The Definitive In-Person Proofing Guide

Photo by Austin Distel

Once again, our guru Melissa Munding of Melissa Munding Photography comes through with an article that can transform your business TODAY! Are you doing online proofing and wondering why your sales are maybe not as robust as you would like?

People pay quite a bit for this information like this and as always, we present it here to you for free. Go show Melissa some love would you?

This year has been one of BIG changes for me and my business. Now that I’ve been in business a few years (3 ½ to be exact) I feel like wedding side of my business is growing nicely and I’m feeling great about where things are headed. About six months ago I decided that it’s time to really start working on the portrait side of the business. I know I don’t want to shoot 50 weddings a year…or even 30 for that matter. I want to shoot 15-20 weddings and supplement that income with portraits. And when I say supplement, I don’t mean a few bucks here and there…I mean that I want to grow my income to something that will allow me to start a family, pay off debts, maybe even buy a house one day and pay for my future kids’ college tuition. I do this full-time but we squeak by and quite simply, we need more. In January I started to implement some big changes that would allow for more.

The big changes are that I stopped giving away a disc/digital images with every package and I stopped online proofing. I moved away from being hands-off and letting the client make all of the decisions (which incidentally equaled basically no-decisions since they never ordered from the online gallery) and moved to be extremely hands-on and walking them through every decision. My product sales have gone from being basically non-existent to a minimum of several hundred dollars per session and the max just keeps rising! It’s changing my whole business and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

I’m going the long route here. I’m not going to skimp so this is what I do from the very beginning to the very end of my time with a client. If you just want to know about the actual proofing session, skip down to that section.

From Inquiry to Portrait Session:

The client contacts me through my website or by phone and when I respond I give them all the information they need to move forward and book a session.

-I emphasize that I am a print-based photographer. I don’t actually mention anything specifically about digital images unless they ask but I do use that phrase often: “print-based.” It explains a lot without going into detail about what you’re NOT giving them. I like to focus on what they DO get in the consultation (pre-booking) phase but I also still want them to know exactly what they will be getting. They need to know what they’re in for.

-I describe my basic portrait package and its contents

The Portrait Package is $XXX and includes:

1-2 hour session on-location for up to 6 people

In person proofing/ordering session

Product A

Product B

Product C

(Timeout: Those of you reading, please note that this package does not include any digital files or printed proofs…only a few prints. Ok, time in!)

*Albums, canvas wraps, wood prints and other products are available a la carte.

-Along with my basic package information, I give a very brief overview of product pricing that looks/sounds something like this:

Prints: start at $XX for 8×10 & smaller


8×8 is a popular size and is $XXX

16×24 Wall Art:

Gallery Wrap – $XXX

Wood Print – $XXX

Standout Mount – $XXX

“Digital Files are available at a premium. My ultimate goal is to have everyone have some very special pieces to display but of course if you want copies of everything from your session, that’s an option too. Single images can be purchased for $XXX each. Or, the full set of digital images from the session can be purchased for $XXX. Both options contain a print release for the full-resolution files and suggested printing locations, as well as web-sized, watermarked images for online sharing.”

-I also quickly discuss with the client ahead of time how I do things. I let them know now that I will book and photograph their portrait session and at the end of the photography session we will schedule another appointment for me to come to their home and review their proofs at their ordering session.

Book the Session:

Book it!

At the Portrait Session:

-At the end of the actual portrait session, I schedule a proofing/ordering session with the client in 2-3 weeks. This time frame keeps the client at the top of my to-do list at all times but do what works for you realistically. -I write it on a little appointment card that they can take home with them as well as a note for myself so I remember to put it on my calendar when I get home. (My appointment cards are branded bookmarks from WHCC which I’ve design so I can fold it in half for my design). -I tell them that anyone who may be interested in purchasing from the session should be at that appointment. If it’s a couple, I subtly let them know that any decision-makers should be present to complete the order at that time.

-Along with their appointment reminder card, I send the client home with a homework assignment. I give them a planning guide for their session to take home and fill out. (It’s from Design Aglow: http://www.designaglow.com/store/client-order-planning-guide-p149.php )

I tell them that the best way to prepare for the ordering session is to use the planning guide. I have them walk through their home and make some decisions ahead of time about where they plan on putting the photos from our session. I want them thinking about their photos during the time when I’m working on them, getting excited about them. The planning guide asks for measurements for the spaces in different rooms, etc so when I get there we are ready to start ordering for those spots. If you were to meet anywhere other than the client’s home, I think this information would be crucial to selling large wall prints.

Printing the Proofs:

I only perform basic edits on the images and then I use printed proofs. 4X6 lustre proofs with a clean, white border with very slight decorative corners and a linen texture. (I recommend the Elegance Collection Proof Borders from Design Aglow). Borders aren’t a necessity but I like to differentiate the proofs from my prints because they are priced differently if purchased as a set.

What to pack for your Ordering/Proofing Session:

-1 large wall sample…at least 24×36

-1 medium wall sample: 16×24

-1 small wall sample 8×10 (8×10)

-Sample Books, Albums, Gifts, Boxes, etc. Show ’em what you’ve got!

-Album Cover Swatches

-Card/Announcement Samples and paper choices

-Printed Price List(s) – This is a biggie…must be clear, concise and easy to read for your clients!

-Order Form –(Easy to create but if you’re like me and hate designing stuff like this, Design Aglow has this available for purchase too.)


-Notepads…one for you, one for your client

-Measuring Tape

-Business Cards

-Calculator for final total & sales tax

-Small Binder Clips (I use these to clip together photos that go together for collages, albums, etc. I find a lot of uses for them)

-Either printed or digital samples of collages/storyboards/etc that you might offer. I show these on my iPad if that type of product comes up or would work well for a client’s needs.

-Some kind of edible treat or something that you can bring them for opening their home to you. You are asking them to spend a lot of money, do something nice for them.

Ordering/Proofing Session:

This is the meat of it all. The ordering session itself. I always plan to be there early. I need time to get my stuff together and reel in any nerves. Since all the ground work has been been laid as I go through the whole process as I stated up until this point, all of the clients’ expectations have been managed previously and we can start the proofing session.

Before I ever tried an in-person proofing session for the first time, I listened to a really great audio seminar by Kristen Kalp of the Brand Camp Blog about the subject. It is still online for anyone to listen to for free and I highly recommend it. It helped me create a plan and I’m grateful for her helpful advice. It’s about an hour long and worth setting aside the time to listen. Here’s the link: http://instantteleseminar.com/?eventid=25411080

So, a lot of what comes next for me is based on information from that talk and it works beautifully.

I meet at my client’s home.

On the way to our ordering session, I stop by and pick up something for them as a little treat. Coffee, baked goods, chocolates…something along those lines. This is just a good practice anytime somebody “invites” you into their home. Plus, you will be essentially asking them to spend a decent amount of money with you so the least you can do is something little and yummy while you meet with them.

Once yumminess is in hand I arrive at the client’s home, say hello and all that and ask where they would like to sit while we review their photos. I’ll then put up my large samples all in a row where they can be seen side-by-side. Other than that, showing off my samples will wait until after we review images. We sit down and I give the client a run-down on what to do.

Image Review:

Before I show the client anything at all, I tell them exactly what we are going to do and why I do it this way. I have my stack of 4×6 printed proofs (loose…not in a proof book or bound). I tell the client that we will be going through the proofs very quickly. It’s all about gut reactions and we want to make the most of those immediate choices. Choosing your favorite photos can get to be really difficult and a daunting process so the very first thing we do is narrow down the stack of proofs to their very favorites.

I tell the client to create two piles with the proofs, very fast. We’ll have a “like” pile and a “love” pile. (This gem is STRAIGHT from Kristen Kalp’s seminar and it’s perfect!) If they absolutely love the image right off the bat, it goes in the “love” pile. If they don’t love it or just aren’t sure yet, guide them to put it in the “like” pile. Keep them moving fast and not thinking about it too much. If they’re concerned about this, just let them know that we can always go back to the “like” pile a little bit later if we need to (I’ve never needed to). Once the proofs have been separated into the two piles I take the “like” pile off of the table, rubber band them together and put them in my bag, totally out of sight.

Now, we can focus on what they LOVE. Perfect! From here I have them choose their 3 absolute favorites. So now we have a pile of images they love and we know exactly which 3 or so are their absolute faves. Now it’s time to start talking about the products. I pull out my order forms and price lists. I hand the client a price list and keep one within my own view so I don’t misquote my list. I keep the order form and do the job of keeping track of the purchases myself. Even though I don’t hand this over, I think it’s important for it to be presentable.

Before I even show up to the meeting I’ve listed on the order form any prints that come with their package so we can choose image numbers for those too. I don’t start here though. I start with the top 3 favorites and start showing the client the largest samples of wall art. The images they love the most are what they will want to print large and have on the walls. It’s also the largest ticket items that I want to start with since that’s the most difficult purchase to commit to (it’s all down hill from there!). I show the clients my wall art options which I go over from most expensive to least: Gallery Wraps, Wood Prints, Standout Mounts, and Regular/Wall Prints. I flat out ask which of those products they like the best. So once they take a look at the options and decide what they like in a product, we start with that and their most favorite images.

My next question is, “Do you know where in your home you would like to hang your favorite pieces?”

If they’ve done the homework I gave them the answer should be yes. I always ask to see the space. Usually I end up getting a nice little tour of the whole house at this point and I bring my samples and tape measure with me from room to room. Some people aren’t sure where they want the photos and others know exactly where they’ll go. Either way, seeing the space myself allows me to make suggestions and try to up-sell to larger pieces or gallery collections. If they think they want a HUGE 8×10 in the bedroom, I’ll show them the difference between the 8×10 on the wall and the 24×36. A lightbulb dings and they realize that a dinky little 8×10 doesn’t belong on the wall at all (in this context anyway). I nudge them up to a size I believe will fill the space nicely, while still listening to their needs/wants/concerns. If they can’t decide on one photo for a space, I try to sell collections and show some examples of how hanging multiple pieces in one area can make for a beautiful gallery wall. When I get to this point, I usually end up adding to the main 3 images and I pull out what I think looks good together as a set. Part of why I like individual 4×6 proofs is so that I can move them around and show the client how the images will look together in different arrangements. You can’t do that with a proof book. Once a decision is made, write down everything on your order form and be sure to include the image numbers from the back of the proof.

Repeat this process anywhere in the house where they are considering hanging photos from the session. This IS a process and it sometimes takes awhile to figure out exactly what they will purchase. Be helpful, offer suggestions and honest opinions. If I don’t think a set of three photos they chose look good together, I’ll pull out something that does and when they see it, they get it and love it. Don’t freak out if the appointment takes some time. So far mine have ranged anywhere from 45 minutes to an 1 ½ hours. Sometimes we get chatty 😉

Once we’ve walked through the house for wall art purchases, I ask if there’s anyone else who might need a photo to hang on the wall or maybe something for their office, etc. Sometimes people add a nice standout mount for their office at work and sometimes the answer is just “no.” Then we move on to prints & albums.

We are still dealing with only a stack of favorites. Now is when I show my album options. Albums are usually a pretty definite yes or no. I’ve found that those who are purchasing an album knew they wanted one from the beginning. At this point I just want to find out if they want an album, what size, etc. If they order one, great, write it down and we’ll come back to it for image selection.

Moving on to prints. I review what prints are included in their package and again we start with their 3 most favorite images. This is usually when we talk about gift prints for their loved ones since they’ve likely ordered wall art of these already. I ask a lot of questions about family members. Family always want photos of their loved ones so if somebody mentions a print for grandma, I ask if any other grandparents or relatives would want one of those too. When we’re done with the top three images, we move on to the rest of the “love” pile. This part is pretty easy. Usually I have people adding on extra 5x7s, etc before we’ve even fulfilled what’s included in the package because there are so many family members and they want them all to have the same size. Every time we finish with an image, I put it aside with the others they’ve ordered…just off to the side so we can see them but can still keep them straight. When the client starts to wrap up the prints, I continue to ask a few questions to keep them thinking.

-“Would any other family members like a print or two?”

-“Do you have any frames in the house that you would like to update with new photos?”

-“Is there anywhere other than your home where you would like some prints from this session? Office?”

-If a holiday is near, I ask about gift items.

-”Any other spaces you would like to fill with these pictures?”

-Cards/Announcements/Save-the-Dates…if appropriate. I even remind my couples at this point (since we’re near the end of the ordering process) that they will have the option to purchase Christmas Cards from the session in the fall.

-”Anything else?”

Once prints are all ordered and written down on the order form, we start to wrap it all up. If they were to be buying an album, at this point I would hand them all the “love” pile photos and have them choose their favorite 20 for a 10 spread album, etc. I would just clip those together with a binder clip and let them know that I will send a finalized album preview before it goes to print.

The ordering is now finished. Tally up the grand total. Add sales tax & shipping (if needed). (During this time I leave all of my samples scattered about so they don’t have to just sit and stare at me with my little calculator). When I have the grand total, I show it to them. If they panic, stay cool. I let them know that I’m more than happy to work out a payment plan with them and we talk about a deposit and what kind of schedule would work for them. I don’t offer up the idea of a payment plan unless I think they need it. I’d rather have the check in hand that day if possible. If they do opt for a payment plan, I have a separate form for that which outlines the agreement, including the fact that they will not receive their order until the full balance is paid in full. It’s really important to let them know this. It’s all about managing their expectations.

So, now the order is placed and your clients are happy and excited. My clients have to sign my order form so they can’t back out and make changes once I leave. I send them a receipt once I return home and enter all of my info. Apps like Square, etc may do that for you on the spot. Now I let them know when they can expect their order and how it will be delivered to them…i.e. mailed or hand-delivered. I try to deliver in person as often as possible. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work out because I deal with a large, spread-out area but for the most part, I like to see them get excited when they finally see it all in person.

Want to make that delivery extra special? Buy a hammer. Nails. Level. And hang the art for them. How’s THAT for service? Don’t forget your camera! Sometimes I ask if they mind if I take a photo of the installation to show future clients.

Hooray! You’re done! And, I swear, if you do this, you are going to raise your sales…by more than you may think! I had high hopes but realistic expectations…but I couldn’t be happier with the outcome so far! I’m now trying to find the perfect way to incorporate this type of system for my wedding clients as well!

Let me know how it goes, will you? Feel free to reply with any questions or additional advice you might have! I’m still fairly new at this but the last six months have been amazing!

  1. Alicia says:

    Thank you so very much for sharing this information. This is exactly the type of kind and giving advice that so many of us need in the earlier stages, yet can’t really afford to pay for, yet can’t really afford to go without. I think it’s invaluable information to share, incredibly nice of you and greatly appreciated!

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