How To Watermark Your Photos

Check out my other beginner guides here and my top 10 tip series here

Today's free guide is all about watermarking your photographs - the benefits,  the disadvantages and then a range of different approaches you can use to watermark your own images. 

What Is A Watermark

Historically, watermarks were designs made in paper that, when held up to light, allowed identification of the paper-maker. Back in the days where high-quality paper was harder to make there was tremendous value in being able to demonstrate the quality of your craft. Today watermarks are used as a form of deterrence against the theft of photographs online.

Before I show you the different techniques to watermark your images, I've compiled a few points discussing the efficacy & effect watermarks can have on your photos. Don't assume you *need* to watermark!

A Watermark FAQ

Watermarks harm the viewing experience. True - They're ugly. Unless your artistic vision & image you want to share is that of your watermark, it's almost impossible to use a visible watermark and not have it ruin the viewing experience. Unless you use an invisible watermarking method, people will notice your watermark - that's the point - and that hurts your image.

Watermarks protect your image. False - they are very easy to remove in most cases. If your image is awesome, photo thieves will take the time to remove it. If your image is not awesome they won't bother stealing it, regardless of watermark. The net effect is that you're hurting the viewing experience for almost zero benefit. The sole circumstance they CAN provide perfection is in the case of legal challenge to ownership but those scenarios are usually vanishingly rare and you can more easily & convincingly prove ownership in other ways. In my personal experience a watermark was never been needed to issue a DMCA takedown or to claim compensation/licence fees.

Furthermore, although image theft online is common, there are also billions - if not trillions - of images online. For the majority of us the sad fact is that our work likely will not be noticed or good enough to warrant stealing!

Watermarks are a form of advertising. Maybe - it's entirely possible if someone sees your image in a context where your details aren't present (such as posted on a forum) it may mean they are able to track it back to you, see your work and give you business. Personally I'd rather wow potential customers with quality images, "clean" of watermarks, and tackle cases of image theft concurrently. 

Watermarks make you look pretentious. Maybe. It depends on the image. If you use a big, bold watermark on what could be classed as an average/mundane/crappy image, you will likely come over as pretentious. Smaller, more discreet watermarks are generally just about tolerated when the image is good enough to warrant it. That said, whether you care about some random person viewing your image online thinking you are pretentious because of your watermark is entirely another question ;)

Watermarks replace the need to copyright your work. False. Although all images inherently have copyright assigned to the creator, the US in particular places great stock in paid-for registration of copyright. The assertion that by watermarking your image you gain a level of legal protection equivalent to copyright registration is untrue.

My own personal experience suggests that watermarks highly polarise viewers of your images. People either don't care at all or REALLY hate them. My experience in chasing down photo-thieves supports the idea they aren't really needed. However... using the techniques below I still watermark my photos, just in ways that are not easy to detect!


Watermark Techniques

In this section I will demonstrate some of the different techniques you can use to watermark your images. I plan to upload a video demonstrating in detail each of the different techniques in the near future!

Choose Your Signature

The first step is to design a signature - something that can be reused in most of the different watermarking options. Don't get too hung up on this step, it's 

Simple signature - sign it like an artist, opaque or semi-transparent

Letterbox overlay and signature outside, cinematic, easily

"stock agency" style central overlay

visible-but-hidden

invisible