Stop Watermarking Your Photographs

Stop Watermarking Your Photographs

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.

Aesthetic

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?

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102 Comments

Jim Cutler's picture

I couldn't agree more. And I had the same path. I don't judge others and I believe people would do what they are comfortable with but when I see the "Dick Wizbang PHOTOGRAPHY" on Facebook images I smile a bit. But I keep that to myself. I'm in an action now with an attorney who caught a company not only stealing an image but plastering their logo over mine. This means the image was from a long time ago when I did that (I don't watermark anymore). It is registered properly so because they put their logo over mine the damages could be big. But, it's been going on for 2 years now with no end in site.....is it worth the aggravation? I'm sticking with this case because the stealer's attorney offered $20 total compensation. But even when I win, I don't think it will be worth it. Everyone's milage may vary so do what you want with watermarking. I have come to think the way this article's author thinks.

Scott Choucino's picture

Yeah once you get so far down the line on a case, its hard to turn back. I have a legal battle with a client atm which really isn't worth it, but I am too far in now.

Jim Cutler's picture

Yup, me too.

Daniel J. Cox's picture

Thank goodness old dogs like me didn't roll over like the younger generation is doing today. If the creative artists of 1790, who got the Copyright Act of 1790 passed, had caved in like the younger people today, you wouldn't even have the ability to register your pictures. Jim Cutler even admits that "so because they put their logo over mine the damages could be big." Exactly. Same with cutting or removing the watermark. It proves serious intent to steal. Nobody gives a crap about AMAZING pictures anymore, they're everywhere! Those who protect their work show that they're not just the average joe slapping pictures up on any social media they come across. If you're truly producing phenomenal work, nobody will give a damn about a minor watermark.

Alex Armitage's picture

I like having my watermark so if it does get shared somewhere, it gives extra reach to someone who might be curious who took the photo.That said I don't watermark my instagram photos because I tend to not worry about smaller resolution photos getting stolen or used without my consent.

Scott Choucino's picture

I think the genre of photography has a big impact on if this is of use or not. My work is more commercial, so only people who want to book me really care who shot it. More creative work probably has a wider appeal to the general public?

Alex Armitage's picture

Haven't really thought about it until now.

Dominic Deacon's picture

I never got the point and haven't ever watermarked my images. Actually not strictly true. The studio I work for insists on a watermark on the web res versions of images (we also send an unwatermarked full res version for printing).

If someone wants to steal your work, so what? They were never in the market to pay for your work, I'm guessing, so you're not missing out on anything. I always kind of like it when I find one of my images unexpectedly out in the wild, on it's own, doing it's own thing. It does me literally no harm at all and if anything it's free exposure.

That said I can think of a couple brands who's businesses, I think, are largely built on the watermark. They've made it graphically part of the image and created a brand through that that people want a part of. To come up with a logo that's going to look great as part of every image isn't an easy thing to do though.

Scott Choucino's picture

Yes, I think with weddings or family portraits a branding exercise could work if done well.

AC KO's picture

Dominic Deacon writes: “I always kind of like it when I find one of my images unexpectedly out in the wild, on it's own, doing it's own thing. It does me literally no harm at all and if anything it's free exposure.”

How can it be “free exposure” if they don’t know who authored the (your) photograph?

Deleted Account's picture

I do not watermark for exactly a few of the reasobs addressed above. Notably and most humbly of all--I am simply not that enviabke a photographer yet, not that jaw droppingly original either to have others salivating at the prospect of ripping me off. I watermarked in the past and they were horrible and intrusive eyesores. I thought at one point if I place mark dead center it would discourage any attempt at theft, but then I thought...who really wants a pic of my niece or some cosplay girl in prosthetic fangs?

Scott Choucino's picture

haha, yes I think this is very true for almost all of us. My work isn't original either, plenty of images just like it so why mine would have any more use to someone than anyone else is beyond me.

Paul Scharff's picture

I watermarked early on but later dropped it. Now every single photographer I see on social media uses a script version of their name over a highly spaced helvetica "P H O T O G R A P H Y." Even if it looks good, it is so un-unique that I have no desire to mimic it. Until I can create something really distinctive (e.g., Larry Beard's mirror logo), I'm going commando in the watermark department.

Deleted Account's picture

Exactly that.

Scott Choucino's picture

YES! A lot of these watermarks look exactly the same. Hard to know who is who.

Brandon Davenport's picture

It's also hard to know who is who when their name isn't associated with the image...

Chase Wilson's picture

Watermarks are a sign of inexperience to me.

Scott Choucino's picture

This is how I currently see them.

Mark Harris's picture

your comment IS the clear sign of inexperience not understanding the idea of this. Good luck...

wesjones's picture

I don't mind small and subtle initials or signatures. Painters do it.

Scott Choucino's picture

Yeah this is an interesting point. I have no problem with painters doing it and fully understand that. But for some reason, I can't feel the same way about it no a photograph. Which probably says more about how I view photography compared to other art forms.

Ryan Mense's picture

I've considered using watermarks. Not for any reason argued against above, but simply as a way to "sign off" on my work. I think there's nothing wrong with a person wanting to say "This is my work. I'm proud of it and I'm attaching my name to it because I gave a part of me to create it." It's the logic other arts have used for ages, not for any business or social sharing reason.

Scott Choucino's picture

Yeah, it is an odd thing that photographers do not sign their work. Traditionally in print editorial you are credited below, but in ad campaigns, it is rare that the photographer would get a credit.

Kirk Darling's picture

"Should I sign my work?" is not even a question in any other visual art.

In every "I don't watermark" article that comes out (and it seems they're up to quarterly in FStoppers right now), the phrase "I don't care" constitutes the main reason.

That says something about how the person feels about photography as an art--because no other visual artist fails to identify his authorship--and about his own work.

Possibly it's because so many photographers today are involved in commercial illustration where signatures would be inappropriate, and so many others aspire to commercial illustration, so they all adapt the ethic of a commercial illustrator. The same can be said of photojournalism.

But portrait photographers from the beginning adopted the portrait painter's ethic, and we've been signing our work for over a hundred years. Photographers placing work in galleries generally don't directly sign the photograph
s, but sign the mats so that they are identified as the creators.

But photographers of art have never before had an "I don't care" attitude about their authorship.

Jeremy Hudnall's picture

Can't someone just Photoshop the watermark out?

Erpillar Bendy's picture

Yes, they can, but it's like an admission of guilt. Basically it says, "I know I'm stealing this picture".

Scott Choucino's picture

Yeah pretty quickly.

AC KO's picture

In the US, parties who knowingly remove, change, or cover up a watermark, metadata, image title, photo copyright attribution, licensing info, and other “Copyright Management Information” (CMI--part of the DMCA) to hide a copyright infringement action or to induce further infringements, can be liable for statutory money damages from US$2,500 to US$25,000, plus attorney fees, plus legal costs, and other damages for violating 17 USC §§ 1202-1203 (Integrity of Copyright Management Information & Civil Remedies).

A timely registered photo copyright with the US Copyright Office is not required to pursue CMI damages against infringers. I’m seeing more and more copyright litigators pursue CMI violators located in the US.

Bill Wells's picture

First when I hear "watermark" I remember the DO NOT COPY splashed across the entire frame. After all that is exactly what a watermark is. A watermark is meant to discourage the direct copy of the work. Important if you a sports shooter and sell images online.

A logo or Makers Mark is something else. Normally a signature, logo or combination of the two, placed in the lower left or right of the image.

Do not confuse the two. A Makers Mark is used on almost everything manufactured today from the car you drive to stove you cook on. Even on your kitchen table, normally burned or carved on the underside.

So when it comes to a WATERMARK I'm with the do not use crowd. However, when it comes to your mark (logo) that is is a way for potential clients to know who the maker was. It will get you business.

Plus I think you will find that most of the tops in their field tend to mark their images.

Let me go one step further with an example. Let's say a bride see's 3 images on Pinterest. She absolutely loves the images and want to talk to the photographer. Without a mark (logo) she has no idea who the photographer is.

However, if says "Dick Wizbang PHOTOGRAPHY" she does a quick google search (probably voice) and Dick just booked a 5,000 wedding.

I uploaded an example photo with watermark and logo.

Jim Cutler's picture

Hi Bill, that makes sense.

N A's picture

A well placed, discrete, logo or creator mark is definitely helpful considering how hit and miss attributions are on FB, IG, etc. Similar to audio tracks on YT videos. Wading through hundreds of comments to find who composed/performed a song, if you're lucky, is a serious pain and doesn't help the artist in the least.

Scott Choucino's picture

Bill you are completely right. I chose the word watermark as for anyone who wasn't shooting in the day where people purchased the images from a selection rather than what goes on today, they wouldn't have a full grasp of what I was talking about.

davidlovephotog's picture

Pictures hardly ever get found on the site they were uploaded to and hardly anyone ever credits the images. Unless you just like having your work be stolen and considered free for all use, a watermark does help. If it was in Vogue or some big magazine then maybe you don't care but when it's going straight to the web, you might want the deterrent there. My images get reposted constantly and the only way people track them back to me is through my watermark. Of course anything that takes away from the image is a no or some ugly font all the way across it is meh. I also add the model or cosplayers mark to them as well. I think of it more as credits in a movie.

Bill Wells's picture

Hi David. What you have displayed here is not a watermark. This is a logo or makers mark. They are two very different things.

Scott Choucino's picture

Yes I completely get this argument. My images are all over the place too. Perhaps it differs a lot from genre to genre, but most people who see my work else where just don't care who shot it. Those who are wanting to work with me can find out who shot it pretty quickly.

If you are doing family portraits or something where perhaps to market is less educated than an art buyer, it has far more value.

Bill Wells's picture

One other word of caution. If you do not have your logo on your images, I can use them as free use. My defense would be I had no way of contacting the maker or even tell who the maker was. It was just on the internet as free use.

Social media strips all metadata from images.

Now if I had to remove your logo or over wright it, there would be no defense. I was aware who the maker was. But decided not to request permission.

pdbreske's picture

That's not true. Just because it's on the internet does NOT mean it's free use. To claim free use of an image, you have to prove that fact with an attribution to "Creative Commons" or something like that. If you can't prove it's free use, you are legally required to assume the copyright belongs to someone else, as, in fact, it does.

Bill Wells's picture

Logical argument and one would think it to be correct, but it's very wrong.

Your argument, as I stated previously, gives me a defense. The opposite is true if I remove or obscure your logo. Unfortunately, many cases have already been won using this very defense.

Jim Cutler's picture

Bill, an attorney would tell you that is no defense. You can not just use a photo because you have no way of knowing who made it. If the image is registered properly you'd be infringing. Not being able to know who made it is not a defense for just using someone's image you find. I think you make a good case for a small makers mark so people can hire you if they like the image.

Bill Wells's picture

I would have to assume that attorney would just not be aware that fair use cases have been lost under the fair use law of copyright material.

Also if the user removed the watermark or hide, those case were found in larger number in favor of the copyright holder.

This is not a conversation of if or how a logo can be removed.

Jim Cutler's picture

Peace be with you.

Bill Wells's picture

Hey Jim, I mistook you post. My mistake. Sorry

Jim Cutler's picture

Thanks. Have a great weekend.

Bill Wells's picture

I wanted to put this link right at the top, just in case you don’t get to the bottom of the post.

https://www.photoattorney.com/watermarks-can-be-music-to-your-ears/

Argument/position on why you may want to watermark your images. From here forward the term watermark will mean a logo or makers mark placed discreetly in lower part of image.

1 – Social media, regardless of if we personally like it or hate it is the venue for our marketing. We could expand that to include things like blogs and website galleries. We must all agree with this. Plus, the very importance of our images. Otherwise, there would be no need to have a website for your photography.

2 – One method of web search that has been increasing in the past few years, is image search. If that is true, then the importance of the knowing who made the image is critical. A watermark does that in just a glance.

3- Displaying your brand name on every image, some visitors may ask for permission to use your images. You may say, “Yes but some may not”. If that is your position, then you do not need to read this.

4 – If the image is shared by a visitor on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram. Your logo goes with it. From that share you could be hired or get a commission for permission to use.

5 – If someone removes your watermark, then the individual potentially faces stiffer legal penalties when your images are copyrighted.
When your watermark is removed by someone who has “reasonable ground to know, that [the removal] will induce, enable, facilitate or conceal an infringement” they have violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) per 17 U.S.C. § 1202.
So, can an individual seal your work and claim free or fair use? Sure. It will just be harder for them to defend their position in a court of law.

Jim Cutler's picture

Very familiar with this Bill, Thanks.

Kirk Darling's picture

No, Bill, you don't understand. In every nation that is a Berns Conventions signatory, every work is automatically assumed to be copyrighted to the author, regardless of whether it's easy to locate the author.

Please link me to a case where that defense has prevailed as defining "fair use."

Bill Wells's picture

Kirk, Kirk, Kirk. Here is a link for you to learn about fair use. https://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/copyright-fair-use-and-how-it-works-...

Kirk Darling's picture

Neither of the links said anything about "Fair Use" being defined by the inability to track down the author.

Bill Wells's picture

Hey Kirk, But the first did explain about fair use. Right? So now you know about that.

Look I do not care if mark your images or don't mark your images. That does not matter to me. I doubt you would even peruse someone if they did use your images.

What I said and I will say again so there is no misunderstanding. The mark on an image, let's the person or persons reviewing the image know who the maker is.

Now that the reviewer knows who made the image, they can now hire that person, request permission to license the image or commission the maker for similar work. Without that mark, none of that could happen. Let me say that again, without that mark none of that could happen.

But whether you choose to use a mark or not is up to you. I'm just one that believes most photographers could use the extra bookings.

The second point I was making. If someone removes a mark by any method, that act proves two things, 1) they knew who the maker was and 2) they knew it was copyrighted by the maker. If one chooses to pursue copyright infringement action. Those two facts are big factors in the litigation.

But again you do what you want. Mark everything, mark some or mark none. That is up to you not me or anyone else.

I for one, like it when a Pinterest bride calls and says I seen your image and want to book you for my wedding. Then the Instagram bride calls me and says "I seen your image on Sarah's Insta. I see you are the ones that did Sarah's wedding. We want you to do ours".

Now if I had not had my mark on those 2 images, I would be worth 8k less. But hey, you may not need the money.

Kirk Darling's picture

The point of our contention was your previous assertion being unable to locate the owner permitted a Fair Use exception.

Since you're moving the goalpost away from that assertion, okay. I'll let you do that.

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