With so many people sharing photos online every day, we’re becoming more susceptible to copyright infringement and finding our photos in places they really shouldn’t be. The most obvious prevention is to watermark your photos, but this constantly throws up debates with people saying they look ‘ugly’ and that by putting your photos online, you are taking that risk.

Will Nicholls-5-4

Does Watermarking Actually Help?

Photo editing software is pretty sophisticated nowadays, and it doesn’t take much effort to remove a basic watermark from a photo. So why should you bother?

I watermark all of my photos that are online. In fact, there are very few places you’ll be able to find a photo of mine without my logo sitting neatly in the corner. Do my photos still get ‘stolen’? Yes.

Copyright infringement is something I come across all the time with my photography. Initially, it really annoyed me; how dare someone exploit my hard work? But now, I have learned to ignore the majority of uses. Besides, they’re often by Chinese or Russian personal websites which I have no hope of communicating with. However, should a commercial entity use my photo, then that would be a different ballgame. They’ll quickly receive an invoice from me for the use and the matter is (most of the time) soon settled.

Watermarking definitely isn’t a permanent fix to the issue of copyright infringement. However, it is a deterrent to the casual image ‘thief’. It also provides a way for someone viewing your photo to get back to you as the photographer, should your photo go on a walkabout. In fact, most of the illegitimate uses of my photos are ‘innocent’ and by people who don’t understand copyright. The result is that my watermark stays with my photos even on other websites, and that’s better than nothing.

What Should a Watermark Look Like?

I always say keep it subtle. A big obtrusive watermark does detract from the photo, and this is the complaint that I hear most of the time. Keeping your watermark in the corner with the opacity set to around 50% or less is a good idea.

My watermark is adapted from my logo. This is the original logo:


I’m pretty pleased with it – but it definitely is too bold to stick on my photos. Here the adaptation which I place on all of my photos:

Will Nichols logo horizontal wb

The most important thing to notice is that it looks professional. Watermarks distract when they’re too bold, but also when they look shabby and as if they were made using Microsoft Paint. It’s worth investing and having a graphics designer make your logo for you. The above two logos were designed at 99designs.com – a great website where you pay around $275 for a variety of designs from multiple designers. You choose the best and that’s what you keep. I would also recommend checking out photologo.co. They have mastered the art of watermarking for photographers, creating handmade, signature-style watermarks that are subtle, non-obtrusive and very natural looking.

Placement of Your Watermark

I mentioned it before, but your placement should be in the corner. One thing I really hate to see are photos that have the photographer’s name plastered all over the picture multiple times.

The photo below shows you the ideal size and opacity I use. There’s no point making it any bolder – if someone wanted to remove it, they could whether it was 25% or 100% opacity. Preventing its removal is not the aim here.

(Sciurus vulgaris)

I usually choose the bottom-right hand corner. I like to keep things consistent so that people grow used to seeing the watermark there and begin to subconsciously ignore it. I also like to make sure it doesn’t overlap the subject but is on the same horizontal plane as the main feature of the image. This makes it much harder for someone to crop out of the photo.

Applying a Watermark

So how do you actually stick your watermark on your photo? If you’re using Adobe Photoshop, simply paste the graphic onto your photo. Position it and resize it as desired. Look at the Layers window and select the layer that contains your watermark. Then just play with the opacity slider as indicated in this screenshot.


If you use Adobe Lightroom, when you go to export your photo, there is a dedicated adjustment for watermarks. Simply choose ‘Add Watermark’ from the dropdown and follow the instructions. This is great for keeping your watermarks uniform between all of your photos.


Other Ways to Deter Infringement

It goes without saying that you should never upload a high resolution photograph to be freely available online. This is just asking for trouble, and it becomes much harder to prove you are the real photographer if someone else can produce the high resolution file.

Instead, upload photos that are compressed. Keep them at 72 DPI at a reduced (but often undetectable visually) quality. You can do this easily with the ‘Save for Web’ function in Photoshop, or by limiting the file size in Lightroom when exporting.

This combined with a watermark is a great way to deter people from doing anything with your photos, and they definitely won’t be able to print them off to produce products or anything similar.