Image Protection

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Today’s Question: Can you give us suggestions on copyrights, image size, watermarking, etc. when posting images to Facebook? In other words, how do we protect our images from being used (or used effectively) without our permission?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In my mind there are three basic approaches when it comes to the notion of protecting your photos from theft when sharing your images online. First, you can mark the photos with a watermark that makes them let useful to a would-be image thief. Second, you can keep the image size small enough that it can’t really be used for any significant purpose. Or third (my preferred approach) you can choose not to worry about image theft too much, on the assumption that sharing your photos represents (hopefully!) greater value than the negative consequences associated with the theft of your photos.

More Detail: From my perspective, there is really no such thing as completely protecting your photos from theft that still preserves what I would consider to be a good user experience in terms of enjoying your photos. So we’re mostly talking about compromise here.

In general I prefer not to include a visible watermark on a photo, except for situations where I feel that watermark may be advantageous as a promotional tool. For example, in some cases I might include my website address as a watermark on the image. In this case, I try to make the watermark as unobtrusive as possible, while still being visible enough to provide some promotional value.

I do generally try to keep photos I share online at a reasonably small size. Doing so can minimize the risk of photos being stolen for purposes of printing. For example, an image that is resized to about 1000 pixels on the long side can only really be printed at a size of about 3-inches by about 5-inches while retaining good quality for close examination. Keep in mind, however, that when you post an image online, it can most certainly be used in other digital forms at the same size. A photo resized to “only” 1000 pixels on the long side could very easily be used in a typical slideshow presentation, for example, or included in a high-definition (HD) video.

While there are a handful of methods available for protecting photos you share online, most of those methods are either not especially effective or create what I consider to be a less-than-ideal viewing experience for those interested in your photos.

So, again, my approach is to try to keep in mind that sharing photos online will (hopefully!) provide promotional value for me as a photographer (or as a photographic educator). My intent when sharing photos online (beyond simply enjoying the process of sharing) is for the promotional benefit of sharing exceed whatever harm may come from having my photos stolen.

I fully realize that for many photographers image theft is a very real concern. However, I think it is important to realize that generally speaking if you share your photos online they are never completely safe from theft. So, I recommend using a modest watermark, keeping image sizes relatively small, and trying not to worry too much about the risks of online theft.