With the rise of digital photography and the ease of photo manipulation, it has become increasingly important to understand what a “proof” is in photography.
A proof is a preliminary version of a photograph that is used to verify the accuracy of the image, ensuring that it meets the desired quality and standards.
In this article, I will be exploring the importance of proofs in photography, how they are created, and how they are used in the editing process. Whether you are a professional photographer or a hobbyist, understanding the role of proofs can help you produce better-quality images and avoid common mistakes.
Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
What is a Proof in Photography?
In short, a proof in photography is a preliminary, lightly-edited, version of an image that you send to the receiving party in order 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 me applying my own 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 like to usually send over a lot of images to the client, 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 will like to have.
Once the client picks the final images they will like to receive, then you will now add the final edits to the image which 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 over to the receiving party meet their standards, are free of any defects, and so you don’t waste your time adding final touches to an image that is not desired by the client.
Free of Defects
The first reason proofs are used in photography is to ensure your images are free of defects.
The process of proofing your own images before sending the proofs is like you 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 own images before sending them to the client.
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, but you just want to ensure that the client and you are still on the same page in terms of the photo quality and how the overall image composition looks by sending over proofs.
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 over proofs or are just curious if all photographers send over proofs. Well, the truth is, no.
In fact, when I first started out photographing clients, I didn’t even know what proofs were so 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 wouldn’t post certain photos online which would let me know 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 and also allowed me to get a sense of the images the client likes — which would also let me know what the client preferred for future shoots.
Types of Proofs Used in Photography
When it comes to the different types of proofs used in photography, there are three different kinds. 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:
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 for 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 as opposed to 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.
Digital proofs are the most common way proofs are made and sent out 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 it does 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 uses only such as online profile pictures, social media, etc.
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 kind.
Creating Contact Sheets
If you wish to create a contact sheet, you can do so using digital software such as Lightroom, which 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, there is an option to add a watermark to all of your images and you can tweak the file settings so they are smaller file sizes so it’s easier to send to clients.
Creating Test Print Proofs
If you wish to create test print proofs, then you’ll need a high-quality printer and paper to verify the color accuracy and quality of the final print.
Let’s now touch on the proofing software and tools you can use to easily create and send out proofs.
Proofing Software and Tools Photographers Can Use
In order to actually create and send out proofs, what tools should you use?
Color Management System Tools
Color management system tools are software tools used to ensure consistent and accurate color across devices.
Oftentimes, we can be editing on a computer monitor that has brightness turned all the way up and contrast set on high. Well if you edit your photos with these settings and then look at the images on your phone screen, the edits you thought you made could be completely off because you were working 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 could easily manage, edit, and organize your images. It also has built-in proofing features that make it very easy for you to create contact sheets or digital proofs.
Photoshop is more technical, but you can do everything in Lightroom plus 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, then export the images from Photoshop one by one and put them all in a folder.
Online Proofing Platforms
There are a few ways to send out proofs (I’ll be touching on them next section), but 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
Print Layout Software
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 to actually send the proofs and some best practices.
Before I started using online proofing tools, I would just take all of my proofs, create a folder for the client in my Google Drive, then share access to the Google Drive with my clients and tell them to let me know which images they like by file name.
It worked, but maybe 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 and then have them let me know which images they liked.
Again, not very professional.
Online Proofing Platforms
Nowadays, I use online proofing platforms and 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 and can 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 all the things you should be aware of 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. Just food for thought.
In case you don’t know what a watermark is, it’s just a visible overlay that could include your logo, business, name, copyright notice, or other identifying information.
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 and if you’re just sending a file over to them then just put a password on it and let the client know.
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 to where the image still looks “good” and not like a pixelated mess. Also, let the client know that 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, and having a section in there about the use of your images can help prevent any future misunderstanding or disputes with clients.
This can include specifying how your images can be used, how long they can be used, and what fees or royalties may apply.
Professional communication with clients can help ensure that they 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 that you’ll take the photos, lightly edit them and send over the proofs, they will pick from the proofs, you’ll add final edits, then they will receive the photos through XYZ.
Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Proofs in Photography
When it comes to mistakes to avoid when using proofs in photography, it’s pretty much doing the opposite of everything we’ve already discussed — such as 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.
But 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 maybe you 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!
Frequently Asked Questions
What does proof gallery mean?
A proof gallery is a web-based platform that allows photographers to share proofs with clients in a secure and convenient way. Clients can review and select their preferred images, provide feedback, and communicate with the photographer through the platform.
What does proof watermark mean?
A proof watermark is a semi-transparent mark or logo that is added to an image or document to indicate that it is a proof, and not a final version. The watermark can help protect the photographer’s intellectual property and prevent unauthorized use of the image.
Why is it called proof?
The term “proof” in photography originated from the traditional printing industry, where it was used to refer to a printed test or sample copy of a final document or image.
Nate Torres is a portrait photographer based in Southern California. Outside of photography, Nate specializes in SEO, content marketing, and entrepreneurship. He is also the founder of Imaginated.com, a platform for creator education.