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Photography

Best Practices: How to Deliver Digital Image Files to Your Clients Over the Internet

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At some point in your career as a photographer you’ll need to share images over the Internet. If you’re sending pictures to your friends and family, you can be as casual as you like. If, however, you are delivering images to a client, then you must do it in a professional manner. Your professional reputation can be damaged by something as simple as a poorly worded email.

In this tutorial, I’ll outline some of the best practices for delivering images to clients over the Internet.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Email

When it comes to sending images, many people default to attaching the files to an email. This is a terrible way to do it.

First, digital images taken with a modern DSLR, even when exported as JPEGs, are generally a few megabytes in size. A full-size image taken with my 5D MKIII and saved as a JPEG at 70% quality, the settings I normally use for client images, is around 5MB. Most email services limit the size of attachments to 25MB. Even in the best case scenario, you’ll at most be able to attach five or ten images.

what you shouldnt do
What you shouldn't be doing.

Second, there’s a good chance your client will receive the images on their smartphone. If they are using a cellular connection, your large attachment will take up a decent chunk of their monthly data allowance. If they have a poor signal, the email will take a few minutes to download, slowing all other Internet traffic to a crawl. By the time they open the email, you’re unlikely to be at the top of their “favourite people” list.

While email has its place, don’t use it to send images to your clients.

How to Deliver Files

Instead of just emailing photos, the best way to deliver images is to use a dedicated file hosting service. In the past few years, a number of great companies have all started offering large amounts of file hosting for a very reasonable monthly fee. The most popular of these services are Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.

dropbox site
Dropbox's home page.

All work in much the same way: a folder on your computer is mirrored to the service’s servers. Anything you add to it is automatically uploaded to the Internet. You can share any individual file or subfolder—such as the one containing your client's images—simply by sending a unique URL.

Using one of these services overcomes many of the limitations of email. While you don’t have unlimited space, all the services offer at least a few gigabytes for free. This is more than enough to let you send thousands of images to your clients.

A Note on Professional Services

If you’re a professional photographer and regularly deliver images to clients, it might be worth your while looking at some of the professional services that automate the whole process. While doing it yourself is free, if you’re delivering 15 or 20 shoots worth of images a month, a service like Pixieset or PASS will simplify the whole process.

Organise Your Files for Delivery

Even if you use a file hosting service, you can’t just send the client the link and be done with it. Instead you need to create a professional package for delivery. Here are some guidelines for doing it.

Name Your Images Semantically

Sending an image called IMG_324582 to a client doesn’t give off the air of a professional. Instead, you should ensure all your images are named properly.

There are any number of formats you could use, but I recommend you choose one that includes the date of the shoot, a descriptive title such as the job or model name, a sequence number and the original filename. You should also use underscores or hyphens instead of spaces.

file naming
A file naming template I use.

For example, I use the structure YYMMDD_Job_Name_Sequence#_FileName; images are then named something like 150621_Ali_Clarke_001_5D3_10004.

Each component serves a purpose. Starting with the date keeps every image in chronological order. It also allows you to reuse descriptive titles such as a model’s name. The descriptive title makes it easy for you and the client to identify the images without looking at thumbnails when you’re browsing your computer. The sequence number gives each image a unique identifier within the series. Finally, including the original file number creates a link between each exported image and the RAW file. If a client wants a larger version of an image, they can tell you the last few digits and you’ll be able to find it.

Sort Your Metadata in Lightroom

Lightroom’s ability to import and develop RAW files gets the most attention, but it is also an incredibly powerful metadata manager. Before you send any images to your clients, use Lightroom to add a title and caption to each image. Ideally each image should have a unique title, even if the only change is to incrementally increase a number. For example, you might title three similar images as Black Dress Look #1, #2 and #3. The caption should be a description of each photo.

If you get your metadata sorted as you edit images, it makes it much easier to upload them to the web and create contact sheets. If you’ve never paid too much attention to metadata before, Andrew Childress’s course The Living Archive in Lightroom is a great place to start.

Include a PDF Contact Sheet

While contact sheets were a lot more important back in the film era, they’re still worth including when you deliver files to your clients. With a contact sheet it’s really easy to glance over all the images included in a delivery. Also, depending on how you work, a contact sheet might be all you initially send to your clients. You can then send full images on request.

contact sheet
A contact sheet created in Lightroom's print module.

Again, Lightroom offers a solution. The criminally underused Print module has great contact sheet templates. I suggest you modify Lightroom’s presets so that the contact sheets you send to clients include each image’s title and caption.

Although it’s called the Print module, you can save anything you create to a PDF file; perfect for a digital contact sheet.

Tip: To ensure the contact sheet sits at the top of all the files, you should name it something like _Contact_Sheet. The leading underscore will keep it on top of any alphabetically sorted stack of files.

Add a ReadMe File

In addition to a contact sheet, you should also include a text file called _ReadMe.txt. This file should include all the information your clients need to know about you, the shoot and the images.

A ReadMe file should include:

  • your name and contact details
  • the client's name and contact details
  • information about the shoot such as date, location and number of models
  • a list of the images, including their file name, title and caption
  • image usage guidelines for clients
  • copyright information

Although you can do it by hand, the LR/Transporter plugin makes creating these readme files easy.

Send a Professional Email

Once you’ve packaged the image files for delivery along with the additional files like the contact sheet and readme file, it’s time to let your clients know how they can access them. As bad as email is for actually delivering files, it’s a great way to send this information. The delivery email should include all the information about the images and files you are sending.

Below is a sample script for what the email should look like.

Dear [Client],

I’ve finished processing the images from the [descriptive title] shoot on the [date]. They’re now ready for you to review. You can access the files by visiting [weblink] and clicking download.

Included in the folder are: 

  • A readme.txt file. 
  • A contact sheet showing all the images. 
  • 294 full resolution image files.

If you have any issues accessing the files, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Kind regards, 

Harry Guinness.

Summary

The days of delivering printed images to clients are gone. Now almost all images are delivered digitally. If you want to do it in a professional manner, this article has covered many of the things you should consider, including:

  • how to deliver files
  • how to name your files
  • the importance of adding metadata
  • what additional files to include
  • how to send the delivery to your client
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