On Watermarks and Signatures

On Watermarks and Signatures

Earlier today I caught myself unfollowing someone on 500px because I clicked through on their photo and found this garish looking signature on their photograph. I know I’ll probably take a lot of heat for this, but I HATE watermarks and signatures on photos and many of the particularly bad borders and frames as well — so much so that more and more these days I’m not faving them or commenting on photos that I find them on and have actually started unfollowing some people who use them.

Some people will say that they put signatures on their photos to stop the “photo thieves.” But I think that’s just an excuse. It’s so easy to remove almost any signature on a photo using content aware fill or other super easy tool in most image editing software. To me the real reason why people do it is that they think that it gives them some means of promotion for their work — that and just pure ego. It’s like an advertisement for their work – except that if I’m a contact and I’m looking at your work already, it feels dumb to me that you want to continuously hammer me with this same advert on your photos over and over and over again.

To me signatures are also a pure sign of an amateur (not that there is anything wrong with amateurs). William Eggleston doesn’t use them. He has a copyright notice on his site, but on his photos on display on his site, none of them are overlayed with something that says “William Eggleston Copyright 2009, Fully Party Promotion Production BABY! Richard Avedon doesn’t use them (RIP). The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite run by Ansel’s son Michael Adams doesn’t use them. Mary Ellen Mark doesn’t use them.

Is your work so much better than these masters that it must be protected with your watermark?

Some of the best photosharing accounts that I know don’t use them. Bernie DeChant doesn’t use them. Ivan Makarov doesn’t use them. Kelly Castro doesn’t use them. WatermelonSugar doesn’t use them. Bill Storage has some remarkable work up — no signatures here either.

And yet some brand new account with some underexposed photo of a flower (not that there is anything wrong with flowers) somehow thinks that unless they have their name emblazoned across the bottom of their photo in 24pt Helvetica, that someone is going to “steal” their photograph.

For me looking at photos online is a new way of consuming art — and online photosharing sites are sort of virtual museums for me in a way. If I went to see the Richard Avedon show at the SF MOMA and every print was stamped with a garish “COPYRIGHT RICHARD AVEDON” I’d be just as put off I think. But they aren’t.

I don’t use signatures or watermarks on my own work because I care about the art. I care about how it’s presented to others. I want it to be beautiful. I want it to stand on it’s own. I trust you. I respect you. I want you to see my work the best that it can possibly be and come back and see it again and again and again in the future.

As an artist my biggest ambition is to have my work seen and appreciated, at all costs. To get it out there and distributed as broadly as possible and to make it as welcome and inviting to those who might come and visit it.

I might blame the software makers for adding this functionality into their products — but they only do this due to consumer demand and some people want this, I suppose.

The thing is that I have friends and photographers that I admire that use signatures. And some people feel super strong about them and so I’m sure some people will react badly to me saying how much I hate them. I certainly don’t mean to upset people who do use them and feel this way. It’s just an opinion. Really, don’t hate on me for hating your watermark. If you want to use it, you just go right on using it. The important thing is that YOU like it. It’s your art after all. This is just my blog and my opinion.

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  1. I completely agree. I also have a very hard time commenting on or favoriting photos with stylized borders or watermarks. Watermarks are horribly distracting and can make a lovely photo look garish imho. 🙂

  2. Mike Shelby says:

    I totally agree with you on this one… I feel that photography should not be mutilated with watermarks and logos. If you are that concerned with someone sealing your work don’t put it online. I have thousands of photos on flickr and if someone steals them so be it, I took the picture and I feel good about it and that is enough for me.

  3. Jeremy Hall says:

    I’ve given a lot of thought to the watermark thing over the years, in no small part because of your (frequent) comments about them. I used to have them on everything, mainly when I was doing some work with contracts that required some level of protection in order to publish them online. I let myself just get lazy and leave the watermark on everything. I did tell myself the reasoning of free promotion and some level of protection against misuse.

    Then, recently, I went back and started removing them on anything that wasn’t directly related to a contract or a photo I was directly trying to sell. I’ve enjoyed looking at my own work more without that watermark in place. I realized I really didn’t care about misuse to continue degrading my image, ruining the experience for the bulk of my audience to some degree for the errant behavior of a few. Will I get some people mis-using the photos, sure will. I’m really not worried about it. Let’s face it, I don’t figure most of my work is all that stealing-worthy anyway.

    I do still throw on the watermark in some specific cases, mainly when I do family portrait work. I don’t do this to protect my sales, rather many families feel more comfortable that their kids photos won’t get lifted & used for commercial purposes. I deliver watermark free photos though as part of my packages, so they are happy to share those in more controlled circumstances.

    Didn’t mean to get so long on a comment, but know that your message has converted one guy out there at least; and I feel better for it.

  4. Karel says:

    Can’t agree here. I’m with you when it comes to ugly watermarks or watermarks that are huge and/or go right through the entire photo and ugly borders suck too, yes. But I do believe in putting a small copyright notice in one of the corners of your photo in such a way that it doesn’t distract from the photo itself. Small clean type, perhaps even translucent a little so that it’s not distracting.

    Yes it is easy to remove it, but when someone steals the photo and removes your copyright, it shows that they knowingly infringed on your copyrights and this makes your case stronger. Also it’s not just because people can steal your photos but also to let others know who the maker is and where the photo comes from. Often people take photos from your site and post them on their own or elsewhere (facebook for example) and this goes on and on until nobody knows where it originally came from. Having a small copyright tekst on it helps to let people know where it comes from.

    And yes, it also serves as promotion for your work. But really, don’t you want people to come looking for more of your work when they like the photo they see somewhere else?

  5. Stefan says:

    Well written. I also don’t use watermarks as I believe they take away from the photo. If somebody doesn’t want their work stolen then don’t put it on the Internet. My 2c.

  6. frankdejol says:

    Very interesting and excellent text.

  7. Tomaž says:

    I would have to go with Karel here. For me it is not so much about theft protection as it is about self promotion.

  8. As someone whose sole income is photography, watermarks are a necessary form of brand recognition. How many times do people have to see a symbol or name before they recognize and remember it? A lot, and every bit helps. Over the time I’ve started using them they’ve evolved to be as minimal as I can make them while still being legible. They also provide a measure of incentive for client wanting to have their files in a digital format to purchase full resolution downloads. In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to use them, but suggesting it’s an ego driven move by those who use them is a pretty broad statement, and I think erroneous in many cases.

  9. Gary H says:


  10. Eric says:

    I agree – I don’t like watermarks, don’t use them, and more often than not they reduce my opinion of a photo they’re attached to. Personally I just trust that people will link back as per the CC license and Flickr TOS, and I make sure the EXIF metadata is fully filled out.

    But let me play devil’s advocate.

    The difference between me and Andel Adams is the the latter is world famous and his work is instantly recognizable as such. No one can grab his images and pass it off as their own. The same is true for many of the better photographers – if I were to upload to Flickr a Cartier Benson, an Ansel Adams, or even a Scott Bourne or Thomas Hawk, enough people would recognize it and not let me get away with it. The photos of famous or semi-famous photographers are thus “protected” even sans watermark.

    But if someone were to lift some of mine for example, I don’t have that kind of notoriety to depend on. The crime would probably go unnoticed and who knows? Pretty much the only tool available to me to get the same kind of “protection” enjoyed by Ansel Adams is a watermark. Or get to be as famous as him. But that’s not likely.

    A lot of amateurs do worry too much about protecting their work from being stolen whereas they should be focused on creating work people would *want* to steal. But I don’t think your argument that professionals don’t do it is a fair one to make.

    As one further note, I’d point out that there’s 5 billion photos on Flickr. “Photo thieves” do grab stuff from the site. While watermarks won’t stop someone determined to use a particular photo, most aren’t that determined – if they’re scraping 1,000 photos, they’re not going to go remove 1,000 watermarks by hand. They’ll just skip over them and find unwatermarked photos instead. So it does offer some measure of protection.

  11. SteelToad says:

    I have to disagree with Karel somewhat, your case is no stronger for somebody having removed your watermark. They are just as guilty or copyright infringement if they hide who the owner is as when they don’t hide who the owner is. If they use work without clear copyright, they are guilty. If somebody takes your car, they are just as guilty of auto theft whether they repaint it, or they leave it as it is.

    If you can demonstrate a quantifiable loss of income due to the infringement, then *perhaps* their intent *could* be a factor in calculating any punatitive damages, but the bulk of your case will still hang on the fact that they used an image without copyright.

  12. Klaus says:

    Amen to that! I don’t like it either.

    Tim King Photography Blog puts them on *all* his photos – and they are very, very visible – but he does it in places where it almost makes sense to have them. Most people put them in the corner or something, same place, every time. In general though, I’d rather avoid watermarks and I do sometimes find myself criticizing a photo because of it… *whoops*

  13. Farrell says:

    I would not — and do not — use watermarks on photo sharing sites or on my own work that I put on display. (I experimented with them once, years ago, and decided against the practice.)

    However, I can see them as useful for professional photographers providing proofs to clients. I’m sure more than one clever client — portrait, wedding, etc. — has simply decided to keep a photographer’s proofs and not purchase the finished prints or hi-res images. These sales are food on the table for professionals and I feel like they have a right to protect them.

  14. Amy says:

    I just want you to know that I laughed out loud at that photo up there, topping this blog post.

  15. Gregory says:

    I disagree in the new age of social networking there are so many places my images end up especially on FaceBook, at least with a watermark on them other people who like the images know where they came from and its free advertising for me. The truth of the matter you mentioned all these artists who have no watermarks, much of the work represented is not large enough anyway to make an art print from it, I would rather show my work bigger with a watermark on it. Just my thoughts.

  16. SteveB says:

    I’ve been thinking long and hard on both borders and signatures, and haven’t really decided yet. Gaudy siggies annoy me to the point of just moving on, but there is something to be said about small, unobtrusive signature or logo on published images. To just say “No!” is odd to me. Do you not care about someone stealing your art that you care about? I do. That said, I haven’t decided yet myself.

  17. As long as they’re not huge and not animated, they don’t bug me. Animated, you say? Yeah, think about the watermarks on every television station we have today. It’s taken years, but I don’t see those “bugs” in the bottom right hand corner anymore, unless they use it as an ad for some other show and things start moving around. So long as they don’t show up on the DVDs/Blu-rays I paid for…

    And when I see a random image on someone’s blog or some random photosharing site, I like having the “link” back to somewhere else. In a perfect world, it would always be in the EXIF data and every browser would easily show it to you if you hovered over the picture in a way that would allow you to click through to the author’s chosen site. But that’s blue sky thinking.

  18. Rob-L says:

    I don’t usually watermark my photos, but I used to all of the time. I don’t do it for promotion because photography is just a hobby for me. What I can’t stand is a for-profit website using my photos to make them money. I’m sorry, but if I have a photo that someone wants to use then that photo has value and taking it is theft. I don’t mind someone sharing a photo on tumblr or whatever, but when someone take my photos to use on a site where they make money that just sucks.

    When it happens, I contact the site and ask them to remove it and usually the comply and state that they “didn’t know it was copyrighted”. (Even though I usually put a copyright notice in the descriptions of my photos.) Putting a watermark on a photo ensures they’ll know it’s a copyrighted photo. If they remove the watermark, then that just helps me prove my case when I demand they take it down or pay me for the photo.

    I don’t buy the “if you don’t want someone to steal it, don’t put it on the internet” mentality either. That’s like saying “don’t park your car in public if you don’t want it stolen” or “don’t leave your shoes and clothes on the beach when you want to take a dip in the ocean if you don’t want them stolen.”

  19. William Beem says:

    I used to have a few different watermarks, but I stopped a couple of years ago. I have very little knowledge of design and my watermarks were just ugly. When I first started sharing online, I did it because it seemed like everyone else was doing it. For a while, I also bought into the idea that it would keep folks from stealing my photos.

    Mind you, not many of those photos were worth stealing. Some Russian site stole a bunch of pics I shot at a bikini contest and promptly covered my hideous watermark with their own, much larger hideous watermark. Clearly, the watermark didn’t enhance the image or prevent theft. So, what purpose did it really serve?

    I recently started using Digimarc on my images because I got a year’s subscription at Photoshop World for $50. It’s invisible to the human eye, but still detectable to authenticate my image if I discover it stolen somewhere.

    If you put your images online, someone is going to take them. In many cases, I don’t care. It mostly bothers me if they are taken for some business use and I get nothing out of it – not even the courtesy of a request.

  20. Vidterry says:

    I get myself into a lot of arguments about this one. If it is possible, I feel more strongly about the whole signature / watermark / copyright thing than you do. I detest it unapologetically. I have 4500 photos on Flickr — some of them even pretty good — and you won’t find any of those things on mine. Having given it much thought indeed, I cannot come up with a single defensible reason for adding graffiti to photographs. Theft protection? Pish tosh. Copyright protection? That is AUTOMATIC unless rights signed away. The copyright notice adds NO additional protection, but says a lot about the paranoia some feel. Personalization? Hardly. When someone signs a photograph ‘Marsha’ or ‘Wild Bill’, how is this going to help unless someone already knows Marsha or Wild Bill!

    In my ‘Flickr World’, I have ‘contact’ relationships with a few photographers. Some of those do ‘sign’ their photos. I overlook it because of the relationship. On all other photos, it is automatically disqualifying for me. I see a sig, watermark, copyright, URL, Flickr plug, logo…or anything else…I move along to another photo. I don’t care how good the image is, if it is deliberately defaced to no good purpose, I don’t want to interact with it.

    I’ve sold many dozens of large format prints of my photos, and I STILL don’t worry about online theft. Tell me that all of those millions of folks who mar their images have a legitimate reason to mark them up like that.

    Stepping off of the soap box, just mark me down as one vote with you.

    Terry in Iows — Vidterry on Flickr

  21. I personally don’t use watermarks. But I use as often as possible my unique brand, or picture, or product picture that cannot be re-distributed without making me a promotion.

    If I do use a watermark, I put my domain name (for those purposes).

    Dominik Bjegović

  22. Citysnaps says:

    Doesn’t bother me at all, knowing great shooters making money with their photos who regularly do that. But then I suppose if one wants to align in the fine art world with Eggleston/Avedon/Adams then maybe that’s something to really get upset up about. Personally, what I find amusing though, are dopey and amateurish titles/captions labeling photos. Fortunately, it’s a free world to do whatever floats your boat…

  23. Karel says:

    Steeltoad: Read this: www photoattorney com/2007/07/watermarks-can-be-music-to-your-ears.html

    And in general read this: www jmg-galleries com/blog/2009/02/25/marketing-through-infringed-photos-with-watermarks/

    Agree with Josh Mitchell. Use every opportunity you have to get your brand/name out there. But make sure it is not distracting. Have a clean logo, use clean text etc. Put it small in a corner, make it transparent en change the color to go with the photo it’s on when needed.

  24. Vidterry says:

    Always so amusing to see the graffiti folks try to equate keeping the photo clean with some kind of elitism. I’ve never claimed to be Adams or anyone else of note. All I care about is enjoying others’ photos, and perhaps them enjoying mine. The experience is lessened when text and graphics are slapped on an image. Period. For me!

    Because I sell custom-framed photo prints…in person, and not online…I tend to keep up with what’s going on in THAT real world. Photo artists with whom I’ve discussed this blanch in terror at the idea of logos etc. on the photograph. All but one in the discussion sign their photos ON THE BACK; sometimes the signature is of value. Mine is not. ONE of the artists signs his photos on the matboard. None would even think of signing the photo itself, and these guys — and one gal — have everything to gain by self-promotion.

    So, to those who don’t mind the graffiti, or who even advocate it, fine. Most won’t mind, and most of those will never bother looking at it anyway. There are more than a few of us, though, who do. Trying to categorize us in some negative connotation way changes nothing. We know what we like, and we KNOW what turns us completely off.

    Terry in Iowa

  25. Strawe says:


    I hate watermarks.

  26. Thomas Hawk says:

    Ivan, rather than comparing online photographs to paintings in museums, you should compare online photographs to their better comparions, photographs in museums, which typically don’t have a 28 point helvetica font signature marring up the front of them.

    In museums, it’s quite rare to see obtrusive signatures over the face of the photo itself, rather they are signed on the reverse side, border, matte, etc. But not on the image itself. Comparing online photos to paintings in museums is a bad comparison, especially when a more accurate comparison exists between online photographs and museum displayed photography.

    Similarly pick up any fine art photography book (where a higher quality scan than virtually anything available on the web could be made) and the photos in these books are not watermarked either.

    You don’t need to”worry” about your watermarks at all. I was just making a point that fine art photographers generally don’t do it, that it’s the realm of the amateur. And totally NOT that there is anything wrong with being amateur.

    You are the artist, however, and you can present your art anyway that you want. I’m just saying that many in your audience might dismiss your work *because* of your watermark.

  27. […] photographers stop reviewing other photographers’ work if they watermark their pictures. Thomas Hawk says “Earlier today I caught myself unfollowing someone on 500px because I clicked through on […]

  28. […] recent post at Thomas Hawk’s Digital Connection questions why people use watermarks and/or signatures on their photos. Thomas makes no qualms about […]

  29. Well, you won’t find any watermarks on my photos. They don’t just detract from a photograph, they ruin it!

    Time for a competition to find the largest, most obtrusive watermarks on Flickr and elsewhere?

  30. DaniGirl says:

    Interesting discussion. As a dilettante who has made a few bucks from photography, I have waffled back and forth on watermarks. I started doing it again recently not so much because of fear of theft but because it really is a great branding tool. In the world of photo sharing, having people see and recognize and remember your business name and associate it with quality images can only be a good thing. However, I do try to keep my watermarks small and unobtrusive and place them so that don’t detract from an image.

  31. photobug says:

    A photo not worth stealing, is not worth buying. Also deposits are nonrefundable, if it does not cover your expenses. Then you need more business lessons and less Photoshop plugin. 🙂

  32. Kirkyshooter says:

    WOW, when submitting shots for judging, or to a gallery, no watermark / signature is a good idea, but to say “do not watermark….EVER” and to stop following someone because of a signature is just plain arrogant. Did they just start using them, if not, why did you start following them in the first place? With the hope that with time they would meld themselves to your expectations of them? How very arrogant of you.

  33. I hate distractions. I hate flashing gifs I hate watermarks. I hate that people find themselves, their brandings, their website promotions more important then their art.

    Of course, I don’t want theivery. That said, what I create is a piece of me. I am exposing myself thru these images. You steal my fotos, (and yes its been done before) and you’re taking a piece of me.

    The alternative, this idea of safety takes away from the craft. In my mind, its not worth giving up a part of a whole visual for the sake of fear.

    In the end, I hope my work isn’t stolen. But I take images that are splatterings of who I am. And id rather damage to my pocketbook then damages to the creations of my soul.

  34. ptsf says:

    I have to say, while I respect your opinion on the matter, it smacks of someone who hasn’t had their photos stolen (much, if at all).
    I HAVE. A LOT. More often than I can keep a handle on. So I watermark, as ugly as I can while still allowing some of the pic to show.
    I HAVE to. Too much of my work HAS BEEN STOLEN.

    (Content-aware fill can overwrite my watermarks, but that’s if someone is willing to go that distance – someone willing to steal photos in the manner I’ve experienced is not willing to go this distance, as they’ll simply find and steal a similar photo with no additional effort.)

  35. Thomas Hawk says:

    ptsf, start running many of my 58,000+ photos on flickr (available in full high res original size) through Google’s new reverse image search engine or Tin Eye and I’ll bet you I have had far, far, far, more photos stolen than you have.

    For example: http://goo.gl/JT5Sk

  36. ptsf says:

    Hm. Well, I guess it comes down to whether it bothers you that your efforts were usurpted. I seems it doesn’t bother you – or at least as much as having to look at someone’s work with a giant watermark.

    Maybe I’ll be able to let it go too – but every professional (and I mean total, 100% income-deriving “professional” shooter) with whom I dive & shoot also watermarks their images – for the same reasons.

    To me, it’s just not as simple as walking around with a camera – my last batch of shots posted to Flickr cost me about $5000 just to shoot, and that’s not counting the depreciation of any of the equipment involved. They’re shots not everyone has. They are, for that very reason, shots I will not abide someone simply stealing.

  37. ptsf says:

    (PS – this isn’t to say that I do consider myself anywhere approaching “great” in my “works”, I actually think far to the contrary!, but it’s about preserving not only the rarity of the images but simultaneously the ability for others to continue to derive income from their similar shots. If anyone can steal my crappy version, why would they pay top-dollar for the good version? Seriously?)

  38. Karel says:

    This just in: DMCA violation when removing photographer’s name from Photo: copyrightlitigation.blogspot.com/2011/06/third-circuit-copyright-infringement.html

  39. ptsf says:

    cool, thanx for the link Karel. 🙂

    In many cases, it may prove purely academic unfortunately, as once the image was taken and reused, the onus is on you track and prosecute – and that’s provided you can actually pin them down and free up the time to proceed with a case… (? probably).

    I liken it to warranties in the field (which is why I travel with 2 of everything): sure, they might fix it when I get home, but I need the utility here, and now (usually many, many miles and days from shore…).

  40. TranceMist says:

    Agree 100%. they ruin the photograph.
    I will not follow people who regularly watermark their photos or put borders around them.
    I won’t fav any such photos either.

  41. The difference maybe, ultimately, is if you’re driven by the business of your photography or by the art of your photography.

    While ptsf says that he/she respects my opinion the post goes on to say that my point of view smacks of someone who’s work hasn’t been stolen (much). Correct me if I’m misreading but its as if, had my work not been stolen, I have no right to even be concerned with the watermark? Then, with all due respect, what do you say about the overexposed watermarked flower? Are you thereby suggesting that thomas hawk is less of a professional then as well? I don’t think that the vicitm of any theivery needs to become a part of any sort of victims pissing contest its important somehow that I convey that my opinion isn’t based on some idealistic amatuers view.

    My work has been stolen by both individuals and by company’s promoting their own agendas. In fact, I had a series taken and used in promotion by a now defunct gallery. I have done commissioned work and not gotten paid. I have had images lifted from my website. I have had excerpts of my novel published under someone elses name. I consider myself fortunate to get to do what I love. I have worked as a photographer for a film and I have had shows here and abroad. I’m legit but my focus is on art, on evoking. I create because I’m an artist. I’m not in it as a business woman. If people understand and hire me for comissioned work, if people purchase my work, if I have gallery shows, if I am considered professional enough to continue to teach photography (those who can’t, teach, right?) then I feel fortunate. The ability to make money from something I love is a happiness, a luxury. I will continue with what I see as staying true to the art. what I feel is that its important to keep my images clean.

    Ultimately, if it had to be watermark = professional, I would prefer to be an idealistic amatuer who creates from a place of raw honesty and thereby really loves what she creates then the alternative.

    My experiences have often made me upset but would it change and stamp my work? Not likely. Not ever.

  42. Swapnil says:

    In Simple words. . . Masters (as author pointed out) , don’t use their signature because there work is so well know, it’s a signature of it’s own.
    Signature existed far before Photography (in paintings primarily), and yes motif was loud and clear – Recognition.

    May be when our photo quality is so high and recognizable, We’d not need signatures to protect / publicize work.

  43. Joe says:

    I am very new to photography and as I was learning from a few people online (YouTube) was taught to use them. As months went by and learning more from more pros I realized they don’t use watermarks. They also said what you wrote in your blog of how easy it is to remove. I must say now it also bothers me when I see a signature in a beautiful photo. If someone is going to steal/borrow your art work they are going to anyways. Thank you for the article and confirming more people are not using these signatures.

  44. ptsf says:

    Sorry, trying not to get frustrated here, but all arguments I’m hearing (seeing) sound to me like “Eww, a watermark! How gross!” versus the very practical reality (that I’m talking about) of specialty photography from which many people (who I know personally and by extension professionally) derive nearly their entire income. Some choose not to use the web AT ALL because of this very reason, but many must in order to continue to drive new business.
    (And the arguments about print photographers never needing such yucky things as watermarks is completely invalid – they did not build their art or their business on the web, and their iconic images do stand by themselves as signature.)

    Yes, people who steal photos will continue to do so anyway – but it’s a hard fact that they will get less of photos that are watermarked. I have seen many of my photos stolen, but NONE of my watermarked photos stolen, and they are of superior quality to the former. (And no, I’m NOT that good, never thought I was, but this is a factual reality of specialty photography.)

    Again, why would someone from an untraceable Chinese or Russian website (real examples) pay my colleagues top-dollar for their shot of something for which I also have shots, but didn’t watermark and were therefore easy to simply steal? (Why would they want to go to the trouble to even pay me?)

    Sure, a photo of something pretty is prettier without gunk in front of it, and sure, if you don’t care that the image might be stolen and you might never get them to properly attribute it, or remove it from wherever they’ve posted it (online or in some random printing from various sources), then have fun with your artistic idealism…. 😛

    I’m trying, but I can’t help hearing the argument presented here as nothing more than that of the aesthete who can’t stand that they’re not being shown the “pure” “art” work, instead of “yucky watermarks”.

    I apologize if my concerns for not only my work but that of others (who actually need the income from each image they produce!) offends your overly-delicate aesthetic sensibilities, and if you happen to come across any of my work in the future, please feel free to move on and disregard it as unsuitable for your consumption. Seriously.
    (And maybe you truly won’t care for it anyway, so it’s win-win.)

    (Not trying to be snarky; I feel very, very strongly about this.)

  45. Thomas Hawk says:

    ptsf, and feel free to continue watermarking the hell out of your work. Nobody is saying that you can’t/shouldn’t do this. it’s your art, do with it what you will.

    I’m suggesting that I don’t like the watermarks on my own art or on the art that I consume of others and frequently will dismiss their art outright BECAUSE of the watermark.

    BTW, those that claim that well known artists (like Eggleston) have such a “distinctive” style that they don’t have to worry about people stealing their work. You are so wrong. First of all Eggleston has ten’s of thousands of different photographs. Many that would not at all be immediately identified as “Egglestons” and his work has probably been “stolen” borrowed, whatever, more than anyone commenting in this post.

    The point is that he cares more about the art and less about somebody posting a photograph of his on their tumbler blog without permission. In fact, I’d argue that much of this unauthorized limited commercial and personal use only promotes the artist more.

  46. genel blog says:

    thank you so much,

  47. Bob says:

    Thomas – Watermarking debate aside – You’re just as much about ego as anybody else…..In fact your whole post is about ego and “look how cool I am” that I don’t need or care for anybody and photos watermarks. “To me signatures are also a pure sign of an amateur” – Which just say’s look at me, I’m a self proclaimed “professional” and too cool for amateurs. I got news for you – people can be just as amateur with or without a watermark.

    To quote you just on this page alone:

    “that and just pure ego”

    Then you go on to say:

    “I’ll bet you I have had far, far, far, more photos stolen than you have.”

    Whatever…my eyes are rolling.

  48. […] Foto | Thomas Hawk Via | ThomasHawk […]

  49. Thomas Hawk says:

    “Bob” you’re a pure genius. Why couldn’t I think of this? If only I could have just deduced that my aversion to watermarking was all about my own personal ego. You’re brillant “Bob.”

  50. Spike says:

    People who dismiss work because of a watermark (unless it’s right through the center) are people who I don’t care about. Don’t look at my work, it makes no difference. The watermarks are very useful to me because people come back with assignments or requests for prints. They usually tell me they found me through the watermark.

    So keep whining and I’ll keep ignoring you.

  51. Thomas Hawk says:

    So keep whining and I’ll keep ignoring you.

    Spike, it’s a deal! 🙂

  52. S Frank says:

    I completely agree. I have unfaved some users on flickr just because of this reason. I find it particularly distasteful when the photos are so bad and then it is copyrighted. I don’t think anyone would use it even without the watermark.

  53. yolofoto says:

    Agree with every word. Thank you for writing so eloquently about something that’s been bugging me for a while.

  54. Just saying says:

    Every photo displayed @ http://www.magnumphotos.com/ are watermarked.

  55. Martin says:

    Wow, how did I miss this? Thanks for the awesome post. Watermarks are something we wanted to get rid of, which is why we started Picuous (http://picuous.com). We’d love to hear your feedback on whether you think our approach is any better!!

  56. Ivan says:

    Martin, looks interesting but the image from your tour can be saved without copyright in a single click: http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/268/playerdsc5776.jpg/

  57. Martin says:


    Of course, the picture can be saved that way. BUT
    1. in the interest of full disclosure, can you give us all the steps of the process as well as your technical savviness?
    2. we chose the path of making the photo really really easy to use in a legal way while still doing away with the watermark—and we’re convinced that the power of “easy” shouldn’t be underestimated 🙂

    I can be reached at any point at martin@picuous.com.

  58. Ivan says:

    1. http://img843.imageshack.us/img843/2236/capturexg.png
    Right click the image, then the Save Image menu item
    2. View stats is a greate idea!
    …but there is absolutely no protection. Pretty the same as to publish the picture with a copyright notice in a plain HTML.

  59. Ivan says:

    It’s Opera browser on my screenshot.

  60. Martin says:


    Hmm, interesting. I can’t do that in my Opera browser. Must be a bug with Opera on Windows. We have put basic protection in place against copy-pasting, so you actually have to dive in the HTML to get the picture, and even that will soon be impossible.

    That being said, protecting a picture once it’s been downloaded to a computer is downright impossible of course…

  61. […] watermarking is a very “hot” topic with many pros and cons involved: some people even hate them while others use watermarks to promote their work. So, you should try to publish both watermarked […]

  62. Kathy Nairn says:

    Mr. Hawk,
    While I do appreciate your comments, feelings and opinions regarding copyright watermarks,I admit that I use them for one reason. Many years ago, my mother took a painting that a family member painted back in the late 1800’s, to an appraiser. He told my mother that the painting was well worth upward of $2000 BUT because it was not signed, it was pretty much worthless. She was also told that her own paintings would be worth more with her signature on them.

    Maybe the same is not true for photography because many of the BEST photogs have already made a name for themselves via a style that can be recognized as totally theirs. (ie: Ansel Adams or Annie L or Joe McNally). However, even that thought can be argued because I’m sure that many of us would recognize a Georgia O’Keefe or a Picasso from a couple miles away. So WHY did they sign their names to their art?

    I make a special image for web presence (size and rez adjusted) overlaid with my name & © symbol/year hidden within the image. For example, if there is a flower (or stem), I line up my watermark along the inside of the stem or a flower petal and then lower the transparency. I know it’s there but to the naked eye on a screen, it may not be as blatantly obvious nor does it distract the eye. If someone were to want a copy, the original image / work is available for a price.

    I don’t think my work is better than anyone elses. I don’t use a watermark to advertise my name. I use it with the idea / hope that someday someone will see my work and it will leave a lasting and positive impression. One that can be spotted 2 miles away. 😉

  63. Melissa says:

    I never saw the point to watermarks, they definitely degrade the artistic value of the photograph. I’ve been looking for people that feel the same way! Also, I take all my pictures in RAW format then convert them, so I have all the original files, if they want steal my pictures they can..but I would most likely win in court..

  64. Joe Dansk says:

    God I love seeing all these hacks (the site owner included) talking about the integrity of “the art”. Your stuff is crap, not art.

    Anyway, it’s also pretty idiotic to compare prints hanging in a museum to images on a photo sharing site. Not even remotely the same thing.

    As with anything, if you do something lacking in taste, then yeah it’s going to look like crap. If you do something well designed then it will work. But I guess the main problem is, most people have such bad taste that the watermarks looks bad. So with that, I will agree. But well done watermarks that are on brand… no problem.

    And again, comparing someone watermarking an image on Flickr to an Avedon hanging in the SFMOMA… just mind numbingly ridiculous. Like this site.

  65. Joe Dansk says:

    Furthermore, a lot of photogs work in advertising and editorial photography… their work is ALWAYS covered by type and it usually looks pretty damn cool.

    But I guess something like this sucks because it has type over it:

  66. Thank you very much for the article and follow-on discussion. It is much appreciated! You have successfully influenced this aspiring photographer.

  67. The font size of the watermark also adjusts itself to fit inside the photo. All auto-magically !! You are done in as few as 3 clicks. It’s almost as if it has a Sixth Sense.