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Watermarking your Photos: Behind the Scenes Discussion

Watermarking your photos is important and in a sign of good faith I’ll be the first to admit that I have not been consistent with my watermarking.  When I first started out I went through many stages of extreme trust down to borderline paranoia of image theft but over the years I’ve reached a very happy medium that both my clients and I are happy with.  I reached this point of ‘zen’ because I took the time to sit down and really examine what the purposes of a watermark is.

Watermarks are placed on photos as not only a mechanism for advertising but primarily as a means of protection for not only the photographer but also for the client within the photo.

When a photographer places a watermark on a photo it ensures that:

  • anyone viewing the work will be aware of who created it (and can thus contact them to book their own session)
  • no other photographers can easily use this image in their portfolios or for advertising
  • no stock photo companies can easily pilfer the photo for the same reasons
  • social media sites, like Facebook, are less likely to redistribute your photo or use it for promotional materials(seriously, have you read the user agreements for those things?  I love social media but when you use it, you’re agreeing to let them redistribute any of your photos if they so wish – regardless of what your privacy settings are.  Kinda scary… but ’tis the world we live in!)

The watermark helped protect not only the photographers identity but also the identity and privacy of the client within the photo.  If the photographer is extra keen (and I would certainly hope that any professional photographer would be) they would only place low-resolution, watermarked photos online.

rockwood conservation area engagement photography by ten2ten photography

Why do (good) photographers put low-resolution photos online?

  • Even if someone illegally obtains a copy of the photo and manages to remove the watermark through photoshop trickery, the file is still not printable because it is of such poor print-quality!
  • This would ensure that you never see your photo on the wall at Ikea in their sample frames… yes, it has happened – read the story here.

I’ve had the discussion about watermarks with clients over the years and time and time again I have heard them say “no one actually steals photos though, right?” and I sadly have to shake my head.  Yes.  Yes, some other photographers as well as various blogs and news companies have been known to use photos they do not have the rights to.

Why would a company or another photographer steal images and use them?

  • Sometimes various news companies will use a photo that they find through an image search and fail to provide proper credit or compensation to the artist (yes, money does make the world go round!).  Typically the larger papers and blogs don’t make this kind of faux-pa’s but every now and then big blogs like Buzzfeed can be sued for allegedly stealing photos.
  • There have been many articles online about various photographers such as Hera Bell and Meagan Kunert who allegedly used other artists work and advertised it as their own (in hopes to get more bookings, perhaps?)
  • Often times photographers who use work that isn’t theirs are actually talented photographers!  Instead of working on mastering their craft, however, they choose to take not-so-cool shortcuts to try to beef-up their portfolio.

If you’ve ever wondered how a photographer catches these illegal duplicates of their work online – it’s actually quite easy.  There are many ways to find out if someone is stealing your photo although not all photographers will police their work on a regular basis which is very unfortunate for our industry.

So when it comes to watermarking your photos you really can’t go wrong!  Not only does it protect you, the photographer, but it also protects your client and sets the bar for quality in a highly competitive industry.

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