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.
Why Watermark Your Images
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?
Watermarks Help Deter Image Theft
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.
Watermark Your Images To Retain Credit
Watermarks help retain your credit when your images are used with your permission. 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 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.