We love our images. We put our heart, soul, sweat, and tears into our work and we can't wait to share it with the world! But one of the more popular practices in the photography industry is watermarking. The concept behind watermarking is understandable and useful, but in reality, is it really a necessity? I will explain why for my third installment of my community discussions.
In case you don't know what watermarking is, it is the practice of placing a logo or text over an image in order to identify the creator of that image. It is very popular in the photography and creative industry. It is believed to be an opportunity for you to identify yourself, your brand, and your work. But I'm starting to believe that watermarking is simply not what it's made out to be. I've found myself gradually slowing down on watermarking to where it isn't a part of my workflow, with the exception of sharing proofs with clients of course.
Why People Justify Watermarking and Why It Doesn't Matter
Before I go through these points, I'm going to say that I had these very thoughts early in my career to justify watermarking my own images. I practiced watermarking for a very long time when preparing my images to share with the world. Anyone from beginners to seasoned pros still watermark today. You may share the same opinions. I will then follow with a rebuttal and play devil's advocate on how my opinion of watermarking has completely changed recently.
I Don't Want My Images Stolen
Like mentioned earlier, we put our heart and soul into our work and are so very proud of it. The last thing we want is our work to be stolen. There are some situations where photographers have seen their work on a wide array of sites being shared with no credit, used for commercial purposes without consent, or to the point where sites are unlawfully selling someone else's work without any contact or permission. This is unfortunate and completely understandable. While I haven't seen someone sell my work without my permission (yet), I have been a victim of sites sharing my work without any permission whatsoever.
It does not matter. If someone wants to steal your image, by any means they indeed will. There's the good and the bad; the pros and the cons; and that's just the nature of the beast that is the internet. They will blatantly crop out your image, screenshot your image, or if they're savvy enough, they will clone it out.
Now another disagreement that will arise is the fact people will not credit your work. For example, let's say there's a popular Instagram page that features your image but they don't give you credit. This sucks, I know, I've been there; but from my experience of feature pages sharing my imagery, the good people will always give you proper credit. If there are pages that don't, it's not worth stressing over a couple of bad apples force you to slab a distracting layer over your piece of art.
And lastly, if you don't want your images stolen, don't share them on the internet. It's that simple.
I Need to Let People Know Who Took That Photo, I Need the Exposure!
This makes total sense, right? You need to put that final stamp on your image letting people know where it came from, almost like branding a cow. You need the exposure. If a client or collaborator shares your image, it is instant, free marketing for you and your brand. It's a no-brainer!
While at its face it seems like a no-brainer to do this, I've come across many instances where it can backfire and become counterproductive. It can be distracting if not done properly. As I mentioned earlier, the good people out there (mostly everyone, except for a few bad apples) will give you credit where credit is due. And regarding the "attaching a name to your image" argument, isn't it already that way on social media? Take a look below, mostly every social media platform has your name or brand right next to your image.
Let your "signature touch" become your watermark. Every photographer in the world should aspire to achieve this, knowing a photographer's work when you see it. No watermarks needed.
It Looks Very Professional
"It makes my images look official. If I put a watermark on my image it will look more professional."
Like I mentioned earlier, this can potentially backfire if not done correctly. Contrary to looking professional, some watermarks can come across as tacky. I put together a few examples of watermark placements that I see often on the web that can be distracting:
If You Decide to Watermark Your Images
There is no rule on watermarking. Even though I suggest that you should at least give it some thought, it is ultimately your decision. With that being said, the key to an effective watermark is to make it visible without being distracting at all; this can be tricky. Here are some tips on effective watermarking:
- Make It Small - If it's small, it's not small enough. Guilty as charged, I used to have a bad habit of making large watermarks when I decided to do so. Try to keep it small as possible but still legible.
- Hide It, Keep It Out of the Way, or On the Corner - Sometimes you can be clever with it and hide it somewhere in the image. Get creative! Another option is keeping it out of the way. Make sure your subject is the first thing the viewer's eyes will go to. Lastly, you can use the more conventional method of watermarking and keep it on the bottom left or right corner to avoid distraction.
- Lower the Opacity - One mistake I see often is the watermark being a little too bold or in your face. Lower the opacity or fill of your logo to avoid potential distraction.
Here are a couple of examples of effective watermarking:
While there may be a few reasons why watermarking is warranted, I believe it is worth questioning if it really is a necessity. If you're afraid of having your work stolen on the web, the only foolproof way of avoiding that is not sharing it on the internet all together. Your name will always be connected to your image on most social media platforms, and the good people out there will give your appropriate credit. If you get carried away with your watermark, the purpose of making your images look professional may backfire. If you insist on watermarking your images a few good tips are to make it small, placed where it won't be a distraction, and lower the opacity to make it more subtle.
So I will ask you to discuss, do you watermark? Why? Do you think it is a necessity? Does it matter? Share your thoughts!