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Watermarking Your Web Images. Is It Worth It?

This topic has long been a subject of debate among pro photographers and amateurs alike, so naturally we thought we should weigh in on it. Let’s talk watermarking…what is it for? Does it actually work? Should you spend your time and efforts trying to “protect” your images when, ultimately, if they are up anywhere on the web they are already “out there” and in the public domain. So what actually is the point of watermarking?

There are two reasons most photographers watermark their images:

1. To protect their copyright by discouraging the improper use of their images without credit.
2. To promote their work.


Both of these reasons are practical and valid…but whether they are useful is still very much up for debate.

Before we go any further, do bear in mind that we’re talking about web photos here – we think it’s totally acceptable, and very much standard practice to mark your actual prints (discreetly). Many photographers add an identifier to the back of a print and also label and sign the print mat. In fact, most people purchasing your prints will prefer to have your signature on the print to prove it’s authenticity. But sadly, when it comes to the web there is a photo “free-for-all” attitude that is very difficult to shift. Right or wrong, it seems that the general consensus is that if an image is already on the Internet, then it’s fair game…for everyone.

So there’s a couple of different ways that photogs try to prevent improper use of their images with watermarking – you can go for a large, highly noticeable mark spanning over most, if not the entire image. The bigger the better right? Maybe. Or you can add a discreet watermark to the bottom or the corner of the image, letting viewers know you would like credit but ultimately leaving the watermark open to being cropped out. Let’s face it, neither of these options is ideal. If you put a very large watermark over your image not only do you risk damaging the way the image is viewed, you may also put off clients from purchasing the image at all, especially when sharing proofs. For pros, if your clients can’t actually see what it is they are purchasing through the intrusive watermark, you might not get the sale. For amateurs and photo enthusiasts, a large watermark is likely to take away from the integrity of the photo and ultimately you are less likely to get the recognition you are looking for (and probably deserve) as you grow and learn. On the other hand, if your watermark isn’t big enough clients or people viewing your image might just steal the image anyway. The same goes for images that have a watermark at the bottom of the image or in a border – and in most cases here the watermark will just be cropped out anyway leaving you exactly where you began, with no credit and no self-promotion. Sadly, in these days of the photoshop savvy, if someone wants to use your web image without permission they can and, if they have the skills, they will. If they really want to get rid of your watermark they will either crop it out, clone it, or fix it with content aware. It’s sad, but true.


At the end of the day, although watermarking your images may be a slight deterrent, you’ll probably not get everything you want out of spending the extra time and effort to do so. However, if you still feel that you would prefer to watermark than to not, then do it. Just keep in mind that all you will probably achieve from watermarking your images is a little bit of self-promotion. With that in mind, you’ll want to ensure that your watermark isn’t so intrusive that it ruins the viewing experience. Spend a bit of time when deciding what type of watermark you will use as you’ll want to stick with the same one for a good length of time for brand continuity and consistency. Finally, be clear wherever your post your photos what your personal usage policy is – it may not make much of a difference to the people who are using your photos without permission, but if you do hope to have improperly used photos taken down from the web it will be easier if your policy on usage is clear from the outset.


4 Responses to “Watermarking Your Web Images. Is It Worth It?”

  1. Hi Guy, I think there is another aspect to this: I hate looking at photos with “watermarks”. Often I find the photo is not that great anyway: technically good but cold, or conventional, and the watermark makes it worse. There is often a frame added too, by this kind of photographer.

    If people want to stop copying then it may be better to use a CC licence or upload a lo-res or small copy.

    Also, it’s not a watermark if I can see it. Use the EXIF data to put your name and so on, that is invisible at first like a true watermark.

    • I agree about using EXIF data! Thanks for sharing that.

      • Guy Yang

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