Tips for Protecting Your Photos Online


Once upon a time, I was a barely-out-of-college kid that kept copies of lots of my photos online. Then, one day, while Googling myself, I found the New York Times using a photo of mine without permission, or without linking back to my Flickr page. And that is how Chris entered "protect your images online before they get stolen" land. Here are some tips to help you guard against having your images stolen on line. 

Terms of Use/Service

Before you click on that upload button, you should take the time to read the terms of use. Most people just click 'accept' because they don't want to read through all of the legal information. If you don't want to read it all, at least read the 'agreement' and 'terms of use' portions to ensure that you understand what you're getting into.

This is your agreement with the sharing service which explains how it all works, in plain black and white. Some sites state that the images you upload belong to you, and that you grant the service a royalty-free license for them to do whatever they'd like with them. Other sites declare that they will not sell your images, and that all rights belong to you.

In years past, many sites stated that when you upload images to their servers, they have full permission to sell them. Due to backlash and voluminous amounts of complaints from users, those sharing services have changed their policies. However, one should always pay close attention to the details.

Flickr, my personal favorite, has addressed these issues in blog posts, here and here.

No Right Click

One of the new trends in marketing yourself as a photographer is to have your own blog where you provide your customers and potential clients with content that illustrates your capabilities as a photographer. If you're a user (not the free version), you'll want to know about No Right Click. It's a special plug-in designed to help photographers prevent theft of their images. It literally prevents users from right-clicking your images, which would allow the potential thief to save them. Unless they're a bit internet savvy, they're going to have to do quite a bit of work to get hold of your original images.

Setting Sharing Permissions

If you're using a dedicated photo-sharing service like Flickr or Picasa, you should be wary of your sharing permissions. If you allow anyone and everyone to share your photos, in addition to setting your copyrights to allow anyone to use them, don't be surprised if a photo you've shot ends up on a famous tech blog. There are different levels of ownership, which are explained very well on this page, which cites the Creative Commons policies. The only other permissions are, "All Rights Reserved" and "None."

Each policy is for the specific needs of different types of shooters. That means that if you don't mind if people use your photos—as long as they cite and link back to you—you can set that permission level.

Marking with Water

Of course, there is always good old watermarking. Watermarks can be huge, extremely intricate, plain and simple, nearly invisible, etc. But, as you may be aware, many people are against watermarking because they feel that it tarnishes the image, and it also draws focus away from it.

However, a well-designed and effectively-placed watermark will not only blend well with the image, but ensure that people know that the image is still yours.

David Cardinal talks a bit about this in his blog post on sharing services.


Adobe Lightroom 3 is a program that not only allows you to edit your photos, but also 'keyword' them. Keywording is when you insert terms into the EXIF data of your image. These terms will be picked up by Google and other search engines, making the image easier to search for.

We've written a whole article on optimizing your images for the web, which you can read by clicking this link.

Copyrights and Captions

Something else that's very important when putting your images online: embedding your copyright information into the image. It's good to put it in a few places in the EXIF data, such as the 'creator', 'copyright', and 'author' areas. Additionally, you may want to put your name in the keywords and caption area. This way, when someone searches for the image in Google Image Search or somewhere else online, your image should be picked up.

Of course, some photo-sharing services strip all of this information out of the data when you upload. Also, using the "Save for the Web" option in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements strips this information out as part of the optimization process. Basically, the more information you put into the image, the longer it can take to load. To enable faster load times, these programs strip this information—and more—that it deems superfluous.

The blog post we previously linked to goes into this a bit more, and even goes into the intricacies of naming, as well.

Tin Eye

Have you heard of Tin Eye? It may soon become your best friend. Tin Eye is a reverse image search engine that takes the image you give it, and scours the interwebs to locate where else it has been published. To do this, you can either give them a hyperlink of the image already on the web, or upload the image to them. 

On most occasions, it works very well, though it can be wonky at times.

What methods do you use to protect your images online? Please share them in the comments below.

Discussion 2

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 The author failed to mention that it is easy to script "no right click" into any Web page, not just Flickr.  He also failed to mention it can be easy to get the image URL from looking at the Web page's source, although there are ways to make it harder or impossible to find.  Lastly, he failed to mention one method you cannot stop: screen shots/print screen.  It is easy for anyone to take a screen shot of the page with the image on it (or print it) and crop it to have a file of your image.  Watermarks can be a little helpful in that an obvious watermark may discourage someone from wanting to take the photo via this method, especially if they want to use the photo somewhere, but technology like Content Aware Fill (and even simple cropping, for watermarks at the edge of a photo) can easily remove watermarks (the photo thief likely stole Photoshop via a warez site, too).

There is at least one photography-specific shopping cart out there that prevents right-clicking and getting the URL from the source as well as an option to add a watermark overlay on the Web site (instead of in the image itself, in case you sell the files for instant downloading) to try and help prevent screen shots.  The bottom line, however, is you can't prevent a determined thief, you can only make them go through a few more steps and discourage the casual user from taking the image.
I wouldn't trust sites like Flickr and Facebook with anything beyond personal photos (vacation, kids, etc.) you wish to share with people you know, and then I'd set viewing to private/friends-only.
And, I'm sure most people realize this, but never upload the full-resolution file!  Upload a smaller-dimension, smaller-dpi, lower-quality file.  (If you're selling instant downloads, don't use the full-res file as the preview file and keep it secure - how you do that depends on the shopping cart you use.)


I would (personally) also suggest the following (making it incredibly hard for anyone to steal your images):

For WordPress, I use WP Content Copy Protection available here: - This plugin is used by over 115,000 users (self explanatory). They also have a pro version that uses image layering technology for SUPER image protection.