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Why you should watermark your photos

Alastair Grant | Wednesday 8 November 2017

Everybody who publishes photos on the Internet will likely to have an opinion on whether or not photographs should be watermarked.  And here's my opinion and why I do it.

Why would anybody do it?  From what I can tell there are two reasons to watermark your photo:

  1. Advertising
  2. Copyright

I imagine the professional is interested in advertising and potential leads on future work when somebody on the Internet views their work.  I'm not in this group as I'm not a photographer.

Copyright.  Nobody wants their work stolen or plagiarised, including the amateurs!

The nuance is in the approach and this is where my opinion varies slightly.  I often see photos on Facebook where a professional photographer has provided preview images and these images have then been shared, clearly without paying for the final product.  The watermark stamped all across the image, effectively rendering the image useless gives it away - but clearly does little to stop people from using them.  Then there are comics and strips shared on image sharing sites where the copyright notice has been cropped away from the image - again, the notice does nothing.

But these aren't the situations I'm concerned about.  I'm savvy enough to know if something is on the Internet, it has the potential to be picked up and shared with no credit, and there is nothing physically stopping people from altering my work.

What I'm more concerned about is Orphaned Works.  This is the concept of creative work that cannot be sourced to the owner and thus the copyright status is unknown.  What can and cannot be done with these differs from country-to-country, but there are often provisions for anybody to be able to use the work if the copyright holder cannot be identified.

In the digital age, we have the ability to embed ownership information into the meta-data of the image file, through the use of EXIF.  This can store a lot of information, from the date a photograph was taken, to the name and contact details of the copyright holder.  The problem, it would seem, ends here.  Invisible watermarks that don't distract from the image, but are still viewable for anybody who is interested.  The snag is the companies like Facebook and Imgur, who will strip this data out of the file when somebody shares it on their network.  Suddenly the image is orphaned and open to be used freely by people in many countries, free of charge and with no obligation.

By visually stamping the image with a watermark, albeit a subtle one, the work cannot become orphaned and thus cannot be used without permission by anybody vaguely attempting to play by the rules.

So there you have it.  I would encourage everybody to add a small but readable watermark in your photos.  Personally I just use my web-site domain name as it is easy for people to follow this up and contact me.


Breaking from the voyeuristic norms of the Internet, any comments can be made in private by contacting me.