To Watermark or Not to Watermark, the Never Ending debate

I have written about watermarking images a few times over the life of this blog and have been swayed for and against. It is topic where opinions are balanced between showing your work online and trying to protect it. To be honest if you don’t want your images stolen don’t share them. This is harsh but it is also true. There is no sure fire way of preventing people from stealing your images, you can deter them by placing obstacles in their way, although in the end all you need to do is to take a screen grab and its stolen.

Young Tree In The Wood

I was a young and naive thinking that no one would steal them.

At first I was not in favor of watermarking. My opinion was that watermarks can take away from the image. The more complex your watermark the harder it will be to remove. Of course a watermark can be cropped out. This means that a watermark needs to be large or that was my thinking. A large watermark would take over the image and for me when looking at an image, I want to look at the image not the watermark.

my big watermark

my big watermark

I don’t know why but my mind was swayed to thinking watermarks were a good idea. It was possibly because there was a lot of press at the time about images being stolen. I then began watermarking my images with what I thought was a good watermark. It was largish, definitely not small and would have been difficult to remove. Deep down I didn’t like it but I kept with it for a while until I was sick of adding the watermarks. I was being lazy it was an automated step in Photoshop that took one click to apply.

I had swung back to no watermarks thinking, well why would someone steal my images they are not that good. Of course all it took was to find that people had been stealing my images including one fellow Word Presser.
I discovered that they had been stolen, because I was reading “Stop Stealing Photos” a blog shaming photo thieves and out of curiosity did a reverse image search on my images. I suppose this was a kick up the backside I needed to really think about how I was treating my images. Was I just orphaning my images and leaving them out there on the web.I came back to seeing watermarks as important for a few reasons but not the only thing I could do to help keep my image mine.

Personally I think a watermark should be small enough not to detract from an image but large enough not to be easily cropped without compromising the composition. I don’t think a watermark should be placed over an important element of an image as this takes away from the image. I also think you need to use a neutral color and tone so that it stands out but doesn’t conflict with the other tones of the image. These are my personal preferences but these preferences also subconsciously decide how much attention I will pay to an image or even a blog. If I can’t see the image, I am not going to spend any more time on it.

Dragan Self Portrait Eye

At the bottom you can see my current watermark with my twitter handle.

By putting a watermark on your image it can be a deterrent for people wanting to take it. It can also be used as evidence when the thief alternately says “I didn’t realize it was yours.”, you can’t claim ignorance when it is written there plain as day. Watermarking can also be used as advertising who you are, on my images I have my twitter handle because if you google it you will get my twitter page and information about me. Although watermarking is not the only thing you can do. You can also add the metadata with copyright information to help your claim when you say an image has been stolen and if the thief looks at it then they will know who owns the image.

These are alternately steps that a determined thief will remove or even our own technology will. Several social media sites actually strip the metadata from images to make their upload size smaller.
Other steps you can take is to embed images in a flash file or remove the option of right click on the image. These layers of protection are nothing against the power of Print Screen.

Images are going to be stolen and this is the first thing I came to realize. Small business, maybe startups and even bigger businesses see images online as fair game. They want a stock image but don’t want to pay or don’t even know where to find stock images, but they do know there are images on google. Even I would find images of my favorite bands as a teenager with AltaVista and print out their pixelated representation.

Even more shocking recently there was an article where an employee of Facebook and a graduate from Stanford but a video tutorial online about how to remove watermarks from class pictures. I think these shows how blasé people are when it comes to copyrights of images. I have even explained to people that when you buy a print from a photographer (for example a child’s portrait) this doesn’t mean you can scan it and take the file to your nearest photo lab and make copies. Copyright theft is talked a lot in public when it comes to films and music and not so much when it comes to photography, I have only read one article in a national paper ever and this was in the consumer help section (big bad photographer suing poor hair salon who stole their pictures and the hair salon wanted help!)

In understanding that it doesn’t matter what I do and my images most likely will be stolen I started to see water marking as a way of deterring and proving ownership while advertising who I am.

 If you wish to get notifications when I post on my blog, you can follow me on Twitter@apertureF64, on or alternatively be emailed by subscribing below. All images are the Copyright of Benjamin Rowe , ALL RIGHTS Reserved unless credited to another photographer. For more information please read my Copyright Statement

19 thoughts on “To Watermark or Not to Watermark, the Never Ending debate

  1. Great article, I’ve been thinking a lot about watermarking, too, and have come to all of the same conclusions as you have. There’s also the fact that different countries have different copyright laws, and the fact that if you do catch someone stealing your pictures – what can you do about it? It’s a law that exists but who sees it through? Who of us (small, non-professional) bloggers would bother to get a lawyer for copyright theft?
    I’ve also found that people don’t care at all whether something is watermarked, especially in food blogging. Best example is Pinterest. Yes, it does bring traffic to your site, but it’s one major case of copyright violation.
    It’s a two-sided sword, this copyright thing. I always contact people who take my pictures without permission, and if I’m lucky they cooperate. However, at one point you resign and tell yourself that as long as people are not stealing your pictures on a grand scale, it might not be worth getting mad about.

    • Hi Kiki, when it cones to copyright I believe there needa to be global rules about how we go about protecting and enforcing it. I have found a polite email followed by a DMCA notice works quite well. For me pininterest and even tumblr can a pit of copyright infringements through repetitive sharing and grouping with your image no longer presented or shared as you wished.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. Its an interesting debate, on a personal note i put a small watermark on at the bottom and if i really feel protective of an image i dont share it at all. I had an image of mine used on a gambling website which i was not at all happy about, i am very strongly against gambling. They removed it after about a week but it has made me very wary.

    • There are pictures I wont put online, usually because of agreements I have made. It is a shame that because of theives you feel you can’t share your most precious images. Although the internet is a great playground for the world. It is the minority that spoil it for everyone else.
      Thanks for commenting.

  3. I put my watermark in the corner and if my image is stolen then it is stolen. I used to worry about it more but it’s not like I’m some famous photographer. I think they have more to worry about. I do embed my copyright info from my camera into my images now which I just found out about recently! I don’t care for watermarks that cover the image…those are so obnoxious! To me it says “I am so good that I worry about someone stealing my images”. Really?? You are THAT good? lol Sorry but I can’t help but laugh about that.

    • Hi laura, I love your last part of you comment. In a way the bigger the photographer your are the more protection you have through publications, management and lawyers, so there is less need to watermark. I think in a wsy embedding metadata is more important than watermarking.

  4. As a relative newbie to posting my (better) images on line, I spent a great deal of time researching this issue. Like you, I don’t care for watermarks that cover the entire photo, no matter how low the opacity. (I love Laura’s comment about that!) I came across a lot of conflicting information, but my decision was to include my name, the copyright symbol, and the year and embed the metadata, which also includes info about my Creative Commons license. I’m by no means an expert photographer, but simply just a person who likes to dot her “i’s” and cross her “t’s.”

    I did have a hard time deciding which “name” to use: SPFischer (which is the name I use around web) or Stacy P Fischer. I opted for the latter choice, though, as it is more likely there are many more SPFischers. In fact, there is one person who uses SPFischer on Instagram, a site on which I never had an account – a tattoo artist 🙂

    I do change the size, opacity, and position of my watermark as the photo dictates. At this point, I think I have about 30 variations loaded into Lightroom. I wish LR made it easy to tweak an existing watermark without having to create an entirely new one in the library (though there may be a workaround I’m not yet familiar with). Great article!

    • Hi Stacy, in light room you can make an export preset and when you export an image you can modify the preset. This could be time consuming if you have a lot of images to export.

      There is alot of conflicting advice because it is such an opinionated subject.

      Thanks for popping by and commenting.

  5. That is why I watermark, I know it won’t stop someone who really wants the image, but it is a good deterrant and as you said it advertises who you are. For some I try and hide it in the image. My theory is that if there is a choice between two images, the thief will take the one they have to do the least amount of work too.

  6. I think watermarking is more about getting your name and website out there. No matter what if someone wants your image they will get it. Heck, I had a framed image go missing/stolen at an exhibit so whats to stop someone from stealing one off the internet.

  7. Very well written essay, Ben. I recently started watermarking my blog images but now I guess I better have the meta data embedded as well. My web site uses flash, so I don’t do it there (knowing that the print screen command can circumvent that). But the business end of my work is selling relatively large individual prints so I’m thinking a 72 ppi image isn’t going to threaten that.

    • Hi Robin, I agree that uploading low resolution files is a deterrent and on my blog I up load 72ppi with the longest side being 800px for this reason as well as to save space. Although in saying that I have had quite small images stolen as well. In the end there is nothing you can do. to stop them being taken.

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