To watermark, or not to watermark photos, that is the question. It’s one that we wrestled with as new photographers and a conversation that we see almost more than any other in our Shooting & Editing Course Facebook group, and in Facebook groups all over the Internet. Today, we’re going to share three commonly believed myths about watermarking and why we don’t watermark photos anymore — and haven’t for years.

Myth #1:

Watermarking photos looks more professional.

Truth #1:

When we first started shooting, we watermarked our photos because we wanted to appear professional. If our photos have a professional-looking logo on them, we reasoned, people will take our photos seriously. The truth is, people take good photos seriously and reject bad ones, watermarked or not. In other words, the watermark doesn’t make the photo professional; the professionalism of the photo does.

Plus, when we looked around at top wedding inspiration blogs, like Style Me Pretty for example, they didn’t watermark images in their blog posts — which were beautifully curated and displayed. Why? Because watermarks make beautiful photos look less beautiful and more distracting.

Why We Don't Watermark Photos

Myth #2:

Watermarking photos protects them from getting stolen.

Truth #2:

Let’s face it. The Russians hacked the former Secretary of State, and the sitting President’s phone calls from inside the Oval Office are getting leaked. The truth is, your photos aren’t safe. The other truth is — and this might hurt to admit — who’s actually trying to steal your photos and what will it cost you if they do?

We think sometimes photographers worry about their photos “getting stolen” without thinking through a) how unlikely it is and b) how little it would likely cost them if it did. If they even find out about it, that is. The Internet is a big place!

We, for one, don’t have the time or energy to police it. Do you?

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. Our business exists to serve our clients, and watermarks just distract from their memories. Plus, it would cost us extra time.

Why We Don't Watermark Photos

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 trying to pass off our work as their own.

It doesn’t make it right. But as business owners, we have to make sure we value our TIME as much as anything else.

In most cases, something like this would most likely costing us more money in lost productivity huffing and puffing about it.

we have to make sure we value our TIME as much as anything else

If it’s the principle of the matter, you have a right to be upset. We totally get that. We hear you and 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 passing its off as their own.
We take five seconds to report them to Instagram and move on with our day. Our time (and yours) is more valuable to do more than that. As Jordan learned in (all eight weeks of) law school, a contract is only as good as your willingness to enforce it. So unless you think it’s likely your photos will get stolen and think you’ll make more from a lawsuit than it’ll cost you in time and money, a watermark doesn’t help with thieves — especially on the Internet. Those dirty rats are always one step ahead of the curve anyways.

We believe in running our business with integrity, and we also believe that over time, people who lie, cheat and steal to try to get ahead will eventually stumble. 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.

TO BE CLEAR. 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: 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. All we’re saying is this: make sure it’s worth your time and money. More importantly — and to the point of this section of this blog post (we’ll settle the legalities of copyright law another time) — using a watermark to protect our photos from getting stolen wouldn’t  outweigh the benefit of being able to share a clean, undistracted image online.

To summarize: just make sure it’s worth your time. In most cases, for us (and we think 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.

Myth #3:

Watermarking photos is good marketing, because someone will see my watermark and contact me for business.

Truth #3:

In our experience, 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 on his/her social media outlets/ blog and tags Client.

4. Client shares that picture or link on her social media outlets so all of her friends can see it (which has the photographer’s NAME on it and all their information available with one click).

OR

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 “OMG!! Beautiful!!” and “Sooo pretty!!” and, naturally, a friend of that client reached out to her in either a Facebook comment, message, text email (or letter sent by flying owl) “I love your photos! Who took them?”

According to Jonah Berger, author of Contagious and a leading expert on how business actually gets done, THAT is the way it works. Word-of-mouth referrals (even in the digital age) are still WAY more effective and powerful than seeing an ad (or watermark) flash in front of your face online. The likelihood of someone seeing our watermark and it resulting in direct business is very low, especially because most people who see our photo are seeing it through our Instagram, Facebook, blog or website, where the viewer can easily see we’re the ones who took the photos, or through our clients (who are excited to share about us because they had a great experience!)

So if people are more likely to hire us based on an amazing experience we give to our clients, watermarks are distracting from the quality of our work, and it’s taking time and energy away from more important things, why are we still using watermarks? That’s our two cents!

Why We Don't Watermark Photos

Hopefully this helps give you some insight into why we don’t watermark our photos, and gives you permission to do the same!

Reasons to Never Watermark Your Photos

 

56 comments
filed in: Education

    Kristal

    I have gone back and forth on whether to watermark A MILLION TIMES! Thanks for listing the common myths people believe about watermarking - those are the reasons I was using to justify the extra time spent adding a watermark. But no more! Thanks to you two, I am done with wasting that extra time :) Thanks for the timely post!

    Amy & Jordan

    We're so happy to hear the post was helpful to you, Kristal!! Go do something fun with that extra time you're not spending on watermarking, girl! We're cheering for you!! :)

    Megan Stone

    This was such an interesting read. I've stopped using watermarks on Instagram but I really appreciated the perspective about distractions and what clients are paying for. I just restructured my entire pricing based off the fear of having my work stolen but the amount of time I spend trying to uphold my contracts would be so much better spent in taking photos and making my clients happy.

    Amy & Jordan

    You got it, Megan!! We wish nothing but the best in your photography career! We're cheering for you, girl! :)

    Alyce

    Great article! I watermark photos but not the ones I give to my clients on paper or digital. I still post the photos and photos get out so easily on the net and if ppl see my photos and love them but have no idea where they came from, then my watermark will be there for them to find me . It may be silly but hey why not :)

    Amy & Jordan

    We think that if that works for you, Alyce, you go girl! Thanks so much for sharing! :)

    Anna

    I'm a new photographer and was going CRAZY watermarking my photos. This article gave me the confidence and peace of mind to not watermark the photos anymore. Thanks for the unique insight!

    Amy & Jordan

    You're so welcome, Anna!! We're so happy it gave you peace of mind! Wishing nothing but the best in the start of your photography career! <3

    Julie

    Here's another truth for you. Before I joined a bunch of online photography groups, I was looking to hire a photographer and actually didn't hire her just because her images were watermarked on her Facebook page. I didn't know that it's common practice to watermark the social media version and give the client a different version without the watermark. I just knew I didn't want a big watermark on my prints. She lost business because she watermarks her images.

    Amy & Jordan

    We hear you, Julie! Thanks for sharing! :)

    Tom in Dallas

    Hey A&J, I agree. To be effective in wanting to deter thievery, a watermark essentially needs to ruin the image. This is completely counter to what you are trying to do - make beautiful images. Now, what do you say to a small digital branding overlay of your business name, image, or logo tastefully done in the corner, the way Olan Mills used to do with their prints?

    Amy & Jordan

    Hi Tom! Great points! We would still suggest keeping the images clean in that situation as well! :)

    I post pictures on my web site as right click disabled but I allow social media sharing of a smaller sized file. I watermark discretely when posting on Facebook.

    Amy & Jordan

    Hi Joanna! So glad that's working for you! Thanks for sharing! :)

    Jenny

    This is very helpful! Thanks for taking the time to share that.

    Amy & Jordan

    We're so glad you found it helpful, Jenny!! <3

    Michelle

    OMG!!!! Thank you for writing this!! I have been struggling with to watermark or not to watermark my photos. It takes so much time to do this after a photo shoot and delays getting the pictures to my clients. This is the confirmation I needed to stop the long and tiring process of watermarks. Word of mouth is the best form of advertisement. Thanks again, I will now spend more time behind the camera instead of typing my watermark on pictures. :)

    Amy & Jordan

    It makes us smile to know you found our post so helpful, Michelle!! Thank you for sharing! Do us a favor and have some fun with that extra time on your hands!! We're cheering for you! <3

    Shayne

    Could NOT agree more! We stopped watermarking sometime mid-last year for all of these reasons! It absolutely makes no sense to put a distracting and relatively unattractive graphic on an otherwise gorgeous piece of art!!

    Amy & Jordan

    Thanks for sharing that, Shayne!! We are so happy to hear you found our blog helpful! <3

    Lindsey

    Very good points. However if you run your business with an IPS model, you need to be mindful of the MANY clients who will print your social media/low resolution files at CVS in large sizes, inaccurately showcasing your work in their homes to your friends. Not to mention that I have seen photographers take pictures & claim as their own which has been upsetting to the clients knowing their images, their faces were plastered somewhere w/o their approval. I tastefully watermark more for their benefit. Also they know going in that I photograph for art to enjoy in your home. Most are thrilled I don't just give them digitals that will remain stuck on a computer anyway. My website images are copyrighted & right-clicking to save is disabled. There will always be some that screen shot but those are so degraded I'm not concerned a photographer will plaster my clients' faces somewhere. Watermarks can be cropped or removed in Photoshop & may only be a slight deterrent for thieving photographers but is enough for your clients to resist printing a terrible version of your work and returning to you, the professional artist to properly print their images. That's just my side of the situation.

    Amy & Jordan

    Hi Lindsey! Great insight! We are so glad you're finding success with that! Thanks so much for sharing! :)

    Christina

    Touche.great read

    Amy & Jordan

    We're so glad you found it helpful, Christina! :)

    Shaun

    I love your guys' work. Absolutely beautiful photos. I agree and disagree with you at the same time. While I recognize that my clients hire me to take their photos, my watermark is more that just a logo. It's a way for me to sign my artwork, just as a painter would. So, I actually give my clients two versions. One with the watermark for social media to help promote my business(I'm just starting out) and also to sign my artwork. A second one without the watermark, so they can print off a pic for the home and not have to stare at my name if they don't want to. My wife and I had a great experience with our photographer and I love having his watermark on our pics. He was a special part of our big day, and I love having the chance to tell people about him when they look at the watermark and ask who Jake Engel is.

    Amy & Jordan

    Hi Shaun! You have some great insight! We're so glad that's working for you! We appreciate you sharing! :)

    Heather

    I think I'm on the opposite side of this. I watermark mine. I used to NOT watermark them. I started doing it because I was having session after session where I'd take photos, edit them, load them into the client's web gallery--and then never hear from the client again.
    They had all the photos they wanted for free, unwatermarked, and were screenshotting or downloading to their computers and printing at the local Walmart. And then when their photos didn't turn out looking like the gallery images, (because my monitors are calibrated to my professional printer) THEN I was dealing with upset clients who demanded a refund. There was no convincing them that it was not the images, rather them trying to print professional photos at a quickprint place. Word of mouth can hurt a business quickly, just as much as it can help.
    If I raised my fees to cover the difference of never getting print orders, then I lost clients/potential clients, for being too expensive.
    Once I started watermarking, clients started placing print orders because they wanted prints without the watermarks. (It's in my contract that watermarked images will be in their gallery, but the prints they order will NOT BE watermarked)
    I've had repeat customers for years and no one ever questions my price or policies or tries to steal photos. I am able to keep my session fee reasonable, my clients are repeat customers and I have a slight upsell profit in print orders that balance out my lower session fee.

    Amy & Jordan

    Hi, Heather!

    Goodness! We're so sorry all that happened to you. That stinks! But we're glad you found a creative solution that's working for you and your clients. Congrats on the all the success and may you have much more in the future :) We're excited for you! Thanks for being part of our online community!

    Thank you for this! I have used watermarks for years, and have even reached out to you personally as to why you don't use watermarks on your amazing work. Annnnd now I know. I am gonna drop mine! <3

    Amy & Jordan

    We're so happy this blog post was helpful to you, Christine!! :)

    Sandra

    OMG I live in London, Ontario!! That's too funny about the billboard, I was NOT expecting to see my city listed in that caption! I don't watermark my photos either, and this blog post really reminded me of why. Thank you both, as always, for sharing!!

    Amy & Jordan

    So funny, Sandra!! What a surprise that must have been! Thank you for sharing! <3

    Ron

    I'm just getting started I have been doing photography for over three years now and have been wresting with this. Thanks for the tips as a stone quarrymen and commercial photographer I'm learning.

    Amy & Jordan

    We're so glad you found the blog post helpful, Ron! No problem, man! We're cheering for you!! :)

    Ron

    I'm just getting started I have been doing photography for over three years now and have been wresting with this. Thanks for the tips as a stone quarrymen and commercial photographer. I'm learning even from others comments.

    Cathy Fraser

    Amy & Jordan - since I took your shooting and editing course I have since stopped applying a watermark to my photos as well! Thanks for your 2cents! 😊

    Amy & Jordan

    We're so happy you are learning so much from the course, Cathy!! :)

    Sandy Berry

    This post makes me extremely relieved! I'm glad I don't have to watermark!! I mainly feared for the 'you're stealing thing' and seeming more professional. But you're so right, it's about serving the client and service isn't always given thanks. But most of the time is it and I am content with that.

    Amy & Jordan

    We're so glad we can offer some relief to you, Sandy! Thanks so much for sharing that with us!! Keep it up! We're cheering for you! <3

    Kathy Thompson

    So glad I read this, I was so back & forth about using my watermark or not. This really gives me piece of mind now. Thank you

    Amy & Jordan

    We're so happy this was helpful to you, Kathy!! Thank you for sharing! <3

    Kerri

    Thanks for the great article! I thought the exact same way at first, regarding professionalism although any watermark I put over my pictures I thought looked horrible. The only time I use them now is in my client gallery over the middle so that clients don't share them to social media & not then not purchasing the images.. I can't think of any other way to get around that issue.

    Amy & Jordan

    You're so welcome, Kerri! We're so excited that's working for you!! We appreciate you sharing! Cheering for you, girl! :)

    Brittany

    All great examples!! I think it's time I stop watermarking!! 😊

    Amy & Jordan

    Thanks so much, Brittany! Enjoy that extra time on your hands!! :)

    Irina

    What a confirmation, thank you so much. Many times I heard a voic'e telling me do not watermark your images and the I got distracted with myths. You totally broke off those myths for me and liberated me. Appreciate it very much.

    Amy & Jordan

    Thank you, Irina!! We are so happy to hear our blog helped! Keep up the hard work! We're cheering for you! :)

    Jess

    Love this post! I agree with everything you guys mentioned, but it also got me thinking of something else, Wedding albums. Should we deboss or engrave clients wedding albums with our logo? What do you guys do?

    Amy & Jordan

    Hey, Jess! That's a great question! We don't put our logo or names anywhere on our client's wedding album just because we've always committed to running our business as if WE were the clients, so we ask ourselves this question a lot, "Would we like this?" If the answer is yes, then we do it. If it's no, then we don't. In this case, if we paid thousands of dollars for a really nice wedding album, we wouldn't want someone's name or logo on it. Our goal is to provide an experience that's so unforgettable that our clients will always remember our names :) Hope that helps!

    Amy & Jordan

    Hey, Jess! That's a great question! We don't put our logo or names anywhere on our client's wedding album just because we've always committed to running our business as if WE were the clients, so we ask ourselves this question a lot, "Would we like this?" If the answer is yes, then we do it. If it's no, then we don't. In this case, if we paid thousands of dollars for a really nice wedding album, we wouldn't want someone's name or logo on it. Our goal is to provide an experience that's so unforgettable that our clients will always remember our names :) Hope that helps!

    Bracha

    Amy and Jordon,
    You two are amazing! Always perfectly needed blog posts at the perfect time. Always so relevant, exactly what I need.
    THANK YOU!
    - Bracha K.

    Amy & Jordan

    Aw!! Thank you for sharing that with us, Bracha! That totally made our day! <3

    Samantha

    I've been debating whether or not to continue using watermarks. I can never decide on good placement within the image to not be distracting, but I wouldn't want my watermark to get lost either.

    The idea of getting rid of it all together I think is the winner! I totally agree, if people like your images they'll book you. Well said.

    Amy & Jordan

    We're so happy you agree, Samantha! Saves you so much time! Thanks so much for sharing! :)

    Amanda Harvey

    Thank goodness! Cause I didn't feel like messing with it or coming up with one!

    Amy & Jordan

    We're so glad this was helpful, Amanda!