Please don’t steal this Tutorial!

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DISCLAIMER: Images DO get stolen occasionally and it is a horrible feeling. The below article like all of my writing is based on my experience as a passionate photographer.

Picture this, the sun is shining and the birds are chirping, it’s Sunday morning and I’m scrolling through photography web pages admiring the amazing works floating around the internet and then… “Oh my god I’m famous! Oh wait, hold on a second… that’s my photo!! But where is my watermark? How could this happen!?!?!!?!”. Well to be honest, it’s pretty simple actually; image cropping and the advent of Photoshop’s content aware feature and even the old clone tool has made is a 3 second task to remove pretty much any watermark. In fact, it is so easy to remove that you might find yourself asking the question, should I make it gigantic covering over the entire image? Or should I just not bother?

Steal it? I can hardly even see it!

A few years back I had a really garish and chunky logo that even when shrunk right down was a terrible distraction as a watermark. I didn’t really mind at the time because I knew the bigger and chunkier, the harder it would be for those cybercriminals to steal my photos and make trillions of dollars behind my back. The reality was, that no-one was stealing my images for profit and unless I actually covered my entire image, if they wanted rid of it they would be able to remove it anyway. So if t’s not a form of protection why do we watermark in the first place?

A great example of subtle but beautiful watermarking by Mark McLeod

A great example of subtle but beautiful watermarking by Chris Malikoff who heads up the Olympus OM-D Australia User Group

Recently I received a very welcome email from a very surprising source which I think paints the ‘big picture’ of watermarking. A few years back a Wikipedia contributor asked for my permission to use one of my images on an article they were working on. I’m always happy to help out a non-profit so agreed on the basis that I could have the credit there and watermark it etc. As requested, the image was credited to me in the notes but the link that I provided at the time was for an old (now deactivated) flickr account I used to have. Years have passed and updating the links of all my old shares/posts/articles etc isn’t exactly on the top of my to-do list but last week I opened my inbox to see an email from the most unlikely source! The Natural History Museum in London wrote “One of our scientists saw your image on Wikipedia and we would like to use it in an upcoming exhibition, none of the links on the site were active but we did some googling and found your website”. Of course after I regained consciousness from my falling over backwards I madly accepted the offer. A win for the watermark.

To me, watermarking for security is more of a sincere request to not steal or claim your personal images for oneself. More importantly though I believe it to be about recognition when thing are shared, then re-shared then re-shared then instagramed and finally end up on pinterest somewhere. The first couple of people tend to attach your name as a credit but it eventually goes missing with no ill intention and the photo becomes “-by anon”; unclaimed by any photographer and likely to be used in a corporate presentation somewhere without you ever knowing. When writing up this article I did a little Facebook-around and spoke to a few brilliant photographers who’s work they’ve allowed me to share, and I asked the same initial question of “why bother watermarking?” and we all pretty much came to the same conclusion. So when designing a watermark, our best collective advice? Keep it simple, don’t let it distract from your beautiful work and treat it as a little stamp of your brand rather than a hideous padlock to your images security!

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