In this article, I offer an overview of the most popular image delivery options for photographers today – and I explain how to pick the perfect delivery method for your specific needs.
So if you’re looking to share images, keep your clients happy, and offer an all-around great photography experience, then read on.
How to choose the perfect method of sending photos: factors to think about
So you have a client – and you need to send photos.
What delivery method is best? How do you pick the perfect sharing process?
I’d recommend you start out by considering a few key factors:
- Speed (How quickly will the delivery method get your client their photos?)
- Cost (Is your method free? Or will it cost a significant amount, either for each delivery or as an initial, up-front cost?)
- Image format (Do you wish to deliver hard copies? Or would you like to send some sort of digital proof?)
- Image resolution/quality (Will you offer high-resolution prints? Or low-resolution proofs?)
Think about these criteria. Then keep them in mind as you continue down the page, where I attempt to flesh out some of these considerations in greater depth.
Hard copy (prints) versus digital files
Unless your client specifically requests prints, I’d recommend you deliver your images as digital files. Prints, especially high-quality prints, are expensive, and if you need to send a lot of images, the cost will soon become unmanageable. Prints are also slow; you can share a digital file almost instantly, but prints may take days or even weeks to arrive at your client’s home or place of work.
That said, some clients may request hard-copy proofs (for evaluation) or high-quality prints (for hanging). If this is the case, ask the client for their print size requirements, and use a well-regarded lab that prints at 300 DPI (though make sure your file sizes are large enough to allow for 300 DPI prints at your client’s requested print size!).
Now let’s take a look at the key considerations when sharing digital files with clients, starting with:
These days, modern cameras create high-resolution images anywhere from 12 megapixels to 60 megapixels, so even the most basic shooter is immediately faced with a dilemma:
If the goal is to provide digital files, how big should they be?
You might be tempted to offer the largest images possible, but this will slow down the sending and receiving process, plus certain image-sharing methods will put a cap on individual (and aggregate) file sizes. Instead, you should really think about the minimum file size you can get away with for your specific purpose.
In fact, if the images are for social media distribution or even a website portfolio, small file sizes are your best option (generally between 50 and 500 KB). If website images are too big, they load slowly, which can damage site speed and Google rankings. And many social media platforms automatically compress your images to a manageable file size, so huge images are unnecessary (the extra data just gets discarded!).
File size also depends heavily on image file format (i.e., JPEG vs TIFF vs RAW). While you, as the photographer, should probably be shooting in RAW, I recommend delivering images as TIFFs (if the goal is to provide a high-quality image that the client can eventually print) or JPEGs (if the goal is to provide an economical image for proofing or sharing via social media).
It’s important to emphasize that RAW files are terrible for sending images to clients, because they require a RAW processor to view, plus they offer unprocessed, straight-out-of-camera files that are designed to look flat, undersaturated, and generally uninteresting.
Also – and this is a big deal, too – RAW file sizes are enormous.
So shoot in RAW, yes. But then process your images and convert to TIFFs or JPEGs before sharing with clients.
(If you tend to produce a huge volume of photos – if you’re a sports photographer, for instance – then you may want to consider shooting in JPEGs, however. That way, you can skip the image processing step, and send images straight to clients!)
And by the way, while JPEGs may be relatively low quality and compressed, they don’t look bad. Here’s a JPEG image:
The best way to deliver photos to clients: 4 easy options
Now that you’re familiar with key image delivery considerations, let’s look at specific methods for image sharing, ranging from physical media to website delivery.
Gone are the days of recording CDs and DVDs for clients. Many computers aren’t even equipped with the relevant readers anymore, and these mediums don’t offer much storage. What’s worse is that writable CDs and DVDs are not permanent and degrade over time.
USB drives are smaller, offer larger storage capacities, and are more flexible. Memory sticks can be personalized and allow you to physically hand over the fruits of your labor to your client.
No, they’re not the fastest delivery mechanism, but the one-on-one contact is a good way to generate positive reviews and additional sales from your clients. Of course, USB drives will cost you – generally not much, but this depends on the size and the brand.
Basic digital delivery
If you’re only sending one, two, or even a dozen images, attaching them to an email is an option, especially if you want to use a delivery process with zero cost.
Bear in mind, however, that there are limitations to the size of an email you can send. And these limitations vary from platform to platform; some platforms allow you to send large files, but your recipient’s email provider may offer greater restrictions. Emails not received may take a while to bounce back, and your client won’t even know you tried to send them something, which can lead to a poor experience all around.
Digital document delivery
Digital delivery of electronic files is quick, convenient, and low cost. It’s broadly divided into two methods: FTP links and document repositories.
FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol and is designed for transferring digital documents. There are many free services, but you can’t see the images until after they are completely received. Some examples of FTP services include Sharefile, WeTransfer, TransferNow, and Send Anywhere.
Many document repositories, on the other hand, offer a cloud-based location for your digital files. You can create cloud links for your clients to download images; examples of these services include Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive. These services are great, but sometimes require logging in or creating accounts on the platform for access to the images. And they often feature a limited amount of free space (for more space, you’ll need to purchase a paid subscription package).
Bottom line: For the serious photographer sending dozens or hundreds of images to clients, digital document delivery is often the way to go. The process is fast and efficient, plus the cost is minimal. The biggest drawback is the lack of presentation; images get sent as a long list of files, rather than as a beautiful gallery that will wow your clients.
Photography-specific image delivery
Certain methods of digital delivery are designed specifically for photographers. There are two broad options:
- a customized website with a display gallery (designed specifically for clients)
- a photography-specific gallery system, which allows for the delivery of images and includes plenty of bells and whistles.
Using a website to create display galleries certainly looks professional, but it can be complicated to set up and maintain. Custom-built websites are costly, and any changes usually result in extra charges. There are some excellent website-builder services such as Squarespace, Format, SmugMug, Wix, and WordPress that all provide great pre-made templates and allow for display galleries, but the cost isn’t exactly cheap, and some level of know-how is still required. You may also be limited to the amount of space offered by your web host, and storing large, printable files may fill this space quickly.
Another option is a photography-specific image delivery system. Such a method is designed with wedding photographers in mind, and lets you share digital images in a slick, easy-to-use, easy-to-navigate website. Additionally, wedding photographers can produce a proofing gallery that allows visitors to select favorites, download images for social media, purchase high-resolution images, or get prints.
I personally really like this method because it allows for the simple uploading of images into pre-configured galleries that simplify the delivery of images to clients. They look slick, they let your clients see the images, and they let you control which images are downloaded (and how they’re downloaded, too). These are all paid services, but if you frequently deliver images, this method is excellent. I use Pixieset, but Shootproof and Pic-Time are also great picks.
How to send photos to your clients: final words
If you’re looking to deliver images to clients, you should now know which method of delivery works best for your needs.
(And if you’re still on the fence, I highly recommend you test out a few options and see what you think.)
Now over to you:
Which delivery method is your favorite? Which methods have you tried? Share your thoughts in the comments below!