Watermarking Your Images

Most professional photographers out there put some sort of transparent-ish watermark on their images when posting them to the web. It’s one of the few, albeit not necessarily fool-proof, ways to keep your photos from being used without your authorization. For pros, this is important not only to protect the value of the work, but often because the photos are under exclusive use license… it’s bad for both the photographer and their clients if those photos are misused.

With services like Flickr making it so simple to “borrow” images from, unauthorized use is becoming more of a problem. I can name quite a few cases where Flickr photos with All Rights Reserved clearly indicated on the web page were taken and used in magazines or websites without permission. In fact, I just stumbled upon this post with an old image of mine that was used without my permission. As a result of this kind of issue, more and more people are tagging their images with a copyright notice, and sometimes even quite a big one.

I started adding a copyright notice to my photos some months ago, once I started getting paid for some of my shots. It seemed the best way to show good faith that photos that I might sell as stock in the future haven’t been used before. Initially, I just tagged on the copyright by hand in Photoshop. I’d create a new layer, add the text, set the transparency and be done with it. This was fairly tedious and time consuming, but for most images, I was using Photoshop to do other image tweaking, so it wasn’t too terribly much overhead. After some weeks, I created a little action to do the same thing… it was flakey, and wouldn’t position the text where I wanted it to be, but it saved me the step of typing the same copyright string over and over again. I’m guessing that Image Ready, that comes along with Photoshop CS2 does some of this for you, but I haven’t played around with it much. Likewise, I’m sure there are some good Photoshop actions out there… better than the one I created… to help aid in this task.

When I started using Capture One, as you know, my workflow changed considerably. At this point, I only use Photoshop on about 5% of my photos… in those cases usually to clean up some little nit kind of thing that showed up in the macro shot that I didn’t see before-hand, or to clean up an all white background. The rest of the time, all my color and exposure correction is done in Capture One, so outputting from the raw files to the various formats and sizes is all automated. Capture One lets you set the specific file type, sizing, color profile, compression ratio, file naming and, my favorite, lets you set and place watermark a string, all as a part of the output processing. Set all these things once, and save the settings to an output type and then you can use those same settings on any batch of photos. I have different settings saved off for my TIFF files, full-sized jpegs for clients, web-sized jpegs for clients, web-sized jpegs w/watermarks for Flickr, and sized to fit my online portfolio. After I color correct a batch of photos, I just pick which output types I want and wait a few minutes for the results. Easy-peasy, and no more dinking around with watermarking manually.

Recently a question from one of my fellow Flickrites on how I watermark prompted a bit more searching for other tools that aren’t quite as pricey, and I found a couple that look interesting. I have not tried these though, so take this just as info, not as a recommendation.

First, and the one that looks the best to me, is Downsize by a company called Stunt software. This little Mac-based app lets you batch resize your images, but also do all kinds of cool stuff in the process… like add a border or a drop-shadow, round the corners, or add a watermark. It integrates with iPhoto as well, so you won’t have to worry about having to refind all your photos buried away in the crazy mac directory structure.

On PC, check out ReaWatermark2 by ReaSoft. It doesn’t do all the same cool stuff that Downsize does, but it does do transparent watermarks, including graphics.

You might also check out iWaterMark, which works on both PCs and Macs.

Once you have the tool, you need to decide what your watermark will say or look like. I like to keep mine small, so it doesn’t interfere with the image. My goal is that no one notices it on the first glance of the photo. Other folks go big, to make sure it’s clear that the work is copyrighted immediately. Here are some examples of what other Flickrites have done. There isn’t really a right or wrong here… it’s all about what you want. The images is copyrighted whether or not it has a watermark.

My copyright is just text, and reads: Ask First! © 2007 Plates & Packs LLC/Lara Ferroni http://www.platesandpacks.com/ All Rights Reserved.

That little copyright symbol, ©, on the mac, by the way, is Alt-G in most fonts.

Don’t think that adding a watermark is going to do a lot to stave off the very ambitious image thief. What it will do, however, is help let those who really don’t understand copyrights from accidentally taking your images without permission. Since I started watermarking, I’ve been surprised (and pleased) by the number of people who have sent me mail to make sure it was ok for them to use one of my images. Sometimes, it was, and I granted them limited use rights. Sometimes, I had to say no, and explain my reasons.

*Note. I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on my blog. Please don’t consider this post as legal advice!