I've recently become aware that one of my photos has been used by a national newspaper beyond its licensing terms (cc-by-sa-2.5, used without the required credit), and whilst I can pursue them for some compensation, I was wondering about how effective watermarking is as a deterrent for the future? After all, if somebody has little regard for copyright, what's to stop them cropping a watermark out?


8 Answers 8


I think adding your copyright info to the meta of the images is more important than a watermark. I understand both sides of the "to watermark, or not to watermark" discussion, and both have valid points.

But more important is that you should always added copyright and contact info to your file's meta data. There's really no excuse not to - it doesn't detract from the image at all, and it's fairly easy to do in a batch process with Photoshop, Bridge, or even Lightroom.

Of course, if you don't mind people using your images, well then don't bother. But if you do, there's no excuse for not having your copyright stuff in the file meta.

I'm not really sure, but I think that might even go further in a litigated case over copyright infringement, if it can be shown the violator's file has the meta there and they ignored it, that's pretty hard to fight from their side.

  • 4
    I guess the only caveat is that they can simply copy the pixel data and none of that meta information comes with it. Aug 16, 2010 at 2:45
  • 1
    @Nick Bedford - or, use the original file while editing the meta themselves.
    – ysap
    Mar 10, 2011 at 17:32
  • 1
    Good mention of contact information -- you don't know how the editor is going to get your picture (could be an FWD: FWD: FWD: type email), so including a way for the company to find you helps honest people to be able to pay/credit you. Aug 23, 2012 at 20:59
  • 1
    Another point -- the more complicated your licensing terms are (how many newspaper people are going to know what cc-by-sa-2.5 is?) the easier it is for people to misunderstand the terms. I think what the creative commons people are trying to do is nice, but it still isn't as clear as "Copyright 2012, Rowland Shaw -- (xxx) xxx-xxxx" Aug 23, 2012 at 21:05

I think probably they do deter misuse. Psychologically, using an plain image without credit is a different beast than using one with COPYRIGHT ROLAND SHAW staring you in the face (or taking active steps to remove the watermark). Also, there's more opportunities for people in the chain who might not otherwise think of it to say "hey, do we have permission for that image?", and I think there's a good chance the situation you describe is due to ignorance rather than active malice ("all images on the Internet are free, aren't they?"). And if there's no watermark, it's easier to rationalize, e.g. "we'll talk to him later" and then forget about it.

On the other hand, I've never seen a watermark that didn't look awful, detracting significantly from the image. Perhaps it can be done "tastefully and artfully", but I've never seen it. So it's a tradeoff.

  • 13
    +1 for mentioning awfulness. Personally I prefer my pictures without the self-abuse. License fees can always be negotiated later.
    – che
    Jul 19, 2010 at 21:31
  • 1
    I tend to agree about working out license fees later. The thing about a watermark is that if it IS made tasteful, it usually also means it is easy to remove (anyone loathing PS5's content-aware fill, yet?) Watermarks really only work as a deterrent when they are glaringly blatant...which mitigates 99.9% of their value in 99% of cases where they are needed.
    – jrista
    Aug 5, 2010 at 5:45
  • 1
    For a large percentage of the population, an easy to remove watermark is an effective deterrent. However, it's the small percentage that it doesn't deter whom use it in the worst ways.
    – eruditass
    Aug 6, 2010 at 19:34

I use a D90, and i took some advice from Ken Rockwell, and put a copyright notice in the camera's comment field, which is stamped into the EXIF data of every image.

  • 1
    This works assuming you never happen to share the body with anybody else. Not a problem for most people, but it's something to think about. Dec 4, 2011 at 18:59

I am generally of the opinion that people with no respect for copyright will continue to ignore/subvert any deterrents that you use. If they can see it, they can steal it.

Watermarking, however, can be used as a marketing tool, and as long as it does not detract from the image itself it is completely valid.

As far as tracking down usage, there are lots of other tools, including Exif data or image tracking services like Digimarc, that you can use to discover infringement.

  • 1
    I agree about marketing. If you like a fantastic photo or set of photos, you'll generally be interested in more of what the photographer has to offer. Aug 16, 2010 at 2:47
  • 1
    Just a note that Digimarc isn't an image tracking service that tracks based on meta-data. Digimarc For Images (DFI) embeds digital watermarks that are not visible to the naked eye. The watermark can survive some extent of cropping and photo resizing. Their service tracks images based on this embedded digital watermark rather than exif data.
    – Error 454
    Jan 19, 2011 at 9:39

I think watermark, if done tastefully and artfully is worth it, perhaps not as a deterrent for copyright theft, but so if your images are seen, that it properly gets people to look you up. Yes they can crop out the watermark, but if you can prove that, then you probably can increase the damages awarded.

I also think that a well done watermark enhances an image, much like a well done image border, but that is clearly personal preference.

If you do portraits and the like, and you offer online proofs, I'd definitely put a big "PROOF" watermark across the image.

  • 7
    Oh god, I can't stand whole image watermarks. Makes the photo much less appealing than it could otherwise be to a prospective customer/client. Aug 16, 2010 at 2:44

If you actually want your pictures to be printed, you drop the watermark. Editors are in a hurry and can't wait to buy a non-watermarked version. You'll have to find out who used your image and send the bills yourself though, but that's some money after all.


I must say that watermarking when done tastefully doesn't detract from an image. I personally think the most unobtrusive way to do it is to have a simple translucent white logo in the corner, roughly 10-15% of the width of the photo.

An example (of a friend's work) would be something like this: http://www.flickr.com/photos/teddibrice/4629473858/ though you could go further and simply stick it right against the edge.

You see it but it doesn't yell at you and gets the point across that this is their photo.


The most tasteful "watermarks" (if they can be called that) that I have seen are actually more akin to the postcard-style advertizing you sometimes see from studios. What I'm thinking of is a moderately translucent stripe that goes across the photo, often at the line 60% of the way down the photo - although a vertical stripe works too. The stripe is usually at something like 20% translucent (rather than the typical "watermark" which might by 90% translucent).

I'd be interested in other opinions.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.