Why you should ask your photographer to watermark your images.

Most people I’ve encountered in my nearly 6 years as a full-time photographer don’t want my watermark on their lo-res photos. Lo-res images are the ones that are too small to print; they’re used for emailing, phone wallpaper, and for sharing on places like Flickr, Facebook and Pinterest.

I’ve had people remove my watermark without my permission (now it’s written into my agreement that cannot be removed or cropped out). I can see, from a client’s viewpoint, why you wouldn’t want a watermark “messing up” your photo. But that watermark is a good thing. You may think that I, or your own photographer, are trying to grab some “free’ publicity, but that’s just BS. That watermark is there not just to help me, it’s helping you! It’s helping reduce the chances that that photo of your darling baby’s bare butt won’t be stolen and used by someone you don’t know for a purpose you didn’t approve!

Photo theft is a real problem for photographers–and our clients! I can’t even count how many horror stories I’ve heard about people finding out that their family photos have been using in marketing and advertising campaigns–usually overseas.

[Edited to add this part] And then there’s Pinterest. The fastest-growing social network there is. What’s Pinterest all about? Photos. Lots and lots of them. Pinterest is a lawsuit waiting to happen, and lots has been written about taking care when posting there, but people still share photos without a thought to credit them. I like when people share my photos; I do! It’s good publicity and honestly, it makes me feel good that someone likes my work enough to repost it. But when my work is reposted and text is added to it; that’s a whole other problem. I could spend 10 hours a day, every day, looking for all my images that have been changed by someone else, and I’d never find them all. It was always the assumption of those who don’t create the art that anything on the internet is free. Pinterest took that misguided notion and blew it up. So by adding a watermark, people know that it belongs to me. And even if they don’t credit me with then repin, my logo is there, representing me when I’m not around.

Yes, watermarks can be removed by someone who really really wants it gone. But look at it this way: let’s say you’re some skeezy marketing person (with questionable business practices) on the lookout for a free stock image for your new ad campaign, and you Google “baby’s bare butt”. You’re going to come back with page upon page of choices. You might see a really great one that you want, but it’s got a watermark on it. But hey! Right next to it is another that’s maybe not so great, but there’s no watermark. That means it’s free, right?

Um, no. Nothing you find on the internet is free unless that website or author explicitly states that it’s free. But in our example, you, the skeezy marketing person, you’re ┬áprobably going to pass over that really great one with a watermark and move onto the one that’s not so great but good enough, and that you can grab right off the search page, and BAM! Slap it into your campaign.

Take a look at the images below. I shot all of these, and my watermark is on all of them. Just think of how many ways they could be put to (illegal) use if they didn’t have a watermark on them. Note: When I post client images online, in my blog or on Facebook, etc., the watermarks are very much like they are below. When I watermark images for a CD, they’re smaller and always placed in the same spot, usually the lower corner. Will that make them completely safe from theft? No, but it will help.

When I take your portrait, I don’t have the right to sell or license that image to a company without your written permission. So if even I don’t have that right, why in the world would you let a total stranger on the other side of the world (or, let’s face it, just down the block) have it?

These are your photos, yeah? You paid for them. You have a say in how and where they are shared (I always talk to my clients about posting their photos to Facebook before I do it) and if you don’t want your photos shared online…well, you have a say in that as well!

A small watermark identifies the photographer, so a) if a legitimate company is interested in using your photo they know who to contact. (Seeing your dog’s or your kid’s image in an ad campaign is kind of cool, actually!) It also reduces (reduces, not eliminates) the chance that it will be used unscrupulously.

And you know what? It also gives your photographer the credit she/he deserves. It helps people like you find photographers you like, that you may want to hire!

Watermarks, in my opinion, are all good. If you’re purchasing hi-res files to make prints, the watermark will of course be removed. But for online sharing, for Google image search, for Pinterest, for all the ways that thieves are stealing your life images and making money off of them, believe me, it needs to be there.



6 Replies to “Why you should ask your photographer to watermark your images.”

  1. Thanks for raising the awareness about this issue! I’d not really thought about how a watermark can protect clients, but so true.

    I used to not watermark, but I’m seriously considering it now after recently learning it gives you real legal leverage in court should an infringement case go that far. If your images are watermarked, the infringer can’t claim they didn’t know the image was copyrighted, especially if they removed the watermark. You can also seek higher damages for such cases. I would think that has to benefit a client as well.

    1. Don’t photographers automatically get an automatic copyright on EVERY image they take, no matter what? Ignorance of the law is not an excuse. You don’t need to put a watermark on a photo to secure the copyright.

    2. Mark,

      Ignorance of the law isn’t an excuse, but it puts the onus on the photographer to go around claiming copyright to those who don’t know the law.

      No, you don’t have to put a watermark on a photo to secure the copyright, but it does make it less desirable to someone who’s looking to steal photos.

  2. Definitely, Joann. I shoot mostly families and their pets; I know those mothers don’t want images of their babies (often naked) going out into the ether of the internet with no protection.

    When I first starting shooting, we were all on Flickr and it was fairly small group. I wish I’d started using watermarks back then, but even when I did, i got huffing from other photographers who didn’t like it. ??

    Watermark everything!

  3. Great post! I have a hard time explaining the importance to my clients. It’s not just about my best interest, it’s also about theirs. I’ve posted this link to my Facebook wall!

    1. Thanks, Callista. I know, not many people realize that it’s just as much for their own protection. Clients may not understand the level of image theft and just how rampant it is. But once you explain it to them, they’re all for it. I’m glad it could help you.

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