The other day, a friend sent me a message letting me know that one of my images had been posted on someone else’s Instagram account. At first, I was bothered by this, but when I asked for more details, he told me that the person who posted the image had left my watermark intact and had commented under the image that she loved my work. This made me think two things: 1) It’s flattering to have others go through the effort of re-posting your work as a way to praise it, and 2) I’m glad I use watermarks.

I use a watermark on every image I post online. The only time I wouldn’t include a watermark would be for physical prints. I’ve read the various arguments for and against, but after thinking through both sides, the decision to use a watermark seems best, at least for me and my current goals and the types of images I post here. Here’s why.

Argument against: it ruins the image.

Easiest solution here is to not make an ugly watermark. I try to strike a balance between a tasteful watermark and one that isn’t too-easily removed. A small and simple text credit in the lower edge of the image might not be as distracting, but it’s also very easily cloned or cropped out. I like my watermark image, and I don’t mind if the eye focuses there for a minute before returning to the image as a whole. Over time, though, I have made it smaller so that it’s less distracting.

Argument against: it doesn’t prevent thieves.

This is mostly true. If the watermark is easy to remove, then it’s definitely true. I think mine would be a bit more challenging to get rid of, but not much more and that’s not really the point. I’m not trying to prevent thieves. People determined to claim my work as their own will find a way. I’m just trying to keep the appropriate credit attached to my work when it gets shared with or by others. Which leads me to the next point …

Argument for: it makes it easier for credit to stay attached.

In an ideal world, anyone who shares or reposts an image would provide the title of the work, the model(s), the crew, and the photographer, along with an appropriate link to the source. But that’s a lot to ask of someone who just likes an image and wants to share it. If my watermark is attached, then they can just share it without all the worry. Then, anyone interested in discovering the source can find it without too much effort.

Argument for: it makes sharing and reposting a good thing.

And that ease means that sharing and reposting my work is a good thing for me … it’s free publicity. So as long as my watermark stays attached, the more my images get shared and reposted, the better.

A few qualifying comments …

The kind of images I post on this site are mostly created for fun as an enjoyable hobby and passion project. When I shoot for clients for “vanilla” work (like portraits, head shots, family / couples photography, etc.), I don’t watermark my images.

Also, my comment about “free publicity” is assuming after-the-fact publicity. In other words, I don’t accept “free publicity” as a method of or substitute for payment. However, since I’ve already created the images (and in these cases, are mostly creating them for free anyway), the publicity is helpful … mostly for finding others who might like to create images with me in the future.

What are your watermark preferences?

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