It's a game of compromises, any benefits have their trade-offs. Lets explore the top advantages and disadvantages of watermarking images.
- 1. Partial theft protection
- 2. Branding
- 3. Images look signed
- 4. Getting more sales
- 5. Photo agencies do it
- 6. It’s an age-old practice
- 1. They’re a distracting foreign element
- 2. Time-consuming
- 3. No legal value
- 4. They can be removed or cropped
- 5. Less sharing
- 6. Can look amateurish, cheap or arrogant
- 7. They might become obsolete soon
- Further reading
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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?