Whether you are an enthusiast, beginner photographer or an established professional, all photographers produce images. Regardless of whether you are sharing or selling images, or working on a commission, you need to get your image to the destination. Beautiful images need a delivery method in a format that people can use. That’s where things can get technical and a bit tricky.
There are many considerations to factor into how and what you provide to your client, including how to get them into your client’s hands as quickly as possible. Everyone has busy lives and getting together can be difficult.
For the image itself, you need to consider format, file size, resolution, and color space. Are you sending proofs? Are you using a watermark?
Once you have decided that, the next question is the delivery method. For people selling their images, consider what you want to happen after you send your client their images. Do you want to sell prints or albums after an initial proof set? What about images for social media?
So many details
In this age of digital media, it seems easier than ever to deliver digital media. But, is it? Nowadays, modern digital cameras create high-resolution images anywhere from 16-megapixels to 50-megapixels. Larger megapixel images correspond into larger file sizes. The problem with higher resolution image files is it taxes our ability to send and receive the images. So, where do you start? Let’s consider the file size and space followed by delivery options.
File size and format
There are many file formats: jpeg, tiff, png and more. As you advance as a photographer shooting in RAW becomes commonplace. RAW shooters often dismiss shooting in jpeg. However, the reality is jpeg is probably the number one format people consume digitally. It is important to remember that most people consume images on digital platforms (few people print images anymore).
Size is the enemy of large-scale delivery
Although RAW is a preferred file format for shooting because of the flexibility it offers in post-processing, it is an impracticable format for digital delivery. Firstly, RAW images need a RAW processor to be able to view them. Secondly, RAW images record exactly what your camera sensor sees. They require some form of post-processing to make them look finished. Finally, the file sizes are enormous.
Not all professional photographers avoid JPEG images. Some high-volume photographers often shoot only in JPEG and many photographers shoot in both RAW+JPEG. School photographers, for example, deal with the logistical nightmare of taking very few images of uncooperative children intended for parents with high expectations. In these cases, the logistics of image delivery is the ultimate priority. If image ordering and delivery are too complicated, there are no orders. Shooting in JPEG mode allows photographers to address this issue. Similarly, some sports photographers shoot in JPEG to allow for quick delivery.
The first step in addressing digital delivery is to consider the end use of the images. If the images are for social media distribution, small file sizes are your best option. If the images are too big when used on a website, the images load too slow, damaging the site speed, and ranking. These limits change with time and technology. However, for the time being, there are reasonable limits to image size you need to work within.
Similarly, many social media platforms (like Facebook or Instagram) automatically downsample your images to a manageable size. Meaning, larger images are unnecessary because that extra data gets discarded.
When you are printing images, you should consider your image size in both dots-per-inch (DPI) and width and height resolution (pixels). Printers generally use 300dpi (or ppi) as their resolution for printing to paper. This guide is the actual printer resolution which prints in dots, rather than pixels. A handy guide to figure out your photo resolution for printing is this: if you would like to print your photo at 8″ x 10″ at 300dpi; your photo needs to be 2400pixels x 3000pixels (8 x 300 = 2400, 10 x 300 = 3000). You take your size dimensions and times them by 300 (dpi), to come to your pixel size. That means, if your photo is 2400pixels x 3000pixels and only 72dpi, it is fine for printing at 8″ x 10″ at 300dpi. The file size of an image at this size can range from 3-7megabytes, depending on the amount of detailed information in the image. The more fine details it has, the larger the size.
For digital delivery for social media consumption use JPEG. While it is an old standard, it is the most reliable and compatible image format for all computers (Mac, Windows, and Chrome). It is a compressed format so you can make small file sizes. However, you should be aware that jpeg is a lossy format, which means that every time you edit and resave the image, you lose data in the image. As a final product, this isn’t a problem as long as you don’t edit the image.
There are other formats, that may be technically better; however, they are not as well used or practical. Most cameras offer JPEG as an image file format.
For most social media platforms, the maximum size you really need is 1500 pixels on the long edge. If someone decides to print your image, at the 300 dpi printing resolution, it is relatively small at only 5 inches (remember, 1500 divided by 300 is 5″). When saving your JPEG images, to reduce your overall image file size, reduce the quality number. The quality number is between 1 and 12. 1 is the lowest quality, and 12 is the highest.
Gone are the days of recording CDs and DVDs for clients. Most computers aren’t equipped with readers anymore, and both mediums don’t offer much storage. What’s worse is that writable CDs and DVDs are not a permanent medium and degrade over time.
USB memory sticks are smaller, offer larger storage capacity and are more flexible. Memory sticks can be personalized to your brand and allow you to physically hand over the fruits of your labor to your client. Not the fastest delivery mechanism, but the one-on-one contact is excellent for further sales or connections with your client.
Basic digital delivery
If you are only sending one or two images, attaching them to an email is an option. However, there are limitations to the size of an email you can send. Email can be unreliable because each email provider and ISP has different attachment limits and they change from time to time. Some platforms allow you to send large files (up to 10-megabyte files), but your recipient’s email provider may not accept the image and often has limits. Emails not received may take a while to bounce back, and your client won’t even know you tried to send them something.
Digital document delivery
Digital delivery of electronic files is not new and has been problematic for many businesses. These businesses need to send documents in digital format to their clients, but these documents are not necessarily image-specific. They are broadly divided into two methods – FTP links or document repositories.
FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol and is intended for transferring digital documents. There are many free services for transferring documents, however, you don’t see the images until after they are completely received. Some examples of FTP services include Sharefile, WeTransfer, TransferNow, and Send Anywhere.
Some services allow a cloud-based location for your digital files. From the cloud, they can be used to create links for people to pick up documents. Some 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 to allow you access to the images. Often they have a limited amount of space for free, or you can upgrade to more space for a fee.
These services work well, but they aren’t just geared toward photographers solely for image delivery. They transfer documents, and images are simply a type of document.
Photography-specific image delivery
For image specific delivery methods, there are two different approaches. Firstly, you can use a customized website that allows for a gallery to be set up with your website. This feature is set-up in the back-end of your website. Secondly, you can use a photography-specific gallery system. These systems allow for the delivery of images with lots of bells and whistles.
Using the back end of your website to create galleries can be a great way to deliver but can be complicated to set up and maintain. Custom-built websites are costly, and any changes usually result in extra charges. More recently, there are some excellent website builder services such as Squarespace, Format, Smugmug, WIX, and WordPress that all provide great pre-made templates for websites that allow you to create galleries for your clients.
I have personally used Squarespace, Smugmug, and Format, however, there are many great platforms. However, you may also be limited to the amount of space you have with your web hosting, and storing large printable files may fill this space quickly.
Another option is photography-specific image delivery systems. These delivery systems are designed with the needs of wedding photographers in mind. There is a need for digital delivery of images in a slick, easy to use and easy to navigate website. Additionally, wedding photographers want a proofing gallery that allows visitors to select favorites, download images for social media, purchase high-resolution images or get prints.
These image-proofing services include such brands as Pixieset, Shootproof, PicTime and Pass Plus. 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, and they let your clients see the images, all while letting you control what they download and how they download. You can also set up galleries for clients to see photos but not necessarily download them. These are all paid services, but if you are frequently delivering images, this method is excellent. I use Pixieset, but Shootproof and PicTime are also good services.
Taking beautiful photographs is often what most photographers focus on; however, the final product is the image delivery. With digital images, there are lots of technical considerations regarding the delivery of images to your intended recipients. Knowing the format, size, and delivery mechanism simplify your ability to deliver your photographs quickly and efficiently.
What systems have you tried out? What works for you? Let us know in the comments below.