Question #24: About Watermarking Images

Q: "I am interested on your views on watermarking images. In todays market theft of images seems to be a growing concern of some photographers. Also some countries seem to be changing their laws which will make use of "author unknown" (i.e. the users doesn't look too hard) images without payment, permission or acknowledgement of copyright easier. Contrary to this many photo editors do not wish to see images with watermarks yet throughout history painters have always in some way signed their art and these signatures have been used to verify authenticity of their work. Should we as photographers not be allowed to authenticate our work? What are your views on watermarking and protecting the copyright of our work?" Derrick M

A: "Great question Derrick! I also like your analogy with signatures on paintings. I do watermark my images most of the time for social media use. The reason why I do it is not to prevent theft, it's to leave 'an address' in case someone wants to see more of my work. My name is small but visible and they can just Google it to find me.

Watermarks can easily be removed and they don't seem to stop anyone from using your images. You are the copyright owner of the image the minute you press the shutter. You can certainly pursue someone for copyright infringement whether your images are registered at the copyright office or not. Registration will give you a lot more leverage. The question is: Do you want to spend all that energy doing it? Is it worth it? Some photographers actually make a nice side income by suing for copyright infringements. My theory is that there are more well-intentioned people out there than dishonest ones and the latter are not worth wasting my energy on them.

Watermarks are not a bad thing if they are very unobtrusive, almost transparent, and located in a corner where they are the least distracting.

I don't like to see watermarks on a professional website portfolio. Why? The client is on your site, they know who the photographs belong to, they should be able to see your work without the distraction of a watermark.

I really dislike seeing watermarks in the middle of a picture. Why? It reminds me of the old proofs that were stamped ten times with the word 'Proof'. A watermark anywhere on or next to the subject of the photograph screams: "I don't trust you" and is very distracting. 

To sum it up, I don't mind discreet watermarks as a form of identification. They are not a deterrent to theft. If you share you images on social media, you run the risk of someone posting them as their own. It's a risk you take. Now it's up to you to determine if the benefit of showing your work to thousands of people is worth the risk of a few of them using it without your consent...

I hope this answers your question Derrick. Happy shooting!"

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