Watermarking Images

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Watermarks, the ugly brand marks that appear on many photographers images, are something that I see too much of these days. It seems that every photographer stamps a logo image on top of their images in an effort to stop the photos from being copied. Some photographers fear that an illegitimate photographer might snag one of their photos and try to pass it off as their own. Other photographers watermark their images to prevent their customers from printing their images from web preview versions, or simply to insure that credit is given to them should someone want to republish the image on their own website.

Photo courtesy Bodey Marcoccia

I have mixed feelings about watermarks on images. On one hand they can be a useful way to earn referrals, on another they tend to ruin a lot of photographs by being so large that the watermark overpowers the rest of the image. There are a number of reasons to both use and not use watermarks, and in this article I am going to describe some of those situations.

Why you SHOULD watermark your images

I’m going to begin by playing devil’s advocate. As I am sure most of you have realized already, I am mostly against watermarking. There are a few appropriate situations though where I believe photographers are justified in using a watermark. Watermarks serve as an advertisement for your services. Someone who stumbles across one of your images (both online and offline) will be able to figure out who owns the photo. One of the few times when I do watermark my images is when I share pictures on my Facebook business page. I embed a small watermark with the text EricHeikkinen.com in the bottom right corner. I do this so that when people on Facebook view my photos they can quickly see the all important domain name, which leads them to my web portfolio and contact information. If you are a stock photographer. Stock photographers are unique from others in the industry. They take images for the specific purpose of making other people want to use their work. There’s a good reason why stock photography websites severely limit the size of an image and place a large watermark across it before you purchase it. Having that watermark might prevent some people from easily stealing your stock photo. When someone tries to pass your work as their own. Even worse than not getting credit for an awesome photo that you took is when someone tries to steal the credit. I have seen some cases first hand where photographers have had their work appear on other photographer’s profiles on ModelMayhem.com. If you are paranoid that your work might appear on someone else’s profile I suggest that you apply watermarks to the images that you list across your online identities (Facebook, MySpace, ModelMayhem.com, DeviantArt.com, etc.). When you rely on a “pay-per-print” business model. Many photographers still base their business model after a pay-per-print method. The photographer maintains the rights to his images, including the high-resolution files that are used to produce high quality photographs. He acts as a middle man for the customer and will place orders on the customer’s behalf. During this process the photographer will charge significantly more for the photo prints than if the customers were to handle the orders themselves. This has been a standard practice in photography since the technology was invented, so I don’t see it going away any time soon. Photographers who use this method will often use watermarking as a way to protect their images from being reprinted without their authorization. I’ve heard numerous stories about people who will take the tiniest of wallet-sized photos or online thumbnails (with watermarks included) and scale it up to an 8×10 print. People can be cheap like that, and I can’t blame them when photographers mark up the cost of prints to compensate for lower upfront fees.

Why you SHOULD NOT watermark your images

Photoshop can remove it anyways. Let’s assume that someone wants to steal one of your images and pass it off as their own. With software like Adobe Photoshop, there really isn’t anything stopping people from using that image. You made things tougher on them as they will now need to spend a few minutes removing the watermark, but a watermark is by no means a foolproof method to protect yourself. They are tacky and ugly. 90% of the time photographers produce very ill-conceived watermarks that often degrade the quality of the photograph. Whether through obstruction or positioning, watermarks can visually ruin a great photograph. Take a moment and think if it’s worth potentially losing an existing or potential client because of a watermark that may be off-putting to them. They might be off-putting on prints.Some photographers choose to watermark every printed photo, thinking that it will be a good way to earn references. A classic example of this is Olan Mills, one of the largest photography companies in the United States. I bet that most of you reading this are familiar with their gold embossed watermark that is placed in the corner of just about every photo they have ever produced. While I am sure that this increases their brand awareness, I am pretty confident that most people have negative feelings about their treasured photographs bearing a logo. My suggestion to those who want to brand their prints is to mark the reverse side of the image. I am sure that your customers will appreciate it. They take extra time to add to photos. If you want your watermarks to look good you are going to have to customize it’s placement and design on each photo. This takes extra time to produce, which is time that could be better used reading my blog.

Summary

Let me finish this article with a plea for everyone still thinking about using a watermark on their images. If you choose to use a watermark, please keep it discreet. Use simple, legible fonts (stay away from “Papyrus”), and keep the size of the watermark as small as you can, but still easy to read. Try to keep the watermark near one of the corners of the image, rather than the middle. Lastly, consider setting the opacity so that the watermark is semi-transparent (somewhere around 60% opaque)..

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