To watermark or not to watermark?

May 22, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

This is a blog that I wrote about 5 days ago and had not published yet. It was sitting in my archive waiting to be published. In the time between writing this blog and now publishing it, I have seen 2 talented wildlife photographers have their images stolen via my Facebook feed. As a photographer it feels devastating when that happens. I know as it has happened to me. 

Here's my 2 cents on the topic...

Are you sharing your images via platforms on the web?

I recently watched a YouTube video from a young photographer who was absolutely adamant that you should not watermark your photos.

The reason? Because it is too much of a distraction and takes away from the aesthetic of the image.


If the aesthetic, beauty and quality of your photography is the number one priority, you shouldn't be sharing on the "interweb"! Stick to galleries, exhibitions and fine art prints. The reality today is that social media and the web is a really important platform for photography. We as photographers cannot afford to ignore it, and it comes with risks. 

If you are sharing images via web based platforms, then you should:

  • Have a clear strategy of which images you are prepared to share online from your portfolio. 
  • Include metadata in the image with your name and contact details.
  • Prepare a suitable watermark, up to your own discretion how you want to place this on the image.
  • Prepare low resolution images only for sharing on the web. 

Why this young photographer is wrong, is because there is no bigger distraction than having your work stolen for commercial use by an unscrupulous party.

After having an image stolen, and as I ramped up my presence on social media platforms - I paid for a professionally designed logo. It is not mandatory to pay for a professionally designed logo, but it is one potential way to strengthen both watermarking images and your own personal brand. If you plan on putting your work out there, you should consider a logo. 

Recently I saw a post from Greg du Toit that his WPY winning image had been taken without permission, rebranded with a watermark and shared on a web platform. 

3 years ago, I had an image stolen. I had taken a number of images of the Atonium in Brussels as part of a timelapse project I had been running. Several of the compositions worked really well as stand alone images in their own right. I had posted them on a previous version of my website and they had not been watermarked. It was only thanks to fellow photographer friends who explained to me the risks of non watermarked images, and how to find out if your photographs have been used elsewhere on the web. I found, to my astonishment, that a Dutch based travel agency was using my photo to promote packaged city breaks to Brussels. This was a commercial usage.

This is the image that was taken from a former version of my website. It is actually one still frame from a timelapse project I was working on at that time. This was when I had a website where you could easily right click the image and save and download it. Nowadays many website hosts, and photo gallery websites have disabled this functionality. However, sharing is still enabled through embedded social media buttons like Facebook and Pinterest, so take note!


When I contacted the travel agency, I gave the company the option to pay for an image license, which they refused. The manager justified himself by saying that he too was a photographer and it was common practice to right click "save" an image via Google. I explained that taking an image without a license is a copyright infringement, and nobody from his company had contacted me to ask permission for use. He swiftly received a "cease and desist" notice from me, and I think that the seriousness of my tone in my correspondence convinced him to remove my image. In that instance I was fortunate, and the fact that the incident took place within the EU where I reside also helped in terms of legal frameworks.

At the end of the day, once you share an image, you are putting your work at risk. It is the double edged sword of today's world of photography and sharing mediums. At the very least heed my advice and watermark your images. If you find your work has been used for commercial purposes without your permission, reach out first and propose a licensing option. Sometimes, the culprit may oblige. In some instances if the image has been used in a non-for-profit venture, it might be in your interests for publicity purposes. In those cases I try and educate them. I reinforce that is wrong to take images without permission, but in this instance IF it is mutually beneficial to both parties I would be open to clear credit being given. This can work as a win-win in some instances, but again it has to be at your discretion. As a last resort if an image has been taken, and the culprit is clearly violating your copyright, you should serve a "cease and desist" notice via email. 

You may not be able to enforce a "cease and desist" notice if your image is taken, but with a watermark you have proof you are the copyright owner, and you have various social media platforms that can be used to name and shame the culprits. 

The final tip is, if you really think you are sitting on some winning images, then don't share them on the web. Look at other publishing options, or submissions to competitions. I know it is easier said than done...but think about your sharing and publishing strategy. 





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