Watermarks: how to and should you?

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Some of my eagle-eyed readers have noticed that I have recently started to add a watermark to some of my images. I thought I would share how I have done this and then ask whether I should have done it at all.

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I drew my logo with black pen on white paper and photographed it. In photoshop (I use CS4), I adjusted the exposure to get a true black and true white and then inverted the image, so now I had a white dragonfly on a black background. Then I added the type and the ‘C’ in a new layer and, hey presto, one logo.

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Or two logos – I can’t decide which I like better.

To insert into an image, I copy and paste the logo onto the image and then select screen from the drop down menu of layer modes. This ignores the black background and just adds the white. Then I adjust the opacity slider to get a watermark effect.

In the top image, I have coloured the watermark to suit the subject. This is easily done simply by using the paint bucket tool and clicking on the white areas of the logo before you add it to your image. If you choose a dark colour, you may find it works better to invert the logo (back to black on white) before changing the colour by clicking on the black writing and picture and then use multiply as your blending mode, thus losing the white background and pasting only the dark letters.

Well, I like my pretty little logos and I had a lot of fun designing them. I was influenced by a couple of friends who have very stylish logos that always look great. See Modern Memory Keeping for a great example. But when I add my shiny new watermarks to my images I feel frustrated as they often seem to me to spoil the look. It’s not too bad in an image like the one at the top, which is as much about design and presentation as the photograph alone, but I have no doubt at all that a watermark would spoil, for me, an image like this:

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How important is it to add a watermark when sharing images on the web? Does it really offer a practical protection from image misuse? It does perhaps make sure your shot is attributed to you when reposted by people too lazy to attribute properly. But if you want to stop others from deliberately poaching your work, a little watermark in the margin, so very easily cloned away, isn’t going to help you. You need a dirty great watermark marching right across the middle of your cherished image, thus spoiling its appearance utterly.

What do you think?

26 thoughts on “Watermarks: how to and should you?

  1. I’m a watermark user and always will be. When I started my business (portrait, wedding and fine art photography) I learned one thing pretty quick…. it was that everyone wanted their prints for free, and you’d be surprised at the lengths people will go to try to achieve that. I even had a wealthy friend of my mom, whose family I photographed, try to wiggle her way out of paying for prints. So I put a policy in place for myself – any image that I put on the web has to be watermarked, no exceptions. And I’m sure you notice on my images, they are not off in the corner so small you can’t read them, they are usually somewhere near the subject matter. And on my official website the watermarks are smack dab in the middle and you can’t right click to save a file and if you try to print the page, the sheet is blank. The only thing left to do would be to use the snipping tool, but there is a big old watermark in their way. I had a teacher whose work was stolen and used commercially without his permission. You just can’t be too careful. So I watermark everything to protect my work. Also I had someone copy and paste images once from my facebook page to their facebook page. This was before I used watermarks, and I saw people commenting on them telling her what great images she had taken. You see that once, you’ll want to protect your images at any cost.

    • Thanks for this lovely long response! I used to add a watermark as standard and it came in useful when I happened upon one of my images in a glossy magazine! Imagine my surprise. They had tried to crop the watermark away but hadn’t done a very good job. Luckily I am married to a very good lawyer and I successfully
      pursued my rights. I let the practice lapse when I decided to stop doing commercial work and rediscover the joy in my hobby. Perhaps I just need to get used to seeing my shots with watermarks again… I hadn’t thought about yours when I wrote this so obviously it doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of your images. Do you like my little bugs? πŸ™‚

    • I understand how aggravating it could be, for someone to be complimented for your work, especially if it was stolen from you. All you can do is, watch, and think of how much you hate that person…

      Oh well, life is life, everyone has to deal with a real ***** in their life.

      • Very true. Sometimes the audacity of image thieves is remarkable. I will never forget what happened to a friend of mine: he found several of his images on the net in someone else’s degree portfolio!

  2. Wow, see, I feel like everyone has at least one bad story of their work getting stolen. And I’m sure there are people who would still try to steal a hobbyists work too. People are lame sometimes…haha. And yes, I love you’re little bugs on your watermarks. Perfect for you!

  3. It’s depressing, reading your posts and realising how much I still have to learn! The joy of photography, I suppose…

    I understand why some people use watermarks, and I must say yours are gorgeous. But yes, I do find them intrusive sometimes. No easy answers.

  4. Lovely post Rachael and nice watermarks, I love the bugs and the clever incorporation of copyright symbol:-)

    I still prefer my shots without the watermark, and am often torn as to whether to put them on or not, but decided that it might deter the opportunist who often cannot be bothered to edit out the watermark, or like in the one of yours that we both know, made a bad job of it! I have had a few of mine “taken” now (that I know of so far!), much as it annoys and frustrates me I still find that I cannot bring myself to put large watermarks on mine. I guess it is because I know that I will not try and make a career of this, I just enjoy it as a hobby and if I make any money out of it it is a big bonus!

  5. Watermarks is a tricky subject. As a professional where your photos are your income, watermarking your photos is more than just protecting your own work, but also it’s about getting your name out there.

    However, I don’t think watermarks work when it comes to protecting your work. If someone wants to nick your stuff, they will do it by whatever means necessary. And the openess of the web means it’s just getting easier and easier. Sad fact 😦

    Related, a few years back I created fan desktop wallpapers for the TV show Stargate Atlantis. Watermarked them on the edges with my site’s URL and my name. I was at a signing event where stalls were selling celebrity 10x8s. Lo and behold, some artwork I’d made for the show was printed out and being sold by one of the stallholders with my watermark cut off. Charming. When I asked where they got the picture from, they just said, “Oh the internet!”

    • Sadly, I think people assume if they got it on the Internet it’s free to use. There seems to be a degree of wilful blindness when it comes to copyright notices. I hope you gave him/her a good telling off and made them withdraw the items from sale (or cut you in on the profits?). ;). We are fans of Stargate Atlantis here. My children and I are currently reviewing the whole five seasons in order. πŸ™‚

      • Definitely true. I think it became truer with the dawning of Google Images search. It’s so easy to find any sort of image. Whereas before you had to use stock photo sites which have all the watermarks all over them. A quick trip to Google Images and you can find whatever you want.

        That sales person on the stall was useless – they shrugged off all responsibility! I loved Stargate Atlantis. It got a bit silly towards the end though. Think Stargate Universe was a lot better. Shame it got cancelled so early on 😦

      • I have to confess that we didn’t rate universe that much. We couldn’t find a single character we liked! We thought it seemed like they were trying to copy Battlestar (which we did like).

      • I felt the same way in the beginning. Battlestar’s one of my all time favourite TV shows! Though I stuck with it and really got into the story and the characters. Robert Carlyle’s in particular. Excellent role for him.

  6. Hi Rachael,

    I feel that watermarks quite often degrade an image, but that’s a good point if they are deemed necessary. I tried watermarks for fun, but I didn’t like the effect they had on the images theme,aspect,idea, presentation etc. However, my pics aren’t of a sufficient quality to attract attention from that kind of thing (as far as I know anyway). I can understand the aggravation and disgust at people nicking one’s images, and your’s are gorgeous – so it’s a toughie.

    • I keep dithering about it still, leaving watermarks on some and removing them from others. Perhaps I will get used to it. I think you are being a little unfairly critical of your own shots πŸ˜‰

  7. I like your watermarks, I’ve been trying to think of a logo for myself.
    As for the question to watermark or not. I say absolutely as while I haven’t had a bad experience yet (touch wood) I figure it’s the least we can do to prevent people using our images without credit or even for economic gain.
    I was nervous about posting my work online but it is a great way to get your name out there and I justify it by saying how can someone really do with a 96dpi jpeg copied from a website. That’s from a fine art/print point of you but I suppose people could still use them cropped on websites or brochures which is wrong.
    As for your image above, another form of watermarking I’ve seen and have thought about using myself is a band across the bottom with your logo and contact details so that it doesn’t cover the image itself and leaves it clean so to speak but then this makes cropping and illegal usage easier. It’s a catch 22 I guess.

    • Hi. I am so sorry I took so long to reply to this comment. For some reason I missed the email. Thank you for this long and considered response. I am slowly getting used to using the watermarks on new images but still find myself struggling to like them on old ones. Perhaps it is simply that I have seen them so many times without the watermark that I find it hard to see them differently. The image I found in a magazine had been lifted from Flickr. I only upload small, 72ppi images there but still they managed to print it in their mag. Frustrating! I hope you continue to be theft-free. Thanks again for your comment.

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