The majority of photographers don’t like watermarking their images. Why mar the perfect balance of your picture with a distracting logo, right? Watermarks should be regarded as a necessary evil, however, and photographers and internet users alike have learned to accept it as an inevitability. In this digital age, stealing someone's image is as simple as “right click, save as.” It doesn't take much to carry out a digital crime and violate copyright. In my opinion, watermarking is an indispensable protection in the world of photography.
Why should you put a watermark on your photo?
Watermarking is one of the ways you can protect yourself from the actions of individuals with no conscience nor respect for another's work. Watermarking is not infallible, but it is the easiest defense to implement.
Watermarking can also serve as a form of branding or corporate advertising, and so on. A simple watermark can accomplish a lot. In this day and age, many individual and corporate entities (even social media channels) want to be recognized as a unique brand. Why should photographers as independent artists get left behind?
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Watermarking has a wide spectrum of benefits and downsides.
For one thing, watermarking does provide moderate protection against online thievery, because even though the watermark can occasionally be cropped out, most of the times it isn't worth the effort. There are those persistent enough to erase a watermark by healing and cloning around it, but this requires a good deal of work. If the case of a stolen digital file was taken to court, having an original watermarked image would be strong evidence against someone claiming they “found” the cropped image with no watermark.
Another benefit is that you can advertise your business through your watermark: include your contact info, webpage, social media accounts, and so forth. It can be used to funnel audiences to the site where you sell that particular image along with others. Or, your information could direct viewers to your bookings page. If you are into club/concert photography, you can be paid to advertise different companies in the watermark area of each image.
Lastly, if your image gets stolen but the watermark isn't removed, this works as free advertising for you.
I’m still dreaming of a file format that will allow for embedded trackers which are not removable, and would monitor the traffic and location of each copy. Until I get my wish, watermarks will have to do the job.
Let's first tackle the biggest and most obvious annoyance: watermarks are distracting and can ruin a shot. Many people hate them because of that, and depending on the design, they can be really be distracting, especially if you use flashy colors, or place them over an entire image.
Then there is the irritating group of purists that will ignore an image if they see watermark on it. On multiple occasions I have been told something along the lines of “Your image looks decent, but I would like for you to send me one without a watermark so I can see it properly.” I must explain in my defense that my watermark sits in one of the corners of the images and is semi-transparent. It doesn't even cover 10% of the image, so I know it would not totally obscure the view. Why would I send you, random person on the internet, my image without a watermark? Isn't this the whole point of it?
At the end of the day, the final choice rests with you. You can watermark your photos with a small or large sticker, or you can leave the images as they are. If you choose to watermark you images, make sure that you keep a full-resolution copy of each one without watermarking because you will probably need them again for edits. If you plan on posting an image online with a watermark, upload a small resolution. This way, even if it is stolen from you, it can’t be used for much.
There is another thing you should consider while we're on this topic and that is to never post full-resolution images on the internet (watermarked or not). At the very least you can retain the print profits this way. There are many sites that sell prints of stolen images, and it might take years for someone to discover that their images are being sold without their permission. That's a loss you'd likely never recover.
As I already said, I don’t like using watermarks, but I feel compelled to do so for obvious reasons. I do it in as subtle a way as possible so that the photo isn't ruined.
How about you? What are your thoughts on watermarking – are you watermarking your images, and if you do, how are you doing it? Subtly or boldly? Share your thoughts in the comments below.