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The watermark debate

Watermarking.

It’s up there as one of the most hotly debated topics amongst Photographers…Ok, that’s a big claim, let’s just say amongst some Photographers I know (and going slightly off topic you might have noticed that I frequently use a capital letter on Photographers. I’m not sure why…I guess it makes us look more important…but I don’t want to start any John Lennon inspired analogies that have people burning my work….*nervous cheeky smile*)…anyway, the debate to watermark or not. That’s what this post is about.

I do watermark my work. Quite frankly, I hate doing it. I worry that it makes me look a little pretentious, of the “oh my work is so fabulous, everyone’s going to want to steal it” chain of thought. Of course I think my work is good and that I’m proud of it otherwise I wouldn’t have it online or be busting my guts at college trying to make this into a career. But I don’t profess to it being the best image you could possibly ever find of that particular subject…which is one reason that watermarking makes me uneasy. I know there are some camps that think that stamping your name all over your work is screaming that you’re tops.

Another school of thought is the tinfoil hat brigade…and I feel I can use that term solely because I think I’m well and truly falling into it.  Do I want to share my intellectual property online at all? Somebody might take it. Thought such as this (combined with a bunch of other concerns and the desire to actually talk to people again) prompted me to delete my Facebook account recently. Perhaps it’s the constant push about metadata and protecting your work and that “those that want it will take it” which is fed to me on a regular basis. It feeds the nerves and the ‘everyone is out to get me’ vibes. It makes you worry about putting work on the internet at all.
Especially as, seeing as I’m not currently working as a portrait or commercial photographer, any work I may sell comes down to prints and products from my gallery of images. So if somebody takes them, I lose that opportunity for income and I lose control of how they’re used.

I’ll stop that chain of thought there else I will progress into a long, nervous spiel about whether anyone would want to pay for them after seeing them all online for free anyway. The answer, I’m sure, is that people do still like to put things on their walls, and pictures in frames are still cheaper than hanging digital displays all over the house.

I could put the images online with no watermark – but that just seems far too risky for me. Sure, there are deterrent techniques via Flickr but they don’t copy over to things like Blogger etc. If somebody really wants the image they can take it, use some flash software and blow it up to do whatever they like and I’m none the wiser. Advances in technology such as Photoshop can remove watermarks anyway  – hence why I spend far too much time trying to make mine as inconvenient as possible – but who’s it really hurting? (Me probably).

I could make a more subtle watermark, or reduce the quality of the images…but I can never decide if it’s better to put a quality image with an obtrusive watermark so that you can see the quality of the image or a low res image where you can see it without being hindered by watermarks.

One main reason that all of this is swishing around in my brain and escaping into my blog is the fact that I am (albeit casually) trying to sell some images online via Etsy. Etsy is visual. It relies on lovely images to make treasuries and visual gift galleries. If all my images are pixelated at low res or covered in ugly watermarks, it doesn’t make it too appealing for people to use in galleries, treasuries or on their blogs… which then means I’m missing out on several forms of free publicity for my work. I have thought about taking photographs of the prints rather than uploading the image files themselves, but I’m still at a loss. Looking at what other Photographers on Etsy do isn’t helping the decision either. It’s all open for debate.

I know it probably opens floodgates akin to Holden vs Ford or Canon vs Nikon but I would really appreciate some feedback on this, especially from other photographers. What do you do in your shop? How do you watermark? How do you protect your images online?

Most importantly, do you know where to buy cheap tinfoil? 😉

Thanks.

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3 thoughts on “The watermark debate

  1. Thanks so much for your feedback ladies. I think this weekend is a good time to sit down and do some work on all 3 of my sites (Flickr, Etsy and Blogger)to see if I can get some aesthetically pleasing changes happening. =)

  2. I think a small watermark, in the corner or across the bottom, is actually a really good idea.No-one can find you, after looking at your image which perhaps they found somewhere other than your blog, if your name, at least, is not on it.So many times Ive saved images off blogs to look at metadata (I like to know what lenses they use when Im researching new buys for example) and weeks later I want to revisit that persons blog – but they have no watermark, or no personal information in their metadata so I have no way of tracing them.A watermark makes it easy for me.Yes, they can be cropped out, and used in ways you dont want them to. However, once you develop a style, and a following, you may well find those people will tell you when they find your un-credited images elsewhere.Make them look good, not noisy compressed jpegs, and a simple banner watermark to ensure people can find you.

  3. Hey Kell!Hmm, this topic was covered in quite a bit of detail in a forum I'm a part of (The Creative Empire). The conclusion that was reached was something along the lines of:- if you want your images to be shared, watermarks will stop this from happening- unscrupulous people will always find a way to get things they wantBasically, as a blogger, I wouldn't feature your images – because of the watermarks. Many bloggers are good about linking back to the source and giving credit – but you're right that many aren't, too.It's that balance/risk – do you leave the watermarks there to protect your work – or do you take them off so the beautiful images can be shared and admired without hindrance, and perhaps spread and be found by someone who will buy them?Don't underestimate the power of viral spread/marketing 🙂

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