Mistakes happen. We’re all human. But there’s a vast difference between accidentally leaving the teabag in your mug after you’ve started drinking it, and costing your business thousands of dollars. Which is what can happen when proofing goes wrong.

For example, there’s the major toothbrush manufacturer (a household name) that printed 10,000 advertising panels for shop displays that read, “The Nation’s #1 Electric Tootbrush”.

Or the graphic designer working for a national TV station who added black to a black background, and only discovered after it was broadcast to millions of people that there are in fact different shades of black.

Or even the advertising company that produced a 12 meter by 4 meter billboard for a hugely prominent position in the city that had the address as “Sandgate Road, Vagina” – the last word being a full meter wide.

But it’s not even in the modern digital era of design that mistakes are made – if you ever visit the Lincoln Memorial in Washington you may spot one engraved in stone. The engraver accidentally wrote ‘Euture’ rather than ‘Future’, and hastily tried to fill in the horizontal bar at the bottom afterwards – but you can still tell!

And if etching errors into stone sounds bad enough, consider the mistake made by The Royal Mint, the organization in the UK that manufactures and distributes all notes and coins. In 2015 they managed to print a significant number of the 650,000 £2 coins with the text upside down!

The world of graphic design is rife with errors and mistakes, some costlier than others. In some cases there’s no happy solution other than to accept fate and spend considerable sums of money redoing it all again. As happened with the Transport for London recently when they had to pulp tens of thousands of London Underground maps that had one of the stations printed incorrectly.

But there are other, highly effective ways of addressing the potential embarrassment, and we’ll give you some examples of these shortly, so that you can file them away just in case!

But of course ultimately you’ll want to make sure you avoid the mistake in the first place, which is where proofing really becomes an art, a science, and a vital last step before the company’s budget is dropped on red or black.

So, giving you a few seconds to consider what design error the ‘professional’ wedding photographer made with the wedding album centerfold below, we’ll take a good look at the proofing process, how to recover, and how to avoid making mistakes in the first place.

Credit: https://www.instagram.com/awkwardfamilyphotos 

Common Proofing Pitfalls

So, as you’ll no doubt have spotted, the wedding photographer who delivered the photo shown above should really have spotted the error. Whilst it’s easy to understand that, when editing on a screen the image may have looked fine. But once transferred to print, things change. And in this case, the bride’s face changed from being at her wedding, to RSVP-ing its apologies.

But sometimes it’s not so much obvious standout problems like the one above – it can simply be a case of seeing what you see, as opposed to seeing what everyone else will see. As in the case of the wedding photo below. I’m sure the photographer spent several minutes directing everyone to their positions and poses, and may have spent time considering the lighting and shadows, the exposure, the aperture, the white balance, and so on. Unfortunately for the bride and groom, the one thing the photographer didn’t consider was how everyone else would interpret the image.

Credit: https://www.womansworld.com 

We actually come across this kind of thing more often than we’d care to mention, and it does often seem that as photographers it’s terribly easy to become hyper fixated with the image we see on the screen or through the lens, and fail to take a step back and look at it as though we’ve never seen it before. Which is where a fresh pair of eyes is helpful, especially one which has no preconceptions or expectations as to what the image is supposed to show. Such as the photo below – just ask yourself what you thought you were looking at first, and then take a second, more careful look:

Credit: https://www.dailymail.co.uk

Just in case your brain is struggling to shift its initial perspective, it is a perfectly decent photograph of two horses having a drink.

But this is another example of the issue with becoming so fixated on an image that we can, as photographers, become blind to the obvious – or at least what may seem obvious to others, benefitting from a more objective view of our art.

But of course it isn’t always the potentially embarrassing oversights that can result in disappointed clients. Relatively simple things such as incorrect color calibrations (for print/screen), overlooked details, and misunderstanding client feedback and requests can all end up wasting considerable amounts of our time. 

I’ve certainly experienced issues with color calibrations, including adjustments, presets, and Lightroom tweaks that make sense to me as a photographer, but can sometimes conflict with a client’s expectations or wishes.

For example, we photographers know that the human eye can capture far more than even the world’s best camera. No camera can ever come close to what the human eye is able to achieve – it’s really quite astonishing. As the eye scans a scene it is constantly adjusting the aperture (pupil) and focus length, adjusting in miniscule ways millions of times, so effortlessly.

With a camera we can make a huge number of adjustments, and create layered images using dynamic layers, but this is just an attempt to achieve an image that comes close to what the human eye would have seen, or even what the heart would have felt from looking at the original scene. And sometimes these alterations can be very different from what clients expect from photographs, given their own personal experience of what cameras can achieve. 

It’s also very easy to overlook details such as a distracting shadow or background element. I must admit to once overlooking the fact that just above the bride’s shoulder in what would otherwise have been a lovely photograph of the newly wedded couple in their hotel was a clear sign pointing towards her head and advertising the direction for the toilets. Oops.

And of course I’m sure we’ve all had clients try to explain what they want, and we may think we get it, but then our interpretation can be at odds with their expectations. We can apologize, make the edits, and move on. But it all takes time.

And while issues like these do take time, there’s another problem. And that’s of course the potential damage to our reputation or brand image. The relationship between client and photographer is critical, and it’s built on trust. If anything ends up feeling off with the final images, this will potentially harm the trust, damage the relationship, and as potential ambassadors for your brand in future, your clients are much less likely to recommend you.

The Importance of Clear Communication

Sat navs are designed to provide the clearest, most unambiguous instructions. Even though occasionally mine will still tell me to head north (as if I’m a sparrow with an intuitive concept of the magnetic contours of the planet).

Communications with clients also need to be crystal clear, unambiguous, and helpful for both parties. As a photographer, providing guidance, setting clear expectations, and explaining how the process works helps to foster trust, and makes life considerably easier for you in the end.

Discussing your proofing process is a critical part of this communication, and can easily make or break a relationship with a client. For example, providing your client with a magnificent online proofing gallery when they’ve been fully anticipating a physical copy of their photos to browse can easily lead to disappointment, and perhaps even panic.

So how can you make sure that everything that needs to be said is communicated properly, ensuring expectations on both sides are in alignment? Here are a few strategies we would recommend.

Detailed Briefings: This initial meeting is where you and the client get to know each other, almost like a first date! It’s an opportunity to find out what you’re each expecting to get out of the project. As a photographer you can explain your suggestions, and explain about the workflow, including how the proofs will be provided, the proofing process itself, and then the editing stage. Your client will also be able to explain what they envisage the end product being, and perhaps they may explain what it was that resulted in them choosing you in the first place.

Written Agreements: Don’t be afraid to make sure that everything that is discussed and agreed is put into writing. This can document everything that was talked about, including workflow, proofing formats, and timelines. Think of this a little as your safety net, making sure that everyone is on the same page, and reducing the chances of the client coming back later on with “I thought” or “you said” comments.

Regular Updates: It is essential that throughout the entire project the line of communication is kept open and active, with you providing regular updates to the client. Sometimes this can simply be reassurance to the client that everything is on track, and if you do need to slightly alter the timeline then being open with the client and updating them on this straightaway avoids unnecessary panic, worry, and potentially eroded trust.

The goal of communication is to make the proofing process as smooth as a well-oiled machine, and there’s no need to think of it as being terribly serious, or wrapped up in legalese. The communication can be light-hearted, and this may very well help to reassure the client.

The main thing is that communication happens, that updates are regularly provided, that initial agreements are in writing, and that you are upfront about expectations, the workflow, and the timeline.

As a demonstration of how communication can easily go wrong, we would point you in the direction of James Fridman. He is a master of ‘trolling’ clients, deliberately misinterpreting instructions, or taking them entirely too literally. For example:

Not entirely what the client was expecting! Although with James Fridman, people do generally expect that even the most careful instruction will be taken the wrong way. But this is done deliberately for humor – make sure you don’t make this kind of mistake yourself!

Overcoming Challenges in Proofing

Dealing with the issues involved with proofing can be challenging, but the key lies in a combination of preparation, agility, and a bit of psychological savvy to ensure that both you and your client are ultimately happy with the final outcome.

Managing Client Expectations

The first step in this process is to make sure that you manage client expectations perfectly. Clients may envision their wedding photos looking just as if they’re straight out of a glossy magazine, but meanwhile perhaps you’re aiming for candid, natural shots.

Clearly this represents a huge gap between expectation and reality, and to bridge that gap it’s vital to start with a comprehensive consultation. This process is about setting the stage for what’s to come, ensuring there are no surprises, except for the pleasant kind.

Ensuring Quality

As a professional photographer you’re clearly going to be focused very much on the quality of your images, but it’s very easy to make simple mistakes, and the key to avoiding this lies frequently with calibration and consistency.

Make sure that you regularly calibrate your monitors, printers, and other equipment to confirm that what you see and what you get is exactly what the client will get. This will remove any guesswork and ensure that the quality of the proofs accurately reflects the final deliverables.

Dealing with Feedback

Dealing with feedback effectively requires both active listening and constructive responses. When a client provides feedback it’s essential to listen not just to the words, but to the emotions and intentions behind them. Is the client looking for a different mood, to capture a specific moment, or just have a slight tweak in color?

Once the client’s feedback is properly understood, make sure you respond with solutions and alternatives, turning potential conflicts into opportunities for positive collaboration.

Of course, sometimes the conflicts can only be seen when you step away from your perfectly calibrated monitor, and realize what the artistic photograph of a book actually looks like:

Credit: https://www.ranker.com/ 

In cases like this, one would hope that the error could be spotted by either the photographer, the client, or some other third party before the image becomes used as part of a major campaign.

Unfortunately for Nissan that didn’t happen, and so when a billboard advert featured a glaring error, they took the novel approach of adding a banner across the original billboards that, rather cleverly, took advantage of the error and almost made it appear deliberate!

Credit: https://www.bmediagroup.com/ 

And if you’ve been studying the photo above and asking yourself where the error is… we’ll tell you in a moment!

But first, how is it possible to turn a failure into an advantage? In other words, if the proofing appears to have gone wrong, or badly, how can you actually capitalize on that, and turn it around to be something positive?

Firstly, it’s vital to move away from the temptation of having the mindset that, as professional photographers, we know best. Art is very much a subjective thing, and I’m sure we all have our preferred styles, our way of shooting, the iconic shots we value most.

But our clients don’t necessarily see things the same way. They may see awesome shots in your portfolio, and conclude that you must be a terrific photographer. And a terrific photographer must be able to take perfect photographs – just like the ones in the imagination of the client. 

It’s dangerous to believe that our ideas, art, style of capturing images, or editing techniques are best – or at least better than the client’s own ideas. 

This is why we have emphasized the importance of setting the client’s expectations, and involving them closely in the proofing process, listening to their ideas, validating them, and providing your own insight.

So what happens if you proudly show your client an image and they react in horror?

Hopefully you will have had a positive expectations meeting with them beforehand, so this is an opportunity to remind them that the proofs do not represent the final images, only a halfway point between the shoot and the finished product. Make sure you listen very carefully to the client – and as just mentioned, listen to their feelings, not just their words.

Be prepared to change your own preconceptions and approach, although of course you’ll want to share the benefits of your experience with them. But make sure the dialogue is two-way, as sometimes clients can think of ideas we may have missed ourselves.

As for reactions of horror – when Nissan saw the massive error in their billboard image, they decided to simply own up to it, and make it a marketing ploy in itself. The error? The text says ‘worthy of of…’ – there are two ‘of’s! Did you spot it? Let us know in the comments below if you did spot it, or if you’d have made the same mistake as a $15 billion dollar company!

This open-dialogue approach is vital for building the trust between you and the client, and it is that trust that will ultimately sell you as a photographer. Images can be edited, and you’re probably outstanding at that anyway. If clients feel they are listened to, involved, and have an active role in the proofing and development of the final products then they are much more likely to go with you, and to end up being a walking billboard for your studio.

Because that’s another critical thing to consider. Perhaps you have a huge budget to spend on ads, but for most of us, our clients and our images do the talking for us, and happy customers who feel we listened to them, validated their ideas, and took the effort to build a positive relationship will tell others – and be the best advertising we could wish for.

And like many other photographers, you’ve probably got a social media channel, and perhaps people ‘like’ your images. These likes and the comments associated with them can also provide valuable information about how we are doing as photographers. To some extent they can help us understand how we are meeting the needs, wishes, and expectations of potential clients.

I know of one photographer who loved making images ‘pop’ – either exaggerating a particular color, or playing around with curves, levels, and vibrance. Yet interesting on his social media channel it was the images that were more neutral and calm that got the most likes and comments. It’s always worth listening to this kind of feedback, because ultimately our portfolios and our social media feeds are a kind of proofing gallery themselves, and ongoing curating and culling can help us get closer to meeting the needs of clients, and therefore, getting more clients.

I also know of another photographer friend of mine who spent an astonishingly long time with each client throughout the proofing process, and took away from each one the very core images that resonated with them most, and curated those into a new portfolio. After a relaunch, he saw a 40% increase in referrals, which really demonstrated the power of positive client experiences, as this new business was a combination of the positive experiences the clients had, as well as the ultra-curated portfolio to back up their recommendations.

But of course proofing can very easily take a long time, and extending this might feel counter-intuitive. Which is why we recommend using an online proofing tool to supercharge the collaborative process and help get things moving efficiently, whilst keeping an open and meaningful dialogue throughout.

So what online proofing tool do we recommend? Well, since you ask, we happen to think picu is the perfect choice!

Yes, that’s us! But picu remains the first choice for a huge number of very successful professional photographers, and is one of the most popular WordPress plugins for photographers, with a 4.72 out of 5 star rating on WordPress – and thousands of active installations.

Easily create proofing galleries and share them with your clients in just a few clicks. Clients are able to browse their images, make their selections and leave comments, and then picu will notify you as soon as they’re done. Proofing made simple, and with clients finding it significantly easier to use, and photographers finding their workflows massively more efficient, perhaps it’s time you took a peek at picu?

Download picu for free today, and see how your photography business develops!

Feedback? Questions? Send us an email.