Do You Need Watermarks?
On the whole, no.
Let’s ignore exposure, recognition, brand promotion for now. In most cases, the real reason that people get annoyed about someone else using their picture is because of money. They feel that they might have lost out financially either directly or indirectly. Think about it and be honest. It usually comes back to money in one way or another.
To avoid this, the unfortunate result is that people often plaster tasteless, cheap watermarks on their photographs in a bid to protect their nice but still very average work.
Your work might be wonderful and a fine achievement as you grow as a photographer or capture a special memory but it’s probably not as desireable as you think and certainly no better than the endless stream of work coming online each second. Let’s get some perspective here. People will like it…but they won’t part with cash for it.
OK, so that’s the shock jock approach and things are never quite so simple or black and white.
So When Could You Use Them?
If you’re a sole photographer at an event, particularly something like a sports event where high end camera equipment really brings with it special, credible and unique results and if you are genuinely looking to sell and are in a position to sell your pictures of that event then yes. You probably should protect those assets and a watermark seems a sensible way to go. It’s fairly likely that no-one outside of a very specific circle of people will want those images. Equally, many of that same group will be perfectly happy with a screen capture of an instagram image that they can share with their friends and family. You only really have one route to revenue here so you need to take it and protect it.
In most other cases, photo watermarks are largely unnecessary…some may even say old fashioned.
Free Promotion From Not Using Watermarks
My opinion is that not including a watermark ultimately leads to more use, sharing, recognition and free promotion which, together with hard work and business sense will lead to greater financial return in the long run.
If you want to get your work out there, a watermark will more likely make people simply move onto the next image on Google and find something else.
Gone are the days of people wanting to buy a single art photo (note I’m not referring to stock here). OK, yes of course it does still happen but would you really do that? You need to get your work out there and, without a massive online following, you’re not going to do it by yourself. Other people sharing your work is essential and is just fine. More importantly, any site sharing your work worth worrying about will also credit you clearly with your work.
Outside of simple social media sharing, if your picture is genuinely going to be used for a company to build a website or tell a story and make money, there are requirements on their side to only use content they have the rights to use. They will either approach you asking to use your content or you have every right to approach them and bill them if they have used it unlawfully. A simple reverse image search can help dig out your picture on another website. Be vigilant and contact people if they use your image. Most people or businesses will respond very well to this approach…it really is in their interest to do so.
If your photograph is going to be used on a personal blog or be posted elsewhere, in many cases it will be credited anyway by conscientious authors and, if not, so what? You’ve lost nothing as that person would not have paid for your photo. They would have just used a different picture.
So what about when someone has a million likes for a picture you took. Same argument. Comment or ask the author about it if you like but if you watermark, the picture will not get any exposure at all. It wouldn’t be out there. It’s almost like the chance of a opportunity vs. no opportunity at all.
Most media is automatically credited through the way in which it’s distributed and social media functionality and indeed etiquette means that users are mentioned or hashtagged whenever images are used. This is all free promotion for you.
Why Are They So Often Badly Done!?
So, this is the main reason I don’t like watermarks. They’re not necessary.
In addition to this there are the other aspects of watermarks that might be worth thinking about before you use them.
It can so easily be poorly done. Nasty, cheap looking and poorly chosen fonts, low quality, bad placement, wrong opacity….It can all ruin a picture. Focus is drawn away from the image itself…if only by the smallest amount. This can never be a good thing.
Many people claim that as photography is an artform and all artists sign their work, they should watermark their photography. While it certainly is an artform, the way photos are processed, edited, cropped, resaved, distributed and used makes it really quite different from e.g. a wood carving, sculpture or painting. The way people consume photography now is very different and is evolving all the time. It’s moved on and can’t be compared in this way.
Usually it’s done by people who are trying to look professional. Trying to look professional doesn’t usually work. You have to be very good at it and, if you are, you probably won’t be working this way.
In reality, a simple low resolution delivery is the way to protect your images. People can share your work and hopefully credit it and some people can even use it if they wish but little can be done in the way of money making with low resolution images. The original remains with you and, once shared, you have an in to get your name and brand out there or maybe even offer that original for sale!
People are torn on this subject. I realise that. I’m stating this as my thoughts and opinion but I’m not saying I’m necessarily right. There is no right and wrong here. What do you think? Do you think it’s a vital thing to do or do you think that a watermark is something intended to look ‘pro’ actually just screams amateur?