Ask yourself a simple question, it's 2019 and digital pretty much everything is and has been in full swing for a while now, do you still watermark your images? I do, I have no plans on stopping, and apparently it really upset someone on Instagram recently.
To make a long story short, I recently received a direct message on Instagram from someone I've never met or spoken to about the watermark I place in my photos. It went something like this (paraphrasing): “Hey bro, your work is good but make your watermark go away. No one wants that in their portfolio, it's easily removed so there is no need for it, it's a dated way to enforce ownership, and you need to join us in the 21st century”. No introduction, no hello or greeting from this person I've never met, just straight to the point, this fellow hates watermarks, has strong opinions about them, and felt compelled to share them with me.
My initial reaction was "whoa dude, this guy is really passionate about this though it feels like he's making a mountain out of a molehill." Let's take a minute and unpack the whole thing, address this guy's concerns, and see if we can't come to a fair consensus on watermarks and 2019. First, I feel that any watermark you place should be subtle, generally at lower opacity and somewhat hidden within the frame. I think this is important to note, a watermark shouldn't be the first thing people see. We're not looking to detract from our image, let the work be what people see first and foremost. Watermarks are pretty exclusively used for social media versions of images as any other use (print for example) wouldn't make much sense.
The notion that it's easily removed only makes sense if you assume that the purpose of a watermark is to act as a deterrent of some kind against image theft. To that point, I would agree that the presence of a watermark does not serve that purpose. Whether it's via a quick crop or simple Photoshop, if a person really wants a watermark removed they are going to make it happen quickly and easily. To that end, all we have to do is a simple realignment in how we think about marks. They are less a security stamp and more than anything simply a digital signature from the artist.
The idea that no one wants it in their portfolio is also a little silly as a printed portfolio should always receive the file without a watermark. I am hesitant to call Instagram or Facebook a portfolio (though they generally serve a very similar purpose these days) and thus have no qualms about sending a model a social media resolution image with a subtle watermark. In the event that someone you work with has cropped out your watermark, instead of being upset, ask yourself if that is a sign that perhaps your mark was too distracting in the first place.
The last point this stranger made indicated I needed to, “join us in the 21st century”. First of all, who is us and why should I join them? Is this guy recruiting anti-watermark sentiment for some new empire? Second, what does the 21st century have to do with anything? If the point is that watermarks are a thing of the past, clearly that just doesn't prove to be true. If a watermark (when used intentionally) is the social media version of a signature, that's certainly relevant in every century.
Let's recap and try to be clear about a couple things: firstly a watermark is a personal choice and no one can tell you whether you should or shouldn't use one. If you're not feeling it, no sweat don't use one at all. If you do choose to use one, be subtle and make sure that you're not detracting from your work; know that it's only for the social media version of any given image. I've always found simplicity to be key, don't over think it, keep things simple and subtle and you'll probably be just fine. Know that the purpose in this day and age isn't security, by putting images on the internet you accept that they are never going to be 100% secure.
Lastly, I'll leave everyone with some friendly advice. When you message a total stranger, I would suggest introducing yourself first, think of it like a greeting or an e-handshake. Be kind, be friendly, and ask questions. Try to start a conversation rather than being confrontational. A little conversation can go a long way and be infinitely more productive for all involved. If you'd like to connect with me on Instagram with any questions, comments, or concerns I would love to hear from you. Let's chat and be friendly acquaintances, let's be productive together. The world already has enough people online shouting at each other, arguing, and trolling to no real end. If we all strive to be a friendlier voice, the internet might just end up a better place.