Should You Be Watermarking Your Images?

Should You Be Watermarking Your Images?

There seems to be a surprising amount of contention relating to whether or not you should watermark your images. Some people are adamant that yes, you absolutely need to put your stamp, so to speak, on images that you're putting out there online. Other people feel that a watermark is tacky, or that somehow it's presence cheapens the quality of the image that it has been applied to. As I have found with most things in life, context is king when it comes to watermarks.

Generally speaking, I believe that yes, you should be applying a simple and sensible watermark to your images. As most people know when it comes to the Internet, once your work is out there, it can often be a bit troublesome to know exactly where it will go from there, so I figure that you're mark may as well be going along for the ride. I tend to think of watermarks as your digital signature; whether your name, brand symbol, or your literal signature it's the final piece that you attach to your finished work.

With that said, I know that we have all seen some watermarks that clearly did not get much thought. The kind that may actually be ruining an image, the genuine eyesore-style watermark. This can be avoided by putting some intention and thought behind what your mark will be before you start putting it on your work.

See the image above? A colored watermark destroys a black and white image in the fastest way possible, definitely don't do that. A watermark should be subtle, simple, distraction-free, and in harmony with the images that you're placing it on. Inconspicuous should be at the forefront of your mind. Don't use colors, or else anytime you  put it on a black and white image you just created a blob of color splash. The placement of a watermark can be either consistent across all your work or mobile as dictated by each image. In my opinion, a name or signature is both less distracting and more pleasing than a symbol or logo.

It's perfectly OK to have a watermark that people see. It's less OK to have a watermark that is the first or only thing people see. Remember, the point is to avoid distraction, you're not looking to disrupt your scene. Try lowering the opacity, remember that cursive font is not required, and keep in mind that a watermark is only accent to an already finished piece.

The image below has a simple watermark that I think works with the scene. I took the time to find a font that I thought was pleasing, made sure the opacity was low enough as not to distract, and placed in an area that I felt was appropriate for the image. Let me know in the comments what you think about watermarks. Do you think it really matters at all in a digital world? Did you spend time (and/or possibly money) in designing a mark that you feel great about?

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Previous comments
Evan Kane's picture

Thanks for the comment Jacques. I tend not to view a watermark as a deterrent of any kind, as regardless of placement or style a simple crop will usually take it out of the image. Unfortunately, if a person is determined to use something without permission, a watermark will do little to stop them.

Though you do make a good point about the most casual copyright infringer who may choose to look for another image rather than take the few seconds to make a crop.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Obviously, a determined infringer will simply crop out the watermark. But, many infringements are casual, often by people who don't even understand that they are infringing. A clear reminder can be effective in these cases. Also, correct placement of the watermark can reduce the value of the cropped image by making it a weaker composition or concealing important detail. My image above would definitely be less appealing if it were cropped. It's a balancing act between ruining the image and protecting it, but I feel there's value in moving a little further along the scale towards the "protecting" end.
One other thing: if you force an infringer to crop, the crop becomes evidence of an intention to infringe, which should make a court case easier to win. And, "May not be reproduced without permission" serves both to notify the naive and to establish a legal claim against the ill-intentioned.
Finally, Dallas made an excellent point about the watermark having promotional value. If someone likes my image, I want them to know where to find me. Which is why the largest part of my watermark is my URL.

Naive won't even understand why it is here.

"Reproduction? I don't reproduce anything. I just put it on my website..."

Jacques Cornell's picture

The average English speaker will understand "May not be reproduced without permission".

Even beginner will understand all words, but won't understand what reproduction in terms of photo found on internet means.

Jacques Cornell's picture

You are welcome, then, to write "May not be USED without permission." Or do you have better language?

This is less legalese and more dumb-humans-oriented :)

Jacques Cornell's picture

OK, how about "Look but don't touch!!!"

I use watermarks as it's free advertising, people will share your images without attribution and if you're not famous no-one is able to find you. Yes it destroys the aesthetics of an image, but I'd rather be credited for my work than it being shared without attribution. In addition it also helps mitigate hotlinking to my website.

There's no right or wrong answer, and there'll never be one.

Evan Kane's picture

You've summed it all up well by saying there is not right or wrong answer Daris. I don't view watermarks (most of the time) as destroying the aesthetics though. When a person puts just a bit of intention and thought behind their watermark, it can become an accent rather than an addition.

Michael Holst's picture

I get where you're coming from. My question would then be, how often are you images being used without your consent? Where are you marketing you business and if it's on a platform that might not give you control over credit then how great is that avenue?

You've got over 100 comments made on this website but you have not posted a link to your business or anything for a potential client to find you.

I agree Michael, I've replied to a lot of posts but I prefer to keep my personal comments and my 'business persona' separate. I've had issues before where my business was targeted by trolls because they didn't like my viewpoints. I've had fair response to people finding my work through watermarks, as I usually use a mixture of a QR code and/or a distinct 'banner' that's semi opaque that's reasonably sympathetic to the image.

I have other means to promote my business and at present I've been forced to take a extended sabbatical from photography after serious health issues which has forced me rethink my priorities so there's little point in promoting myself.

Dave McDermott's picture

I used to watermark my images but I stopped for a couple of reasons. Some people just don't like to receive watermarked images, and my watermark often got cropped out after they uploaded the images to social media sites like Instagram. I was seeing a lot of my images online with half my name on them so I decided it wasn't worth the hassle.

Thankfully the big gaudy logos don't seem to be as popular now though. They were much more commonplace during the early days of Model Mayhem.

Michael Holst's picture

For watermarking images I can see the argument come down to protection against theft on a small level. I don't personally watermark my images because it doesn't matter if there is one when someone uses it illegally. My images still have protections under law that allow me to sue for damages.

I can understand someone using them on proofs sent to clients that would be making prints. You don't want to give a consumer a product they could steal without payment. That makes it unusable for the client without your watermark right in the middle of the image.

If someone is watermarking every shot, that's their call to make but as some have talked about already, it distracts from the image and also makes you look amateur. While most of us would be considered amateur, the idea is that you wanna look better than you are.

I think of it as a "Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have", sort of thing.

Mark Richardson's picture

Why I don’t Watermark my Photos:

I have two main reasons:

1. I’m of the opinion that a watermark ruins the viewing experience. I have yet to see a watermarked photo that wouldn’t look better without the watermark.

2. I’m constantly improving as a photographer. My earlier work helped me get better at photography but I look back on some of my older photos and cringe because they are so bad. I’m glad my name is not on them because they don’t accurately represent where I currently am as a photographer.

Aren’t you worried about theft?

No. Why? Because almost every photo I take for commercial purposes has already been commissioned. With the exception of most landscape or fine art photographers, commercial work is done under contract. The people and companies who buy photography are not the same people who steal it. If someone does use your image without compensation or permission, it’s not likely to cause you any large financial loss. Would a watermark have stopped them from using it? Maybe, but they probably wouldn’t have purchased the print or usage rights anyway.

Here's my take on it.