Distracting elements: Watermarks

I’m beginning to think fear is the basic root of all activity on this planet, so I guess there’s no way the world of photography could be without it either. Resulting in: Watermarks.

“But it’s a copyright statement.”
“It’s an additional marketing tool.”

Truths with slight modifications. First of all, it’s basically a protection disguised as a copyright statement. Second, your name will most likely be used in the same context as your photograph is presented in. Your name is already mentioned and visible to the viewers, shouldn’t be necessary to repeat it. Conclusion is, watermarking is about you doing everything in your power to prevent someone stealing it by adding an element that will be hard to remove… and hard to ignore.

There’s too much watermarking.

Watermarking is an extremely popular trend, both among amateurs and professionals. One of the biggest photographic co-operatives, Magnum Photos, watermarks all of the pictures on their site. And not only one watermark on each photo, no, five! But you know, they’re Magnum, they already have a huge amount of credibility, and won’t lose that credibility from those they need it from by watermarking. As all photographers know, it will never look as good on a screen as on a good quality print; I can easily read that simple message into the Magnum-watermarks. They want to protect the work they’re presenting, even though they’re doing it by adding distracting elements (as they well know), but prints and books is what it’s all about anyways.

Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not particularly blaming Magnum, because as we’ve seen they have their reasons and they don’t have much to lose by doing it. But I am blaming the whole society of fearful watermarkers.

What is this trend actually leading to?
Why is watermarking a problem?

It is my honest assumption that watermarks in themselves creates a common illusion that non-watermarked photographs are free for everybody to take and use. At least this counts for people who doesn’t have the general knowledge about copyrighted material. The result is that watermarked photographs seems copyrighted and non-watermarked doesn’t to the general audience who doesn’t care to do the essential research. It all actually ends up with watermarkers making the life tougher for those who aren’t watermarking.

As I’ve already hinted at, looking at a watermarked photograph is close to looking at a tagged building. It’s usually not a pretty sight. It doesn’t look clean and it certainly wasn’t the architect’s intention, because he wanted it clean. Exactly like most photographers like it. That’s why they went close and narrowed their subject down and that’s why they removed distracting elements in the first place. What a paradox then, to add a distracting element right before presenting the result to their web-audience!

Instead of helping digging the grave, here’s what you should do.

  • First of all, you should keep in mind that you own your photographs from the very split second you created them. And unless you have given or will give the copyright over to someone else, people aren’t allowed to use them for their own benefit without your agreement, no matter what.
  • Make sure simple copyright statements or name credits are included somewhere close to all of your published photographs.
  • Include copyright statement in the metadata. You probably have the option to do this in your DSLR, and software like Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Bridge comes in handy if you want to quickly add information into multiple files.
  • You could always try to hunt down potentially stolen work with TinEye.

More reading: Stuckincustoms.com – “Why I Don’t Use Watermarks”

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