7 November 2010

Making the Case for Watermarking

DPS recently ran a poll asking photographers whether they watermarked their images before posting them online. 43% of people said 'never'. I thought that was a rather high number.

I used to watermark everything, back when I posted on deviantART, a community known for people browsing pictures for use on online games and the like (post anything with a horse and you could guarantee that's where it'd end up) and even passing it off as their own work. In fact, sticking a subtle watermark on wasn't to say they wouldn't still be nicked, but at least, if it included your name, someone seeing its unauthorised use would be able to let your know about it.

Since I started posting on Flickr, I haven't really watermarked anything; I've mostly just been posting only small-sized images - 750x250 pixels - and thinking that was ok, but more recently I'm thinking of swapping that back to larger, watermarked versions. Not least because it's nice on Flickr, and especially Flickriver, to have the option to view a larger version. Gotta say, 750 pixels is not that big on my new HD screen.

There are lots of arguments against it: it detracts from the image, images still have exif data/digital watermarks, it looks pretentious. Honestly, that last one. That's a biggie. One of the main reasons I stopped watermarking was I wasn't convinced at all anyone would bother to do anything with my photos and it looked like I thought I was better than I was.

And really, as I've discovered, watermarking does not always stop people from taking an image. The majority of well-meaning people will at least be reminded that hey, maybe they shouldn't just be using someone else's photo however they wish after all, but there are always those that will just take what they can. Exif data and right-click bans count for nothing when there's print screen.

But the point truth is, if the image is appropriated by someone else, a) 99 times out of 100 they won't go further to obscure the watermark than cropping, and that's easy to point out, b) it's an awful lot easier to claim it back as your own work if there's a watermark present, and c) it's surprising how many people on the internets are happy to point out image 'theft' and let you know about it. I've had messages from 3 perfect strangers about by images being passed off as others' work. It's rather heart-warming to know perfect strangers do care about fellow photographers' image rights, and the online community is a powerful thing.

It's not all that hard to make a watermarking that is quite unobtrusive and, if you really put the effort in, not bad looking; they don't need to ruin the image completely to add some effective level of 'security'. I don't think the picture posted above is too hideous, and it has two watermarks. Count'em. I found that's an example of the best way to watermark: a name, or username (a username is often better), a website link where the original was posted, and the word 'copyright'. The first two are so someone can link it back to you. The latter is surprisingly effective at stopping most of those who assume it's just fine to take and use your photo in their tracks. It's like a badge that says 'hey, this image has an owner - think about it.'

And then you have things like this. Ok, not everyone is going to have an image this desirable, or a theft this ridiculous, but it does highlight the fact that if you do put an image on the web, even at a low resolution or small size, it can get out of your control without the recognition you deserve. Perhaps its even worse if you are not a well-known photographer, as there aren't many out there who will automatically recognise the image as yours!

You may not be making your living from your photos, but it's still damn annoying.


  1. How do I go about making a watermark? And the installing it? New post maybe?

  2. I'm sure there are far fancier ways of doing it (eg in lightroom) but I do my watermarks in photoscape at the moment. I do it in batch edit, where under the 'object' panel I've created 1 image and 2 lots of text in various sizes, fonts, and positions on the image, all in a pale peachy-beige colour at low opacity. Once you've set it up once it's very easy because photoscape saves it for you.
    I quite like how I've got it atm, although I've got photoshop elements now so I could do a proper unique image. I'll think about doing a more detailed post soon.