Watermarking Images

Posted on March 18, 2013


I am frequently asked by other photographers why I don’t watermark my images – mostly because I don’t like how watermarking messes up the image, the watermark discourages people from sharing the images with others, and how most people with watermarks think that the logo makes them a “pro” photographer. I don’t like watermarks messing up the art I create. And I don’t like keeping multiple copies of the same image (one with a watermark, one without). But, does a watermark make sense for you? Another local photographer indicated on a major social network that he is paying for 30+ hours a week for a lawyer to pursue the thefts of his images.  Are you someone who does this to “protect” your image assets?

Some of the arguments I hear for watermarking images are as follows:

  • A watermark copyrights your image
  • A watermark keeps people from stealing your images
  • A watermark will expose those who do steal your images
  • A watermark is free advertising
  • A watermark is branding your images
  • A watermark makes you a “Pro”

While I will admit that a watermark is free advertising and branding your images, a watermark does nothing to stop theft of your image or establish your copyrights.  The watermark lets people know who took the image if you have a strong enough brand, and also adds more to the examples of photography that you create with your brand. Beyond this, it does nothing to protect your copyrights . The only thing that will protect them is submitting a copyright form at the end of the year to the Library of Congress here in the United States (or registering them with the appropriate authority else where).

If someone is going to take your image, someone is going to take the image. In most cases, it is a simple right-click and “save as” to keep an image. How many of you use Pinterest or Tumblr? These are sites that work on saving images and sharing those images with others in that social community. Sure, a watermark will discourage some people from saving that image on their local computer, but it will do nothing to stop it. This occurs because the watermark makes the image look ugly and disrupts the beauty of the image. Some other photographers may use Adobe Flash sites and Adobe PDF documents to limit the stealing of images. Yet others use obfuscation techniques like putting a clear document in front of an image posted on a web site. Some use a combination of these techniques. Again, this won’t stop the thefts but it does deters people from taking your images.

A watermark can reveal thefts of images if the watermark is in place and visible, but how many people will steal an image to use it and leave one on it? Many people try to put them in places where they won’t distract from the image but I have also seen several instances where the watermark was cropped or removed from the image for use on major company websites.  Frequently competition images submitted by models or individuals who are competing online for a title or prize are the number one culprit. Again, I am not sure if the model or the magazine does the dirty work – the point is that the watermark is removed or covered up in some way. If the watermark is visible, most reputable printers will not print the image (similar to the gold stamps on images taken back with film).  Again, watermarking is a deterrent and not a 100% sure thing to protect you.

Putting a watermark on your image is free advertising. Every image you put out on the Internet gives more examples of what you can do as a photographer. With the same logo, you establish a trend to say you shot that image. The more that people see your logo, the more that you will get your name out there as a photographer. This is more of what is called branding in my book. If you need to establish your brand, this is one way. A watermark helps to establish your brand and creates a standard of expectations for your images. Some photographers consider that a watermark is signing their work with their name in this digital age.

Putting a watermark on your images won’t make you a “Pro” photographer. Nothing can do that but you personally with your attitude and the acceptance of those people and businesses around you. I don’t want to argue what a pro photographer is because there are many different definitions, but suffice it to say that putting a watermark or logo on your print doesn’t make you a “Pro”. As I indicated above, most of the people who do put watermarks on their images have an attitude they are a Pro. Some people feel this is arrogant to do this, especially if you are a part time photographer who doesn’t make a living or much of a living producing photographs. On the other hand, many photographers will say just the opposite. Photographers who put images out there release their rights to the images because it could have been created by anyone – and rarely do people give the photographer credit for their work or even make an attempt at putting a copyright notice up when they post the image.

This post should give you some ideas why you should watermark your images and what good it will do. People will do what they want, and you will only keep the honest people honest. If someone wants to take your image, they will find a way. If you don’t want it taken, then don’t post it on the Internet. If you do post your images, know that people will take them and you will have some illegal uses of them. I have mentioned some ways to protect them above. Watermarking is not a 100% sure way to keep people from taking your images.

Keep in mind that not every business will do what you do – they have a different vision and opinion about how to run their business. Make your own decisions for your business, and do what is best for you and your business!

Posted in: Photography