Now that's a bit of controversy for a this early in morning isn't it? ;-)
Watermarking photos in the photography industry is kind of like Canon vs. Nikon. Digitals vs. Prints. Flash or Natural light. Formally educated or self-taught. The debates go on and on. In the end there REALLY is no right or wrong on the subject and people end up doing what they want based on what the believe about life in general.
Sidenote…I'm reading All Marketers are Liars by Seth Godin…and so I've got all this "worldview influences all consumer behavior and no one buys a product, they really buy the story” on the brain and if you haven't read it, then I would highly suggest picking up a copy and indulging yourself in the same.
Alright, back to watermarks. YAY or NAY?
I've landed on the NAY side of things for a few different reasons. I used to be on the YAY side and please understand I have nothing against all of the lovely people who are currently on the YAY side of things. I've just decided they aren't for me for a few key reasons.
Sidenote #2...The more I am in business, the more I am figuring out that it's really important to understand WHY you do what it is that you do or don't do. (wow, did that sentence even make sense?) If you go around just doing things because everyone else does them, then you are most likely headed for some confusing times and upset clients. Strategy is crucial and honestly it's a more comfortable place to be. When you are easily able to explain why you do or don't do something you appear more professional likely because you ARE more professional! You have an understanding of the strategy behind your business and you can gauge when things are working and when they aren’t and make tweaks along the way.
Doesn't that sound a whole lot better than just seeing what Johnnie Photographer and Jane Photographer are doing and just copying them without understanding the foundation of why they are doing it that way?
Ok again, back to the watermarks (geeze I need more coffee!)
There are four main reasons why I feel like the practice of using watermarks doesn't align with my strategy or my branding.
1 | SIMPLICITY
This one is pretty huge for me and it fits in with my branding and style. I like things to be simple.
“Making the simple complicated is commonplace. Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
— Charles Mingus
I like to make things screamingly simple for my clients. I like routine and simplicity in every day life. Simple and functional to me equals beauty.
Back when I used to watermark anything and everything, life for me was anything BUT simple. Adding watermark files to Lightroom and Blogstomp, figuring out their placement on the various different photos, exporting for facebook or instagram became laborious, I would have a watermark on an image I wanted to share on IG but then it would be cut off because of where I chose to put it on the photo and so it looks stupid, and forget about choosing white or black! Half of my photos you couldn't even really see the watermark b/c it would blend in or I would have to put it in a really distracting place where you could actually see it and on and on and on....
Does any of that sounds simple to you?
The day I decided to stop watermarking felt like a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I was able to simply export my photos once, Blogstomp them if I chose and then they would just be ready for me. Ready to put in a blog post. Ready to put on FB. Ready to put on IG. No other worries around. Simple. Lovely.
2 | THEFT IS RARE AND UNPREVENTABLE
One of the main arguments FOR watermarking your photos is that if you don't, others will steal them from you and then try to pass them off as their own.
Now don't get me wrong, I KNOW this happens. You can't be in a photography group on Facebook without seeing someone post about how they were completely caught off guard when they found out that someone had set up a whole false website using their stolen photos. There are whole websites that are built on calling out people who steal other photographers photos.
However, with todays technology and minimal understanding of how a clone stamp works, adding a watermark to your photo in hopes that it will prevent someone from stealing it is kind of like locking the doors to your car but leaving all the windows down. Its really not going to do much to prevent someone who is intent on stealing someones work. Its just ads one small, annoying step to the process.
The only tried and true way to absolutely prevent someone stealing your photo is not to post anything online at all. Ever. And I don't know how many photographers in this day and age would be willing to go to that extreme. So take your precautions.
- Disable right-click on your website (which wont stop screen grabs).
- Upload photos at 72dpi instead of 300 (which would make the photo really difficult to print large or use commercially.)
- Keep your metadata up to date as well which might come in handy someday if it comes to that.
Otherwise, acknowledge the fact that your photos "might" get stolen someday, but the chance is small and its pretty much unavoidable, so don't stress yourself out over trying to prevent something that you really can't stop.
3| NO MEASURABLE ADVERSE EFFECTS
One other big argument on the YAY side for watermarking is promotion and marketing. If someone sees my photo somewhere on the internet and they don't see my watermark or branding on it, then how will they ever track me down and find me and give me buckets of money?!?!
I will admit, I don't have a rock solid argument against this. Maybe I am forfeiting millions of dollars by not having watermarks on my photos, but I just don't think this is really behavior that many consumers engage in. I am also much more service oriented than "my photos are the most amazing photos you will ever see" oriented. There are many photographers out there whose aim is to provide the most unique images possible and I applaud them for that, but I was just not blessed with that level of creativity. Therefore I have to depend MORE on my amazing service skills and none of that is adequately communicated through a watermark.
My goal is for all clients of mine to GUSH about me whenever a friend mentions needing a photographer. In all transparency that is how I would prefer to be "found". I want clients to WANT to talk about me and tag me online, instead of feeling jilted or bitter when they crop out my watermark or don't say anything about me at all.
Some may still argue that leaving my photos out there floating around without any distinguishing watermark means that I am leaving money on the table. Maybe they are right, but I'm just not convinced. Word of mouth will always remain my focus.
4| CHALLENGES ME
In that same vein of my photos having something to distinguish them amongst the masses, without a watermark it really challenges me to make my photos consistent and to have a style. There are many photographers out there who have mastered this and just by seeing their photo quickly in my feed I am instantly able to know who took it. Susan Stripling is one. Jasmine Star is another. Their style may not necessarily be one that I relate to or personally aspire to achieve, but they are certainly distinct. Both of these ladies have been at this for years and they have really honed in on the exact style they want to portray. I would love to get to this point someday, where my images have a consistent and obvious message and story that they are telling. If I keep plastering my name all over them, it kind of lets me off the hook. And nothing good happens when I am let off the hook (except for maybe some Netflix marathons.)
So there you have it. All the reasons I gave up watermarking my photos. What do you do and why do you do it? I would love to hear your reasons in the comments!