Watermarking Your Photos: Part 1 – Why?

At some point in every digital photographer’s journey there comes a point where we are faced with the question: To watermark, or not to watermark? The decision on whether to add a digital watermark over your beautiful photos is a personal one, but of course there are pros and cons (call them “consequences” if you will), regardless of which side of the fence you sit on. I have a very firm stance on my personal watermarking belief system, but I’ll get to in a little bit…

What is a Watermark?

For those of you who are beginners to digital photography, you have probably heard the term before, but perhaps some clarification is needed. A watermark is simply a graphical or text element which has been overlaid onto your image. You have probably seen a photographer’s name, website, or email address added to the bottom corner of an image before. This is a watermark! Or more accurately, this is a type of watermark as there are several ways to watermark your digital photos.

The Question of Watermarking

As I was saying, the decision to add a digital watermark to your photos is largely personal, but there are some real benefits to doing so. Watermarking an image is a digital process which should be one of the last steps in your processing workflow. Typically, you will only want to add a watermark to images which you are sharing online. If you are selling or making personal prints, there is little use for a watermark other than to add the effect of a “signature” similar to what painters do with their works. But for the average photographer shooting family portraits, weddings, or personal photography, keeping a watermark out of your prints is the most likely scenario for the majority of us. It’s when you share your images online with the world that you’ll want to be very “aware” of your watermarking strategy. Let’s have a look at the most popular reasons for this essential step in your digital post-processing.

Crediting Yourself
You have a beautiful portfolio of digital images and you want to share them online so the whole world can enjoy your photography. That’s great! When someone views your photo online (regardless of where you post it, be it a photo sharing site, a forum, or your own personal website), how are they going to know who the photographer was that took this amazing shot? Adding a simple watermark containing your name will instantly enable the viewer to know who you are, and if they enjoy your work they may even be prompted to do an online search of your name to find more of your photography or learn more about you. Every photo is a work of art in itself, and it’s up to you if you’d like to sign it or leave it anonymous.

Providing Contact Info
Now, you don’t want your watermark containing too much information such that it distracts from the photo, but if you are planning on selling your work it may be a good idea to give people an easy way to find you. You can do this in a variety of ways with your image’s metadata (we’ll cover this in a future post!), or you could have your email or website address appear in your watermark. People will be able to contact you, which may lead to sales or future job shoots if that is what you are seeking.

Protecting Your Images
This is one of the more controversial topics when it comes to watermarking. Here is the simple fact: You cannot protect your digital images from being “stolen” off the web, period. You can make it difficult for someone to steal your photo, but not impossible. As far as watermarks go, the only way to prevent someone from stealing your photo off the web is to add a very intrusive watermark which covers the majority of the image; similar to the first example photo in this posting. Personally, I don’t feel this adds any value to your photo. Some would beg to differ, but I would argue that in protecting your photos with a watermark, you are ruining your photo – which is what you are trying to display in the first place! I promise we’ll get into a deeper discussion on protecting your images on the web in another post. For now, we’ll focus on watermarking.

Types of Watermarks

By now, I’m hoping you all see the benefits in adding a watermark to your photos. I really feel it’s one of those steps which many folks who are just getting started, tend to neglect. Even if you are sharing your photos on Facebook with your friends or emailing them to family members, you may not know who else winds up seeing them. I say, if you have a digital image to share, add some sort of watermark to it! Now that my little watermarking sermon is out of the way, let’s have a look at the different types of watermarks you could add to your photography.

The Loud and Proud
As I mentioned before, for those who are really concerned about the image thieves of the world, you could go with the destructive full-image overlay type watermarks (see the first image at the top of this post). It covers enough of your photo that it would be too much work for any would-be image thief to spend time Photoshopping it out, but at the cost of being a major distraction from your photo.

Watermark Frame
I like this method, and it’s one I often use for my own work. This would be adding a frame to your image, and including the watermark within the frame itself. You can get as simple or as fancy as you like, but typically a thick border with some text inside it will do the trick. It doesn’t distract from the image, and often it draws attention to your name/contact info without taking anything away from your photo.

Small and Subtle
This is another method of watermarking which I also use. It involves adding a small watermark which could be either text based or a logo, and overlaying it on top of your photo in a subtle way. Usually I will position this type of watermark in one of the corners of the image so that it includes my “signature” or contact info without getting in the way of the image itself. I have even seen some highly effective uses of this type of watermark from some photographers, who cleverly incorporate their logo/text into their scene such that it becomes part of the image.

To me, watermarking a digital image is one of those essential steps in finishing an image intended for the web. It may not offer 100% protection, but it’s a way of signing your work and letting people (who are interested) find and contact you more easily. Now that we’ve looked at the reasons for watermarking, and the types of watermarks, I’ll continue our watermarking series with some tutorials on how you can easily add and automate the process of watermarking your photos. Stay tuned and until then, happy photographing!

12 Responses

    1. @Sean Agreed. Keeping the images low-res is something that do, but it doesn’t fully prevent people from using my photos on the web elsewhere.

      I’ll be following up with a post on how you can protect your images from “digital theft” shortly.

      Thanks for your comment!

  1. An interesting post, thanks for sharing. I hadn’t really thought much about the world of watermarking before, though I do definitely see its uses. Regarding the watermark ‘Frame’ method you mention, though, wouldn’t it be really too easy for someone to just crop the actual photo in the middle of the frame, and thus obtaining a copy of your image without the watermark too easily…?

    1. @Al Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely right, which is exactly why I don’t believe watermarks offer any protection for an online digital image. Unless someone goes with the type of watermark which blocks out all the good stuff in their photo!

      For me, the only purpose that a watermark serves is to provide some way of the viewer finding me; provided that 1) I want to be found, and 2) they want to find me!

      Love your site by the way, keep up the good work.

  2. I use the small watermark on the web-size pics I post and give clients for sharing. I briefly considered the “protection” approach, but I decided the negative effect of making a beautiful picture less beautiful would be a bigger cost to me in the end than the occasional poacher who crops out my logo.

    And of course, web pics are kept low-res.

  3. Robert

    I wish there was a way that you digitally “sign” your photograph. I wonder if the information held in the EXIF (within data portion of image file) could somehow remain *locked* so that no one could a) use your photo w/o your permission b) attempt to alter/edit the information held in there.

    I’ve recently changed the digital “author” of my Canon D-SLR with the EOS Utility. Whenever I transfer a photo that I’ve taken with this camera into Lightroom it automatically shows my name in the EXIF.

    But any of this EXIF data can be altered, making it unusable when it comes to prove ownership of a photograph?

    Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

  4. rita

    Proving ownership: One could always hide one’s id very small in the picture itself. The only way to find it would be to look VERY close up (magnification 600%). This wouldn’t help people find you but if you needed to prove that your image had been stolen, this would do the trick. I suppose having the raw file would do that too and it’s easier. Oh well…

  5. Pingback : How to Put a Stop to Image Theft | TheLawTog

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