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This question asks if water marking is worth it. The accepted answer refers to the pros and cons of watermarking.

I have used watermarks in the past and have given them up recently when I started using photography to earn money. What are the pros and cons of watermarking photos, and as a semi-professional (shooting balls, proms etc), when is it appropriate to watermark my photos?

To many, this might be an obvious question, but I think a comprehensive objective answer would be most useful for myself and others to determine when to watermark, and how to design a tasteful watermark.

share|improve this question
    
To many it is "obvious" because it is a very polarizing(hahah) debate. I know very few people who stand in the middle on this one, you either think they are critical or irrelevant. +1 I like the question, lets hope facts and not opinions appear. –  dpollitt May 9 '13 at 13:23

6 Answers 6

up vote 15 down vote accepted

Good Gravy, thanks for posing this question. I have struggled with this question for years, wanting my images to be seen as they are, not marred with marketing clutter. Being a full-time professional (and sole income provider) I have come to this conclusion...Watermarks are wonderful, powerful and absolutely necessary!

Pros:

  • They protect your property by informing people that you are indeed the owner of that image, that you are a professional and that you intend to protect your image.
  • They protect your property by making them less appealing to thieves.
  • This is your brand. Imagery is your product. Brand everything! Branding helps build recognition. Recognition leads to more jobs (as long as your work is good).
  • When an image is stolen your property still markets for you (as long as the watermark is not cropped).

Cons:

  • They cover up some of your proudly displayed image that you've worked hard to create, both through training, financial investment, know-how, timing and placement. (Considering this deters folks from stealing your image you might consider this a Pro.)

I have actually gotten to the point in which I blanket images going on Facebook and other social media sites with my logo. I mean plastered. I have found images stolen from Facebook re-purposed on websites all over the world. Did I get paid? Nope. Were there watermarks on those pics? Nope. Did I get to feed my kids or pay down school loans? Nope. New camera? Nope.

On the otherhand, I have been approached while shooting assignments more than a few times and asked, "Hey, are you RCVisual?" in which I reply with a smile, "Yes I am, why do you ask?" and they say, "oh man, I see your pics everywhere! I love your stuff! Do you have a card?" They know my stuff because I am relentless with branding. Watermark Everything!

This is what I have learned: People that understand the value of professional imagery (those that are willing to give you money) will never NOT hire you because you brand your images. Quite contrary, the brand means you're a professional and they will hire you based on the merit of your work. On the flipside, people who steal will NEVER pay you for imagery, EVER. So make your images less appealing for them to steal. That's the bottom line.

share|improve this answer
    
It is clear you are very much on the pro watermarking side. I think this answer very well argues for that stance, but leaves many of the cons relating to the other side of the argument out. If the question were "convince me to use watermarks" you would have a great answer. Some of the cons I am referring to which would make a more complete answer include the time to create a good watermark template, the multiple copies of images needed to print and display, support by online sharing/printing sites, a false sense of security or protection, etc. –  dpollitt May 9 '13 at 19:20
    
The take home from your answer seems to be branding. Do you think downsizing the images is a viable, less destructive alternative to watermarking? –  Good Gravy May 15 '13 at 12:26
    
I don't think that's a good option because so much of image usage (and theft) occurs online. To be clear though, I watermark EVERYTHING that goes online EXCEPT for client images. Product delivered is for their use to promote their company, not mine. If pics are stolen from their site, the best protection is copyright registry. Taking time into consideration, I have my website set up to watermark images as they upload and photoshop scripts set for facebook images. –  Rob Clement May 15 '13 at 17:04

I assume you are talking about watermarking images you post on the internet, put in your portfolio or otherwise distribute "for free", paying customers are likely to get somewhat upset if you give them watermarked images.

There are 2 ways people use watermarks:

  1. Marketing tool - you circulate watermarked images in the hope that people will see the images and hire you to take more images like that, typically the watermark will be small relative to the size of the image and contain you business name and logo (and maybe a web address and phone number).

  2. Copyright protection - this is the kind of watermark you see in stock photo sites - huge and in the middle - designed to make the image unusable, but bad for marketing because people will not pass such an image to other potential clients.

For the first kind of watermarks the pros and cos are:

Pros:

  • Let people know you took the photo so they can hire you to take more photos like this.

  • Makes it obvious you are the copyright owner so hopefully people won't use use it less without permission (note that watermarking may or may not - depending on your country - help you legally if you decide to sue).

Cons:

  • If the watermark doesn't look good it makes you look unprofessional

  • The watermark can detract from the image, especially for images with a lot of details or you place the watermark too close to the subject

This is common for photographers because your primary reasons for having the images out there is to get hired - and if people use them without permission you have to sue or consider it part of the cost of doing business.

For the second type of watermark:

Pros

  • Makes it much harder to use the image without permission

Cons

  • Makes the image almost useless as a marketing tool

This is common for stock photos because stock photo sites need to stop people from using images without paying or they go out of business, they do marketing other ways not by circulating images.

share|improve this answer
    
Yes, I was talking about distribution of my previous photos, not the actual product photos! –  Good Gravy May 9 '13 at 12:43
1  
A con that I will add that not only does a bad watermark make you look unprofessional, but most all watermarks detract from the artwork(opinion) as well. A great landscape photo, completely full of organic objects, with a streak of overlaid text from Photoshop is never something that is attractive to me. –  dpollitt May 9 '13 at 13:15
2  
@dpollitt - you are right, a landscape image with a watermark on some of the image details is bad, but a sallow DOF portrait where the watermark is completely over the out of focus background - not so bad (maybe not good but it's an acceptable tradeoff to go for "not so bad" if it helps feed the kids, at least in my opinion) –  Nir May 9 '13 at 13:25

I don't think there is any stigma about tasteful watermarks on "free" and portfolio images. I do think there is for any images the customer is paying for unless it's a discounted rate. (For example, I have seen some photographers provide Facebook galleries of a large selection of photos with watermarks and/or their name tied to the image's captions for a discount.)

The main advantage is the marketing it gives you and the fact it discourages printing of photos that you have not licensed for print. The disadvantages are that typically you need to put it in a corner to not be overly annoying which means it can frequently be cropped out by someone who wants to rip you off. It also can be bad marketing if the watermark is poorly placed or does not look good.

Ideally you want the watermark to not detract from the image. It should be placed to work with the image and make something that people can look at and say "that looks professional, I want photos like that." If you can't place a watermark to have that be a probable outcome, it isn't worth placing one unless your intent is purely to stop unlicensed use of your image (at the cost of reputation and image).

As far as designing a tasteful watermark, the easiest way is probably to design a nice logo that includes the information. A nice elegant looking text can also work, but that is really more of a graphics design question than a photography question and I'd guess that Graphics Design on Stack Exchange has a lot of great answers already. Here is one to get you started.

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Unfortunately the digital revolution is a two-edged sword:

  • It allows mass distribution of content at a much lower cost than the days of print catalogs. This makes it easier to get your content in front of the eyes of potential buyers. It also makes it easier for everyone else to publish content, to the extent that the sheer volume of content available is staggering.
  • With so much content being distributed digitally, it is much easier for those who would steal your content to use it for their own purposes without your permission. They can be quite successful because their usage gets lost in the "noise" of the millions of images circulating each day. Image search tools such as tineye help somewhat, but still allow a lot to fall through the cracks.

So what does an enterprising photographer do? You need your images circulating as much as possible in order to get shooting opportunities, but you need your images to not be circulating for free in order to get paid for them. For many, the solution has been a watermark.

The various ways of using a watermark carry both positive and negative consequences:

  • In order for a watermark to be effective as a theft deterrent (positive), it must be intrusive enough to detract from the artistic value of the image (negative).
  • A small, unobtrusive watermark in a corner of the photo allows you to associate the photo with your business (positive), but also allows those who would steal your work an easy crop or clone to defeat it (negative).

I think it is entirely appropriate to even brand the images you sell in certain situations. For 80 years Olan Mills, one of the most successful portrait studio chains in the U.S., printed their logo in gold foil on the lower right corner of every print they sold. Not only did this serve to market their brand every time someone looked at a portrait they had produced, but it discouraged unauthorized copying of prints (Rather than the gold foil on top of the print, the copy would have a picture of the gold foil as part of the print). In the same way that a well known painter's signature increases the value of their work, the tastefully done and appropriately placed logo can enhance the value of your photos. It tells the customer and others who view the image that they cared enough to hire a well known, respected photographer.

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From my personal experience, most of the accomplished Landscape Photographers do not use them on their galleries that they post at their own website.

It is really a distraction in a fine art photograph to be viewing and plop there is some letters that are not part of the art.

This is for just the niche of displaying and selling fine art landscape photographs

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There's certainly an element of artist and audience relationship involved in weighing up if and what watermarks to apply. In fine art (and landscape artists are by as special as they'd like to believe) there is less cause to watermark as duplication of the work does not affect the artists income stream and the screen sized jpeg is not a quality match for their finished product for someone who'd be willing to pay for and appreciate the work. –  James Snell May 15 '13 at 11:57
    
Could you give a few examples? –  Good Gravy May 15 '13 at 12:27

Personally I use a PHP script to overlay a watermark (which I can change or choose depending on image size, orientation etc..) on images before being served up to a user's browser. The images simply sit on the server at high res 'unwatermarked'. There's a few hosting considerations and you will need to be a PHP developer but would be happy to share my solution by email etc..

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definitely do it server side (e.g. with php) I've seen it done with javascript and it's trivial to circumvent, I even say one wedding photographer who had images pop up in separate windows, with watermarks placed over the top using transparent gifs with absolute positioning - if you resized the window the watermark would move across the image, make it large enough and the watermark fell off the edge! –  Matt Grum Jun 4 '13 at 13:07

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