Delivering Images to Clients to Limit Misuse as a Photographer

Misunderstanding can happen in the best circumstances in life. When you're a photographer, delivering images to clients seems simple enough, but there are a few important details that can save headaches down the line.

First, it's important to outline use for photography as clearly as possible. This includes agreeing on exactly how the images can be used and what exactly you'll deliver, in as clear as language as you can make it. Are the images for social media use only? How many images? Resolution? Duration of license? And so forth.

There are a lot of details of image licensing, copyright as a photographer and more. But the intent of this article is to give you an approach for how to be direct with clients to limit misunderstanding and misuse of photography as a professional.

When to overdeliver

There can be a huge benefit to overdelivering for a client. Underpromising and overdelivering makes you look good. It makes a client feel like they're getting more than they're paying for, shows your drive, and so forth.

But in the context of this article, we're taking a different approach. Delivering precisely what's needed and what's agreed on, so that you're protected as a photographer.

Common image misuse

Common types of misuse by photo clients can include usage that is out of agreed:

  • Licensing (commercial vs editorial)
  • Duration
  • Scope/specific use

In this post, we'll look at a few technical ways of trying to limit the latter, photo usage out of scope.

Preventing misuse

There are few aspects of business that we aren't going to go into detail on. There are absolutely best practices you should be doing that should prevent misuse in the first place. These include:

  • Getting all terms of use in writing
  • Signing a contract with clients new and old
  • Agreeing on exactly what you'll deliver
    • How many images
    • What resolution
    • Turnaround time
    • Licensing and usage
    • Duration of license

Deliver what's agreed

From a business standpoint it can be advantageous to deliver the minimum agreed deliverables. It's worth stressing that this approach is in direct contrast to overdelivering to take advantage of a big break, networking, client pleasing or ease of working perspective.

Ideally, there's a balance for overdelivering in quality rather than quantity, and one every photographer has to feel out for themselves and each situation.

I'm a music photographer, so let's take a hypothetical scenario in which you're hired by a band to make images they can use on social media.

You've agreed to deliver 10 final photos from a show. You're being paid $500 for this gig.

Limit quantity

In this approach for limiting liability, if you agreed to deliver 10 images, deliver 10 images. Not 20 and not 50 or 100. Overdelivering certainly has it's places and they can be numerous, but in this approach for limiting potential misunderstanding and misuse, deliver exactly what was agreed on.


Because limiting quantity sets and fulfills boundaries. It sets the expectation that you're sticking to your part of the agreement and that you have delivered the very best with zero filler. If they want more images, that's outside of the original scope. At the very least, it's worth considering a discussion.

In addition, there's a clear price to image ratio here. 10 images for $500. When the quantity goes up, unless you have agreed on it with the band, the price per image goes down when you deliver in excess. There are plenty of times to do so, but in this context of limiting liability, it should give you pause for consideration.

If you haven't set expectations on the number of images you should deliver at all, it's always a good idea to do so. At the very least, part of being a pro is managing expectations, even if you plan to exceed them.

Limit Resolution

In addition, if the understood use is social media, limit the resolution to precisely what is needed. Don't deliver the high res files when that isn't what is expected.

1080 pixels on the short image side for Instagram is fine, maybe a little more if you want to allow for cropping.

Why is this important? Limiting resolution to the final, intended size helps reduce the chances of misuse that requires larger resolution. Low res web images don't make great printed tour posters or album covers.

If the client needs higher resolution, they can come back with that request and negotiate for it's use.

File Format & Size

Similarly, a client doesn't need the RAW files if the agreed use is social media. They don't need TIFF files. All they should realistically need is a 65-80% compression JPEG.

Just like resolution, if they need the RAW file, they should pay for it.

Furthermore, a full res file RAW file reinforces an assumption the notion that no further discussion is needed for even the most demanding technical uses. Billboard? Poster? No problem.

Final Thoughts

When you overdeliver in terms of quantity or other technical aspects of deliverables, the first time, it's a pleasant surprise. The next time and every time after, it's now the expectation.

This is not inherently a negative, but when the rate doesn't reflect the work rendered, it becomes an imbalance of power, which should give any pro pause.

The real aim should be to impress with professionalism, quality, reliability, and so forth.