Photo Editing
May 2021

Soft Proofing: Cut Your Editing Time in Half!

10 min read

Only edit the photos your clients LOVE with this “soft proofing” approach to print sales. You’ll save tons of time and have happier clients!


Soft proofing is about to change your life.

Seriously: if you’re spending a gazillion hours editing photos after every session, you need to start soft proofing. Here’s why, how, and what to do with your newly-acquired free time.

“I am a work-from-home mom of three young kids running a very busy business,” says family photographer Stefanie Cole. “Soft proofing has freed up SO much time for me—time that I’m able to put toward more important tasks.”

A family plays in the shallow bay waters

Stefanie Cole

Stop over-editing. Start soft proofing!

From a purely technical standpoint, soft proofing is all about color management and getting your on-screen photos to match the prints you get from your pro lab. 

For photographers, however, there’s an earlier step in the soft proofing process, and it’s all about your clients.

Fall newborn baby photo outside in the leaves

Stefanie Cole

“Soft proofing means allowing your clients to choose the images that they’d like fully edited from a gallery of proofs,” explains family photographer Stefanie Cole.

“Depending on your style of editing, the proofs can be SOOC (straight out of camera) or given a quick, preliminary edit,” Stefanie suggests. “My packages come with a set number of digitals, so soft proofing allows them to choose their purchased images while also giving them the option to buy more.”

Portrait of a couple by a lake. Portrait of a baby in a basket.

Stefanie Cole

Here’s why clients love soft proofing:

Soft proofing allows Stefanie’s clients see more of their images faster. They don’t have to wait for every image to be edited to perfect, and they’re never left wondering if a “better” photo was excluded from their gallery. “They feel more in control of the images that they receive,” says Stefanie, “and are happier as a result.”

But soft proofing isn’t only great for clients.

“I never edit a photo that I haven’t been paid for!” Stefanie shares. “It has sped up my workflow drastically, and it’s taken a lot of the difficult choices out of culling.”

Outdoor family portraits

Stefanie Cole

Soft proofing in 5 steps

These are the steps Stefanie follows to create a streamlined, inclusive ordering process for her clients:

#1: Add your images to Lightroom and cull

  • Add the session’s photos to a Lightroom catalog
  • Tap “P” to “Pick” your keepers
  • You can also tap “X” to “Reject” a photo you don’t want to show
  • Or tap numbers 1-5 to give each image a star rating

Stefanie admits that culling is a bit of a balancing act. Show too few images, and your clients may wonder, “Where are the rest?” Show too many, and they may become overwhelmed, which can result in smaller purchases.

Fall family portrait

Stefanie Cole

“I like to show my clients multiple shots from each pose—especially the important poses,” says Stefanie. “This gives them confidence that they aren’t missing out on any ‘better’ photos.”

Before and after retouching family photo on the beach

Stefanie Cole

#2: Apply your preset

You may choose to soft proof with photos that are SOOC, but Stefanie finds it beneficial to perform a light edit on the photos she’ll show.

“I don’t worry about proofs being perfect,” she clarifies, “but if any are drastically off-center or need cropping, I will do that. If any head swaps are necessary, I’ll go ahead and do that, too, but that’s rare.”

before and after maternity portrait photoshopped by stefanie cole

Stefanie Cole

#3: Edit a few favorites

  • Choose 1-3 favorites from the shoot
  • Give those picks your full post-production treatment
  • Share these to social media (with your client’s permission, of course!)

These fully-edited favorites help Stefanie’s clients to envision what their finished products will look like.

Maternity portrait on the beach

Stefanie Cole

#ShootProofPRO Tip: Final edits

The way your photographs appear to your clients is largely dependent upon their computer monitor, color profile and display options, and (if they’re trying to make their own prints) their printer profile. This is why it’s important for your final output to be created with print quality in mind.

An accurate soft proof is one that looks phenomenal when printed by your preferred professional lab. Make sure your clients know that you can only guarantee the print quality of photographs ordered directly through you.

Three pregnant sisters

Stefanie Cole

#4: Export the soft proofs

Stefanie exports her soft proofs into a client folder on her desktop, then uploads those images into a ShootProof gallery.

“Once uploaded, be sure to turn the download feature OFF,” reminds Stefanie, “and add a nice, big watermark that is vivid enough that people won’t screenshot your work, but transparent enough that they can clearly see their faces in the images.”

This entire process takes Stefanie no more than 20 minutes!

Couples maternity portrait in the snow

Stefanie Cole

“While I see the value of in-person gallery reveals,” Stefanie says, “my clients and I—who are all busy parents—love the convenience of an online gallery that they can access when it’s convenient for them. (Hello, 3am feedings!)”

How to send Favorites to your photographer in ShootProof

Stefanie Cole

#5: Edit and upload the final images

In their ShootProof gallery, Stefanie’s clients:

  1. select their own favorites
  2. share those favorites with their photographer

Next, Stefanie changes the gallery status to inactive—her clients can no longer access it, but Stefanie can still see their favorites and any additional gallery activity.

At this point, Stefanie marks her clients’ selections in Lightroom and completes a full edit on those photographs:

  • precise color corrections and contrast adjustments
  • digital dodging and burning
  • spot retouching and detailed skin retouching
  • final version head swaps

Lastly, she uploads those finished JPEGs to a new ShootProof gallery. “I save their proofing gallery until I see that they have downloaded their edited images and they’ve expressed that they’re happy.”

Couple maternity portrait in a field. City portrait of maternity couple.

Stefanie Cole

“Virtual soft proofing would simply not be possible for me without ShootProof,” says Stefanie. “ShootProof allows me to apply a custom watermark to the full gallery with the click of a button; it allows me to show images without allowing downloads; and it allows me to showcase my images in a way that is professional and easy-to-navigate.”

Family portrait in a field at dusk

Stefanie Cole

Customize the soft proofing experience for your clients

It’s not enough to do soft proofing. You have to built this approach into your business model so your clients know what to expect.

“Soft proofing is mentioned on my website, in my social media, and in my contract,” Stefanie explains. “It’s a substantial part of my business model.”

Soft proofing scripts

Not sure how to talk to your clients about soft proofing? Try these scripts:

winter maternity portrait in the snow with a green dress

Stefanie Cole

How to explain soft proofing

Hello, Client! What a wonderful session! Here’s what’s next: You’ll receive your proofing gallery within one week, where you’ll view your unedited original images and choose your Favorites. Simply click the Favorites star on the photos you’d like me to edit fully, share those Favorites with me, and I’ll get to work!

How to get clients to choose their Favorites quickly

Once you’ve shared your Favorites with me, I’ll add your session to my editing queue. The sooner you choose your Favorites, the sooner I’ll begin editing them! 

How to share the final ShootProof gallery of edited images

Your photographs are ready! Simply click the Download All option in your gallery, and save your hand-edited photographs to your desktop.

Outdoor newborn portrait. Dirt road family portrait

Stefanie Cole

Now go create your own soft proofing workflow!

“I’m a better business owner, photographer, and mom because of soft proofing,” Stefanie raves. “It empowers me to give better customer service to clients, have faster turnaround times, and ultimately take on more work.”

“Soft proofing is 100% the best decision I’ve ever made for my business.”


Written by ANNE SIMONE | Featuring STEFANIE COLE

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