My Thoughts on Watermarking

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"Micro-Climate" by D. Travis North

"Micro-Climate" by D. Travis North

Watermarking – a topic that seems to have nearly as much internet real-estate dedicated to its debate as the classic Black &
White versus Color
.  On one extreme, there is the belief that it protects your art and possibly helps to introduce new fans.  In the other corner are those who believe that the watermark ruins the art – that the mere mention of it detracts from the photo’s quality.  This topic is extremely subjective, and so there is no real pleasant way to present the topic.  But the topic shouldn’t be ignored.  As such, I will share my views.  Your opinions may differ, and so I encourage you to share.

Reasons Why I Watermark

I am now an advocate for watermarking your work.  I’ll admit that I was on the fence before, but my own experiences have changed my views.  Maybe it’s because I supplement my income with the sale and licensing of my works, but I no longer see a valid reason not to watermark your photos for online sharing.  In my opinion, there really are two reasons to watermark:

  • Advertisement – Think of it as branding your photo.  If someone likes your photo, they may wish to observe more.  If they are viewing on your own website, well that’s easy – they just hit the “next” button.  But what if they stumble upon the photo by a different path – found on a friend’s flash drive or on display on another website.  Your name and web address will be right there.  I can attest that since I’ve been watermarking, I’ve seen a 20% increase in direct traffic to my personal site.  Coincidence?  I don’t believe so.
  • Protection – It’s simple – a watermark makes your photo less desirable to the digital thieves.  Sure, they can crop it out.  A skilled technician may even be able to fill in the missing data in a convincing manner.  But the great majority of thieves can’t be bothered, they’ll prey off some other sod.

My Personal Experience

Many of you may have noticed that I started watermarking my work near the end of 2010.  The more astute of you may notice that a portion of my works that were previously available without watermarks have been removed from the internet entirely.  This includes both my personal work as well as work produced specifically as illustrations here on Shutter Photo.  Initially, I started doing this in hopes to acquire some new clients, fans and perhaps a little more respect.  But a recent unfortunate incident served to drive the nail home:  Watermarks are our friends.

"Zen" by D. Travis North

"Zen" by D. Travis North

Recently, many of my works have been cataloged with TinEye, a search engine that looks for photos matching one that you select.  The search engine turned up a few unauthorized uses of a few of my photos.  One in particular – “Zen”, shown here, seems to have gotten around.  It turned up on one particular company website as a free wallpaper with the company’s logo.  I did not license it to that company for such a use.

This was serious.  I had some of my works lifted before, but usually by some blog owner through sheer ignorance.  A polite conversation later and all usually gets corrected in short order, if only out of fear.  But this was one of the first times, to the best of my knowledge, one of my works was hijacked by a company.  I immediately moved into defense mode and set out to get my photo back.

For the record, there was an explanation.  The company hired a designer to design their website and the wallpaper section was part of their scope.  I truly believe that the company in question did not intentionally use unlicensed photos.  They were quite courteous in their resolution of the matter and I don’t necessarily fault them for it (I may work with them in the future).  But the point is that it somehow came to this and that was very scary to me.  Not only was this my intellectual property, but it speaks for a portion of my income.  And frankly, if the company wasn’t so cooperative, I’m not sure what I would do next.  Legal fees might not have been worth it.

To put things into context, this particular photo has been licensed several times, not including the magazine that it was published in (with permission of course).  This photo alone paid for all of my business expenses last year and then some.  It hasn’t earned an exorbitant amount of cash, but enough that it would have hurt if I lost control to a dishonest business owner.  This recent development didn’t impact my reason to start watermarking.  But it certainly has cemented the idea firmly in my mind.

Presentation:  The Debate Continues

As I mentioned, one of the big issues surrounding the debate is whether the watermark detracts from the overall aesthetic.  While I won’t be changing my philosophies, I can’t deny that a watermark does have such an impact, and so I’m working to find a happy medium between form and function.  I’m only a couple of months into my watermarking, but I am already on my third watermark concept, the latest of which which is shown on Micro-Climate shown at the top of this article (an earlier version is shown on Zen, also above).  Based on feedback from some of my friends and followers, I now use a smaller version of the watermark with a larger more legible web address.  I’ve also chosen to make it very slightly transparent as well (I’m still tinkering with that).   My hope is to have a recognizable watermark that protects and advertises my work but has minimal impact on the photo.  It will continue to evolve as I hear more and more feedback.

What are your thoughts over the whole issue?  We’d love to hear from you.  Leave a comment below with your side of the debate and/or your opinion on how the watermark should be presented.

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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