Home Opinion Watermarked Photographs: Pretentious or what?

Watermarked Photographs: Pretentious or what?

 Mad Snapper
Mad Snapper’s Watermark Party. Photo Mike Evans, Leica Monochrom and 50mm Apo Summicron. © Mike Evans (1901-2016), anyone found using this masterpiece without my express permission and the payment of a large sum in used twenties will receive a cruel and unusual punishment

I hate watermarked photographs. They say a lot about the photographer and, I suppose, everyone takes a different view of what exactly that is. To me it means only one thing: “Look at me, my pictures are so wonderful that the world would steal them if I didn’t deface them with a watermark.” There are honourable exceptions, of course, and some of my favourite bloggers and photographers do add watermarks. 

Indeed, it is impossible to generalise on this. There are world-class photographers who watermark their shared work; but there are infinitely more who believe that by adding a watermark they are promoting mediocre stock to glory.  

Whether or not to add a watermark is entirely up to the individual photographer. But generally speaking a watermarked photograph defeats the object. In my view it is pretentious and removes the pleasure in viewing the image. It is also annoying. 

In a recent article, Nick Pecori at fstoppers.com explores the reasons why people add watermarks to their photographs before posting them on web sites. I agree with all he says.

It does not matter. If someone wants to steal your image, by any means they indeed will. There’s the good and the bad; the pros and the cons; and that’s just the nature of the beast that is the internet. They will blatantly crop out your image, screenshot your image, or if they’re savvy enough, they will clone it out.

Now another disagreement that will arise is the fact people will not credit your work. For example, let’s say there’s a popular Instagram page that features your image but they don’t give you credit. This sucks, I know, I’ve been there; but from my experience of feature pages sharing my imagery, the good people will always give you proper credit. If there are pages that don’t, it’s not worth stressing over a couple of bad apples force you to slab a distracting layer over your piece of art.

And lastly, if you don’t want your images stolen, don’t share them on the internet. It’s that simple.

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  1. At the bottom of Eric Kim’s internet pages is this Mike:

    "All content on this site is open source."

    The internet is very useful, but we sort of contract to hand over our creations whether they be written or made in some other way, to the rest of the world…

    I don’t see the problem…

    Where I do see an issue though is in regard to the corporate powers, for whom it is all take, and increasingly a decreasing amount of give… even for good money…

    …Adobe comes to mind here.

    These supranational corporations are taking on the persona of the past masters at this behaviour… Government, which has been taking almost everything in return for sweet FA for nearly a century now… They used to defend what they called their national interests, whereas now they just sit back and witter on about the "global village".

    • It was Eric Kim who originally put this idea into my head. He told me that he also dislikes watermarked photographs because they are pretentious and counter-productive. I suppose any photographs posted to the intent become open source and the only way to prevent piracy is not to post them in the first place. I wonder how Leonardo and other famous artists would have tackled Instagram.

  2. For true amateurs watermarks are nonsense. For professionals they may make some sense. On the other hand, the world is awash with images as a result of the so-called ‘digital revolution’, so who needs to steal them anymore? I have no interest in stealing images, I might add, nor do I take photos of other people’s images, be they paintings or photographs. Come to think of it painters who were much copied, like Caravaggio, relied solely on their signatures to protect their works, rather than watermarks. Professional painting ‘authenticators’ use all kinds of methods to tell the ‘real’ from the ‘copies’. This can include marks on canvas and/or paper used. Can you see someone centuries in the future looking at a digital image to determine whether an image is a ‘genuine Evans’?

    I agree with what Stephen says about the likes of Adobe, Google and Apple etc, but we have little real option but to use their services, however much we might dislike their behaviour.


  3. Sad but true people do just pinch pictures, it matters not to them you have spent thousands of pounds and gone round the World or climbed Everest to get them, they still seem to thing what is YOURS also belongs to them. What can such as we Pro’s do? Not a lot but the best answers for me at least are use a camera which records your name and copyright details in the Exif data, then never ever put anything you do not want copied on the Internet, and finally get a good lawyer! Don Morley

  4. While I respect your personal view on overprinted copyright assertion, there is a very good reason why some photographers, including me, habitually do so. In a climate of internet Free-for-All, with the popular belief that anything shown can be used by any viewer anywhere, there is a demonstrable need for some work to be protected. EXIF data means nothing to most viewers; only an overprint of copyright shows clearly that the picture actually belongs to someone. In my case I offset placement and subdue the density of copyright markings for photographer viewers so that it does not intrude unduly.

    Younger generations need educating on copyright, but I doubt that will happen to any extent. So an overprint of Copyright gives a viewer pause to consider ownership of published photographs. Whether they do so is unquanifiable. To make matters worse, some national governments are doing their best to remove all constraints. After considerable lobbying, our ministers introduced modifying clauses which oblige prospective users to check for ownership and seek clearance from some office before use. It is a law which is difficult to enforce, but that does not mean that copyright in original works does not apply.

    I am sorry you take the totally libertarian view but understand your reasons. I try to take the median path in marking my pictures destined for publication on the internet. Any pictures of potential commercial value are rarely published by me on the internet in order to reduce the risk of theft. I am not alone in adopting that policy.

    • David, I am not sure I subscribe to a libertarian view in the sense that I actually condone theft of intellectual property. That would be akin to anarchy. But I don’t think that watermarking is the way to go. As the author of the original article says, a watermark will not prevent someone copying, adjusting and using the photograph. There is no easy answer to this.

  5. I’m with you 100% on this Mike.when I started my blog-therollingroad.blogspot.com about 6 years ago I watermarked my photos with a discrete the rolling road watermark in the rh bottom corner.Within weeks my photos were appearing on tumblr and other sites with the watermark cropped off.So I then realised that my photos were going to be stolen or lifted whatever I did so I dropped the watermark.
    I have a friend who is an excellent landscape photographer who put a damn great big scrolling watermark on his photos on his website.If you looked at his photos all you saw was this watermark which drew your eye to it.I have persuaded him to make it smaller but it still offends but he will not be persuaded.I have passed him a link to this story but I am not hopeful…

    • Yes. It is simply practical to avoid watermarks since they really no no solve the problem. They might even exacerbate it by implying that this is a photo that needs protection. Similarly, a photo without a watermark could be perceived as not worth stealing. Some people think like this.


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