Online galleries, file-sharing sites or digital files via a device?
We’ve some ideas on the best way to deliver digital images to your clients.

Establishing a photography business requires about two-thousand decisions right off the bat.  Nikon or Canon?  Lifestyle or traditional?  Wide-angle or telephoto?  Digitals or prints?  Even if you decide to deliver digital images to clients, you’re not done making choices.  Exactly how are you going to get those digitals from your computer to your client?  In this tutorial, we’ll talk about three different methods on how deliver digital images to clients and discuss why one option rises to the top for professionalism and flexibility.

How do I send digital photos to clients?

Here are the three main ways you can present your client with their digital images.

deliver client files offline

How can I deliver files offline?

If you need to deliver digital images offline, you’ll need to use a storage device.  You can use a CD, a flash drive, a memory card or an external hard drive.  The more storage you’ll need, the more expensive the device becomes.

The main advantages of this method are it’s easy to understand and you don’t need an Internet connection to either upload or download photos.

deliver digital images via file sharing sites

What is a file-sharing site?

Some photographers deliver digital images via a file-sharing site.  These sites, like Google Drive, Dropbox or Adobe Cloud, are designed to share all different kinds of digital files, not just images.  You deliver files much the same way as you would with a photo gallery hosting service, via a link to an online site.

What is photo gallery hosting?  Where do photographers share their photos?

A photo gallery hosting service is an online service designed to showcase your final photography images.  After your session, once editing is completed, you upload photos to the gallery.  Then you share the link to the site with your client so she can log on and see her images.  From there, your client can download, share or print her images, depending on your business model.

There are dozens of photo gallery hosting options now, including Shootproof, Zenfolio, Smugmug, Pixieset and Capturelife.  You can also choose to host your galleries via your own website, if your provider is set up for it.

So what’s the best way to deliver digital images to files?

For maximum flexibility and professionalism, I think the best way to deliver client files is through a photo gallery hosting service.  Why?  I’m glad you asked!  Let me give you five reasons you should consider gallery hosting software to deliver digital images to your clients!

deliver client files

#1.  Online galleries build excitement in clients and present your images at their best.

Photo gallery hosting services like Shootproof or Smugmug are designed to present your images in a beautiful and flattering form.  Most hosting services offer a large gallery cover and present clients with large thumbnails to view.  Images can be scrolled through quickly and easily, and the hosting software displays it at an optimum resolution for the device and screen.

Clients are also excited to click that link the moment they receive it.  They’ll stop whatever they are doing and log into that gallery to see their images.  When they open that link, they see a gallery cover with a big, beautiful image from their session, their name, the date and sometimes, even, a personalized welcome message.

Contrast viewing a gallery online with receiving a flash drive in the mail, for example.  Clients get the flash drive, but then they have to get on the computer, figure out how to insert the drive and how to open the files.  Then the images might only appear as a list of file names.

It’s the same situation with file sharing sites.  The first impression your client has of their images is often of boring icons and generic file names.  Not exactly exciting or inspiring.

Need more ideas to market your business?  Read our Photography Marketing 101 guide!

#2.  Online galleries provide professional branding and marketing for your business.

An online gallery can be customized with your business name, logo and contact information.  You can also link to other sites, like your blog, Facebook page, Instagram feed or portfolio.  Some photo gallery hosting services also allow you to change the display colors or reformat how the images are presented to keep everything looking seamless when it comes to branding.  Taken in totality, online gallery hosting looks put-together and professional.

File sharing services offer little to no customization, and the only branding your client will see belongs to Google or Dropbox.

“Why do I need to brand my file delivery method?” you might ask.  “They’re already clients.  I don’t’ need to woo them.”

Clients share galleries with friends and family.  They show images to coworkers, often directly from their phone.  Online galleries present a chance to market your brand to those potential clients as well.

Some hosting services also allow you to create custom mobile apps.  These can be a huge marketing tool for your business!  With custom mobile apps, you can create beautiful photo albums for your clients to easily showcase the images you’ve taken without forcing them to search your blog or sift through emails to find a specific link.

#3.  Online galleries hosting services provide additional options and value for the client.

With a few clicks of your mouse, your online gallery hosting site can add all kinds of value to the client viewing and ordering experience.  Slideshows, music, one-click social sharing or black and white filtering are just a few options most hosting services provide.

Connect the gallery to a professional printing lab, and the print ordering process becomes completely seamless.  You are providing value because you’ve made ordering high-quality, professional-grade prints simple and easy.  As an added benefit, you can create your own pricelists for galleries.  You decide the printer, products, and prices.  If your client orders prints through you, that’s more money in your pocket.

Flash drives, CDs and Dropbox can’t offer those options.  If they want to order prints from images you’ve delivered via Dropbox, for example, they’ll have to download those images to their computer, then re-upload them to their chosen site.

Need help choosing a professional print lab?  Check out our guide!

use mobile apps to deliver client images

#4.  Online gallery hosting services add value to the photographer experience.

Some of the favorite features of my gallery hosting service aren’t for clients…they are for me.  I use Shootproof to deliver client images and much, much more.  Shootproof also lets me collect e-mail addresses of gallery visitors, see how many visitors I’ve received, watermark images, deliver contracts, send/receive deposits and take payments for sessions.  I can offer coupons, refunds and credits, as well as speed up my workflow using templates or one of the many automation features like gallery expiring notices.

Generate more income

I can also use Shootproof to host images from events I shoot on speculation and automatically deliver orders.  For example, I can shoot a local basketball game or rodeo, upload my images to a gallery and share that link with my followers.  Parents visit the gallery and purchase prints.  While I move on to the next session or event, my chosen lab is printing and mailing my clients their images.  I get a tremendous amount of value for my annual fee, well beyond just what the client experiences.

Online gallery hosting can also provide a means to advertise and sell prints.  If you’re a wildlife or nature photographer, for example, you could create a gallery of images you have for sale.  Clients could choose which image they like and purchase it as a print or product you specify.  The hosting service collects the payment and facilitates the printing of the item or gives you their order info so you can process the order in-house.

New features that benefit photographers specifically are being added regularly to these services as well.  Shootproof now lets you offer print packages, while Pixieset now offers a video program.

With file-sharing sites and memory devices, what you see is what you get…just the files and only the files.  Any updates made to file sharing sites aren’t necessarily done to make your life as a photographer better.

#5.  Online gallery delivery is less prone to technology failure.

Several years ago, lots of photographers delivered their files via CD or DVDs.  Now, many computers don’t even come with a CD drive.  CDs can scratch or get lost.  Flash drives and memory cards can also become unstable, corrupting files and leaving your client with unusable images.  Delivering files digitally, however, eliminates the need for a physical device.  It’s also less time-consuming than burning and labeling a CD and case or flash drive and saves you costs on delivery or postage.  Clients can view and store images on their phone, tablet, computer or the cloud and store them in several different places.

Curious about automation?  Here’s our 7 Photographer E-mail templates you need to save time and make money!

#6.  Online delivery can be easily corrected.

It doesn’t happen frequently, but occasionally, after I’ve delivered a gallery to a client, I’ll notice an error.  Maybe it’s a duplicated file, an odd crop or I’ve spelled a name wrong.  Either way, it’s an easy fix to delete or replace the offending photo.  Once you’ve mailed that flash drive, however, it’s in the hands of the client for perpetuity (or until they misplace the drive. See #5 above.)

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What are the disadvantages of using a gallery service to deliver digital images to clients?

There are a few disadvantages when it comes to hosting images online with a service, client fear, cost, limitations on file type and size and Internet usage.

Client fear

Viewing and ordering prints online can be intimidating to some clients.  It might be a new experience, so they don’t trust that they’ve done it correctly.  If your client lives near you, consider setting up an appointment to walk her through her gallery together.  You can show her the features and teach her how to view, favorite or order her cherished images.  If you can’t do it in person, set up a video call or phone call, or make a welcome video demonstrating how to navigate the gallery.


While some gallery hosting sites have a free option, to take full advantage of all the features and automation, you’ll need to pay a monthly or annual fee.  How much your gallery hosting service costs depend on the company, how much storage you need and whether you pay monthly or for a full-year upfront.  Most gallery hosting services offer a slight discount if you pay for an entire year at once.

If cost is holding you back, try a service with a free or trial plan first.  Then, look for discounts around Black Friday or mid-summer.  Many photography related services offer great deals, including a break on your subscription rate.

Limitations on file type and size

Many gallery hosting services limit what kind of files you can host.  Others limit the file size itself, and you might have to pay more to host more photos.  For example, I can’t upload Word or Excel documents to Shootproof to give to clients.  If I want to include a video with their session, I have to either save it to Youtube or deliver it via another way.

Internet usage

Uploading and downloading galleries requires a reliable Internet provider.  If you have slow Internet or if your Internet goes out on you (both common problems in rural Wyoming for me), you can be delayed on when you deliver digital images to clients.  Likewise, your client will need Internet access to view and download files, which may be problematic for some people.

Image protection

One final concern of online galleries is image protection.  If your business model is to include a certain number of digitals in the clients’ package for free with the option to buy more, you may be concerned about protecting those unpurchased images.  Gallery hosting software allows you to watermark the images, but there is always a chance the client will screenshot the image and print it with the watermark included.  File sharing sites also have this drawback.  The only way to get around it completely is to do in-person sales and not give clients unsupervised access to digital images until they purchase them.

SD cards for photographyThe right tool for the right customer

As much as I love using my gallery hosting service to deliver client files, there are times I flash drives.  I have a number of clients in their seventies that I photograph, along with their extended family.  They don’t want to mess with the Internet at all, and request a flash drive for all their images.  Schools and government offices are often restricted on what sites they can access through the school Internet, so I provide them with a flash drive of their images.

I also do some graphic design work, designing posters and banners for schools and sports teams.  If required to deliver a proof of the poster, I send that proof via Google Drive if I don’t intend to deliver a final gallery later.

Time and Money well spent

Gallery hosting services aren’t for everyone.  They require an investment of your money and time to learn to use them.  If you’re a beginning photographer, both of those might be barriers to investing in a gallery hosting service.  And there could certainly be a time and place where using a file-sharing site or even a tangible memory device just makes more sense.

But when I consider time/money invested to time saved and money earned, a gallery hosting service is the best way to deliver digital images in my mind.  These services provide a whole host of benefits that will improve your workflow, wow you clients on first impression and provide them with a whole lot of added value to their experience with you.  If you’re looking to build and keep a successful photography business prospering into the future, I’d encourage you to consider a gallery hosting service to deliver digital images to your clients.  You won’t regret it.

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