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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.

Discussion 65

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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!

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!

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!

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!

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.

You can also try SquiggleMark for batch watermarking (photos & videos) on Windows and Mac. I made it for fast watermarking thousand's of high quality DSLR camera images.

Thanks, Oosman!

Another solution is to use a batch watermarking tool, I am the developer of TSR Watermark Image, a free for personal use tool that has thousand of users watermarking millions of images automatically.

Thanks for sharing the info, Anders! Sounds like a great product!

It's only free if you have TSR water mark on top of your photos

Its very nice article and very informative for the webmasters who uses watermark on the website day to day.

Keep it up to serving good articles like this.

Thanks 

Preeti

Thanks for reading, Preeti!

Very nice, thanks a lot for info! I learned from a Paintshop Pro guide but I wasn't sure should I, so thanks for the help! :)

No worries, Ron! Thanks for reading!

I am thinking of printing my photos on canvases then selling them. I want to put a cusive water mark at the bottem right hand corner- my way of signing it. I'd like your opinion on it please

Hello Mysterious,

First of all, you are the artist, so the decision is completely up to you.

For a print, on canvas or photo paper, sometimes it is cool to actually sign your name on the surface instead of printing it with a digital watermark. But, I would keep it small and discreet, if possible.

Good luck!

If it is necessary to protect the image the watermark must be very subtle.

I have seen some non-subtle ones, too!

Thanks for reading, Darek!

Why when i watermark old pictures it remove the date and time it was taken and it is dated the day i watermark it, am I doing something wrong?

Hi Mar,

Are you talking about a watermark or the metadata for the image? The metadata is the photo information that is contained with the file.

Thanks!

Hey there everyone !

My name is Emani and I am the owner of Faithful "Craft" Kreations & Faithful Photography. I wanted to know if I should use a smaller watermark on my photos that I sell to my clients. I've had clients ask about it and I sorta feel stuck. I don't make my watermark too "loud" its very subtle but I didnt know if I should put a small logo on them or not. 

Hi Emani!

It really all boils down to what your personal preference is. Look at other photographers' work and see what they are using for watermarks (if they are using them) and decide what you think would fit best with your images. There is no right or wrong...its all a matter of opinion.

Let's see if other readers chime in! Thanks for reading!

Thanks for the great post, Todd! Landscape photographer Alex S. Kunz presents some good additional points in favor of watermarking here: https://www.pixsy.com/watermarking-photographs-an-effective-remedy-for-i...

Thanks for the kind words and sharing the link, Nadia! 

How do I watermark my photos? the only photo program i have in my desktop and laptop is PhotoImpact x3 ? thanks 

Hey Jeff,

I am not familiar with that program, but I did Google "Photoimact X3 watermark" and found a tutorial for doing watermarks in Photoimpact 10...not sure if it would work in your program.

If there is a way to add text to an image, that would be the most basic way to watermark.

Sorry I cannot be more help!

If I am displaying on any social media including Facebook or Flickr I use a standard copyright statement in the lower right corner with opacity adjusted so that it is visible but not offensive. The problem with many of these websites is that they strip copyright information out of the file metadata. The watermark is occasionally useful for potential clients and I do take action against some infringers.
 

Thanks for reading and sharing your technique, Keith!

I think it all boils down to what would be the purpose of doing watermarking.   One should think that a visible signuature or logo on the picture is just one form of watermarking.   May be the following thought path will be useful:

1. Having the added information highly visible - for advertisement, marketing, proof copies.   Here you want the viewers clearly recognize and remember it.  And you don't care that much whether the watermarking will steal the attention from the picture, assuming it is done nicely and properly.

2. Having the added information vaguely visible -- for marketing, proof copies, low quality web publications.  Here you want the viewers clearly know who the owner is and discourage any copyright infringement.  Using photoshop layers and transparency tweaking can achieve that.  We can think about this as a traditional letter written on watermarked stationary.  The watermark prepresents the source but not too intrusive. 

3. Having the added information barely (but still) visible --  for web application, proofing, sharing, but want to give the high degree of quality of the picture.   A casual viewing may miss the watermark (so it is not good for advertisement) but the watermark can be found by careful examination.  It is a higher or finer degree of executing #2.

4. Having the added information 'invisible' by the normal viewing. -- Here you want to provide the highest degree of quality but to catch the thief if necessary.   "Invisible by the normal viewing" means you put the info there with the intensity, gamut, etc. to a degree which is invisible to the normal view.  But when you change the color tone/gamut, etc, the information will pop out.  It is just like there are so much information in RAW that you would not see in JPG.  But you can pull the info out if necessary.    This only works in digital files and the thief steal the whole file (that is what we concern most anyway).  If the thief does a screen scrape or print the file and then redigitize it, those invisible information will not carry through.  The analogy to this is like the secret ink.  When you immerse the paper in a solution (say, water) or heat over a candle flame, the words come out.  

5. Having added information in the embeded form.   Here you embed secret bits (or pixels) throughout the picture.  They are there but so small (identifiable at 100% resolution) so that it would not change the overall impression/quality of the picture.   These embedded bits/pixels will have patterns usually not created by nature or normal photographic process.  That means finding those implies finding blood on the hands.    This is more for nailing the thief in the court house.   On the other hand, a smart thief may re-compress the image file multiple times.  Then these microscopically embedded bits may disappear.    A better embedded watermark will have global patterns that simple compression can not erase. If you have pictures that a thief is willing to painstakingly defeat the watermarking, congratulations, you already got some gems. 

6. Finally, some current and future digital files (not just the picture) could have imbedded EXIF info, time stamps and algorithms (i.e. not jpg) for rights management.   It will be like the disappearing ink.    The picture will destroy itself after, say, six weeks.  (Yes, you give the joy to someone  for a limited time).  The most evil one could corrupt the whole computer system, or send notifications to the owner, if possessed illegally (not clear such virus algorithms can be legally allowed to use).     This is more for rights management and sensitive documents, and less for conventional watermarking.   

The above view is by no means comprehensive.   Just to add my two cents from a different angle.

Hey Jimmy47,

That looks like a pretty comprehensive collection of thoughts to me! Thanks so much for reading and adding to the conversation!

My head hurts

:)

This is a very informative answer. I am looking into watermarking my pictures I take with my phone. I receive many compliments & since other people will be using my photos, am wondering if I should get them professionally done?

I heard of someone in my circles who had her picture stolen. I am almost positive an app was used.

Any suggestions in this area?

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