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Watermarking your images: Pros & Cons


It's a game of compromises, any benefits have their trade-offs. Lets explore the top advantages and disadvantages of watermarking images.

Watermarking your images: Pros & Cons - Featured Image

First of all, a little style change on the blog: while some of my the previous articles were written in a longer form (like the recent detailed guide on building effective Contact pages), I’ll also be experimenting with shorter, more digestible articles here on the blog. My aim is to eventually group articles into comprehensive series of posts on specific topics, one of which will be about watermarking.

So lets get started, as always, with understanding the WHY?, going through all the reasons for and against watermarking images.

PROs

Calling it “pros” might be considered an over-simplification. Watermarking images is sometimes a compromise, some photographers don’t want to do it, they (feel they) have to. But as we go through these, you’ll discover watermarks actually have their own benefits:

1. Partial theft protection

This one is obvious: depending on the type of watermark you apply to your images, you can prevent some of the people from using your images wrongfully. It’s not bulletproof, but it does get the job done most of the times, it’s a visual cue that you want to protect your rights.

2. Branding

As your images spread into the far corners of the Internet, they can have your logo and/or website URL embedded in them, promoting your photography brand and generating more traffic to your website.

Depending on the type of photography you do, having a brand name on your photos can actually bring in more clients in the long run. Wedding and portrait photographers usually fall into this category.

Watermarking example: branding

3. Images look signed

On certain types of images, some clients actually ask the photographers to leave the images watermarked, they feel that the images look more “finished” this way.

4. Getting more sales

When needing prints, clients have to purchase prints from you to get un-watermarked version. They can no longer simply get the images from your site and print them themselves.

5. Photo agencies do it

There are reasons big photo agencies like Getty watermark everything, so why shouldn’t you? Protecting your work makes sense when your income comes from it.

6. It’s an age-old practice

Painters use to sign their paintings. In fact, watermarking is said to date back to the 13th century.

Watermarking example: oil painting signature

CONs

1. They’re a distracting foreign element

There are still other ways in which you can protect your work from copyright infringement, which we’ll cover in a future article.

An obtrusive watermark ruins the image’s composition and mood. But lets also step back a little. We’re talking about the cons of watermarks, not of ugly watermarks in particular.

Watermarking example: distracting or necessity

2. Time-consuming

Regardless of what stage you are in your business, time is precious. It might make sense to focus more on creating new quality images instead of worrying too much about improbable image theft.

3. No legal value

If you find your images wrongfully used for commercial purposes, you can (and should) take legal action whether or not they were watermarked. If you can prove you shot the images (and maybe have the RAW files), that’s what matters.

4. They can be removed or cropped

With very little Photoshop experience, people can quite easily remove most watermarks from images, especially by using contact aware fill. For serious thieves, watermarking and disabling right-click-saving represent just small inconveniences.

For watermarks to be effective, they have to be larger and more prominent, which is too big of a compromise sometimes.

Watermarking example: cropping

5. Less sharing

Watermarks are indeed free advertising, but people are less likely to share watermarked images on their social media accounts.

6. Can look amateurish, cheap or arrogant

It obviously depends on how elegant and discreet you make your watermarks.

But they do sometimes convey a slight sense of arrogance: if you’re protecting the images so badly, then you must think they’re really good. This lacks humility, and visitors pick up on that.

7. They might become obsolete soon

Many companies are working on better image recognition algorithms, so there might not be a need for watermarks at one point. Online services will probably be able to find the image creator, but this is just a speculation (and wish) at this point.

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Further reading

 

Takeaway

If you’re not in any of the extremes (either strongly to or against watermarks), you have the delicate task of finding a good balance.

Here are my tips to help you manage the compromises:

  • Let the watermark be there to help with branding, but make it as tasteful & discreet as possible to not hurt your images.
  • Use various tools to automate the watermarking process and save some time.
  • Don’t rely on just watermarks for security, look into other copyright-protection measures.
  • Accept the fact that you can’t prevent everything, your images could still get stolen sometimes.
  • Revisit this subject in the future, more options are becoming available as we speak (digital/invisible watermarking, reverse image recognition etc.)

This blog will cover many aspects of watermarking in future posts, with topics like legal implications, image theft stories, digital watermarking and tracking services, watermark examples and placement guidelines etc. But for now, I wanted to get a bird’s-eye view on the topic.

Watermarking usually brings up very strong feelings in photographers. What are your thoughts? Anything you’d add to the list of PROs and CONs?

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