Let go of the fear and leave your logo and watermark off your images. You will get more work and recognition because of it.
When I started out in photography, the people around me constantly talked of their fears of having images stolen. They talked of making sure nothing high-res ended up out in the world and that it was paramount to have a watermark on an image to avoid theft from clients and other photographers.
In hindsight, it is laughable. No one wanted to steal my photographs back then, they were horrendous. I am pretty sure that there really aren’t that many people today who want to steal them either.
As the years went out, I went from a Comic Sans watermark of "www.scottchoucino.com," to a logo, and then onto some fancy art deco kind of logo which adorned every image I put out there on the net. Then one day I decided to remove my watermark from the images in my portfolio, instead opting for a disabled right-click to stop theft. I am a bit IT illiterate, so I didn’t think about people screenshotting my website. Still, the actual act of this caused more issues than that, which I will cover later on.
While redesigning my website one year I was looking at a few other photographers' portfolios to see how they were doing it. These were people who I really wanted to be working alongside. I suddenly realized that none of them used watermarks and that most of them didn’t even have a logo. All this branding I had been doing might have been great in the wedding game, but for my aspirations, I was headed in the wrong direction. After speaking to a few other creatives about my fears of people stealing my images, I was reassured that in most instances, it really didn’t matter and that I should go for the absolute best way to showcase my work.
Why Do You Watermark Your Images?
Chances are, when you start out in photography, you are around people who are also starting out or who are a little better. You probably won't be hanging out with Annie Leibowitz. Because of this, the advice you receive is likely to be poor, which is why it can take so long to get off the starting blocks in photography. You will hear someone who already knows how to shoot in manual mode talk about watermarks, and will assume you need them too while you continue to fumble with aperture priority. You feel underappreciated and underpaid when you start out and it feels like everyone is trying to take advantage of you, which they probably are. So you go hardcore on protecting your images. This will probably be the most fear-riddled and defensive you will ever be as a photographer. But don’t worry, you soon realize that none of this matters.
Lets be frank, any watermark will distract from your image. Text is one of the first things that we notice in images, so having a brand name or even your own name on there just detracts from the work that you have created. Most people who view your work online wont care who shot it as they scroll through Instagram on their way to work. Those who are interested, however, will seek you out regardless of a watermark. If your work stands out on its own and has its own merits, those who need your services will find and book you. I would go as far as saying that your chances of getting booked would be far higher without a watermark than with one as the potential client is far more engaged and active in finding out about you, rather than reading your logo and scrolling on (no data at all to back this up). It also makes you appear to be more premium if you do not have a watermark. I can’t think of any high-end photographers who use them off the top of my head.
Lack of Control of Old Images
When I started out in photography, I did use watermarks. Sadly the image at the top of this article is still online and has some awful font with my web address on it. It is a constant reminder to me of how bad my images use to be, and also a visual reference to some bad work that literally has my name on it. The viewer may not be aware of how many years ago I took the shot, they just know that I took it and that it is bad. So they are pretty unlikely to book me if they came about my work through that image. Reposting it here probably wont help much either!
Ease for Social Media
My phone is forever out of storage space and I often need to quickly get an image for social media use. Most of my Instagram posts that are old shots come direct from my website. I can then crop in Instagram to fit the aspect ratio without having to worry about fitting my watermark in. It is a nice, clean, quick, and simple process for someone who can’t organize their storage properly.
Make Your Client's Life Easier
My clients are often advertisement agencies and not the actual brand that I will be shooting. They often have to put pitches or presentations together at short notice. If they have to email me to get images for this it really slows things down. If they can right-click and save from my website it makes their life a lot easier. Thus, it increases my chances of getting booked for that next campaign.
Who Cares If Your Work Gets Stolen?
It really isn’t the end of the world. My work is passed off as another photographer's work all the time. Companies in China use it for adverts and it pops up on blogs all over the place. I simply do not care. The energy expended in getting angry about this sort of thing is not at all productive. It is far better to put that energy into creating something new. No one is taking work from me by stealing my work, there was no way that they were going to book me or pay me anything if this is the course of action they have taken. It can be annoying, but I think it is better to rise above it and just crack on with your work. There are bad people out there who will do things that we find morally repugnant; it is best to leave them to it.
Let Them Steal Your Work, but Do Invoice
The above doesn’t cover every circumstance though. If I find one of my images on a billboard, you can bet yourself that I will be invoicing them. But not in an aggressive anti-theft, you-are-destroying-photography way. I simply invoice for usage and always get paid. Often someone has the asset on their system and isn’t aware that the usage is no longer available and expired or hadn’t been licensed. The world isn’t out to get us. Some people are careless, misinformed, or simply thought they might chance it.
Do you watermark your work? If so, why?