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.
Photographs © Todd Vorenkamp
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.