Why I watermark my photos

Yes, yes I hear you… not yet another addition to the endless watermarking debate. But hear me out. The post isn’t that long. Because if there’s one thing I regret about sharing photos on the internet, it’s that I haven’t always been adding a watermark to my images. Not because I think it would keep anyone from taking a photo that they find online and use/steal/re-share it for whatever purpose. It would be foolish to assume that. No, I watermark for a different reason. Take this photo for example:

Autumn photo at Frillensee, Bavaria
In the Shade — autumnal trees reflecting in the waters of Frillensee, near Inzell/Adlgass, Bavaria, Germany. October 2008.

It’s the only one of my images that has really gone “viral”. It’s available for licensing on Getty Images and I’ve sold exactly one license. Woo-hoo. But if you do a Google Image Search, you’ll get pages upon pages of search results for this photo. In languages that I can neither read nor even recognize. It’s really all over the place – and it doesn’t have a watermark. NONE of its appearances points back to me and my website. So it is a complete loss to me. Because it doesn’t do anything for me.

The aspect of “protecting” an image with a watermark on the other hand can be almost completely neglected if you ask me. Yes, you can slap a big and ugly, obtrusive watermark on your photos and it will probably keep people from stealing it. It will also keep people from enjoying the image as you had intended.

So the sole purpose of the watermark in an image is to add a reference to its origin. If it’s unobtrusive enough people who will steal it and use it in their “50 amazing autumn photos” gallery (many of these usages I’d be okay with, if I’d just been asked, by the way) probably won’t feel too compelled to remove it, and I think the majority of the “normal sharing crowd” (by that I mean people who copy the image and upload it to their social media account, instead of sharing the link)  doesn’t bother either.

Maybe it’s delusional, but what if one million viewers saw the watermark, and 1000 came back to my website. And I could maybe convert just one into a future buyer, or licensee? Think about it. It’s not something that will happen in one day of course. But this photo was surely seen by more than a million people.

There’s another dimension of watermarking that is often left out in discussions about the pros and cons: the impact when an infringer removes the watermark. “Disguising copyright management information” as it is called makes it a willful infringement. Photo Attorney explains it in detail in this article: Watermarks Can Be Music To Your Ears.

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All images and content © by Alexander S. Kunz, unless otherwise noted. No re-use without express written permission. Most images are available as prints and for commercial licensing. Please contact me if you’re interested. Prints and licensed images are NOT watermarked, of course.

Strictly non-commercial usage (ie. no monetization through ads, referral systems etc.) on private blogs and websites is allowed if proper credit and a back-link are provided in the form of “Photo by Alexander S. Kunz – www.alex-kunz.com“. Thanks!

5 Responses

  1. But how much sense does a watermark make if it can be so easily cropped away like in your example?

    1. Any watermark can be removed relatively easily today, that’s out of the question. The question is rather who will bother to do that if they just want to add the photo to their “favorite autumn photos” compilation.

      I find my images on “free stock photos!” websites with the watermark removed (cropped away, obfuscated, cloned out) all the time, but compared to the simple “hunter/gatherer” sharer types, those are a minority.

  2. I too watermark my images. It helps when attempting to get compensation for illegal use and gives you more leverage when pursuing through legal means. I’ve had photos of bears stolen, landscapes, etc.

    And yes, those that steal are only a tiny percentage as most just like the photo and want to share it. And yes I’ve sold a few prints via the watermark. But I also just tell people it’s my photo and I want to watermark it.

  3. Alexander, I totally agree with your thinking. I do the same to my photos for the same reason as you.

    I am fully aware that people who want and have ability to do so, will remove the watermark. I figure for the most part, people that just share my photo around the web won’t. If I can get a few more people looking at my photos that way, why not!

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