Category: Image Retouching   |   View all recent posts

Proofs vs. Edited Final Images
WHAT: For Clients, Image Retouching, Mentoring   |   WHEN: August 7, 2010
Two questions I frequently hear in the photography industry center around 1) how much editing should be done to an image before it gets shown to a client and 2) how many images should you show them.

Regarding the first question, some photographers feel that clients can't envision what an image could be unless you show it to them fully-edited while others will say that any editing you do to an image before a client sees it is purely speculative and a potential misuse of valuable time if they don't order it.  I used to swear by the first school of thought, but earlier this year I found myself buying into the 2nd approach.  I see the merits of both postions, though, and ultimately for me the answer lies somewhere closer to the middle.  As a result, the process I've adopted that I feel yields the best results is to fully edit/retouch ~10 images before clients come in for their viewing & orderings session, and the rest of the images I show have minimal editing done to them (primarily minor exposure and white balance adjustments and cropping, if needed) to get them to a proof state..  When I show images for the first time at their appointment, I emphasize to my clients that I'm looking for their favorite images based only on expression and composition.  I inform and assure them any images they select for a product they purchase will be fully retouched, and I refer to the sample images on the wall in my gallery room as well as the ~10 fully-edited images I've created from their session as examples. 

Admittedly this works really well for repeat clients as they are familar with my work and I've already built that level of trust with them, but even most new clients are savvy enough to envision what their final images will look like when they can see a few examples. 

About the 2nd question regarding how many images to show, I'll raise my hand and admit that I used to be a card-carrying member "the-more-images-I-show-the-happier-my-clients-will-be" club.  On top of that I was fully-retouching every image I showed, so it didn't take long before I was starting to experience burnout.  I felt like I had to show a lot of images so that my clients would have a lot of variety to choose from and that more variety = more satisfied clients.  In reality, though, more often than not I was finding the more images I showed, the more overwhelming the ordering sessions became because they had too many choices and were afraid of making the wrong ones.  With the investment they were making in custom photography, it was easy for them to start worrying that they were going to have buyer's remorse with so many choices.  Clients (and I) would get stressed out and mentally fatigued at their ordering session.  People like simple, clear choices.  This is why nearly every fast-food chain has gone to a simple number-based ordering system... it's uncomplicated with a few options to choose from.  Easy.

So, all that to say I typically show approximately 25 images (~10 fully-edited) when clients come in to view their images, and I also present a few recommendations to them based on things we discussed in their pre-session consultation.  It's been a win-win situation for everyone involved.

To give a frame of reference of what I'm referring to when I talk about proofs vs. fully-edited images, below are a few examples.

In this first set, the proof image is generally pretty good, but you can see a few blotchy skin areas on little Cassidy that needed to be retouched for the final image.  In addition I added a little more contrast, saturation and warmth in the final edit.

In this next example, the couple was slightly underexposed in the proof, and the image in general lacked a little of the warmth and contrast I typically like my images to have.  I also felt the composition of the final image was a little stronger when the image was cropped to put their shadow closer to the lower right corner.

Occasionally 2 is better than one.  As a photographer, I always want to get everything just right in a single image, but sometimes it just doesn't work out (especially when younger kiddos are involved).  In the images below, I loved Hayley's look and her wind-blown hair in the first image, but I liked Juston's expression better in the 2nd image.  In this case I was able to swap heads in Photoshop because the images were taken at the same angle and distance and with the same lighting conditions, and I think the final retouched black & white version of the image turned out really well.

In this last eaxample, I wanted the image to have more of a fine art feel to it, but there were a couple things I needed to do first for the final image.  I started by editing out the white stripes in the sweater to create a cleaner image with less distraction from the important parts of the image.  Secondly, I retouched the skin a bit.  To give it a more timeless feel, I converted the image to a black & white, added back some warmth, and then overlayed a couple textures to polish off the image.  For this type of finish, I typically fully-edit at least one image like this to help the client see what an image looks like with this treatment since it's a bit more involved than a typical fully-edited image and a little harder to imagine.


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