you share proofs, and being proactive in addressing any concerns or questions that may arise.

Some clients might think you just take their photos, and then they receive them. You'll want to let them know the whole process.

Communicate with them that you'll take the photos, lightly edit them, and send over the proofs. From there, they will pick from the proofs, you'll add final edits, and then they will receive the photos through XYZ.

Common mistakes to avoid when using proofs in photography

When it comes to avoiding mistakes when using proofs in photography, it's pretty much doing the opposite of everything we've already discussed.

For example, not reviewing your proofs before sending them, not calibrating your equipment, not communicating with the client about the process, failing to protect your intellectual property, etc.

However, the biggest mistake when it comes to proofs in photography is probably skipping the proofing process altogether. If you currently do not send over proofs to your clients, I'd recommend you start doing so for all the reasons listed above.

How to improve your proofing process

Once you go through your first proofing process, just like anything in life, you'll want to reflect on what went well and what didn't. Perhaps you failed to communicate something to the client or didn't like the proofing platform you used.

Whatever it may be, take note of it and change it up for next time until you have a proofing process that works for you!

In conclusion, proofing is a process that every photographer working with clients should use. It can help you save time, improve your brand image, and make you look more professional. Now, go out there and start proofing!

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