I have had this topic on my mind for some time now and a few recent events have pushed me to finally address this issue on my site. First of all, what do I mean by a watermark? There are several different ways to watermark a photo but I am specifically talking about a photographer placing his/her name, or business name, on a photograph to identify themselves. Some will put their logo or watermark in the lower left or right hand corner where others may more artfully incorporate it in the image itself. This is the type of watermarking I’m addressing in this article.
Why watermark your work? Obvious reasons include free advertising, copyrighting the work in an attempt to protect it from theft, or to create a recognizable brand. Reasons to not watermark your work include it ruining the image, being too much of a distraction, the client may not want your watermark on the final image, and some artists consider it arrogant and feel the image should be able to stand on its own. Such individuals feel that if someone wishes to discover the artist or photographer, they can easily do so in today’s information age. Watermarking tends to be one of those very personal decisions that can spark a lot of debate.
I started out watermarking my images simply because I could, and for literally no other reason. As I started to see some of my images on other pages and forums, I continued to watermark to prevent theft of my images. At least at that point, I had what I thought was a good reason to watermark. I figured people would be less likely to download and repost my images with my watermark on them. But does watermarking really prevent people from using your images and ideas? Short answer, no.
My wife works at the Children’s Diabetes Foundation (CDF) in Denver. One of the staff members at CDF creates images to spread the word about diabetes and to educate the general public. The images are succinct, witty, educational, and entertaining. However, CDF has discovered that other organizations are downloading the images and are removing CDF’s logo. In extreme examples, they are not only removing CDF’s logos, but replacing it with their own logos. The following images are current examples.
Removing a watermark is one thing. Removing a watermark and replacing it with your own, in my humble opinion, is copyright infringement and theft. Plain and simple. Watermarking does not prevent others from taking your work and passing it off as their own. I can easily remove watermarks on my own work, which I have done when I consider selling a piece. Anyone proficient in image editing programs can easily do the same. So then why watermark at all? Perhaps to deter those not so proficient at image editing programs? Maybe to make it a little harder for people to steal your work? I think the only real reason to watermark your work is to create a brand or as a free means of advertisement. Even then, this branding, or free advertising, may just be all in the artist's mind. I have yet to gain a client from my watermark alone. The more typical means of getting new clients is by word of mouth and through friends of friends.
In researching this issue, I went back to images from some of my favorite photographers specifically looking for watermarks. Surprisingly enough, most of them did not use watermarks. In my very small, non-scientific research, only about 25% of the images had a watermark. Those that did, usually did it in a way that was not intrusive to the image itself. A small handful did have watermarks that I felt distracted from the image. Even when editing my own images, placing my watermark on some of them just doesn’t seem to fit – a practice I am now questioning. If I'm fooling myself in thinking it prevents theft and I honestly can't say my watermark has increased my clientele, then why do I continue to do it? Simply watermarking something because I can doesn't make sense either.
People create amazing works of art all the time. It’s an ego boost when someone likes your work so much that they want to share it, even without your permission. When I place any image on my site, I make an effort to reach out to the artist for approval. At the very least, I CREDIT the artist in a caption on the image AND I will attempt to create a link on the image back to the artist’s site. I don’t expect theft of images or other works of art to stop. In fact, I expect it to increase with new innovations in technology with respect to social media. Aside from the issue of attempting to prevent theft, I’m not sure watermarking is necessary. Obviously people have their own opinion and will do what they think works best for them, which I encourage, but you may start to see fewer and fewer watermarks on my own work. To each their own.
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.