Today’s Question: I’ve heard pros and cons on adding watermarks. What are your thoughts?
Tim’s Quick Answer: Adding a watermark when sharing your photos is a good way to help promote your brand as a photographer, and can also help discourage the theft of your images. However, especially if the watermark is not exactly subtle, that watermark can interfere to some extent with the viewer’s experience of enjoying your photos.
More Detail: The watermarking of photos shared online is a perhaps surprisingly controversial subject. I have been criticized by a number of photographers when I mention that I don’t generally watermark my photos when sharing them online, as though I am somehow advocating for the unauthorized use of photos when sharing them without a watermark.
To be sure, I don’t like it when I discover that someone has made use of my copyrighted content without paying me for that content. But the only way to prevent anyone from being able to steal your content is to never share that content in any form. If you share a photo online, it is always possible to steal that photo. And even if you watermark the photo, it is generally possible to remove that watermark through the magic of software such as Adobe Photoshop.
My personal feeling is that the benefit of sharing my photos exceeds the risk involved with someone potentially stealing my photos. When I share a photo there is a chance that someone might want to buy a print of that photo, hire me as a photographer, or join me on a photo workshop. That potential value is, to me, worth the risk that someone might steal my images.
That said, a watermark can also help to promote your brand as a photographer. Therefore, if you are trying to market your photography services, I think it makes perfect sense to include a modest watermark that promotes your brand or website as a photographer.
As an aside, I will admit that I find it rather amusing that I often hear photographers complain about scenarios where their photos might be stolen online, when I’ve also seen a large number of photographers present slideshows of their photos accompanied by popular music that I suspect they have not paid a licensing fee to include as part of their slideshow.