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Perspectives on Watermarks (and Various Methods to Protect Your Images)

A roundup of opinions and processes on adding watermarks to images online, from nine WordPress photographers.

Photographers sharing their perspectives on watermarks:

Jeff Sinon, Jeff Sinon Photography
Mary McAvoy, The Ripest Pics
Karla Aguilar, Traveller Soul
Richard Smith Jr., Reckless Pixel
Marcus Kazmierczak, Mkaz.com
Jen Hooks, My Three Birds
Pam Kocke, Pyjammy’s {Identical} Triplets
Donncha Ó Caoimh, In Photos
Stephen McLeod Blythe, All My Friends Are JPEGs

Many photographers display watermarks — commonly known in the form of a visible marker such as text, a logo, or a signature — on photographs for various reasons, while others strongly prefer not to add them. Here, we’ve asked a handful of WordPress photographers their takes. You’ll read a mix of opinions from bloggers who take pictures for different reasons, their various experiences and methods, and links to other sources of information.

Like other roundups on The Daily Post that compile the best practices of bloggers, our goal is not to tell you what’s “right” or “wrong,” but to present a range of perspectives so you can decide what you are most comfortable with — and choose the best route for you and your photographs.

Do you use watermarks on your blog images? If yes, why is this important? If no, why is it not necessary for you?

Jeff Sinon is a nature and landscape photographer. He’s an active Daily Post participant and has written posts for us on composition and image orientation.

Jeff: Yes, always. I use watermarks as both a security measure against image theft, as well as for branding.

Considering the “if it’s on the internet it must be free” mentality that seems so prevalent, I do everything I can to make sure my photos aren’t used without my permission and that I’m being compensated for their use. I make my watermark fairly large so that an attempt to crop it out will usually have a detrimental effect on the photo. I use my watermark, along with only sharing low-resolution files, as a deterrent to unauthorized use.

Image by Jeff Sinon

My watermark is also my logo, my brand.
–Jeff Sinon

My watermark is also my logo, my brand. It’s very distinctive and recognizable, letting people know that they are looking at a photo by Jeff Sinon. While some people argue that a watermark detracts from the photo, I’ve had almost universally positive feedback on my watermark, with only a handful of people complaining about its size.

Richard Smith Jr. is a photographic artist from New Jersey.

Richard: Do I use watermarks? My answer is yes and no: it depends on the nature of the photo. I am a photographer and more so a Photoshop artist, and I create images that may be printed and sold, or I might have a client who has hired me to create an image. Either way, I will watermark it when posting to my blog. I feel the mark should not be distracting: a simple custom watermark in the lower corner is sufficient.

Image by Richard Smith Jr.

Explore Further: For example, Digimarc offers a Photoshop plugin.

My current mark is also one of my business logos, which helps with branding and lets people know who I am (as opposed to just putting the © symbol on the image). If an image has a high chance of being “clipped,” I may also add a digital watermark that cannot be seen, which you can generate using a paid service plugin in Photoshop.

Check It Out: Here are examples of mobile apps that help you to create watermarks.

I won’t watermark images of generic content, such as phone photos of ducks in the park or an impromptu photo of a rainbow. If the image has a person I know — like a family member or friend — I will likely watermark it. There are also free apps for mobile devices that create watermarks easily.

Mary McAvoy is a photographer at The Ripest Pics.

Mary: I’ve posted my photos on the internet for nearly 10 years. Because of the volume of images I upload, I have three tiers of security to protect them from infringement of the copyright I have on each photo and to minimize the amount of preparation time for upload.

Here’s what I do:

1) Reduce image sizes. I duplicate images that I upload and reduce the sizes so they won’t print well if blown up larger than 4×6. This minimizes a person’s interest in taking my photos for commercial use off the internet.

2) Label photos. I label my photos not only for SEO purposes, but to protect them. For an image that I care for, personally and professionally, I add “by-mam” to the label (“mam” are my initials). This label becomes a characteristic of the photo; where the photo goes, the label goes. I hope this discourages people from lifting my work.

3) Watermark my best photos. To give another layer of protection to a handful of my images, I use PhotoBulk, which allows you to batch mark photos. It’s a drag and drop app with options such as watermark placement, font/size, opacity, and copyright wording.

Related Reading: A post on workflows and editing processes, including tips on protecting your work, from our original Photo 101 series.

In addition to these steps, I display a statement on my sites to inform visitors that all content is copyrighted to me. I also include instructions on how to contact me to request permission to use an image. Despite this process, I’ve found my photos used by others online. In one case, my image had been slightly altered and the person put his own copyright on it!

Pam Kocke, based in New Orleans, often publishes images of her triplets on her blog.

Pam: I feel like “mom bloggers” are particularly encouraged to watermark their photos, but I never have felt the need to do so. This may sound surprising because photos of my three children have been stolen from my blog several times and used on other sites.

I’d have to watermark over their faces to make it worthwhile!
— Pam Kocke

There are a few reasons for my anti-watermarking stance. First, I’d have to watermark over their faces to make it worthwhile! To me, that negates the point of posting images in the first place. Second, it’s a lot of work, and it’s a step I don’t want to do between taking photos and publishing them on my blog.

Finally, I don’t actually see the harm in not including watermarks. From what I can tell, the people who take my photos do so because they think it’s cute to have triplets. I don’t fear for my children’s safety because a bored teenager wants to pretend like they belong to her.

I can understand why photographers want to watermark their photos, but since I ultimately don’t stand to make money off of my photos, it’s not worth my time and effort.

Marcus Kazmierczak is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Marcus: Watermarks on photos are annoying, especially when photographers drop them in the middle of the image, often with little regard for the content. It’s distracting and does little in the way of copyright protection.

Recommended Resources: Read “The Value of Watermarks” at The Copyright Zone, or listen to the Street Photo 30 episode at This Week in Photo, which discusses legal issues.

The watermark is not required for copyright protection. In the United States, what is really required is to register your images with the copyright office. However, including a watermark which then gets removed may result in higher damages for a stolen image.

EXIF stores information about a digital image, from shutter speed to date/time and much more.

I simply include a copyright notice in the EXIF data and include that with the images exported, which provides some legal protection.

Image by Jen Hooks

Jen Hooks is the photographer at My Three Birds, and owns a small photography business in Ohio.

Jen: As shown above, I add a little watermark on the images I use on my blog. But I don’t use watermarks to prevent theft; I add them as a means of extra promotion.

If anyone comes across this photo — whether shared on Facebook or elsewhere — the URL for my site is there, for all of those nosy, curious, and interested viewers. It’s an easy way to get more traffic.

Quick Tip from Jen: Want to know if your image has been appropriated by someone else? Use Google’s Reverse Image Search.

Watermarks are easily edited out these days, unless you do an enormous obnoxious one across the entire photo. When you do this, it ruins the image — and the whole point of sharing photos online is for the beauty and enjoyment. So, my motto has always been: if you don’t want an image potentially taken by someone else, just don’t put it on the internet.

Donncha Ó Caoimh, based in Ireland, can be found at In Photos.

Donncha: I don’t use watermarks anymore, although for a series of Folsom Street shots from San Francisco, I’ve added my email address to a bottom corner. Since 2014, I’ve distributed all my photos under a CC BY-SA license and have come around to the idea that if someone uses my photo without asking me, it’s not that they’re trying to steal from me — it’s because they like the photo enough to share it. It’s a compliment.

Read more about sharing your work via a Creative Commons license.

A watermark is partly an ego thing — and wanting to get recognition for your work — but I’ve seen so much amazing work out there that I am humbled if someone shares my work, regardless of whether they give me credit or not. If I can, I’ll leave a friendly comment thanking them for sharing it.

I prefer to make a watermark unobtrusive, in one of the bottom corners. Just my name and URL, or email. It can be cropped out of course, but 99 percent of viewers appreciate the photo and won’t steal it. Those same people will be annoyed if the watermark is plastered across the middle of the image.

Image by Donncha Ó Caoimh

…the realistic loss of income from images being stolen was almost nothing.”
— Stephen McLeod Blythe

Stephen: I believe the internet has changed the way in which we use media as cultural references to interact, and that dogged enforcement of copyright against non-commercial uses does more harm than good. Even when I depended on photography as my main source of income, the realistic loss of income from images being stolen was almost nothing. All my pictures are released under a Creative Commons, attribution, non-commercial, share alike license.

Karla: I used to add watermarks to my photos, thinking that this would protect them. However, someone stole one of my images and uploaded it to Instagram and made it hers, without tagging or mentioning me. Another person took my photos and created an album on Facebook with no attribution.

Karla Aguilar is a travel blogger based in Canada.

I learned a lesson after these two events: anything published online can be used by people with no ethics or common sense! The golden rule is to give credit where credit is due. If permission is needed, just reach out to the photographer.

For our readers who are considering their options, can you offer tips on creating your own watermarks?

On digital marks

Read more about EXIF metadata and viewing and using it.

Stephen: If you want to mark your images in some way, do it digitally in an invisible manner. This is something that professional press photographers do as a matter of routine. Ensure that the EXIF metadata contains information about you, your website, the date of creation, and keywords. This prevents your image from being “orphaned” and allows anybody who stumbles upon it to easily identify you as the creator.

If you use something like Photoshop or Lightroom to edit your pictures, they have built in features to edit the metadata which you can find with a quick Google search. Personally, I use a stand-alone tool called Edna for the Mac, which updates the info in batches.

On visual watermarks

Are you a Lightroom user? Jeff published a watermark tutorial at New England Photography Guild, using Lightroom 4.

Jeff: Make it distinctive and easy to read. Or do as I’ve done: if you have a signature that you really like, use that as part of your watermark.

Make several versions. I have three versions of my watermark — black, white, and gold, which is the one I use most frequently. With several color options, you can choose the right version for each photo (to stand out against certain backgrounds and colors).

Image by Jeff Sinon

Also, make it big. It doesn’t have to be a huge watermark plastered across the middle of your photo — just make it obvious without taking too much away from the photo. Whatever you do, don’t make it too small and place it tight along the bottom of the photo. Make it big enough for people to read and recognize it, and if someone really does want to steal the photo, they’re going to have to work their butt off to get rid of it.

More Tutorials: Photofocus has published a few tutorials as well, from a how-to on adding watermarks in Lightroom 5 to a resource on creating signature watermarks in Photoshop.

Richard: I have lighter marks and darker marks to contrast against lighter or darker images. I also have marks of two different opacities. Although opacity can be changed when adding the mark, I find it easy and quick to have it already set for quick retrieval. Keep watermark colors on the duller side and not too vibrant. (For a long time, I used a translucent mark at a mild opacity.)

Finally, save your watermark in a PNG file format. Without getting too technical, this format is great for the web and works with the most popular watermark creation software programs and mobile apps.

We love PicMonkey, too. We recommend it for things like custom headers and image widgets.

Karla: I use PicMonkey to create watermarks. It is super easy and allows me to personalize them (in different font styles, colors, and sizes). Best of all? PicMonkey is free.

Photographers have different reasons for adding (or not adding) watermarks to their images. In many of the cases above, photographers have figured out, over time, what approach works for them — and while they represent two camps — for and against watermarks — it’s nice to hear they agree on something: don’t plaster a watermark across an entire image! All that said, we encourage you to explore the tools mentioned and resources recommended to decide what’s best for you.

Related reading and resources

Watermarks Can Be Music to Your Ears, Carolyn E. Wright

On Watermarks and Signatures, Thomas Hawk

The Pros and Cons of Watermarks, Don Peters

The Value of Watermarks, The Copyright Zone

Street Focus 30: Street Legal with The Copyright Zone Guys, This Week in Photo

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  1. Another great article. It’s a major issue for photographers and I enjoyed reading the different viewpoints.The digital watermarking makes a lot of sense. I’m an amateur but a picture of a rose I uploaded to Pinterest a couple of years ago is very widely shared without any possibility of attribution back to me – completely my own fault and I suppose I do see it as a compliment.

    Liked by 6 people

  2. I am not a professional photographer by any means, and I have never made money off of my photos. That being said, I always put a little watermark in the corner of my URL and include “feistyharriet” in the metadata. I do this both for branding and for some level of protection, and if it “takes away from the image” then, frankly, you are not my target audience.

    xox

    Liked by 6 people

  3. I agree with the photographer who said that someone using her photographs is a compliment. Additionally, trying to deal with chasing down perpetrators of casual reuse is something I just don’t want to make time for. I license all of mine CC by-nc-nd so they can be used unmodified for noncommercial purposes. I have, however, sent please-cut-it-out emails to people who used my photos for commercial purposes and have gotten a pretty decent response in doing that.

    Liked by 8 people

  4. I have a friend who’s a photographer as well as a graphic designer, so he’s on both sides of the battle. It is respectful though to not manipulate or reproduce an image as something it wasn’t intended to be. Great read 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Watermarks are for people who think their images are more valuable than they actually are.

    To Jeff who wrote:
    “Make it big enough for people to read and recognize it, and if someone really does want to steal the photo, they’re going to have to work their butt off to get rid of it.”

    That big watermark makes your image look ugly on-line. It ruins the experience completely for me since I can’t enjoy watching it without seeing that watermark. It’s like a big zit on someone forehead.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Although I’m not a photographer I do see how their work could be easily stolen without security. I couldn’t even imagine having one of my books passed around without my knowledge. Great post to bring this important issue to the forefront!

    Liked by 4 people

  7. This was something I had been wondering as well…if others find watermarks annoying or if they take away from the image. I used to watermark all my pictures, but now only do so if they have my face or if they are personal pictures. Great tips from the photographers!

    Liked by 5 people

  8. Usually I add a copyright notice somewhere along one of the edges of the image next to a hidden one. Plus I do have a copyright notice on my blog(s) which states that people may share it provided that credit is given to the photographer. I works nicely. And …. it sells!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not sure what you mean by “using images then typing the source afterwards,” but I *think* you mean taking an image and giving proper attribution and credit, which you can read about here: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/source-and-attribute/

      In any case, check to see what the photographer/blogger requires or asks — sometimes they have info in their sidebar or footer, or have a whole page on copyright and permission, with contact info, like on 2summers.net: http://2summers.net/copyright/

      Other people, like Donncha and Stephen in this post, make their images available through specific Creative Commons licenses: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/

      (I personally include this info on my Contact page: http://cherilucasrowlands.com/send-a-note/)

      So, ultimately — be mindful of the permission process and/or license of the person who owns the photo.

      All that said, there are so many sites out there with free-to-use images that do not require attribution. I rounded up some of those sites here: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/free-images/

      In addition to those, I’ve been using pexels.com recently, which pulls images from a bunch of sites — it’s helpful when you want to search by keyword.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Thanks for including this in the WordPress Daily Post because I’ve always wondered if watermarks are a good idea or not. I’m an artist (I paint on canvas) and I’m bit of a science writer, so I would make diagrams for a topic I’m writing about. But if someone wants to use my diagrams for something such as studying for a biology test, they can. As for the painting, share all you want, but I have the original painting!
    I’ve always used watermarks just for promotion, but I have a copyright notice on my blog.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Watermarking doesn’t add much protection but it is worth doing for promotion and the excuse of “I didn’t know whose image this was, I thought it was free” doesn’t hold up. Adding extra information in the metadata helps as long as the social media site (cough, Facebook, cough) doesn’t strip it when uploading.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I find myself on both sides of the watermark “fence”… I do sign and stamp all my paper prints. I do not post much to the internet and what I post I simply reduce in size as a couple of folks have mentioned.
    Unless a watermark is obnoxiously large it is easily cropped out. Clearing EXIF info is also pretty easy… So I fall back to simply reducing the image size. Good enough for display but not for large paper prints.

    Like