Should you be watermarking your photos or stop using watermarks altogether? While there are some reasons as to why you may want to use watermarks, there is an equally fair argument as to why you may not want to use them.
The answer to this question is situational, and completely up to you as the professional. Here we’ll be focusing on the reasons why you shouldn’t be using watermarks, and if you are, why you should consider stopping now.
In this post, we're going to cover:
- reasons you should stop using watermarks.
- ways to make your images stand out (such as using professional lightroom presets to get consistency and recognition for your images) so you won't ever need watermarks.
- how watermarks hurt your chances of being published.
Okay, here we go!
Should You Stop Using Watermarks?
1. Watermarks Won’t Protect You From Piracy
It would be great if something as simple as a watermark could protect you from piracy, but unfortunately this isn’t the case. There are apps that can remove watermarks in just a few clicks.
If your watermark is toward the edge of the photo, it is even easier to remove it. A thief can simply crop the watermark or logo out of the image. This is why a simple watermark cannot protect you. The only exception to this is a full-image watermark; the kind that stock photography companies use to protect images. These are impossible to remove completely.
2. You Don’t Need a Watermark to Appear Professional
Many photographers believe that using watermarks will make them look professional. But realistically, most well-known photographers don’t use a watermark. In fact, a disruptive and poorly designed watermark is one of the things many professionals see as a sign that a photographer is just starting out.
Having consistently high-quality work is what makes you appear professional. If you do have a watermark, consider hiring a designer to help you create it and to keep it small and unobtrusive.
One way you can create a consistently professional look to your photos is by using our Lightroom Presets and Styles for Capture One and applying our easy-to-use, 3-step Workflow!
Nailing a consistent and professional style is key to having your work recognized and not plagiarized!
Plenty of people have used watermarks during their first few years of photography, only stopping when they realize how it detracts from their work, not to mention that it’s a pain to place on every photo.
Look at the photographers you admire, the very most, and see if they use watermarks. I’ll bet you many don’t.
“Having consistently high-quality work is what makes you appear professional—not a watermark.”- Kirk Mastin
3. Watermarks Hurt Your Chances of Getting Published or Featured
Watermarks hinder the opportunities for getting shared because they make it impossible for companies, blogs, and social media channels (like our Mastin Labs Instagram account) to feature your work.
When we look for images hashtagged #mastinlabs, any watermark makes us skip over the image. Watermarks can really detract from an image and go against the brand we are cultivating.
Many wedding blogs, lifestyle blogs, magazines, and other publications have these principles too. They just don’t have the desire to deal with your watermark, and as such they’ll just skip over you.
4. No One Can Read Your Watermark Anyway
Watermarks are made and created with the best intentions, and even so they can be impossible to read. This is especially true if you use any kind of calligraphy font.
It’s hard to hear, but your illegible watermark doesn’t entice anyone to hire you as a photographer, especially if they can’t read it or figure out what the logo says.
If someone wants to credit you, they will in the caption or post. Best case scenario, they will do this with a link directly to your website. If you do use a watermark make sure it is easily legible at very small sizes. If it isn’t legible, it only diminishes your work.
5. A Watermark Can Ruin the Composition of Your Photo
You’ve spent thousands of dollars on gear and years of your life to get that perfect shot with a composition that draws you into the image. Why would you put a distracting watermark across your photo?
The temptation is to make it smaller, but the majority of watermarks look ugly at a tiny size. The only thing that should be added to the image is your signature on the white border around the image when you print it out and sign it personally as a limited edition print. This is the classiest way to add to a perfect image, and in many cases can actually add value.
6. A Watermark is Not a Signature
Many artists sign their work. Painters sign their paintings, and photographers sign prints. Of course, this is not the same as a watermark.
The point of the signature is to assure the authenticity of the painting or print. A signature is never very prominent on a painting, and prints are signed around the edge in the margin. This is to not detract from the piece itself. Placing a watermark on the photo draws attention away from the photo itself, and keeps the viewer from enjoying it as it was meant to be experienced.
7. It’s Really Hard to Keep Your Logo up to Date
This is a great point brought up by one of our Mastin Labs Facebook community members, Chris Brashear. As your brand evolves, so will your logo. Imagine the stress of having to dig up all your old photos and re-watermarking them to match your current logo. It is nearly impossible!
Yet if you don’t replace your previously watermarked photos with your updated watermarks, your brand becomes diluted and confused. You can save yourself the trouble by forgoing watermarks altogether.
Alternatives to Watermarking Your Images
You want to protect your work as much as possible no matter how it is shared and re-shared online. How can you do this without adding a distracting element to your photo?
There are some great watermark alternatives available:
- Google Image Search (free)
- TinEye.com (free & paid options)
- ImageRaider (free & paid options)
- Digimarc (paid)
Each of these services will search the internet for unauthorized use of your image. Should you search to see if someone is using every image you post? That would take forever, and probably wouldn’t be worth your time. But for your very best photos or photos that are newsworthy, these services are a great way to track down misuse and pursue legal action if necessary.
Add Your Copyright Information to the Metadata in Your Images
One thing you can do to protect your images is to add your copyright information to the Metadata in your images. You can do this in Lightroom upon import and this metadata travels with your photo no matter where it goes.
Once you’ve created your basic copyright metadata just select it in the side panel when you import new photos. Once the metadata is written, you’ve added an additional layer of protection to your photo, ruling out any ‘Fair Use’ claims the thief may claim based on not knowing the author of the photo.
Best Practices for Using a Watermark
If you haven’t been convinced to abandon the watermark, it’s understandable. If you do use one, here are some suggestions for best practices when adding watermarks to photos:
- 1. Keep your watermark simple and monochromatic.
- 2. Keep it as small as possible while being legible.
- 3. Use a vertical watermark.
- 4. Put your watermark on the edge of the photo.
At the end of the day, the decision to watermark or not is up to you. Being equipped with the information you need to consciously make that choice is the most important thing.
What do you think?
If you believe your work deserves to be displayed distraction-free, you should stop using a watermark. While it’s tempting to believe that a watermark will protect you, make you look professional, and propel your career, it usually doesn’t work out that way. Save yourself the time and allow your images to be enjoyed distraction free.
While we’re on the subject of what not to do, continue reading about why you shouldn’t go to photo school.
And if you want to learn more about how to make your images stand out and look professional without needing a watermark, check out this helpful video about our 3-step workflow and light and airy photos!