Watermarks are a surprisingly controversial issue amongst photographers, with some saying they are critical for any photography business and others insisting they have no point at all. Although I understand that there can be a time and place for watermarks, I certainly consider them overrated. Let’s talk about some common misconceptions and some little-known facts about watermarks to see why it might be better to avoid them.
Myth: Watermarking Your Photos Prevents Piracy
The entire point of using watermarks on your photos is to prevent people from pirating them – but do watermarks even prevent piracy? The truth is that most of the time, they don’t do anything, since almost all watermarks are easy to remove. Watermarks close to the border are easily cropped out, and even larger full-photo watermarks can be removed with the use of some clever software. If someone really wants to pirate your photo without crediting you, odds are your watermark isn’t going to stop them.
Myth: Watermarks Look Professional and Help You Find Clients
We also like to think that, since our watermarks link back to our businesses, people will see them and contact us for work if they like the photo. But how many times have you seen a watermark that you couldn’t read or make sense of at all? Font choice and logo design certainly contribute to this, but the very nature of watermarks makes them difficult to understand once a photo is behind them. Most people look at a watermarked photo and consider it an annoying indication of a new photographer trying to look professional – very few take the time to identify the artist and take note of their business.
Fact: Watermarking Your Photos Decreases Your Chance of Being Featured
Some photographers aren’t interested in being “featured” by blogs, social media accounts, or even large companies, which is totally fair! It’s your choice whether you want people to be able to share your work without paying for it first. However, if you do want to take advantage of the opportunity to have your work shared to a wider audience, you should know that watermarks rule you out for the majority of social media channels. More often than not, the watermark is too distracting and makes the photo way less attractive to people who might otherwise consider featuring it.
Fact: Watermarks Take Away From Photo Composition
It should come as no surprise that throwing a giant logo or website name across a photo is going to change the way it looks for the worse. Even so, we often try to justify this ugly detail to ourselves with the reasons we think watermarks are important. But there really is no good compromise here: if you use a full-photo watermark, no one will be able to tell how impressive the photo is anyway; if you use a tiny watermark, no one will notice it or they’ll crop it out. Watermarks just don’t give you enough of a leg up to be worth the hit to your photo composition.
Protecting Your Work
Watermarks may not protect your work from piracy the way they’re supposed to, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit back and silently watch your work get stolen. One simple thing you can do to protect your photos is use an app or service that searches the internet for misuse of images you own. Google Image Search is a great free, accessible app for this. TinEye and ImageRaider also have some free options that you can use to find unauthorized posts of your work. If and when you find cases of piracy, you can contact the poster to take them down or pursue legal action if they refuse.
Using Watermarks Correctly (If You Insist)
Ultimately, it’s your choice to use watermarks or avoid them. I’m personally not a fan, but if you are, it’s worth noting that there’s a “right” and “wrong” way to go about it – namely, the “right” way is a way which preserves the integrity of your photo!
Use a small, simple watermark along the edge of the photo to avoid distracting from the content of the image as much as possible. Make sure that it’s clean and legible, nothing flashy and nothing that will ruin the look of the photo. Think of it as a signature on a painting, which identifies the work as yours without adding any unnecessary frills.
A great way to make your photos personal and identifiable without using watermarks is to find a distinct visual style that fits your brand. Presets can help you get started on establishing that style without wasting hours in your editing software. You can also check out my photography and editing courses to learn more about how to find the right vibe and communicate it to your viewers, whether you’re behind the camera or in front of the computer.
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