The Pros and Cons of Watermarks on Photographs

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Canon versus Nikon. Full frame versus APS-C versus Micro Four Thirds. Sony versus Everyone Else. Original Equipment Manufacturer versus Third Party. We all know the world of photography generates a lot of endless debates that circle the Web. Another source of passions and opinions is: The Watermark.

Watermarks

How do photographers sign their art? Painters usually paint their signature, initials, or pseudonyms on their canvases as a final touch to their paintings. However, photographers never really had a way to “sign” their images, with the exception of a watermark.

Before the digital world, publications and organizations would use print stamps on the back of images to identify the sources of the images. Some even used embossing seals to leave raised marks on the print.

Versions of the watermark were also the province of the commercial photographer, who would send a client watermarked proofs, or prints marked with “PROOF” to select the images he or she wanted as final prints. These watermarks or proof marks were small enough so you could still see the image, but you wouldn’t want to frame the watermarked picture or give one of the wallet-sized proofs to your friend.

 
Photographs © Todd Vorenkamp

This is a proof.

Technically originating in the art of papermaking, in photography, the watermark is a superimposed image, logo, or text placed over a photograph—usually as a method of identifying the image’s creator.

Why watermark?

When digital photography arrived, so did the ability to easily “steal” photographs from websites, as well as by other means. “Wow—that is a beautiful photo!” Right click. Save to desktop. Or, save as wallpaper. There are occasions where struggling photographers used the art of others to promote themselves on their own websites or, given sufficient digital resolution, with printed images. The thought was that the digital watermark would prevent this.

There is also a marketing facet to the watermark. Making your work easily identifiable might help viewers find you and more of your work, especially if it gets shared around the Web.

And, for some, the watermark is simply a way to “sign” their art.

Why not watermark?

For those trying to prevent image theft, the watermark might be a good example of keeping honest people honest. There are so many ways to suck an image off the Web these days that, if someone wants your image, they will find a way to take it. And, if they really want to claim your image as their own, there are ways, some painstaking, to remove watermarks, or one could simply crop out that section of the picture. Ultimately, the watermark offers limited success for theft prevention. If you don’t want someone to steal your digital image, the best way to prevent that is to not put it on the Web.

I prefer this photo without the watermark, but there are worse examples out in the world.

Also, as painful as it is, there have been a lot of cases of image theft in the recent past where the thieves were brought to court, but not to justice. If the unauthorized use of your photograph ends up generating financial gain or fame for someone else, you have every right to be upset and call them out on their inexcusable behavior, but if they can convince a judge that they “repurposed” your art under the Fair Use provision of copyright law, you will likely be left on the losing end of the argument with steep legal fees.

The marketing argument is a strong one. Adding something to your images to make them quickly identifiable as yours may have its advantages. Not all of us are famous and not all of us have photographic styles that are immediately identifiable to the masses. Honestly, with the number of images created in the world today, we could surmise that fewer and fewer photographers will create a style so unique that non-artists readily identify their images. More common these days are comments like, “Nice photograph. That looks like the work of So-And-So.” That is awesome if you are So-And-So, but few of us are.

Watermark advice

There are certainly pros and cons to watermarking your images. If you chose to watermark your photographs, here are some pointers to consider.

1. Give thought to your watermark. Typing your name in the default Photoshop font might not be advantageous to your work or your brand. Some photographers create logos and some simply reproduce their own signatures. The options are endless, but, as you are about to mark up a beautiful photograph that took a lot of effort to create, be sure to put some effort into the design of your watermark.

Unless you absolutely adore “common” typefaces, like Comic Sans, you might want to avoid them. There are more professional-looking typefaces for your watermark. This one is also a bit large.

2. Size matters. You want the watermark legible, but not overwhelming. We have all seen watermarks on images (Instagram comes to mind) that are so small they cannot be read—this negates the whole purpose. Many of us have also seen watermarks so obnoxiously large that you cannot tell what the image underneath looks like. Pick a conservative size.

No, this isn’t the TRVphoto.com Tower. That is a horrible watermark. No one is going to steal this image, but no one is going to like looking at it, either.

3. Does the watermark create a new focal point? How do you immediately know that an image you are viewing has been watermarked? Well, because your eye likely went straight toward that one element that looks like it doesn’t belong in the photo—the watermark. If you add a watermark, especially if done poorly, you are adding a focal point to the image. Give that even more thought. You might have carefully composed a pleasing image, but the watermark, even a small one, might take the viewer’s eye on a journey you never intended.

Sky, clouds, mountain, and watermark. One of those does not belong.

Will it help your brand?

The watermark might help your brand. It might also ruin your images while trying to protect them. A watermark might be the way you choose to sign your art. And, the watermark might be an attempt to make life more difficult for those wanting to use your images for their own purposes.

Some well-known photographers use watermarks. Some do not. There is no right or wrong on this issue. The use of a watermark is completely at the discretion of the artist.

What are your thoughts on watermarking photographs? Please chime in with a comment, below, to let us know.

92 Comments

I saw people arguing about how to create a watermark. I get it done for a very cheap price [on fiverr.]

I have not yet created a name or business for my photography and I am not sure that I will. I am still in the beginning stages of creating this art. Some of the things that I have captured people have stated that I should mark it. My question is this, without being a pro does watermarking really have any benefits and/or should it be considered?

Hey Gregory,

Good question, but there is really no right answer. You will find professional photographers watermarking their stuff, and others not. And, you will find amateurs dropping watermarks and many not using them. It all boils down to personal preference. Watermarks do not make an amateur photographer a pro, and lack of watermarks do not make a pro an amateur.

I personally use a watermark on the images I post to Flickr (where it is tough to steal images) and I do not use a watermark on my personal website (where it is easy to steal images). Makes perfect sense, right? Yep. Thanks for agreeing. In case you were wondering, the reason why I don't use them on my personal website is because I want the images to look as clean as possible for potential clients.

There might be branding benefits to watermarks, but you have to weigh that against putting something on the frame that doesn't really belong.

If your goal is to prevent theft...know that watermarks keep honest people honest, but that is about it.

Let me know if you have more questions or thoughts you'd like to bounce off of this one person's opinion!

Thanks for stopping by B&H Explora!

Great Information!

I've been using a simple Android application called Auto Add Logo Copyright with Text on Camera Photos. It can easily add watermark on photos captured with default built-in camera!

Thanks for the tip, Raza!

Most of the time I work with clients doing regular event or portrait photography. Occasionally I do create photoshop composites for clients - using my own photography. I add watermars mostly because I want to preserve the belief that I can protect my work somehow. I wish there was an alternative to watermarking...

I agree! Holograms? :)

There IS an alternative. Its call metadata.

Hey James,

Metadata works sometimes, but there are ways to scrub the metadata when exporting the files that virtually removes your digital fingerprints from the image.

Thanks for reading!

Thank you for addressing this issue in your well thought out article. Yes, I was aware that my photos could be "stolen". I noticed people would comment on how so & so looked so beautiful or "That's a great shot", but never a mention of who, what or where the photo came from.  I don't really mind sharing my photos, but if they're going to swipe the picture, give the photographer credit. I will use a watermark for that purpose. Do you have any suggestions on what is the best watermark software? I am very old school and don't use Photoshop, but one day I will. I just try and get it right the first time, most of the time.

Hello Jesse,

Welcome to the conundrum and thank you for the kind words!

Some folks in the comments below have mentioned different software solutions, and, when I watermark, I use Lightroom's automatic watermark function, but I wouldn't know which one is best.

I suggest doing some web searching and seeing what folks prefer. Sorry that is a bit if a punt.

Good luck! If you find some good software, feel free to come back and share it here!

I really enjoyed your article. I use visualwatermark.com for all my watermarking and I am super happy with the results. There are so many Watermarking software choices and I need simple and easy. I am concerned about all the talk that people can no remove watermarks. I think that is wrong. 

Thanks, Gretchen!

I believe it's horrible and inappropriate. 
It is easily removed, unless it is a huge and obnoxious one that goes across your image.
To me it's like creating something that at least you find beautiful and then peeing on it so that everyone know it's yours....
at least pee is harder to get rid of...
There are much efficient ways to market yourself and your brand, espacialy nowadays.
 

Interesting analogy, Karl! Thanks for stopping by!

I have recently started free-lance photography on the side, just for fun. I enjoy photography and do not see myself solely relying on photography for a means of a job. However, I do have a few photo shoots coming up soon, some of which I will be taking quite a few shots. I have a logo/watermark I have used in the past on a few pictures. I will be giving all of the shots I take to the client. My question is this, should I watermark all of the photos I give to the client or only a select few? I know there is probably no right or wrong answer on the subject, but I could use some advice.

Thanks in advance. 

Watermark all of them at first then let them choose and mske copies.  No problemo.

Good answer, Deli!

Hey Courtney,

Deli is correct. When sending your client proofs, feel free to watermark the heck out of the shots...when they choose what they want, then you send them the clean files.

Good luck!

I have a similar question. I'm just starting out and I wanted some advice on what the customer gets regarding watermarks...is this the right thing to do? 

After a photo session, I will give the customer so many edited digital images (depending on the package they purchase) all with my logo. I then tell the customer then can do as they please with the watermarked images but if they want  prints, they order prints through me, in which I use a professional printer and will not have logos. Does this seem ok? Am I restricting things too much? I am just trying to set my footprint and not be out to lunch on my products and services. Please help :) 

Hi Aeran,
Your method sounds reasonable to me. I don't think there is a wrong and right way to do this...or else we would not be debating the pros and cons of watermarks! 

My only advice would be not to make your logo too big on those digital copies.

Thanks for stopping by!
 

Watermark a select few? Why half *ss the job? Watermarking a select few is going to make the client think that the watermarked ones are of value, and the non watermarked ones werent even good enough to put your name on them, so why would they want them. Should either watermark them all, or none at all. I stopped watermarking mine and do not really care if people steal or use them. If they get stolen, I take it as a compliment. They where good enough to steal. Its when no one steals your images is when you should worry. Cause they arent good enough to even steal.  As I see it the more images of mine they steal, the more my work is seen. Plus I embed metadata in all my images. 99% of the pic thieves dont remove the metadata anyway, so my name is still with the image regardless.

Hey James,

I might agree with your stance minus the metadata thing, which I mentioned in my first reply to you above. There are ways to strip metadata, but, yes, not everyone knows how.

"Stealing" and re-posting an image is a compliment in a sense. Claiming that it is your own work when it is not, making money from said image, or winning a contest with said image is never cool and just helps pave your way to artistic hell.

Thanks for the insight on this subject. It seems there are quite a few people, including myself, that are seeking an answer to the same question. I am developing my website and after much consideration, I have decided not to use a watermark on my displayed prints. The principal reason for me at this time is that the hosting site I am using offers Right-Click Protection for images. I have activated said protection for my images. I can only assume that this protection is fool-proof. Please enlighten me if it is not.

The only other place that I display or share my photos is on Facebook. Just about all photos I put on Facebook are less than 1mb, so someone could probably make a decent 5x7 but that's about all. 

I have a number of signatures stored in LR CC. All different fonts, sizes and colors. They are o.k. but not quite professional looking enough.I am thinking about having a custom signature made and placing it on my website under my name and then applying it to the print once it has been ordered.

Anyway, thank you for the article.

Sincerely,

Anthony Donofrio

Thanks for reading and sharing your experience and thoughts, Anthony!

Good stuff!

Hi Anthony,

I just wanted to put in my two cents about right click protection, which I think is fantastic to have by the way! But, keep in mind there are screen capture programs on computers and default on phones that allow the user to snap a shot of the screen and crop as they please. The quality is never the same, but it’s a stolen photo nonetheless. I myself am considering watermarks as a freelance photographer, but I have yet to find what really works for me as I currently only share my photos on Facebook and the like. 

-Reesa

Thanks, Reesa!

Right click protection is a joke. People can just view the page source and grab the image link, then open link in a new browser which will only display the image, then right click and save.

In the early days, right-click protection was more effective. Not so much anymore. It basically keeps honest people honest.

Right-click protection is very far from fool proof. All you have to do is view the image and hit the print screen on your keyboard and you can just paste the image into PS Paint. It's basically a 3 button press away, and paint is on very windows PC. With most phones you just gotta hit the power and volume buttons at the same time, and their gallery programs pretty much all have cropping available. I think those processes would also strip out any metadata in the images as well, since the device is gonna think this is a brand new image.

At that point, if they choose to reupload your photos, your only hope it someone reverse image searching for the original. (I've been able to find original artists by reverse image searching using google image search, so it's not ALL bad news.)
- A tech fan getting into photography

Yep, there are many ways to steal photos. I wish we lived in a world when this kind of thing didn't happen.

Thanks for stopping by, Anonymous!

Interesting insight into watermarking! Thanks!

Thank you, Becky!

I have been reading various webistes/blogs all evening regarding watermarking of photos and still do not know what to do.  I have read the terms of a few "watermark" sites and it states that they can use, reproduce, etc. your photo!  Like many people, I have photos that not just anyone could take (certain locations when I travel) and would like to sell some of them and never place the ones I want to sell online (and am glad I have not!). But it seems you must place your pictures online to "get them out there" and, as this thread states, people could easily crop out your watermark, or, if it is too big, it wil impact the "likeability" of you picture. I am sill in a quandry. 

Hey Patricia,

I think there is a group of photographers that swears by watermarks, and a group that eschews them completely. The third group is where you, me, and the rest of us are...suffering in the quandary.

It's really a difficult decision. I hope my article did not further your confusion!

II was taught 25 years ago, to literally sign the prints I sell. I still do that. It's a nice touch. 

I've had a photo "stolen" off Facebook. I actually saw it in a friends newsfeed, being used for a birthday card. I was furious, shocked! I deleted all my good photos , afraid it would happen again.

I still want to share them and have struggled with watermarks. The apps I've downloaded are awful, I need one that's not a chore to use. 

Designing a signature is such a great idea, I will do that! How to get it on my photos, I'm not sure. I've got a IMac and am new to all this. 

Any suggestion on an app and info on how to put a custom designed watermark on a photo would be appreciated. Sorry I'm such a novice.....my questions may sound ignorant.....but, that's where I'm at in my learning experience! 

Hey Rochelle,

What post-processing software are you using on your iMac?

Lightroom has an option, when Exporting files, that allows you to add a watermark. Basically, you can make a photo file of your signature, and add it to exported files and different sizes, positions, and opacity.

And, I am sure there is specialized watermark software as well, if you aren't using Lightroom.

Let's figure this out together!

Cheers!

All the info on here is great, but as you said, a watermark keeps honest people honest. Many years ago before digital I always signed the prints I sold (before computers...lol). Now using my iMac and Lightroom, I use the watermark option for my work, but the opacity is so that it's not so noticeable or obnoxious. I want the viewers attention to focus on the image, and not my watermark. I've seen so may photographers using such noticeable watermarks that the viewer is drawn to that, and not the beauty of the image. It's kind of a toss up for photographers as to use it or not. Images today don't bring the money they did in the past. I shot professional sports, as well as just about any other type of photography but today, the photography business suffers because of copyright infringement. As a member of Professional Photographers of America (PPA), they fight for photographers copyright protection. So, the issue of watermarking is neither right nor wrong, but the individual photographers decision. It's a shame, but no matter what you do, someone will always figure out a way to get around it.

Hi William,

Well said. Thanks for your thoughts and sharing your experience.

It is too bad there are dishonest people in this world, but all we can do is keep making art.

Thanks for stopping by and reading B&H Explora!

I like your question, Rochelle! I'm not a professional photographer per se and live to take pictures with my phone. 

I have looked at several apps & I'm not sure that's the way to go. Since I will be putting them on the web and they will be used by other people, a watermark is necessary. 

On an iMac, I found a couple videos that helped me create a signature logo to apply to my photos. Here are the links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QFhb01Lm54&list=LL38aBBZw4gxwSm9Efp6xj2...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gEKIcFNcjPg&list=LL38aBBZw4gxwSm9Efp6xj2...

Hope it helps!

Once you post them to facebook, they become facebook property. You agreed to those terms when creating your account. Facebook can sell and use your posted images to whom ever they wish. Facebook has been taken to court countless times and won every time. So if facebbook sees fit to sell your image to a greeting card company, nothing you can do to stop them. Facebook also owns Instagram and Snap chat.

You should always check your rights before posting to any social media platform. They certainly change from time to time as well. But, you make a great argument here for uploading only reduced-resolution images and/or watermarking those images so that your greeting card photo brings you fame and fortune!

Thank you for the article. What a great starting place for me in my photographic journey. I am in the early stages of planning to sell some of my pictures.  Susan Anderson

Thanks for reading, Susan! How are you going to approach the watermark conundrum? 

Hi, I'm new to this.  I create digital art.  People want to see copies pershaps before purchasing.  Can I send a photo with a watermark and then make them a larger copy from an origianl without a watermark .  Then I could personally sign each piece.  Does this make sense?

Thank you

Gloria

Hi Gloria,

You certainly can do that. Just be sure to save a separate copy with the watermark...then you will have 2 versions. One with and one without.

Good luck!

Hi, Thank you for all of your wonderful advice..

I wanted to share with you all Photologo that I had a breautiful photography signature created.. I love mine..and it looks beautiful on the photographs.. abundant blessings.. JAJ 

Thanks for sharing, Jeannette!

Jeannette Andrea Jackson wrote:

Hi, Thank you for all of your wonderful advice..

I wanted to share with you all Photologo that I had a breautiful photography signature created.. I love mine..and it looks beautiful on the photographs.. abundant blessings.. JAJ 

Shannon Pearcey wrote:

Can we see Jeanette Jacksons watermark ?

Jeannette Andrea Jackson wrote:

Hi, Thank you for all of your wonderful advice..

I wanted to share with you all Photologo that I had a breautiful photography signature created.. I love mine..and it looks beautiful on the photographs.. abundant blessings.. JAJ 

Very nice.

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