As a professional photographer, should I watermark my photos? It’s a question we wrestled with as new photographers and one of the most common questions (and hot topic debates) we see in photography groups all over the internet. For the first few years of our career, we watermarked our photos, but we haven’t for years, because we don’t believe it’s in the best interest of our clients, or the smartest decision for our business. Here are the three most common myths we hear about watermarking, and the reasons we don’t watermark our photos anymore.
When we first started shooting, we watermarked our photos because we wanted to appear professional. If our pictures have a fancy, official-looking logo on them, we reasoned, people will take our photos (and us!) more seriously! The truth is, people take good photos seriously. The watermark doesn’t make the photo professional; the professionalism of the photo does.
Plus, when we looked around at what the top wedding inspiration blogs, like Style Me Pretty for example, were doing, we noticed they weren’t watermarking photographers’ images in their blog posts. So, we asked ourselves a simple question that we ask ourselves whenever we see really successful people or businesses doing something that’s the opposite of what we’re doing: Why?
Our conclusion: Some of the top image curators in our industry, whose job it is to make pretty things look even prettier, must believe that watermarks make pretty photos look less pretty (or more cluttered and distracting); and, as photographers, we want our images displayed in the prettiest, cleanest, least-distracting possible way — so that was the first reason we stopped watermarking our photos.
Remember: We believe it’s important to be a self-aware wisdom-seeker in life. We’d never recommend doing things because “everyone is doing it” or because “successful” people are doing it. But if “everyone” is doing one thing and successful people are doing something else, there’s probably a reason why… because they’re successful… so get to the bottom of it. We should be humble enough to figure out to ask ourselves why, admit we might be doing something wrong, or could do something better, and change course. In our experience, there’s a correlation between humility and success. We’ve made A LOT of changes to our business habits over the years, and we believe our business is stronger because of it!
Let’s face it. Some of the biggest, most powerful companies and public figures in the world get hacked. The truth is, if your photos are on the internet, they aren’t 100% safe. But being on the internet is imperative for business in this day and age, right?
The question we probably need to consider is if someone out there is set on stealing our photos, is a watermark going to stop them? Maybe a more important question for us to ask ourselves is who’s actually trying to steal our photos, and what’s the real world consequence if they do? Sometimes, us photographers fight the battle twice and worry so much about things in the future that haven’t happened and we can’t control (i.e. getting our photos stolen) without thinking through: a) how unlikely it is to get our photos stolen, and b) how little it would likely cost us, in dollars and cents, if it did.
This doesn’t mean we don’t take copyright seriously. Hear us loud and clear on this. We are NOT saying stealing images is okay! We are simply saying that watermarking our images in the corner of our photos probably isn’t going to stop someone who wants to steal our photos from stealing them. So if that’s our only reason for watermarking images, it’s not a very strong one.
Side Note: When our clients invest with us, they are investing in full access to the high-resolution images, and unlimited downloading for their friends and family. We want our clients to love and share their photos everywhere. Our business exists to serve our clients. Watermarks just distract from their memories.
But let’s get back to the real-world application for a second, because our professional photos actually get stolen all the time and used on other people’s social media accounts or websites trying to pass off our work as their own. It doesn’t make it right. But as business owners, we have to remember that time is our most valuable asset. So, yeah, when we see our photos being shared illegally on social media or someone’s website, we take a screen shot and send a quick cease and desist email — which only takes a few seconds. But we definitely don’t waste time huffing and puffing about it. We want to spend our time on things that move our business forward.
If it’s the principle of the matter, you have a right to be upset. We totally get that. We feel upset when it happens to us too, so we’re with you. It sucks when people steal from us. It’s violating. We get tagged on social media all the time by sweet supporters who see our photos posted to other people’s accounts trying to pass our work off as theirs. Not legit accounts, like wedding planners or florists who posted our photos and forget to photo credit us. Like people who are stealing lots of other photographers’ work and using it in their portfolio trying to pass it off as their own. Like mentioned before, we take a few seconds to report them to Instagram, and we move on with our day. Our time (and yours) is too valuable to hound the loser all day until they delete it.
As Jordan learned in (all eight weeks of) law school, a contract is only as good as your willingness to enforce it. So if someone steals your photo and won’t take it down, unless you think it’s likely that you’ll make more from a lawsuit than it’ll cost you in time and money, it’s just not worth it.
Not to make light of it, but if the U.S. government can’t stop other countries from stealing confidential information marked CLASSIFIED, your watermark probably won’t stop them either.
We believe in running our business with integrity, and we also believe that over time, people who lie, cheat and steal won’t win. It will catch up with them one way or another. And, at the end of the day, we want to focus our time and energy on loving and serving our clients well.
(Friendly Notice To the Photography Internet Trolls)
For the person who will take one sentence or paragraph from this blog post out of context without reading it all the way through and claim we’re doing a disservice to the industry by not encouraging watermarking or enforcement of the law when intellectual property is stolen, please hear us loud and clear. We ARE NOT saying that you 100% shouldn’t do anything (ever) to protect your photos and nothing (ever) when they are used without your permission. Our larger point is that it should be worth your effort and energy. Just like everything in business and life. If you want to send a simple template message or cease and desist letter every time someone posts one of your photos, that’s totally fine. We do the same. All we’re saying is, make sure it’s worth your time and money. For us, the benefit of being able to share 99.9% of our images in a clean, non-distracting way that serves our clients well, outweighs the handful of times that some desperate loser steals one of our photos and pretends it’s theirs. Regardless of what you decide, just make sure it’s worth it to you to pursue it. In most cases (for most people) it’s not. But you be the judge of that. It’s your time and money. Not ours… or anyone else’s.
We hear this argument a lot: Watermarking photos is good marketing, because someone will see my watermark and contact me for business.
In our experience, that’s not true. Here’s how a photographer posting photos actually pulls in real business:
1. Client hires Photographer.
2. Photographer takes pictures of Client.
3. Photographer posts a picture or blog post online and tags Client.
4. Client shares that picture or blog post on her social media so all of her friends can see it, and tags her photographer, who doesn’t need a watermark, because the tag makes the photographer’s name and all of her information available to interested potential clients with one easy click. THE MAGIC OF THE INTERNET!
Client uploads the picture, shares it on her page, so all of her friends can see it, and either thanks Photographer in her caption (likely), photo credits Photographer in her caption (also likely) or says nothing (still fine!) The comments go crazy with things like… “OMG!! Beautiful!!” and “Sooo pretty!!” and “Love! Love! Love!”
Naturally, a friend, acquaintance (or random elementary school friend) of Client reaches out to her by comment, message, text, email with “I love your photos! Who took them?” Even if there’s not a direct link or tag to something, people can still find something if they really want it… the good-old-fashioned way. By asking the person who posted it.
Whether you choose to watermark your professional photos or not, we hope this gives you some insight into why we, and so many other professional photographers, don’t watermark our photos, so you can feel empowered to make the same change if it’s best for your clients and right for your business… which we believe it is. As always, know our heart for everything we share comes from a place of wanting the best for you! Go get ’em!
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