To watermark or not to watermark, this is the question.

Most of photographers, professional and amateur, are frighted about the idea of their images being copied without permissions and even used for photographic competitions.

There are plenty of stories related to copyright issues in photography (you just have to type in google “photography copyright violations”). Social networks like Instagram or Facebook are very effective in terms of creating audiences and make your work noticeable, but more social media exposure increases the risk of suffering copyright violations. As photographer you have to find the balance between two factors: audience and safety, without harming the quality of your pictures by using abusive watermarks. Street Soul Photography wants to guide you through this decision, pointing some things that you should consider before posting your pictures in social media and re-think the usage of watermarks.

Get more audience

Social medias are the biggest communication network that the world has experienced. It has changed the way people communicate with each other, everyone is potentially connected to everyone. That means, for photography, that everyone can potentially see your work. If you are thinking in that way you have to “be social“, it’s not just about creating an account in every social network (because not every one is effective for photographic content) it’s more about “social engagement” by sharing your and others work, commenting other photographs and getting involved in communities like Street Soul Photography or Street View Photography. If you are reading this, I assume that you are already in a social media network like facebook and “checking out” street photography communities. In order the maximize your audience, you’ll have to extend your participation to a wider number of photography communities. As already said, this will -not necessarily- compromise your copyrights (serious networks will minimize this risk). Be smart and choose serious networks, first of all check that the group or page makes clear that “copyrights remains with author“. In other cases like flickr, you will find a copyright option that is called “creative commons” when uploading your pictures (you can also check this in your profile settings). This option bassicly allows other users to use your pictures -if you choose that option- for non-comercial pourposes, promoting this way your own work. Using creative commons may be an effective option if you are grafic designer and you want to make your work accesible for other designers. It’s up to you, if you want exclusiveness for your pictures or more audience.

Protect your pictures

Normally, your images are copyright protected at the very first moment when you take the shot. But there are some countries in which this rights remains unclear (for more info visit wikipedia’s article about copyright). So, your legal situation should be fine.

As second step, you should check every “privacy” options in every social networks you’re using (you maybe want to take a look at Facebook Privacy Help or Flickr’s). For some reason facebook disabled the option “disable downloads” (Facebook Help Community related post), maybe because it makes no difference at all. Options like “disable download” doesn’t prevent you from discouraging user to not copy your pictures, the reason is simple: you can always do a screen-shot and photoshop it later. There are much more options for photographers that run their own website without third-party software (wordpress and similar), some of this options are: Hidden Foreground Layers, Tiling or using flash sideshows.

Watermarks makes it a lot harder to copy your pictures but you have to be very carefull with its apparence. Photography in strict sense is an art, and has to keep aesthetics (specially in street photography, in which every pixel matters). To make this clear I want to show you three examples of abusive or inadequate watermarks:

1. Abusive Watermark

Example of abussive watermark. Photo by Fabián Spura

Example of abusive watermark. Photo by Fabián Spura

It’s obvious that a water mark like this would destroy your picture. Fancy fonts are very nice for graphic design or other purposes but an absolutely no-go for street photography.

2. Classic Watermark

Example of a classic watermark

Example of a classic watermark

Maybe this is the most used watermark technique today, programs like Lightroom already include the automatization of this kind of watermark on every photo. This makes it very easy to process a large amount of images in just a bunch of clicks, which makes it very attractive for photojournalists. However, your work could lose a bit of creativity and become more “impersonal” by leaving this task to a machine. Using this kind of programs hide some problems related to some of your pictures. The attached picture shows this problematic, the program always set the watermark in the same corner. Pictures with a very dark corner and a dark-fonted watermark will cause trouble and you will need to change the watermark position to an other corner.

3. Flexible and adaptive watermark

Example for an flexible and adaptive watermark.

Example for a flexible and adaptive watermark.

Photography started copying painters and painters sign their paints, photographers should do so. Your work wouldn’t be distinguished by just a watermark, the main thing is the picture and the elements that it has. nevertheless, if you are worried about your copyright and you don’t want to make it so easy for those scoundrels that try to copy your work a watermark should remain your best option. Including this element in your picture without breaking the picture’s harmony is a hard challenge, you will have to find the adequate place to position your watermark. The best thing is to set a “stealth watermark”, which the eye doesn’t see so easier but that shows when looking to the correct place.

"City camel" by Fabián Spura

“City camel” by Fabián Spura

Look at the picture and try to find the watermark, you may take a few seconds. When looking at this picture the eye is more seduced by the shape of the man with the hat in the background than the camel’s halter (if you didn’t find the watermark, you will know now where to look 😉 ). This watermark doesn’t disturb the pictures harmony but it will take time before you find the correct location.

A water mark is something very personal, it should remain that way by using custom fonts, maybe your own handwriting.

Even using the most inclusive and flexible watermark doesn’t beware you from photoshop experts that can remove every watermark. However you can always use search engines like the google reverse image search or TinEye.

As you see, there are always solutions to problems like copyright violations… the best thing you can do is going out at shoot, shoot, shoot !.

See our latest pictures at our facebook page or share your owns there !

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Comments

  1. A very well point addressed in this article. Liked it.
    Street Photographer Thomas Leuthard shares similar view regarding copyright thing in his blog
    http://thomas.leuthard.photography/blog/no-rights-reserved/

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