Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

 

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

 

Watermarks on your photo are a touchy subject and there are so many people telling amateurs not to use watermarks. They want to see your photo without the annoying watermark. The watermark distracts them from the image, But what they are really saying in my opinion is that your watermark makes it more difficult to steal your image. The internet has been a wonderful invention as it has torn down a lot of the old guard, the gatekeepers who would block newcomers from entering the industry, thus making it easier to get recognition and work but it has also lead to a new problem that hardly ever happened in the old days, which is photo theft.

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

An example of photo theft from a website and how I handled it with the website owner.

 

Social media has meant that many people want to share and post photos and videos all the time. Some of them are honest and create their own content but there are a lot of dishonest or lazy people who want to steal your work and post it as their own. I routinely do an image search with some of my popular photos and I find so many people posting it as their own work. Some of them do a good job at editing out my watermark, some just crop the image, while others just pretend that they are MeanBearMedia and they own the brand. Watermarks are important. Anyone telling you not to watermark your images is more than likely someone who wants to steal your shots.

 

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

 

Social media also adds to this complexity with photo ownership as many social media platforms allowing the sharing of images but very often they don’t make it clear where the original image came from. Some social media platforms even try to claim ownership of images posted onto it as well which makes things even more complex. Watermarks are like your gatekeeper. They provide you some level of protection. The photography industry has very little in the way of protection, unlike the movie or music industries. Try posting a 5-minute movie clip from a film and see how quickly you get into trouble. Trying using some commercial music in a video you create and your video will be claimed almost instantaneously by the music company. Those industries protect their products and know the value that their products have. They will ruthlessly take down anyone who steals from them but the poor photographer has to deal with the theft of their work by themselves.

 

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

 

The last problem that photographers can have is something that started a few years ago and is becoming a very large problem now, and that is social media accounts that just repost other people’s images. Some of these accounts have grown very large as they are just searching for the cream of the crop images about a topic and reposting other people’s work all the time. They have no original work of their own and they just repost the hard work of others. This can cause a lot of problems when they don’t provide credit to the original creator and even when they do provide credit to the original creator, there is seldom any positive feedback to the original creator. I always request that those accounts delete my image and stop reposting my stuff. I don’t mind people sharing my work, such as bands or an individual who enjoys a photo but I do take issue with accounts that aggregate content from other sources and post it for their own gain. And they do make money from aggregating people’s content. Usually, they will sell shout-outs on social media accounts or get sponsorship deals because they have a ton of followers. The only way they can remain successful is by using other people’s content. Can you imagine the music industry allowing someone to collect all their songs and give them away for free, actually that sounds very similar to the old Napster that was shut down for piracy.

 

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

 

So how do we protect our work? Well, the obvious step is watermarking. But it is not full proof and someone who is good at photoshop can remove a watermark fairly quickly. I actually approach protecting my images in a few different ways. The first thing that I have had to learn was to accept the fact that once I had posted an image online, I had essentially lost control of it. Accepting that one simple statement has changed my mindset on how to implement the rest of the methods that I use.The first method that I use is the good old watermark.I actually have two watermarks that I use. One for work, one for my personal images.

 

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

 

Watermarks on your images serve two purposes. The first thing that a watermark does is, it makes it more difficult for an average user to steal your image as they will need some basic photoshop skills to clone it out, especially if you place your watermark of some complex geometry in the image. But it is important to remember that it is actually very easy to use the healing brush in photoshop so most people can do this. The watermark is a deterrent, kind of like a guard dog in someone’s yard. It makes it more difficult for someone to actually use your image compared to someone else who has not used a watermark. But I think that a lot of people forget a second very important role that watermarks play and that is to do with branding. A watermark plays a very important role in brand building. Look at any product that you buy, it is going to have the company logo on it. Watermarks do exactly the same thing, never forgot that. You need to stake your claim to your image and build your brand around your images and your watermark. So designing a watermark becomes very important. You want to make sure that the watermark is bold and easy to remember. I can’t draw a stick man to save my own life, so I hired an artist to draw my watermark for me. Don’t skimp out here by trying to draw one yourself. Spend a little bit of money and get a watermark that people can remember. I have lost count of the number of times a band will come up to me at a festival and say “Are you the guy with the bear logo”. No one in China has a watermark that is even remotely similar to mine and it really helps bands to remember me.

 

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

 

My business watermark is very bold and ugly with colors that match my website, with the intent to make sure that my brand is clearly visible and easy for anyone to recognize at a glance. Most of my money comes from working with bands and selling their images so I obviously want to protect that source of income. Most musicians are cool and don’t steal, but most band managers or their media managers are scumbags and will steal anything they can get their hands on. Never trust a band manager. My watermark does the trick most of the time and very few musicians will actually use one of my images without permission but an image search with google or baidu  does help from time to time. Unfortunately, I did have some issues with theft from a music label here in China and I had to modify the approach that I use after losing a court case. Trying to take a Chinese company to court in China is not easy. So it is best to be proactive and make it more difficult for someone to steal your images in the first place. Since I lost the course case with photo theft, I have added a black border around my image, but the black border overlays onto part of the image, so it is slightly cropped now with the border going over part of the image with my watermark going over both the image and the black border. So anyone trying to steal my image will have to crop the whole image and edit out the watermark.

 

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

 

This extra step does seem trivial but it has had a big effect on the number of stolen images that I find. The more difficult you make it for someone to steal an image, the less likely they will choose your image and they will hopefully go after some easier images to steal. That is one of the big reasons why I have disabled saving photos on my website. I don’t really care if someone wants to use an image on my website as a wallpaper or on the non-profit blog but there are just too many people wanting to steal my images for money.

 

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

 

I do get a lot of requests from people for a photo that they saw on my website, usually, a crowd shot at a show, and I always make sure I email them a copy of the photo that they want. You will never make money off a crowd phot, so it is far better to send the crowd shot off to the person and make a friend. My work watermark is perfect in that it is bold, ugly, and hard to miss, and it works great for my digital work but I shoot a lot of film and landscape photos in my free time and that watermark would not work on my personal work.

 

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

 

Outside of work, I shoot a lot of film and landscape shots. It is the yin to my yang. My work is crazy and loud, so when I am not working, I want things to be nice and peaceful. So landscape and film shooting fill this gape perfectly for me, but I don’t want my very loud work watermark on my personal work. The whole point of my work watermark was to be loud and in your face. But that doesn’t work very well with black and white film shots or landscape work. Now I don’t make money with my film work and my landscape work has made very little money over the years. It is something that I do for fun so protecting it is not as important as my professional work. The biggest problem that I have is with Instagram and people reposting the images so I slowly started to add a new watermark to my film photos so it is easier to see if someone is reposting one of my images. I didn’t want to use a very bold watermark this time, so after doing some thinking, I decided to go with a design of a Chinese stamp that is used by a lot of classical Chinese artists. The Chinese stamp is an approximate translation of my company name. Sometimes translation is not easy and this was the closest translation that I could think of.

 

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

 

I usually put the Chinese stamp into one of the corners of the image that has a lot of negative space, so it is not too distracting. To be honest, I would prefer to post my film photos with no watermark as I think any color distracts from the black and white image but in the modern world, digital theft is just too easy so I have to provide some kind of protection now.

 

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

 

AS I have stated earlier in this blog, once you post a photo onto the internet,  it is gone. You have lost control over it.  Watermarks, black-borders are not a form of protection, they are a deterrent against some of the bad actors that are online but once you have posted an image, then if someone ones to take it and use it, you have no real way to stop them. So I basically look at it like this. I do my best to protect my work images and provide some kind of branding for social media so if they do get shared then at least there are some form of digital fingerprints that could lead back to me. But you can protect every image, especially the snapshots. If I see something interesting and want to share it quickly on social media, I am not going to go through all the hassle to add watermarks and a black border. If someone wants to copy a snapshot, then there is not a  lot I can do about it. A snapshot will hardly ever generate any kind of income, and once something is on the internet, your control is gone. If we look at the meat shot above. I posted this image on to my Chinese social media called WeChat moments and very quickly it was copied and used by other people. I consider those shots to almost be public domain at that point and I can’t protect them or monetize them. In a culture like China, where so many things are copied and shared all the time, I am simply grateful when someone posts my name as the photographer.

 

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

 

The last bit of advice I will give you before wrapping up this blog post is to do with image resolution. Never ever upload Hi-res images. I resize all my images to be under 2MB in size. That way, even If someone does steal the image, it can only be used online. At 2 MB, you are not going to be selling that to any stock sites online and most print publications want at least 8MB in size or larger. Never upload full-res images to any site, especially sites like 500px, flicker, etc. Downloading and stealing images from those sites is extremely easy. Keeping low-res images online is another way to protect yourself. 2MB in size is more than good enough for even 4K screens so there is no need to go larger than that.

 

D3S_2671-682x1024 Reasons why you should always use watermarks on your photos

 

So to wrap up this blog post, this is my advice to photographers. If you care about an image, watermark it. Never post full-res versions of your images onto any website. And always remember that once an image is online, you have basically lost control of it. If someone likes, and if someone wants to steal it, he will. If an image is important to you, only post low-resolution versions of it online and do a picture search for it with google from time to time and check if someone is using it illegally. Until technology finds a way to use some kind of digital fingerprint to protect digital images, watermarks are the only way we have of staking a claim to something that we created. Don’t listen to the Youtubers who scream “No watermarks”, protect your work.

 

Shaun.

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