What Makes A Successful Watermark and When to Use It!

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Spend any time these days on social media sites or in a search engine looking at images and you will certainly see photos with watermarks.  Have you wondered what a photography watermark is and if, when and why you should watermark your own photos?  It’s a valid question in today’s digital and social media driven culture.

What is a Photography Watermark?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty details, let’s start with the basics.  A photography watermark is a small, personalized design made up of a logo or a name. It is usually placed over the top or near the edge of an image.  Most often the text or logo is created as a translucent screen so you can see details of the photo through it.

WATERMARK didn’t make my list of 10 Need to Know Terms for the Beginner, but you should check it out for the ten words that did!!!

A photo with a watermark in the lower right corner

To Watermark? Or not to Watermark?

There are photographers that stand firmly on both sides of this debate.  Ultimately it is your choice as the artist.  And isn’t that part of the fun of being your own photography boss?  You get to make all the fun decisions!  There are compelling reasons to use a photography watermark on occasion, and there are also reasons to avoid it.

Image Stealing... It's a real thing.

A photography watermark may (or may not) reduce the likelihood that someone will use your image without your permission.  In the best-case scenario, some folks are well-intentioned and unaware of copyright infringement laws.  If someone uses your image without your knowledge and your watermark stays in-tact, then those viewing it will have an opportunity to see from where the image came. They may even look up your information, providing potential new business for you.

On the flip side, some may want to use your image and specifically wish to take credit or, at the least, give you no credit for your work.  The term for this is “copyright infringement.” You can find a formal definition HERE.  A user can edit or crop out your watermark and post your photo wherever they’d like.  It is effortless for them if you choose to place your watermark in a small corner or an area of the picture with minimal detail.  There are several apps readily available that will do just that with merely a few quick clicks.

An alternative here is to place a large logo or print directly over the entire photo. It is less likely (but not impossible) for someone to alter the image and remove the mark when doing this.  Photographers often use this technique for image proofs and then removed before the final delivery to a client.  However, that doesn’t come without its drawbacks either. A giant watermark can be a distraction for a client when viewing proofs.

If your main reason for watermarking is to protect your images, there are better ways.  As my dad always said, when referring to locking your car, “locks only keep the honest people out.”  I like to say the same about watermarks (yes – I am slowly turning into my parents).  If someone wants to steal your image, that little mark isn’t gonna stop them.

Branding and Marketing – If you are shooting professionally, you have worked hard to brand yourself with a name and a logo.  A well-placed and prominent watermark, including your logo, can point viewers directly back to your website. Of course, we all love it when clients find their way to us. Images used both with your permission and without can lead back to you. And that’s a win!!!

On the flip side, if your watermark is small and not readable, then it may only serve as a distraction from the beautiful image you’ve created.  The solution here is simple.  If you choose to use a photography watermark, make it clear and recognizable.

Some photographers believe that only professionals use watermarks these days.  In today’s world of high-quality DSLR photography, it is easy to buy a “fancy” camera, take a few photos of your friends, and call yourself a Pro.  It is also relatively simple to place a watermark on your photo and give the impression of being a pro.  Plenty of apps are available out there that will quickly and easily add a watermark.

However, being a professional requires much more than an expensive camera and a watermark.  If that wasn’t true, then I could go out and buy a costly oven, put on a fancy white chef’s hat, and call myself a professional cook.  It sounds ridiculous!  The truth is that a real professional takes hundreds, if not thousands of hours studying their craft and perfecting their techniques.  In the many photography forums to which I belong online, I have seen plenty of debates about what makes a pro.  THIS ARTICLE from Digital Photography School does a great job breaking it down.

But I digress…  My point here is simple.  If you want to look like a pro, you don’t need to rely on a photography watermark.  You DO need to work hard on honing your skill so that your work stands on its own.  Here’s a perfect example…  Which do you consider a pro photo?  Does the watermark make a difference?  Which photographer would you choose to hire?

Reba with watermark pre-SPS
This photo was taken with a Canon DSLR several years ago before hundreds of hours of specialized photography training
Reba with watermark after SPS
Same dog several years later as a professional

 If you are still shooting with your DSLR or Mirrorless on the Auto mode, then now is the perfect time to start shooting in manual.  I cover the basics in  Your Ultimate Guide to Shooting in Manual Mode

If you’ve mastered manual mode, but haven’t begun processing your photos after the shoot, now is the time!  You can peek at what a difference editing can make in The Power of Editing – Taking A Photo from Average to Astounding!

I touched on it a minute ago, but let’s talk a little more about how a photography watermark affects your photo’s composition.  Consider that you’ve worked hard to get your shot lined up exactly how you want and spent precious time in post-processing. I’m guessing you’re pretty proud of your photo, and you want the viewer to see your work as it stands.  It only makes sense then that slapping a big ole watermark across the center of your masterpiece will take away from the viewing experience.  If you are looking to identify your photo for framing and sale, you can choose to sign and date your photo along an edge. Even better if you sign it on the matte or a thin border surrounding the image.  In addition to identifying your work, a signature will increase its value when sold.

So, after all of those pros and cons, you can see that there’s not a simple answer.  Again – you’ll find arguments for both sides.  

Which Team are You on?

Team NO WAY! No Photography Watermark for me!

If you are NOT sold on a watermark or want to choose to use one sometimes, but not always, there are alternate ways to identify your photos.  First, you will want to add your copyright info into the metadata of your photo. Adding info is easily done in ADOBE LIGHTROOM when you import your photos.  Metadata is information that is embedded into the code of the digital file and never leaves it.  If you find yourself in a serious battle over a stolen image, this will be a life-saver!

metadata upon import
When importing photos, look to the right of the screen and use the "Apply During Import" function.

If you want to know where your images are being used, you can run a reverse image lookup on GOOGLE or TinEye.com For free.  Now you get to decide if you want to follow up with those who may be using your images without your permission.

Team YES! I will be adding a Photography Watermark to my photos!

When you opt for a photography watermark, here are a few guidelines to follow when creating yours.

First, remember KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid (or Silly if you prefer the more PC version).  Stay away from fancy, unreadable fonts and fancy graphics.  Choose a basic, one-color image that will look good as translucent.  Be sure and use your unique name or symbol so that it is easily recognizable. You want to make it easy for a viewer to do a quick search and find your website or Facebook page.

How to Create Your Photography Watermark

Finally, let’s talk about how to create a photography watermark.  LIGHTROOM makes it simple with a feature that allows you to place your watermark right onto Your photo as you export it. 

First, right-click on your image, then select “export.”

Export Menu

When the menu opens, scroll down to the watermark section and click on the drop-down menu.  From that menu, choose “Edit Watermark.”  You can see that I have experimented with many variations of my watermark.

watermark drop down

At this point, you will have all of the options you need to create your watermark.  If you are using a graphic, first select “Graphic” on the top right.  Next, click on “choose image” and upload it here.  Remember that your image logo file will need to have a transparent background.  These files are usually PNG format rather than JPG.  If you don’t have one with a transparent background, it will end up with a box around it and look like a sticker.

If you prefer a basic, simple copyright mark, you can choose “Text” on top, then type any words you want into the box beneath the photo.  The Text Options section allows you to select the font, size, and color of your text.

As you scroll down the menu, you will find the option to adjust the opacity.  The anchor point tells the logo where to appear on the photo. Now is the time to go ahead and slide the sliders and click the buttons to see how your watermark looks. The preview will show on the picture you are exporting so you can choose the look you like.

watermark menu bottom

When you have it all set up just the way you like it, click “Save” and give your new watermark a name!  I prefer to name mine descriptively so that I remember what it will look like before I choose.  Remember that first photo with all the listings?  Each one of those is my watermark in a different location or size.  Truthfully, some are old, and I could delete them, but it is fun to see where I started and where I am now.

Finally – once you’ve saved this watermark’s format and given it a name, it becomes even simpler to apply your watermark on export.  When you’re ready to export, scroll down to the watermark section. Rather than click on edit and go through all of those details again, click on the watermark you created, and Lightroom will do the rest.  If you are exporting multiple photos, it will apply that mark to every shot.

watermark drop down

Voila!  Now you know the essentials and can make your own decision about what, why, when, and how to apply your very own watermark!  Please leave a comment below if you have any questions, and be sure and follow me on FACEBOOK and PINTEREST!  I love to connect with my readers, so be sure and show me your latest work!

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  1. My kid sister wants to learn photography and I just introduced her to your blog. A lot of useful resource on here! Me, i just take pics and hope of the 100 shots, one would be fine enough!

    • Yay! Thank you so much! I hope she loves my blog as much as I enjoy yours! And no matter how much practice I get as a photographer, there’s always days when I shoot by the 100 to 1 rule. lol! You’re not alone!

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