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WatermarkingImages Insights & Thoughts

Should You Watermark Your Images?

By Michael Henson on February 20th 2015

Ultimately, once you’ve posted your photos online, you’ve lost the ability to control them. This is a fact that anyone sharing data, information, and work online must understand. Images are especially prone to illicit use. There are few steps we can take to avoid our images being shared without credit and permission and those don’t really stem the tide of uncredited images being posted across the Internet.

This reality can leave photographers confused, frustrated, and violated when they find their images being used without permission. Typically, such a discovery leads them to a debate on a forum somewhere or an article like this one discussing watermarking images and whether or not there’s even a point to do so.

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[REWIND: IS SOCIAL MEDIA DESTROYING COPYRIGHT PROTECTION? – Q&A]

Anyone that has Google can pretty much remove any watermark placed on an image. So, honestly, what’s the point? Well, that’s what I want to discuss. I’ve decided after reading and engaging in various debates both online and in the forum of my mind that I will continue to watermark my images. I don’t expect that doing so will save me from the plight of copyright infringement…my reasons lie elsewhere.

Watermark Your Images For Marketing & Branding

As a photographer, branding is vitally important. My watermark is an extension of my brand and was developed with a very specific purpose in mind: to point interested individuals to my website. I want every image I process in Lightroom or Photoshop and share to have my watermark on it for that purpose. I don’t know about you, but when I see an interesting image online, I immediately start to look for who took it, and, typically, want to check out more of their work.

It’s frustrating when I find an excellent image and want to see more from the creator, but am unable to find their contact/website info or even their studio name. In my mind, that’s a failed opportunity for that photographer to gain some coveted exposure. Rather than capitalizing on my interest and drawing my attention to more of their work, we have both missed out. They’ve missed out on a potential customer, subscriber, “word of mouth” marketer and social media shares, and I’ve missed out on more of their work, reading their blog, purchasing a product from them (potentially), etc. A simple watermark with their name or their business name is all it would have taken to capitalize on my interest.

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Watermark Your Images To Retain Credit

Wait! Didn’t you start this article talking about how pointless it is to watermark images in order to get credit? Well, yes, I did, but allow me to clarify. I put a watermark on images to make it easier for those using them without permission to give me credit. Not everyone that right clicks on an image to use as their own is doing it maliciously. Sometimes, they simply don’t understand the implications of what they’re doing, and other times, they are simply taking the lazy way out.

By placing a watermark on images that I upload, I am doing everything (I know, I know, technically not everything, but you know what I mean…) I can to ensure that I receive some credit for my work. When that image is posted elsewhere on the Inter-webs, I’ll at least have my watermark with my website on there the bulk of the time. Sometimes, you just have to take what you can get. The alternative is to never share your work online.

Some Quick Tips On Watermarking Your Images

A couple things to keep in mind when you watermark images; In my opinion, the primary purpose is so people know who you are when they look at a photo you’ve taken. Keep this in mind when creating your watermark. Keep it simple and keep it in line with the rest of your branding “look.” Don’t make it too big and don’t make it too busy, there’s a reason that the most popular brands in the country have logos that are incredibly simple. That’s what people will remember. Put something incredibly distracting and busy on your images and people will more than likely form a negative perception of you and your photography as a result of their disliking your watermark.

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Conclusion

There are benefits and disadvantages to every argument and the watermarking debate is no different. I’ve shared my reasoning above. This is based on my opinion and experience only. There are others that would disagree with my thought process and suggest in varying levels of vehemence that watermarking is pointless, a distraction, and annoying. The fact of the matter is that you have to weigh the benefits/drawbacks and make the decision yourself. Personally, I take the marketer’s approach and view each image as a potential lead generating tool that may eventually lead someone to me for one reason or the other. If that never happens, I’m okay with that, but at least I’ve tried.

So, what do you think? Is watermarking images for the birds? Or is it something that is potentially valuable? Or does it fall into that middle ground where benefits are hard to discern and it strictly comes down to personal preference? Leave your thoughts in the comments as I’d love to hear back from you!

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CREDITS : Photographs by Michael  have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

Michael Henson is a St. Louis based photographer obsessed with everything creative. His photography interests span genres from still life to sports. When he’s not running around with his face to the camera or behind a keyboard writing, you can typically find a guitar in his hands or catch him out enjoying life with his family and friends.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Anna Klein

    Hi would the same apply to written work eg lyrics or poems?

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  2. Ron Bates

    I think it all depends on the situation. If you share your photos on social media than it is absolutely necessary to watermark photos! I learned from this: http://www.paintshoppro.com/en/pages/watermark-photos/ that sometimes it is unnecessary to watermark photos, and that’s why I don’t always do it, and I can also agree with you. Nice article by the way, I found it informative.

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  3. Thomas Horton

    I think a little humility should govern the decision.

    Objectively ask yourself:

    1. Would someone really steal/use my photograph? People like to think that their photographs are something special, and they are to them, but not to others.
    2. Would I actually be harmed if they did? I am an hobbyist. A profession would have a different answer. No one is going to steal one of my pictures and sell it for a million dollars. LoL

    I sometimes snicker when I see people watermarking photographs that no one would ever consider stealing or even using. There are times when it seems a bit presumptuous for a hobbyist to watermark.

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    • Luca Denicolo

      your point is correct and I think no one is going to steal or sell my photo..I’m an amatour, but I’m reading this cause when “customers” share my work on socials it would be nice letting know the author of the shot, so a very little watermark seems the only alternative to do nothing and hope the “customer” caption the photographer. would it be a lack of humility in this case too?

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  4. Graham Curran

    A good watermark/signature should be noticeable but not eycatching.

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  5. Vince Arredondo

    It depends. If I deliver files for prints they wont be Watermarked, however for social media, heck yeah!

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    • Cynthia Evans

      People don’t like my marks, but I only mark things posted on my FB page (Infatuation Studios) or my Flickr, Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest.

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  6. John Cavan

    I agree with your premise, though I don’t generally watermark my images as I’m not specifically advertising. Having said that, your argument on the subject of credit is quite valid and somebody removing a watermark at least makes their intent clear. So, I may change my practice on this.

    One thing to consider, though, is the impact of social media on the placement of the mark… If you look at the samples in this article, some of the mark is obscured by the Pintrest button. That implies that you may need to watermark based on the destination of the image.

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    • Michael Henson

      John, you make an EXCELLENT point! Social media has certainly impacted this discussion. I noticed the Pinterest button when putting this article together but didn’t think much of it. I certainly think that it’s worth thinking about where you are going to publish your images prior to finalizing your watermark/logo. It may change the way I watermark in the future. I like the Lin & Jirsa Photography watermark/logo for this reason. It’s simply a simple logo placed under the actual image that spans its width. It’s easily cropped off but, as mentioned in the article, theres not much that we can do to avoid that. Great insight! Thanks for taking the time to comment!

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    • robert garfinkle

      or, as a p-Interest paid-for service, have the watermark replicable. 9.99 / year all you can eat logo replacement :)

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  7. Peter McWade

    I don’t always put a mark on my images. Mostly not but when I do mark my image that mark is a signature. Nothing more. Like a painter who signs an original. Something that says its mine. As for stealing, yeah, there will be a few who get a picture used for some reason or another but how much revenue will you actually loose to those few. Most who take photos do so mostly for personal reasons because its just plain cool. Few ever really get used for any commercial use. Some maybe. So how much time and effort will you expend to apprehend those. Me, not a single one.

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    • Michael Henson

      Peter, thanks for commenting! I think of my watermark as a signature as well…I should have included that in the article! The photos I share are the ones that I’m proud of, so why wouldn’t I claim them?

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  8. robert garfinkle

    Here is what I’d do – not saying it is right…

    BE ON THE DEFENSIVE

    1. Do not transmit / post an original across the net / online! – unless one criterion is met; that transmission of content is done in a 100% securely (i.e. VPN) manner, from private (you) to private (them – customer, printer, etc…). If you can’t secure a 100% guarantee. don’t do it… assume ALL / ANY transmission WILL be stolen, assume ANY / ALL social media / cloud will be viewed / stolen as well… Protect yourself…

    No matter how well you digitally sign, copyright, watermark, brand, if you can stamp it, it can be unstamped / reversed / changed.

    The best defense – keep originals private, off the net period…

    2. Make a decision to use a small handful of works, meant for distribution / online use. say a dozen. Take the attitude that they will be hijacked, modified… and these will be the images that are for “free” use…

    This is tough though, as I assume you are putting up images for the purpose of selling your self / services etc, and you want to wow your customer, ok, pick a group / handful which has the ability to do that yet you have made the decision that they are essentially throw away… public domain… that by virtue of putting the images up on the web, you “willingly” grant permission of “free” use of… – the idea is, if someone does take them for use, whether they cite you or not, alter the image (or not), you are not in a panic to take all sorts of action…

    Although I am not a professional (in business as) photographer – I am making the assumption that all you want to do is get “the call”, “the email”, “make the appointment” with your client, that would be the sole purpose of the images – i.e. to attract business. The key is, putting up images that will draw in the contact / contract, yet if the images are taken and used by others for whatever “for free” reason, that you have become ok with it.

    Comment – I do realize, and would not want the case, where my images are so strewn across the net, that any potential client thinks (may have arbitrarily seen) the images are not yours by virtue of the fact that they are all over the place, you do run that risk, which could dissuade a client… “Oh, He / She is not showing original works” – I need your thoughts on this sentiment…

    Moreover – I use the term “free” to mean just that. In limiting a certain “chosen” few to be used, it does not imply that they are “free” to be used by others, for profit etc., not condoning that.

    Finally, on rule #2, in limiting the amount of images you post for purposes of advertisement etc. (which is really what it’s for, right?) they are easily identifiable, that in the case where someone uses your images on a site or for purposes of selling a product, you can challenge them easier (i.e. ask them to take them down or take them to court :) ) – you also may wish to change things up, get a new set eventually, for wowing the client. in limiting the number of images put up, they are easier to track (see google comment below). then when you go to switch them, it’s an easier venture to change out / swap…

    Google, has a great tool – you should try it, it allows you to upload your image, even if it’s slightly modified, and allows you to search for where your image is, on the web. of course you will drag in some pictures like it, but, upload a portion or all of your image, and google can usually pick out where the image is used… seriously cool… it can protect you…

    3. If you do take on suggestion #2, then I’d do the following..
    a. Modify the image enough, that it is very departed from the original, in aspect, modify the color / brightness slightly – or whatever sets it apart from the original work. It could be enough to run it through a program which makes it web ready – altering it with the intention of making it look it’s best on the web, yet it is different… this is more protection…

    then watermark / brand / sign / copyright / stamp it – whatever you do to further protect it…

    b. Make clear your terms of use, on your main site where these images come from, and make sure on any social networking site you use for selling your product and service the same terms are posted – even include the finer text / verbiage stating these can be used for free – as this will be proof of your limits to also help thwart usage where people try and do the “for profit” thing with your stuff…

    Finally – I really cannot comment as to which is better, a watermark / brand. I usually pepper my images with a distinctive copyright tattoo in the lower right… yes, it can be cropped out. I do it myself…

    and so it goes…

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  9. Kevin DeLorey

    I believe watermarking is completely legitimate for exactly the reason you describe. It’s a marketing tool to draw in potential clients. I only hate or feel distracted from the image when a photographer watermarks their image in seemingly random locations, using Comic Sans or Papyrus fonts. I generally lose a sense of professionalism when I view an image with a watermark like that.

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    • Michael Henson

      Yeah, there’s nothing that screams “I’m an amateur” louder than a funky font or a huge, busy logo. My philosophy – When in doubt, keep it simple.

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  10. Gurmit Saini

    Well I do agree with the idea of grabbing every opportunity from marketing point of view by adding your watermark on yourimages, but this reminds of an video by DigitalRev Kai said once that remove that watermark from your images who do you think you are Picasso?

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    • Michael Henson

      No, but I can’t help but wonder if Picasso would have branded his art if he lived and worked in the modern era? Maybe not. It’s really entirely up to you and whatever you are trying to accomplish as a photographer!

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  11. Dayna Lee

    Michael, please explain what you mean in saying : “Anyone that has Google can pretty much remove any watermark placed on an image”

    How does one remove a watermark with Google?

    On all the samples you provided above, the watermark could easily be cropped out without totally ruining the image. While the watermark you used may function to lead potential customer to your website, it does not protect the image from being copied and even used for commercial purposes.

    As I see it, the term watermark refers to a faint impression on the paper that is sometimes used as branding for paper manufacturers but may also be used as authentication of documents artwork and currency.

    What you have applied to the above images is not so much a watermark as it is branding. You have to position if off to the side because putting somewhere in the middle would be too disruptive to the aesthetic appearance of the image.

    I think of a watermark as a barely visible overlay of your logo in a very ghostly tone, color or texture. It should be strategically placed to make it impossible to crop out and just visible enough that no one would want to print or publish the image. But it should be subtle enough that it does not disrupt the essence of the photo.

    I would use the thin overlay watermark for displaying images that I want to sell prints of. And I would use the branding overlay for images that I pt out there for promotional purposes. I accept that someone may crop out my logo and print or reuse the image. As long as the image serves it’s promotional purpose, I can live with that. If I catch somebody red handed I will address it.

    The third option is to place the brand overlay onto the corner of an image that would not be usable if cropped at all.

    I’ve created a watermark that uses a combination of transparency, color and texture that’s very difficult to remove without completely cloning it out which would be more effort than its worth.

    But please tell me , how one uses Google to remove a watermark!

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    • Michael Henson

      First of all, great points and breakdown of watermarking vs. branding…I understand what you mean when discussing the difference between the two and agree with your analysis on the purpose of the different “styles” of use.

      Secondly, it appears that you’ve pointed out a poorly worded sentence that I didn’t catch when proofing. (So, thank you, I’m sorry for the confusion!) The point I was trying to make is that nearly anyone can Google an image and remove a watermark. A watermark in and of itself is not going to prevent someone from stealing an image…

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

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  12. Bogdan Roman

    I see the point of this article, but then again if someone wants to steal your watermarked photo, they will and also remove the watermark

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    • Michael Henson

      Bogdan, that’s absolutely right. There’s no way to keep someone from stealing your work and removing your watermark if they want to…That’s kind of the point of this article. If someone can do that, then why even have a watermark at all? For my answer, read the article above.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

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    • Stephen Jennings

      I don’t think the purpose of a watermark is to prevent theft, it’s just to advertise who took it. Like a signature on a painting .. let’s people know who the artist is and, if they like your work, go out and see what else you’ve done.

      It’s a very, very small fraction of people who will go out of their way to steal a photograph, and even then most of the times it’s done for personal use anyways — like a windows background or whatever. So you’re watermark will be an advertising tool for the vast majority who see it.

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  13. Daniel Thullen

    Michael’s point about watermarks being an extension of your branding is right on. I too am one who when I admire a photograph, want to view the photographer’s web site. I draw inspiration from viewing the interesting work of others. I don’t quite agree with Kristian with regard to “non-professionals” watermarking if done using Michael’s guidelines. I just don’t worry about it. My pet peeve is those who watermark all over their photo. What’s the point? To me there is nothing more pretentious than to post a photograph that essentially cannot be viewed due to the watermarks.

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    • Michael Henson

      That’s one of my pet peeves too. A watermark shouldn’t detract from the image any more than it absolutely has to. Thanks for reading and thanks for your comments!

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    • Kristian Hollund

      I guess some people took offense to the wording with “non-professional”, may be a bit of a language barrier, but it wasn’t intended to say that if you are not a pro you can’t watermark, more that it shouldn’t be your first worry. Not by far.

      Simply because it takes a while to get the aestethics not to plaster a watermark over 1/4 of the image, even if you want it judged. I would rather like you say not worry about it.

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  14. Kristian Hollund

    If your image is good enough to steal, it’s good enough to watermark. The way I see it is that if you are making a living off this then it is good practice. For the happy amateur it is really just annoying. If I see a picture I could have taken better myself with a watermark on I just find it a bit pretentious, but that’s my 2 cents, as a non-professional.

    I have had content stolen as a website owner, and bandwidth stolen too, and it starts to be a lot of work to hunt the offenders down. Many people are of the belief that anything in Google image search is free, I think Google could clarify things a bit there too imo, even if you can more actively submit images that fit certain criterias nowadays.

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    • Michael Henson

      Agreed! Some clarification and guidelines included in the image search pages of various search engines would be nice… Not sure they’d help all that much, but it would be nice! Thanks for taking the time to weigh in, Kristian!

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    • Bryan Sheehy

      You have some very good points, but part of your response really irked me. To me, it seems pretentious to say photographs with watermarks are only ok if the photograph is something you couldn’t have taken yourself, and that watermarked photographs taken by photographers who aren’t at your level, are silly. But that’s just my two cents. Next time I want to watermark one of my photos, I’ll check to see if you could have taken it better before I hit flatten image.

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    • Kristian Hollund

      You are free to misinterpret it however you want Bryan. I personally see way too many images ruined by a big watermark, even in the photo critique section here.

      Just as you need some sense of aestethics to take a good picture you need it when you design your “photography profile” too. I think this step should be saved for a bit later, there’s no point in thinking about watermarks before you have established yourself a bit. It’s partly a luxury problem.

      You are free to disagree, but I personally prefer not to worry about non-issues before they turn into issues.

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