This question comes up again and again in photography forums. While there is likely no hard right or wrong answer, this topic always generates passionate discussion supporting both sides. I’ll list some reasons some photographers cite for watermarking and I’ll tell you why I don’t. Ultimately it’s up to you of course, but at least you will have considered all of the pros and cons.
Photographers usually list the following two reasons when they are asked why they watermark their photos:
- To deter theft or unattributed usage of their work
- To build brand/name recognition/marketing
I’ve heard some photographers mistakenly say that they add watermarks to copyright their work. In the United States (and in most countries) you own the copyright to your artwork the moment you create it. No watermark needed. You can legally file your work with the U.S. Copyright Office which will make it easier to prove the work is yours should you go to court in the case of a copyright infringement. But even this step is not necessary to copyright your photos.
The truth is if you share your work online, it’s very easy for someone to download it and use it without your permission. With photoshop, it is incredibly easy to remove your watermark or crop it out. A watermark will absolutely not stop someone from stealing your work.
As for marketing, I can see how if you are a portrait photographer having your name or logo on a print might help you get additional customers. Someone may see the print, like the work, and then look you up. This can be accomplished with a very subtle signature on the bottom right hand corner of a print. Just as famous painters sign their masterpieces, sign your photography prints in a subtle way that doesn’t distract from the artwork.
Almost anywhere you post a photo online, your name will automatically be attached. On Facebook, flickr, instagram, twitter… anyone can easily see who posted a photo. It’s redundant and distracting to add your name again to the actual photo.
Why I don’t Watermark my Photos
I have two main reasons:
- I’m of the opinion that a watermark ruins the viewing experience. I have yet to see a watermarked photo that wouldn’t look better without the watermark.
- I’m constantly improving as a photographer. My earlier work helped me get better at photography but I look back on some of my older photos and cringe because they are so bad. I’m glad my name is not on them because they don’t accurately represent where I currently am as a photographer.
Aren’t you worried about theft?
No. Why? Because almost every photo I take for commercial purposes has already been commissioned. With the exception of most landscape or fine art photographers, commercial work is done under contract. The people and companies who buy photography are not the same people who steal it. If someone does use your image without compensation or permission, it’s not likely to cause you any large financial loss. Would a watermark have stopped them from using it? Maybe, but they probably wouldn’t have purchased the print or usage rights anyway.
New photographers tend to have a “MINE MINE MINE” mentality. They hold on to their work and put their name on it and get angry if anyone wants to use it without paying them. The reality is that photography is an abundant resource. Almost every person now has a camera attached to their cell phone. Sure, we all want credit and compensation for our work and skill, but locking it down and holding onto it with a death grip won’t guarantee you’ll ever get paid. In my opinion it’s better to share your photography freely, in it’s pure form without a watermark. As you grow as a photographer, you’re brand will be the images you create. You’re the real resource, not the photos.
Someone might be able to steal your photo and claim it as their own, but they’ll never be able to steal the years of practice, hard work, blood, sweat, and tears, that went in to developing the real asset of value – you.