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Why I Don’t Watermark My Photos

Why I Don't Watermark My Photos | http://www.roseclearfield.com

Watermarking photos is something of a controversial topic, I know. If you’re in the pro-watermark camp, most likely my subject line has already upset you. If so, please don’t leave me a nasty comment, particularly if you don’t even read the post. For many years, I was very indifferent about watermarks. But the more time I spend browsing photos and crafting articles and blog posts, the more they bother me. I have never watermarked my photos and don’t plan to watermark my photos anytime in the foreseeable future. The following reasons explain why I don’t watermark my photos and why you should think twice before you watermark your photos.

Watermarks are distracting.

First and foremost, the vast majority of watermarks are extremely distracting. Occasionally, I do see small, tasteful watermarks that don’t distract from the images. It’s really rare. Most watermarks are too big and too dark and are placed in such a fashion that they get in the way of an image. How are you supposed to focus on a beautiful winding staircase surrounded by wildflowers when there’s a big fat watermark right in the middle of the staircase? If you’re going to watermark your photos, please design a small, tasteful watermark, and place it right in one of the corners of your photos.

Watermarks don’t prevent people from stealing your photos.

First, anyone with some basic photo editing skills can edit out most watermarks in a matter of seconds. I know that most people don’t want to hear that, but it’s the truth. Second, when you put your photos online, you run the risk of them getting stolen. I’m not saying this to discourage you from sharing photos online. It’s simply inevitable that when you share content online, eventually someone will try to steal it. It really stinks. Generally, people aren’t attempting to pass off others’ photos as their own. Instead, they’re sharing them in an improper fashion. A lot of people have no sense of content ownership and make no effort to give credit to the original source. I wish that people didn’t think it was acceptable to post photos to blogs, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc. without linking back to the original sources or giving credit where credit is due. It’s not acceptable. Ever. But it will happen, whether or not you watermark your photos.

Most watermarks are completely unnecessary.

There are a few common scenarios where I see watermarks that simply don’t need watermarks.

  • Low-resolution uploads. When you upload photos to Instagram or Facebook, the resolution quality is really low. Yes, typically, high-quality images still look good in low-resolution when you’re viewing them on a smartphone because the screen is tiny. Most of these images will never get printed or blown up so it doesn’t matter that they’re low-resolution. However, the fact that they’re low-resolution also means no one will steal them to actually try to profit from them. Yes, someone may save an image to use as a background, but there’s really nothing wrong with that. Frankly, I’d be flattered if someone screenshotted a photo I posted on Instagram to use as a phone background. So please stop watermarking your social media share photos, especially on Instagram.
  • Step-by-step recipe and tutorial photos. I see so many blog posts in which the author has watermarked every. single. photo. Again, no one is going to steal a photo of brownie batter or half-finished coasters. Again, someone may use one of these photos online without linking back to the post. If this happens, the watermark may slightly increase the odds of someone tracking down the original post. However, most of the time, people will share the finished photos of the food, craft, etc., as opposed to the in-progress photos. If you’re going to watermark your photos, limit the watermarks to  the finished, styled images.
  • Poor quality images. I know this sounds harsh, but many people create huge, distracting watermarks for photos that are mediocre at best. It’s like worrying about your pen name when you haven’t finished your first novel. Finish the book and see if anyone wants to read it, let alone publish it, before you worry about what happens when you get famous. The same principle holds true for photography. Concentrate on making your images great before you even begin to think about protecting them.

Watermarks may actually hurt your chances of getting your photos shared.

When I’m searching for images to use for articles and blog posts, I don’t want obtrusive watermarks distracting from the content or disrupting the flow. What if I used a header photo for a favorites post with a watermark? Suddenly, you’re thinking, “Oh, Rose is featuring another one of Jason’s photos” instead of, “Wow, that a great image.” Try to imagine this post, this article, or this Pinterest board if all the photos had huge watermarks. (Are you having trouble imagining these types of content with obnoxious watermarks? I wasn’t going to post a lot of examples, but I came across this as I was writing this article.) Yes, plenty of people do share watermarked photos, but plenty of people also significantly limit the number of watermarked photos they share because they detract from the content at hand. Let your images speak for themselves.

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The only situation that I believe warrants watermarking is professional photography with the intention of sales. When you’re sharing a gallery of images from a wedding or family portrait session, it’s completely appropriate to share small image files with tasteful watermarks that don’t distract from the images. Disabling right-click saving will further discourage people from saving these files, greatly limiting the number of people who avoid paying for the images. Yes, some people will still take screen shots or find other ways to save the images. But most people who have paid for professional photography services are motivated to pay for high-quality prints and photo books.

Do you watermark your photos?
Why or why not?

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{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Natasha November 14, 2016, 10:53 am

    I completely agree! I frequently see large, distracting text on images that, honestly, I really don’t think anyone is going to try to take. I have seen a few tasteful, signature-like watermarks on nicer photos that look okay, particularly in cases where resale is intended, but in general it’s not something I’m in favor of. As you say, it slightly increases the chances that someone will find a photo that’s been separated from its source, but I’m whole-heartedly with you on this one. Any time you put anything on the internet, someone could take it, but a watermark isn’t going to prevent that (as you point out).

  • Judy Nolan November 14, 2016, 6:41 pm

    I’m glad you don’t watermark your photos. They are so lovely!

  • Pamela Baker November 15, 2016, 2:44 pm

    Rose, I agree and disagree for these reasons. Many of the Photo’s I take although for my own use, to me are a work of art and have some meaning to me as many are a part of memories. Until a year ago I would have never thought to “watermark” my photo’s. On Pinterest I have a Board “Along the Hudson” of sites I have been to many times. There was one photo taken in Irvington NY along the Hudson River, a place I took my children from the time there were very young. We spent many days on the small bench under the Tree. So yes, it was something that was special and wanted to share with many. It wasn’t until I got an email that someone had repinned my pin. I always take a second to view their sites – one, I often thank them for admiring my photo’s and to see if they have similar photos that I would like to repin to my Boards. In this case, of a photo that had a lot of memories, they photo name was not only changed but they put it as their own, and mentioned it was taken in Australian – I followed the trail of pins and found my photo in an Australian magazine renaming the site and type of tree. I did write on both their sites that this was not taken in Australia, but was from a little town along the Hudson in NY! Again just a few weeks ago, the exact same thing happened with another one of my photos, which was very distinctly mine (again with personal memories) they picture was renamed and pinned on the other person’s board as their own work – mentioning it was a completely different site, etc.
    I worked for almost a year with Diane Clancy on the “Orphan Act” I have in my Blog archives many articles about people stealing photo’s, artwork,, etc. I would never mind anyone repinning any of my photos, but to claim them as their’s is a different story. I am sure any artist would feel the same if someone took their piece of artwork and claimed it as their own.
    I know many may feel differently, but wanted to explain why I have been putting my name on my photos, which of course are only on copies of the original.

    • Rose November 15, 2016, 3:49 pm

      It’s so frustrating that people outright claim others’ photos as their own. I’m so sorry that this has happened to you multiple times. However, it’s a risk you take when you post your photos online. I’m not trying to excuse the behavior, which is completely unacceptable. But the risk is still there. Unfortunately, watermarking your photos doesn’t prevent people from trying to claim them as their own. Many people ignore the watermark or will crop it out of or remove it from the photo.

      • Pamela Baker November 15, 2016, 4:28 pm

        Thanks Rose for understanding – Yes, everything is a risk, and as I mentioned, I post my photos for people to enjoy, but then again….. there are always one or two who take advantage; but I promise not to let them stop me from posting my photos. I surely cannot stop anyone from stealing them or removing my watermarks, but maybe they will think 2x!!! Thanks!

        • Rose November 15, 2016, 4:32 pm

          Generating awareness of the issue will definitely make some people think twice, which is always good.

  • Teresa | Simply Made Fun January 9, 2017, 10:56 am

    I completely understand where you are coming from but I do disagree on a point or two.

    For me, I watermark every single image on my site. My watermark is at the very bottom of every image and is very non-intrusive because I lower the opacity to about 8% in Lightroom. I don’t want it to be the focus of the image, but I do want it to be there. I take a lot of time to take photos for my blog and edit them, so I want my work to be recognized if someone shares it on their website.

    I do however, agree completely about large and intrusive watermarks. They are annoying and stop me from sharing that persons work on my blog. You never want text to take away from your photo and when you have a huge in-your-face watermark it does just that.

    Will those watermarks stop people from stealing your content? Nope. But hopefully it’ll help people find your blog and realize that your content is what they are searching for and you’ve gained a reader/subscriber from it.

    Also, there are sites out there that take an entire blog post (images and text) and repost it on their own sites. This happens fairly frequently and watermarks can help you prove the post is yours (along with your original post) and help when you file a DMCA. 🙂

    • Rose January 9, 2017, 5:26 pm

      You’re right that re-posting entire blog posts is all too common. I’ve never had anyone question my DMCA because the photos weren’t watermarked, but I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt. It’s still not enough to convince me to watermark my photos, but it’s one of the better points I’ve heard on the topic. I appreciate your insight!

  • Robin February 22, 2017, 6:40 pm

    I completely agree with you – a handful of my followers have suggested that I should really be watermarking my photos, and my gut feeling has always been that it’ll keep people from enjoying and sharing my content, defeating the entire purpose. Obviously, I might feel different if I found some egregious example of someone passing my photos off as their own for their personal gain; but I think as a growing blogger, watermarks would do me more harm than good. (Also, that example with the bird photos… wow.)

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