Should I Watermark My Photos?

Filed under just pictures

So, I own (My last name is Ett, if this URL doesn’t seem immediately like the most clever thing you’ve ever seen.) I’ve owned it for a while now but don’t quite know what to do with it.

See, my friends have been getting their pictures stolen from their blogs. And I’ve had some of mine stolen, too. And truthfully, some of the theft has been very good to my traffic numbers. But some of it has also resulted in this one particular picture of Kamran being posted in all sorts of strange contexts, ending in great shame for him and his family.

Okay, I’m kidding about that last part, but seriously, the kid is famous. So I set out to mark my photos in some way and designed this logo for myself:

And seeing that it looked crazy when I actually slapped it on a photo, I developed this little watermark, too:

But I don’t know where to go from here. It’s one thing to paste a claim of ownership onto every picture on an actual photoblog, which I guess is what is. But it’s another thing to watermark every single thing I post on my blogs.

This looks pretty ridiculous, right?:

And now imagine a whole post on where all of the photos have that in one corner. A watermark really takes away from the best pictures, but of course the best pictures are the most likely to be taken.

So I’m torn. I don’t want to look like some sort of egoist who thinks my pictures are worth stealing, but of course I hope to become the kind of photographer people want to steal from someday. And you have to dress for the job you want, right?

(Says the girl wearing flip-flops to work.)


  1. Watermark them. Absolutely.

    Here’s the way I look at it: Are my photos good enough that someone might want to steal them? I guess a few are, but one could argue that those few don’t make much difference in the grand scheme of things. But I’m the one who bought the camera, I’m the one who lugged it around all day, I’m the one who got the shot, and I’m the one who spent quite a lot of money learning how to edit it. So why should I give it away for nothing?

    Just my two cents, and as you know, I tend to be as territorial as a hippo about these sorts of things.

    • Well, here’s the thing: you’re using a watermark on your professional photos, but you’re not using it on your day-to-day photos, right? So where do you draw the line?

      I think it makes perfect sense to watermark, say, the pictures you took of Sarah for Jessica. Even if you’re not worried about some stranger stealing them, you want the free advertising if she, say, posts them on Facebook.

      But does it make sense to watermark Chihuahua in the bathtub? Is it a matter of “here’s a picture I’m proud of” versus “here’s a picture that’s serving the functional purpose of describing something I’m writing about”? Even then, it seems like there will be a lot of crossover when you know how to use a camera decently.

      • It’s definitely harder to decide with non-portrait-type pictures. Like, I would say watermark pretty much all of your food photos, but there are some others of yours that might get stolen too, like the Circleville Pumpkin Show ones.

        Maybe the line is something like “random photo that only means anything to me” versus “iconic photo that someone could use for marketing purposes.”

        • I think that’s great advice, and I’m going to consider the picture of Kamran holding the ugli fruit that got picked up by every fruit-themed website imaginable an anomaly.

  2. Oh, and I forgot to say that the name and the watermark are perfect and adorable. As usual.

    • Well, thank you. I should mention that I really admire your watermark and actually considered trying to design something that classy before I was like, “Wait, no, most of my pictures are of Kamran making weird faces.”

  3. Jessica R. says:

    Watermarking doesn’t bother me. I agree with Kel. If it’s something that people would want to steal, like shots of food or NYC, then do it. Sometimes people take photos because they don’t think you’ll ever know or care, but if you put a watermark on it, it shows that you are taking ownership of that photo and don’t want people to take it.

    • The other thing is that I DO want people to use them, just with proper credit so I have something to live for. I hope watermarking doesn’t scare any legit people off. I guess legit people would know to ask for a non-watermarked version if they wanted it, though.

  4. Cristy says:

    I’ve considered watermarking my stuff, and I don’t: a) Have an actual blog or b) Know jack diddly about photography. So I say, do it!

    I do have a question for you (& others with knowledge of this). Most of the times I’ve gotten pics from the web, it’s been for my own use, like to, say, have as a background on my computer or something b/c I thought it was really beautiful (I don’t believe I’ve done this with any of you guys’, btw). My question is, even if it has a watermark, would you guys (as owners/photographers) still be upset that I’m using it without you getting paid/recognized in any way? I’ve always been curious how that works.

    • Haha, that’s awesome encouragement. I feel bad about considering watermarking my stuff when people like Lisa are doing cool layouts every day and not watermarking a thing, but oh well.

      I’d be delighted if someone wanted to use one of my pictures as desktop wallpaper, especially if it has a watermark so you and anyone else who saw it would remember where it came from. What I don’t like is people stealing other people’s pictures and passing them off as their own, especially on the Internet, where a picture can get posted and reposted on Tumblr so many times that no one knows where it started. That poor artist never gets any credit.

      I have a friend who takes great pictures, but he also has other people’s photos framed and hanging in his house. He never tries to pretend that he took them, though; if you mention that you like one of them, he’ll tell you it’s not his.

  5. James says:

    You might just reduce the opacity to like 15% so it isn’t so conspicuous. And keep in mind, watermarks won’t work if they’re on a part of the picture that can be cropped out or clone-brushed over without destroying the image.

    • Yeah, I read a post today right after I posted this about how little good a watermark does if someone’s really desperate to steal the picture. It suggested editing the metadata for each picture and registering a copyright with the government, but I’m not THAT obsessive. And those transparent watermarks right across the center just ruin the picture for me, so I guess this is good middle ground for now.

  6. First let me just say… PHOTOBLOG? WHAT? How did I not know this, what is wrong with me, and why have you not asked me what is wrong with me! Yikes!

    I can see both sides to the great watermark debate. Admittedly they sometimes distract. And, if you post high res, a thief who is okay with image editing software (and time management) = good bye water mark (although I suspect many people who fit this description don’t steal images).

    Unfortunately, people take stuff that’s not theirs. I’m just happy if my images gets seen. But I still post disgustingly low res (and ‘keeps the big file’ for me).

    • Oh, I mean, it’s not a REAL photoblog like yours. It’s just some pictures I happen to like and likely have posted here or on donuts4dinner already, anyway. Also, I had literally told three people about it up until yesterday.

      How disgusting are you talking about when you talk about disgustingly low-res? I’ve always wondered if I’m an idiot for posting photos that are 200 and 300k sometimes.

      • Ha! Whatev, U.M… yours is all the photoblog that mine is!

        It sounds like we post around the same size… mine are usually in that ballpark. Some people see to go really large, and I sometimes wonder if I should be doing the same. Eh.

        • Ah, okay, good. The friend who taught me Photoshop is always encouraging me to use the Save for Web function, and I’m always rolling my eyes. Partly because I never use the word “Web”, and partly because it’s a hassle.

          I AM interested in how you store your pictures, though. Do you keep the original, the .psd, and the resulting blog-ready .jpeg? Do you actually delete the not-good photos you take?

          • I tend to use the ‘save for web’ function quite a bit… (after re-sizing), but I usually don’t lower image quality much, so… eh.

            I’m a hoarder… I keep all my originals, .psd’s and .jpegs.

            I try to take many photos of the same scene (different angels, d.o.f., bracketing, etc). Then, I pick a few I like best, and delete the rest. If I only have time to take one or two shots I usually keep them all, even if they are pretty bad (hoping I can fix or use pieces of them). When I really mess up, though (which is often) I hit delete right away.

  7. bluzdude says:

    I think you should only watermark stuff for your Is It Pee site, because, well, it’s all about watermarks, isn’t it?

  8. Lisa says:

    That logo is BEGGING to be used as a watermark. Love it!! If I posted a lot of personal photos on my blog, I’d probably watermark them, or at least the ones I was most concerned about being used across the internet. There’s really no way for me to watermark my designs without throwing the design off. Plus, it would probably be super easy to remove the watermark from any of my designs, so it would be pointless anyway.

    • Thanks! You designed Kelly’s, right? I looooooooove that thing. I’m always going to be putting my watermark on white plates and tablecloths, I imagine, so I’m sure they could be ripped off so easily, but I doubt anyone on Tumblr or Pinterest or whatever would care to remove it, so hopefully I’ll gain worldwide acclaim on one of those sites. If I had to guess, you’re probably famous all over and don’t even know it.

  9. shmigs says:

    What tools did you use to create your watermark? I’m interested in learning how to add watermarks to my photos. Could you post some suggestions? I think I’m inclined to put my watermarks in the center and reduce the opacity, and maybe even modifying the metadata. I’m clueless though. Just starting out.

    • I did it all in Photoshop with text and lines, but I’m sure you can do the same thing in Gimp for free. I just made the watermark on one canvas and then copy and paste it onto any picture I open separately in Photoshop. It automatically pastes in a new layer on top of the photo, so I can just reduce the opacity of that layer alone; I’m doing mine at 75% opacity. I know some people go to the edit menu and define their watermark as a brush so they don’t have to keep copying and pasting, but that hasn’t looked as crisp for me.

      There’s a really simple tutorial about adding metadata to multiple photos in Lightroom in this post, if that’s a program you have access to.

      Hope that helps at all.

  10. Dishy says:

    I guess my first question is: how does watermarking them really prevent theft? I mean, you put them up on the internet. All someone has to do is copy and paste and voila! they now have your photo. Watermark or not. You’re not going to see a dime from the photo, right? So watermarking them in essence becomes one more hassle for YOU.

    That said, I like your watermark and I LOVE YOUR ETTIBLE.COM SITE – SO CLEVER!

    So, I guess what I’m saying is..
    Your photos are definitely steal-worthy. If you don’t mind hassling w/ watermarking them all, go for it babe.

    • It doesn’t really prevent anything, if someone really wants to steal them. But hopefully wherever said thief puts them, the little Ettible logo will stay put, and all the world will know my name. If I happen to take a decent picture and get any sort of blog traffic out of it, that’s rad. Since photography isn’t a business for me, no money necessary.