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Are You Making Mistakes Regarding Watermarking Your Photos?

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Are You Making Mistakes Regarding Watermarking Your Photos?

watermark

There’s two sides, or more, to every story.  The topic of watermarking image gets photographers animated.

Watermarking, in current times, is a term used loosely to describe:

  1. Branding of your images in a subtle way, such as across the bottom or even on a solid color bar to one side of an image.
  2. Marking a solid logo and/or copyright across your image, disturbing part of the subject.  The watermark may be opaque, partially transparent or even embossed.
  3. Digitally labeling your image with a copyright that is not actually visible.

The big question for photographers is “should you watermark your images, and if so how?” In this article I am referring to showing your name, studio name, copyright information or other identifiers on web images.  I am not referring to prints.

The major reasons photographers add a watermark or branding to their images are:

  • Establish copyright: This tells others the name of the copyright owner and creator of the image.
  • Branding: This shows others who you are and often where they can find you and more of your work.
  • Protecting: If placed in certain prominent areas of the photo, it makes removal more difficult, though likely not impossible. This can cut down on sharing, but also can make it harder for clients to take a web image get it printed.  Some printers disregard watermark and will print it anyway. Some customers will take the time to remove one if it is not hard to remove.
  • Advertising: Since it’s a fact that photos get shared, and customers will want to post your images to social networking sites and through emails, you might as well get the advertising benefit too.
  • Expose thieves: At least if you add your watermark and branding in a hard to remove location, if a customer prints from the web image, it will be obvious to all.

In the digital word we live in, with social sharing sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and others, images do get shared.  When they are shared, if you watermark your photos with your name and/or web address, you are getting credit and exposure. If you do not want the photo floating around, I suppose you could have a message stating that too.  It cannot stop sharing, but could make it more embarrassing for those who do.

Knowing all of the above, why would any smart photographer skip adding their copyright, logo, or name on an image? We asked around and here’s what we learned.

Then why would you dare skip watermarking:

  • It is distracting: Watermarks cover up important elements of the photo.  They ruin the essence of the image.
  • It is arrogant: In a discussion with Katja Hentschel, a professional photographer in Berlin, Germany, she explained, “I think watermarked pictures are less likely to be shared. I think they send a message of slight arrogance in saying it must under no circumstances ever surface anywhere without its proper reference. I personally am happy to see that my photos are being shared, and while it’s never nice to see them without credit, I’m still glad people like them, feel inspired by them and want to share them with friends and followers.”
  • It shows self-confidence of the photographer: Katja expressed that “by not watermarking photos the photographer shows confidence in his work and style. I do recognize the photography of my favorite artists, bloggers, photographers, regardless of a by-standing reference.”
  • Allows the photo to shine (photos look better without text all over them): As José Navarro explained in response to our question on Facebook, “you should be thinking about the mood, expectation and request for engagement a great photo provides….not an ugly watermark which takes over 60% of the image.”

Now it’s your turn.  Tell us if you watermark and/or brand your images.  What info do you add to your photo and where do you add it? Do you think it is best to add your “mark” or leave it off? We’d love to read what you think in the comments below.

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92 Comments

  1. deb
    January 16, 2013 at 5:28 pm —

    I watermark my images and think this is an awesome way to attempt to cut down on the process of stolen images. I also do not put up many of the images taken within a session because the thing that the clients LOVE is to see/hear the response of others who see them…The computer world takes that and multiplies it…NOW the potential client is less likely to buy many photos…because they have already gotten the response they were looking for for free when the images are uploaded.

    I also tend to watermark according to what the images are being used for…Senior Photos…Family Photos and Weddings I would do a smaller water mark…Commercial work…I tend to do a Larger watermark…

    For me ..it has helped…I had a local photographer take my images and act like they were done by him…of course I had not watermarked them…learned the lesson the hard way.

  2. January 16, 2013 at 4:41 pm —

    Trey Ratcliff, the artist behind StuckInCustoms.com, recently posted on this very topic at https://plus.google.com/+TreyRatcliff/posts/UTKKo5Su6Rj. There is over 400 comments on Treys post, so I would recommend giving that a read too.

    I’m always torn on the issue. I agree they can be ugly and easily cropped out, but also, their is the extra effort to maintain multiple copies. I’ve seen people even try to photoshop out (poorly, I might add) the watermark. I recently (less than 2 weeks ago) had some images used on multiple sites where the watermark was cropped out. Then today, someone contacted me on Facebook to see if an image of her was from me as she couldn’t read the company or person’s name on the watermark. Lucky, I recognized it and was able to help her out, but that person still almost lost a licensing deal even with the watermark.

    Back in the day, there was Digimarc in Photoshop for putting digital watermarks on your image. Has anyone used that or still use it?

  3. Andrea
    January 16, 2013 at 4:25 pm —

    I previously did not do a watermark, simply because with my photography business, I hand over copyright of all the images anyway to the client. So the photos I posted Facebook, why add copyright? Facebook is a sharing site…any photos posted I feel should be shared. I have sort of started adding a water mark every now and then…but it’s only for advertisement purposes.

  4. Sueze
    January 16, 2013 at 2:15 pm —

    I am just starting to watermark all my photos that I post online. I had an older photo taken, that was not watermarked and posted by someone else with false information attached to it. A business then posted it and within a few hours it had been shared with all the wrong information to well over 10,000 people. That is when I knew I needed to start making sure posted photos have my watermark.

  5. January 16, 2013 at 2:13 pm —

    I use an extremely subtle watermark on my work. So subtle that you often have to be looking right at it to see it, and I try to place it in an area that doesn’t disturb the subject, but can’t be simply cropped out. I also digitally watermark the file. And I don’t upload anything at full-size.

    As for other people’s work, I don’t mind branding, but generic watermarks like a giant “X” through the middle of the image ruins it.

  6. January 16, 2013 at 1:31 pm —

    When I post images online, I watermark them with my brand logo. I also make them a smaller and low-res image to attempt to reduce printing and misuse. I put my watermark across the top or the bottom of my image. I know that someone could likely easily crop it out sometimes, but it would take some work. It’s not fool-proof, but it makes me feel better and 9 times out of 10, people don’t mess with it.

  7. January 16, 2013 at 1:25 pm —

    Did Picasso, Dali, or Matisse put huge obnoxious signatures across half of there painting? A watermark is totally acceptable but the huge watermarks that draw your attention to it first and the image second are totally self serving and self centered. JMO

    • Ron Hildebrand
      January 18, 2013 at 11:18 am —

      I think you’re comparing apples & oranges, Brad. Pre-Internet artists didn’t have to protect against someone downloading their photo, cropping out the watermark, and then using it against copyright. It wasn’t much of a threat that someone might to steal their canvas, crop out their signature, and use it elsewhere. They only had to ID their work, and a small, unobtrusive signature in a corner did everything that was necessary.

  8. January 16, 2013 at 1:13 pm —

    I always use a watermark, usually across the middle at 50%, unless it is obstructing the subject. However, I recently did a shoot for a family’s Christmas photos. I posted a few samples with my watermark on them on my Facebook business page and someone who was not a fan, but rather a friend of a friend who had “liked” my page copied my photo, cut around the watermark, made a collage with a photo she had taken, and posted the collage on this friend’s wall, saying the photos were the exact same! (They weren’t, her models were in a different pose, in a different season, and in a different location altogether. The only similarity was that our subjects were on bridges.) I was LIVID that someone would do that! I still don’t even understand that person’s point. I never had seen her work and I didn’t know her at all. It was just upsetting in so many ways to see my work disrespected and my clients’ memories stolen and cut up so some amateur could make a point.

    Still, I continue to watermark, because you can’t take too many chances.

  9. January 16, 2013 at 12:23 pm —

    I watermark images shared on the web. It helps my business and creates branding. I never do it where it obstructs the photo though. And for clients I don’t watermark their images if they purchase a high resolution disc because I want them to print with ease and if they love their photos they’ll promote me better than I could. I don’t think It’s arrogant to watermark, but taking pride in your work. A lot of hours and art form go into creating a beautiful image, I wouldn’t want my work to go floating around the web without a little credit to my hard work. I still, however, feel the photo should stand out, not the watermark. Interesting discussion:)

  10. January 16, 2013 at 11:56 am —

    Hey guys, I have been a full-time professional photographer for 10 years. I have watermarked my images for some time now thinking it would prevent people from stealing my images. When a client of mine came up with a card to send to all her clients and stole it from my web site with the watermark still on it! Plus the quality of the picture was poor. I was so mortified to say the least. Its one thing that a stranger steal your stuff its a whole other thing when you know the person to who took it. It was across the middle at 50%. So it helps and then it doesnt help but most of the time helps…and if you put it on the bottom people can download and crop it out. I think its a huge judgement call personally on the photographer.

    • January 18, 2013 at 3:05 pm —

      Ugh. Great advice on the watermark and that would have been quite a compliment of your work had they asked permission. I will try to have clear communication with my clients thanks to your post. Thanks!

    • March 8, 2013 at 12:51 pm —

      I definitely agree on the not putting it in the corner since it can be cropped out and has been done many a time. As an artist myself it’s true. Our branding is a big deal and as a graphic designer I know how important it is that that branding become known and related to our images when people see, therefore people know what to look for so a watermark does double duty in showing the artist as well as protecting the art, just depending on what kind of watermark since so many just put some blob thing on it. I design logos and so forth to go on them if people choose to do so, or make the watermark embed into the image which helps against the mater photoshoppers who live to steal.

  11. January 16, 2013 at 11:44 am —

    I do watermark my photos along the bottom. I don’t think it’s arrogance, anymore than an artist signing a painting is being arrogant, or a writer using a by-line. In fact, I hate when I see a beautiful photograph hanging somewhere or printed somewhere with no indication of who took it.

    • Carole
      January 17, 2013 at 4:12 am —

      I hate seeing uncredited photos too. After finding several of my photos on tumblr blogs, I started resizing and adding a watermark so people would know where they came from. Protecting your work isn’t arrogant, it’s common sense.

    • Martha Hamilton
      January 18, 2013 at 1:30 pm —

      I agree Barbara. I have been frustrated for the photographer when I see a beautiful shot in a magazine, as I did recently, with no credit given. I hate the theft that goes on.

    • December 13, 2013 at 11:11 am —

      I too like to see a watermark in the corner of a photo.

      1, It shows me that the Photographer takes photography and them self seriously.
      2, I can then track the Photographer down to view more of their work if I like what I see.

      Added to that it can quite often add to the photo if the Logo is well designed and added well.

      I’m not a fan of huge watermarks across the centre of an image. If you’re going to do that why bother posting it up at all? Though I do understand the need/desire to protect your work.

      Nate

  12. Debbie
    January 16, 2013 at 11:23 am —

    I have a crazy question.. if adding a watermark to your picture. Do you save 2 copies, one with, and one without the watermark, encase you would like to print or blow up the picture yourself?
    Or do you just print or enlarge the picture with your watermark on it? Thank you

    • Theresa
      January 16, 2013 at 12:10 pm —

      I DO save three copies actually: The original straight-from-the-camera, a watermarked corrected version and a non-watermarked corrected version.

      • Theresa
        January 16, 2013 at 12:11 pm —

        Moderator… please remove my post/photo. I forgot to resize.

        Thanks

    • January 16, 2013 at 3:18 pm —

      I absolutely save the watermarked image separately. I create a special folder for WEB files, and resize, sharpen, and watermark accordingly.

  13. January 16, 2013 at 11:04 am —

    I am sorry, but I happen to be a professional, full-time, working photographer, and there is nothing arrogant about watermarking. This is my business. If I put an image out there on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter, I am not doing it for the altruistic “joy’ of knowing that someone shared or liked my image. I am doing it to promote my work, support my brand and find new business.

    Not watermarking your images is not a mark of self-confidence, it’s a mark of stupidity. People in the social media will happily share your images, but unless you watermark, do not expect that they will include any credit to the photographer, this is the exception, not the rule. Once your image is out there without credit, no one will have the possibility to know who created that image.

    It infuriates me to read quotes from other photographers implying to newcomers and less experienced photographers that there is something wrong with protecting one’s work. Did Picasso, Dali, Matisse and most other great painters sign their work, yes, they did. Why should photography be any different. If I saw Katja Hentschel’s work somewhere online without a watermark, I would assume it was shot by any of the other 1000’s of people trying to copy Terry Richardson’s style.

    • Stacey Brock
      January 16, 2013 at 6:01 pm —

      Well said Bryon….I couldn’t agree with you more.

    • January 18, 2013 at 12:12 pm —

      Thank you for that Bryon, well said. I agree wholeheartedly. This is my living and it is my brand I’m promoting.

    • Lindsey
      January 18, 2013 at 8:41 pm —

      I dabble in painting and other artistic medias along with being a photographer. I really agree with what Brian was saying about an artist signing their work. Back in high school, when I did a lot a darkroom work and printing, my mentors encouraged the photographer to sign (and date for that matter) their work. Granted, they typically were referring to the back side of the photo. Being in this digital world we live in now, we as artists can’t do that (without actually printing the photo.) So, what do we do? We brand, and watermark. I actually have two different logos I use. I have one for my people shots and one for my “everything else” or “artsy” photos. I keep them small for the most part, at a medium transparency, and in the least distracting corner of the photograph. HOWEVER, I only brand for social media purposes. When I place an album for a customer on my website, I do not brand. This is because, when/if they choose to print, they just have the print. No need to brand when they already know who took their pictures and have signed a contract that clearly talks about uses and abuses. I believe it is overkill at that point. Especially because when they buy from my website my name is printed on the back of the photograph (most of the time they don’t even know.)

      I found an article after reading this one. It is about copyrights and if a photographer has to have them. I will attach the link because I think it is a decent read and something newbies would probably like to know. In short it says, “From a legal perspective, this isn’t really necessary. It is nice, however, if you want to get your name out there.” I just know that kind of like Brian said above, I’m a business. I am no longer just some person that takes pictures for fun. I want to promote and gain credit for my hard work and efforts. From an artist and business person’s standpoint, it is a good move. That way, if you catch the eye of a magazine etc., and they want to publish a non-marked version of your picture, it is totally at your discretion to choose to do so, seeing as though they will credit your work if they are a legitimate company. If someone chooses to put a picture out there without their name because they feel that the public should be able to recognize its owner, well…I think it is a bit conceded and naïve unless you are Ansel Adams or Anne Geddes (who actually in fact still brands even though most people clearly know her work.) My opinion respectfully; make it clean, make it small, but make it yours…you did the work, so own it!

    • Wendy
      January 18, 2013 at 11:45 pm —

      Bryon, you are not doing anything to dispel the view that people who watermark are arrogant. You can get your point across without resorting to name calling, eg “it’s a mark of stupidity.”
      So, is everyone who has a different perspective to you “stupid”???

    • March 18, 2013 at 8:42 pm —

      I agree wholeheartedly with your position. Watermarking images is a great way to show your brand and protect your work but we all know it won’t keep nefarious people completely at bay. Watermarks can be cropped out and new ones added by anyone. All watermarks do is keep honest people honest.

    • Betina
      May 8, 2013 at 12:23 pm —

      OMG…. Thank You so much; I want gonna watermark my work until I read your post. Once again Thank You very much!

    • August 21, 2013 at 1:27 pm —

      Hi Byron, I just read your comments and couldn’t agree with you more. Just recently I logged into my Facebook and what do you think I saw? One of my images posted with the watermarks missing. The image was distorted due to a horrible attempt to remove the watermark,non the less it was stolen.

      Yes I’m elated that people like my work to the point that they want to share it, but no credit was given to the photograper. (I of course jumped in and claimed the work.)

      Professional photography requires serious investments, dedication and for full-timers lots of hours away from family. Not protecting your source of income is…well you, know.

    • November 2, 2013 at 8:32 pm —

      Well said! 🙂 The last thing I want to do as an Amateur starting out is to seem arrogant but I do want to get my name out there. Why does guilt have to be laced with everything we do! If you invest your time into an image and you don’t want it to be stolen then why not add a watermark…

    • March 16, 2014 at 4:14 pm —

      Your argument for watermarking and comparing it to Picasso signing the work is totally irrelevant. You should sign your prints; on the mat around the image, not gigantic blocks of typeset superimposed over your print. Why on earth would you want your web portfolio to look worse than your gallery where your prints hang? And you think that your customers are buying work from you because of your watermarks? I would wager it is because your clients appreciate your work and promote you. Your facebook marketing does not need logos; your images link to your FB Page.

      If you are selling baby photos a lot I suppose your logos won’t hurt you….but if you are selling fine art you would be shooting yourself in the foot to mar your work with a watermark that doesn’t really belong there.

      And you brought up Katja Hentschel…http://www.katjahentschel.com/ I don’t see watermarks on any of her work.

    • May 10, 2015 at 9:09 pm —

      You are completely right…Could not agree more!!!! 🙂

  14. January 16, 2013 at 10:53 am —

    I do, and will continue to, add my logo. I keep it simple black and white and change the opacity, and screen, or multiply, as necessary to make it less interfering. I do make it kind of large for the Internet, but my feeling is that the viewer knows its a logo and can still appreciate or dislike it even with the logo. I don’t really think a logo is going to make or break it for the viewer, but it can make it harder to steal, though not impossible. However this is really just how I feel about it. 🙂

  15. January 16, 2013 at 10:41 am —

    I do not watermark. I guess because I don’t mind if they are shared, and either way, I am getting business because people ask, who took these shots? I get tired of trying to see around huge watermarks across pictures. You lose some of the beauty of the image. Photos are made to share, to speak to the beauty of a moment captured in time, I want that image to move people and not bring attention to the photographer, but the photograph!

    • January 18, 2013 at 3:04 pm —

      What a delicate balance to see the wonder of a child and the fragile life of a butterfly cross paths. Gorgeous photo!

    • Abbi
      April 28, 2013 at 1:02 am —

      I’m a full time photographer- meaning 100% of my house payments and groceries comes from the images that I sell.

      If I am posting an image online to pinterest or facebook, which is known to strip metadata and copyright information, then it will always have a watermark.

  16. January 16, 2013 at 10:40 am —

    I am a make-up artist and take a lot of my own photos. I watermark everything I post as the work in the photo is mine and if the photos end up being shared and used by others I can prove it. My watermarks are set at 80% transparency across the image – personally I don’t think it detracts that much. I have had my work stolen in the past by people claiming it as their work and so I will not post anything without a watermark now.

  17. Sandra Wallace
    January 16, 2013 at 10:38 am —

    I always wonder at what point you start adding a watermark. Is it only when you begin selling them or when you incorporate a photography business? I’ve seen a lot of amateur photographers including watermarks now and I sometimes question whether it comes off as arrogant, assuming people will want to steal your photos. At the same time though, you have to protect your work. I don’t think there is a perfect answer.

    • Sheryl
      August 12, 2013 at 8:43 pm —

      Once you sell pictures, or you are published, you loose the status of amatuer. Professional photographers spend a whole lot of money on their equipment, backdrops, props, and time in publishing and preparing photos, and their end product, the picture, the photo of a memory should never be compromised!

    • September 6, 2013 at 3:37 pm —

      I myself am an amateur photographer and used to put up pictures on blogs without adding a watermark. At least I did until I came across one of the images I had posted being used by another person who was taking credit for the photo. Now I find myself adding a watermark to any picture I post, not because I’m full of myself and think that someone is going to want to take it, but because it has happened and I’m just trying to be careful that it doesn’t happen again. Like you said, there is no perfect answer, but for me, I want to have my work protected, so I add a watermark.

      • October 21, 2013 at 10:50 pm —

        I agree with you, but another reason I want all my work marked is because I am fairly new in the business end and would like to take my photography to the next level. Every photo seen with my watermark on it is advertising, so by all means, share away!

      • November 6, 2013 at 9:23 pm —

        I am an amateur photographer as well, and have had two incidents where someone was using one of my images as their own. I use a small mark on a corner of the frame since then. Although most of my Pics are pretty bad, I work hard and spent lots of $ to get them

  18. January 16, 2013 at 10:28 am —

    I do tend to watermark when postin images on my blog etc, and I often ponder the points discussed above. Will the marking make me seem desperate/hide the actuall image/stop people from stealing etc..? I know it will not stop people from stealing, unfortunatly. Only their own conscience can do that.

    My watermarks tends to be placed right in the corner, so it doesnt obstruct from the actual image too much, but this also means that any cheeky thief can simply crop it out. Where theres a will theres a way 🙁 But I would never plaster a watermark going right ACROSS the whole image, it´s very distracting and looks ridiculos!

  19. January 16, 2013 at 10:26 am —

    A smart photographer will take steps to protect their work, but won’t make a massive HEYLOOKATME!!!! watermark obstructing the majority of the image. I and all photographers I know and work with have found that a simple line or two of text across the bottom of the image, maybe put at 20% transparency, works well. It’s obvious enough so that it won’t be printed at a reputable place like CVS or WalMart, and it keeps your name on it in the event of sharing.

  20. Ashley Lawton
    January 16, 2013 at 10:18 am —

    I watermark my photos but also reduce the quality for online use. I have had friends’ photos “stolen” and posted with another’s name taking credit. I have increased my business by it and will continue to use one. I don’t watermark where it would interfere with the subject. Usually I place it in the corner.

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Are You Making Mistakes Regarding Watermarking Your Photos?