David Riecks Photography

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File Transfer Methods for Photography.

Or how best to get that file from point A to point B

There are a number of ways of getting your digital images to clients or end users, and each have an upside as well as a downside.

E-mail shouldn't be the first choice

The one method people think of using most often--E-mail-- is probably not the best method. If you are only including thumbnails or small samples you'll probably be OK. However, I've had enough problems delivering larger files that I only do this if the client specifically requests it, and confirms with their IT (Information Technology) folks or ISP (Internet Service Provider) that they can receive large files and note the upper limit on file size. If they are on AOL I refuse unless the files are under 800-900K. Many mail servers at Internet Service Providers are set to reject larger attachments as they slow down service for others, and could contain a computer virus.

Problems with e-mail attachments

The major problem with e-mail is that because most of the problems occur once the files have left your hands, you often don't know if the file got there or not. If the client's ISP blocks files over a specific size your message with attached file may get killed. You don't receive an error message or any indication that there has been a problem, and the client never gets the image.

Checking e-mail from multiple locations...a double whammy

In addition, if the receiver checks this same account from multiple locations (like office and home), they may be a bit upset to receive a 10mb attachment at both locations. If they happen to be traveling and check their e-mail with their laptop on the road (like when they are connected over a low bandwidth modem in their hotel room!) they may be in for a shock. If they can't see all the headers before reading the message (as they could with a webmail account), they may have to wait for quite a while your attachment downloads. My conclusion was it's best not to send unsolicited attachments to an e-mail address.

Use a "pre-message"

If a client insists on a delivery via e-mail I first send a "pre-message" before sending the file attachment. It's just a simple message that says, "the file(s) you requested should follow in a second, separate e-mail attachment. If you should only receive this message (and not the second one with the attachment) contact me for alternate delivery arrangements." If I expect to be out of the office during this time, I may also post the file to a hidden or protected directory on my website and include the URL for the file in the first message. If the second message with attachment never arrives, they can go to the site and download the file using a standard web browser. By "protected" I mean providing security by establishing a username and password for the hidden directory. If you don't have this ability, be sure to ask the client to notify you when they have successfully downloaded the file, that way you can delete the files from the website.

Use compression to speed up transmission times

If you are sending several files, or concerned that the file header might get stripped from the file or corrupted, you may want to use a program such as Aladdin's "Stuffit" or the PC file compression utility PKZIP to create a "wrapper" for the package. Stuffit is cross platform, while ZIP is primarily for windows computers (though newer versions of stuffit can open these files). To avoid difficulties, it helps to know what computer platform your recipient is using before sending the file. There are ways to compress your files with these utilities that are "self-extracting" but this feature creates a slightly larger file. If you know that the client already has one or the other of these utilities, you can simply used the standard compression format. If they are a client that you will be exchanging files with on a regular basis you might also wish to include in you delivery notice where they can download the freeware utility to open the files, as this will keep the download times to a minimum.

Try using your website instead

Making the file available via FTP (File Transfer Protocol) or on your website allows the client to download the files at their convenience, when they choose to do so. Downloading the file via FTP is a more secure and stable way to transfer files. However many clients may think that this is a difficult procedure, or may be unfamiliar with using FTP software. If so putting the file on your website in a hidden directory, or in a password protected directory will provide similar security, but the HTTP (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol) transfer may not be as stable. In either event you will only want to leave the high resolution file on your webserver till the client has completed the download. Even if you aren't limited by server space, you should remove the files from the server directory for security purposes if the directory is not password protected.


©2003 David Riecks, please do not distribute without permission from the author.

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This page last updated: 7-27-2003