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.
Watermarking photos looks more professional.
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.
Watermarking photos protects them from getting stolen.
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.
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.
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.
Watermarking photos is good marketing, because someone will see my watermark and contact me for business.
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).
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!
Hopefully this helps give you some insight into why we don’t watermark our photos, and gives you permission to do the same!