Watermarks Drive Me Crazy!

2004-12-20 Old Car Interior -  Final 2-27-2006 750

I don’t wish to offend anyone, but watermarks drive me crazy!

I find them distracting and it ruins the viewing experience for me.  I’m not sure which is more offensive, the transparent ones that go completely across the image or the bright white ones in the corner of the image.

Imagine if you printed your work with the watermark, how do you think it would affect the viewing experience?  Not well, and now that most viewing of images takes place online, you are ruining a lot of viewing experiences!

Presumably it’s done to stop people from stealing your image, but I’ve never personally had a problem with this.  What would they do with it, it’s low resolution and not suitable for printing.  Or do I think they will use my image and claim that it’s theirs?  I’ve never seen that happen, to anyone.

I think the worst thing that is likely to happen is that someone could use my image without giving me credit for it, but even if that occasionally occurs, no harm is done. I once found an online auto parts store using my “Old Car Interior” image above, I love free exposure and so I simply wrote and asked them to give me credit for the image.

Now, let me turn this personal rant into something useful. How can you know if someone is using one of your images?  There is a very simple method using the Google search function. Using a technology similar to facial recognition, you can upload an image and have Google tell you everywhere that it’s posted. It’s very cool!

Here’s how you do it using Chrome (and I assume it’s the same with other browsers):

  1. Go to google.com and it will display a search window
  2. Choose “Images” in the top right corner 
  3. Now, instead of typing something into the search window, click on the little camera over on the right side of the search window.
  4. Paste or upload the photo that you want to search for (you can use mine above)
  5. Click on the search logo and see everywhere this image appears.

If you’re concerned about people stealing your images, this is an easy way to confirm if it’s a problem or not.  But I’m guessing it’s not.

Now back to my rant: watermarks are distracting and unnecessary…don’t do it!

2004-12-20 Old Car Interior - WITH WATERMARK 750



32 Responses to “Watermarks Drive Me Crazy!”

  • Mark Says:

    Hey Cole – will respectfully disagree with you on this one (a rarity! 🙂 )

    I know of many instances where some idiot has claimed images that were not their own. I have had my own work stolen and used without permission. And regarding the low res web versions … I have had a couple of instances where a low rez image was printed (and published!) from my website with surprising quality.

    Now, one could say that some of them could be easily enough removed or cropped off, so then what? Well, watermarks don’t stop thrives just like locks don’t if they are determined enough. But there are some legal implications also in that removal of a watermark can act as proof of intent to violate copyright.

    So they may be a necessary evil in this day and age.

  • Juliet Harrison Says:

    I know that they are distracting and completely ugly….But I say that in this day and age…totally necessary. I am right now in a copyright battle with someone who, plucked my image from online somewhere, from the early days when I did not watermark, and used it in a print ad for a business in a magazine. I have found my images in all sorts of website and blog posts, sometimes just without attribution, sometimes attributed to someone else, sometimes being used to promote a product or business….and the strangest one was an equine photographer in the UK who was using my image on the front page of his website, to promote his equine photography business!

    So….I now use ugly watermarks on all of my images posted online! I hate it….but I do it. It is either that or spend all of my time tracking down copyright infringements. That is not quite the way I would prefer to make money from my photography.

  • Chas McNamara Says:

    Just found a couple of my photos being used on websites in the MIddle East and Russia. Thanks for the tip. How do you say “please add photo credit” in Russian?

  • Mark Stevens Says:

    My thoughts … exactly !

  • Maria Says:

    Thanks, a very useful tip! As whether to watermark or not,it’s just another one of those personal preferences. BTW, love the old car photo (without the watermark).

  • Merrill Thomas Says:

    I, like you, do not like putting watermarks on my images, however, I have had images stolen and used. In fact, today I looked in our local newspaper and one of our prominent car dealerships is using one of my images on their ad.

    Question? How do you size your images? I think mine are pretty small, but they have been used by others and look pretty good. Is there a recommended size/ppi?

  • Navig Says:

    I use a small, muted, handwritten signature watermark on my photos. I see it as being no different than a painter who signs their artwork 🙂
    For me it has nothing to do with copyright infringement worries.

  • Chas McNamara Says:

    Just discovered if your work is on 500px.com you can right click on one of your images and search the image in Google Images.

  • Ken Sklute Says:

    I think that you need to read photo stealers.com. There are too many people who daily reach into other folks websites, steal photos, sometimes not even cropping the original photographers watermark. These low life thieves do not even apologize when caught. They needed samples until they are capable of making better images. They enter stolen images in competitions even though they did not create the image. They then revel in the compliments like it was their image.
    Like you I do not like those annoying wathermarks but it seems in today’s world where few seem to have morals and ethics, watermarks are now the standard in order to keep the thieves away.
    Look into PhotoStealers.com and you too will be adding an annoying watermark when you see that 5-10 of these thefts are posted every week.

  • Harold Ross Says:

    OK, so I’m in the minority, but I agree with you, Cole. Ironically, though, I’ve had images stolen too. A guy in the Middle east used one for a book cover. A guy in Europe took one of my landscapes and added a CGI monster, and ran it on his blog. He even stole some of my written copy. Even more annoying, a guy took one of my still life images, ran it through a very “mild” paint filter, and listed it on Fine Art America as his image! I wrote a blog post on this in 2011 in which I show these examples and talk about Google Image Search as a way to track this kind of thing. The article is here: http://haroldrossfineart.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/copyright-infringement-and-image-use-blogging-vs-re-purposing/
    So, even after these problems, I still believe that watermarks are distracting, and not very effective. Watermarks can be removed, and there is nothing worse than seeing a watermark pasted across the middle of an image. It really makes it impossible to look at. Subtle ones in the corner don’t bother me too much, but they are more easily removed… I guess my take on it is that they don’t prevent theft. I believe that you simply can’t stop someone who is intent on stealing an Image. Just my 2 cents.

  • Misha Says:

    I’m with Cole on this as well. Given the state of the Internet, I just assume that people will steal my images. That’s the unfortunate trade-off to reaching out to your audience online. I would rather strike the balance in favor of connecting with my audience by providing clean, unmodified versions of my images. If anyone ever makes a million dollars by stealing from me, that’s when I’ll file my copyright infringement lawsuit!

  • Ron Says:

    I have the same question as Merrill. What would you suggest for low-res sizing?

  • Bill Daknis Says:

    I agree with Navig.

    Besides, every teacher I every had always said, “Put your name on your paper (project, homework, essay, picture, test) and then pass it forward!”

  • Cole Thompson Says:

    A lot of great points made here, and a lot of points of view.

    I remember reading an article about photographers who copy other photographers work. Some imitate their style, others copy their concepts, and some go further by going to the exact location and copying everything about the image.

    The writer asked Michael Kenna how he felt about so many doing this to him. He basically said that he focused on creating his own work and he did not worry about what others were doing.

    For me, life is too short to be worried about every “petty thief” who might steal my images. First of all the world is too big and I’d be doing nothing else and secondly, as someone pointed out, a watermark will not stop people anyway.

  • Lisa Gordon Says:

    “For me, life is too short to be worried about every “petty thief” who might steal my images.”

    My sentiments exactly.

    Great post and conversation, Cole.

  • jafabrit Says:

    Sadly it now necessary but more than that it’ s a means for people to find me. Many sharing sites strip the image file info and images become lost in a sea of images floating around the net. Trick is how to add the watermark in a way that does not distract too much or can be part of the design .for me the viewers that really count are the ones who care about seeing my work and do not care about seeing a watermark .

  • hya Says:

    I think it does a great disservice to the public when you post photos without a watermark on them, to the point of entrapment. The current culture is that most people don’t have a full grasp of all the nuances of copyright/fair use, despite education efforts by photographers and media companies alike. Even then, media companies themselves are not fully versed in it either (c.f. Morel vs. AFP), and some photographers don’t seem to realize that copyrights aren’t just for photographs.

    I put watermarks on everything not because I’m afraid of petty thief, but as a service to people who may want to use the photo and a means for them to find and contact me.

    One could argue that all it takes is a simple google images search, but all bets are off once the image goes viral on sites like tumblr and reddit where you’ll be lucky if your photograph was properly attributed.

    I want to see my photos unmolested by watermarks – those versions will be saved for my gallery prints =)

  • Cole Thompson Says:

    hya: This topic certainly has produced a wide variety of views and some strong ones. But your comment is a most unusual one and I would like to respond to it, not to declare it wrong, but express how I feel about the words “disservice” and “entrapment” that you used in your response.

    Clearly there are many different “needs” when it comes to watermarks. The person who earns their living from their art may feel more of a need to “protect” their images and livelihood. And then there are people like me who feel my energies are better spent in creating new work rather than policing others.

    Regarding your use of the word “disservice”: I have no obligation to the public when it comes to my art and therefore cannot do them a disservice. I create for myself and do so without compromise.

    Regarding your use of the word “entrapment”: I refuse to accept responsibility when other people steal images, even if they do it out of ignorance.

    You mention that many people do not understand copyright law, I think this is an understatement, almost everyone is ignorant of copyright laws, including myself!

    Adding a watermark, which denigrates the viewing experience, is not the solution I choose.

    I’ve never felt abused enough to consider adding a watermark…and I would stop showing my work before I did that.

  • Jim Robertson Says:

    I don’t like knowing that people steal my images and claim them as their own but that’s just the way it is when you put your work on the internet. I just can’t be bothered to obsess about it. Again, I don’t like it but I’m a much calmer person if I can learn to live with that reality.

  • jafabrit Says:

    Interestingly Jim, now that I watermark my images and upload smaller res pics I am a much calmer person and don’t obsess about it either.

  • Cole Thompson Says:

    This is what makes the world so interesting: different points of view, different approaches and different solutions. I appreciate everyone staying civil and kind during the discussion.

    I am surprised though, I never would have thought something like watermarks would have generated such strong feelings. I think for my next topic I’ll stick with something less controversial such as religion or politics!

  • Chuck Kimmerle Says:

    Right on, Cole. Couldn’t agree more. Watermarks ruin the viewing experience, which is ironic as we post our photos online to be…gasp…viewed.

  • Laird Says:

    OBVIOUSLY, I’m late coming to this party, but, appreciate all the points of view.

    My own thoughts are, that a WATERMARK

    …is like putting a band-aid on a compound fracture.

  • On being out there | Says:

    […] seconds!  This should give you at least little peace of mind.  But if you’re still worried, Cole Thompson shared a cool tip on his blog on how to check Google and see if a photo is somewhere other than […]

  • jafabrit Says:

    a watermark is like putting a signature on a painting 😉

  • Robyn Says:

    I do agree that watermarks can detract from an image. However, I am leery to post my work on-line without one. I do use a very subtle, light gray and small watermark in the far corner of my images so it isn’t over-bearing and often times can’t even be seen. But, I’ve had people ask me if I had taken the photographs on my blog and therefore do not want to have any doubt that the work is mine, the vision was mine, the photographs are mine. Does that make sense?

  • Victor Filepp Says:

    I am unequivocally ambivalent about watermarks.

    They can be distracting, though I can look at images with a suitably subtle watermark and not be bothered by it. I am bothered by those that are boldly splashed where no watermark should go (that’s paranoia).

    The legal argument makes perfect sense. A watermark informs and warns the viewer. This is mine, if you take it I’m comin’ after you, in most cases an empty threat.

    In a perfect world no one would feel the need to watermark, sadly, that’s not where we live. So for those who feel the need to watermark, all I ask is tone it down. Like Brylcreem, a little dab’l do ya’. [Did I just date myself?]

  • nharveyart Says:

    I’m in the process of preparing my first website and have been researching the watermark issue. I too hate them, but have any of you heard of “The Instagram Act” passed in the UK last year?

    From what I’ve read, it essentially strips one of the automatic ownership of something they’ve created if it cannot be traced to them. Think about the viral nature of the internet–a photo is plucked from it’s original source and shared repeatedly until it becomes and “orphan,” with no way the next person can possibly trace the original owner. In this case, according to this law, anyone who wants to use the photo after a “reasonable” search for the owner, may do so and act as if it is their own.

    This also includes no prohibition against sub-licensing, so that user could very well start collecting payment for others using that image. This law is in the UK, but as we all know, the internet has no boundaries. The effect is world-wide, though it unclear what the final results will be as a backlash takes place.

    At least one article I read about it suggested using low-res images online (around 400-500px), watermarking prominently with contact info (like a website) and including meta-data in the image, which I don’t really understand. All of these can be gotten around by the determined thief, but as those who become victims tend to be those who provided convenient circumstances, it’s likely to help.

    Even after learning about this, I’ve still been on the fence. I’d planned to use Flickr, but have held off since realizing that such watermarks were against their TOS. And I’m back online searching out advice and opinions on the matter which brought me here.

    As with so many other areas of life, a few bad apples ruin it for everyone.

  • Victor Filepp Says:

    Wordiness alert!

    I don’t know about Flickr in the UK but in the US many people use watermarks. I have used and not used them and have never heard of anyone being called out by Flickr for using a watermark.

    OK, so I tried sizing an image to 500px on long side at 96ppi (which I believe is native to current displays). The result is that if you view it at its inherent size it looks OK, if you enlarge it not so much. OTOH, you’re not likely to display images larger than 5 inches wide on a web page. If you’re interested in knowing what sizes FB, Google+, et.al. are displaying images in see “The Ultimate Complete Final Social Media Sizing Cheat Sheet LunaMetrics” at http://www.lunametrics.com/blog/2012/11/12/final-social-media-sizing-cheat-sheet/#sr=dpoofdu.eqsfwjfx.dpn&m=r&cp=(opu%20tfu)&ct=-tmc&ts=1395882791

    Embedding ITPC (International Press Telecommunication Council) metadata can be helpful assuming the metadata isn’t stripped from your file when you upload it – Facebook strips metadata, I don’t know about others. I would suggest that having a working knowledge of what is in your image file metadata is a good idea. Adobe’s Lightroom is pretty good at getting more information in metadata than you’ll likely ever need (including IPTC), I’m sure others are as well.

    You should be aware that Flickr and some of the webhosting sites like Zenfolio have settings that prevent downloading of image files (right click, save as), this does not stop screengrabs though.

    There is a service called Digimarc that embeds a digital watermark in your image file – $$$ or £££.

    Bottom line: Its a crap shoot, learn what you can and do what you’re comfortable with.

  • matthew g beall Says:

    I used Google image search and, to my surprise, found some of my photographs being used … So, I wrote this: http://matthewgbeallphotography.blogspot.de/2014/04/copy-and-paste-and-world-of-excuses-for.html

  • Lynne Ayers Says:

    Thanks for the tip re the google search.

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