Apr 17, 2013

How To Create Secret Watermarks For Your Photos

The Top Secret Watermark

As photographers we all have that moment of sheer and utter terror when we discover that it is possible for someone to steal our photos. It doesn’t even have to happen to us, we just have to see it happen to someone else and a nagging horror begins tugging at the back of our mind as we rush to construct the most heinous, ugly, watermark so that we can once again feel safe that our images are free from potential slavery.

Content with our newfound security we continue to post images online with despicably ugly watermarks dragging down the quality of our images. Over time these ostentatiously frustrating eyes-sores drive us insane by plaguing every Frame of our portfolio. Eventually the frustration grows well beyond what even our powerful photographic minds can suppress so we opt to remove it, opening ourselves up to image theft again.

Perhaps there is a better way?

Why you should stop watermarking as soon as possible.

If you look at the online portfolios of most pros who are at the top of the photo industry very few of them watermark. Photographers who have the most valuable images, and who have the most to lose from having their images stolen do not watermark their images.

This means that, no matter how elegantly designed your watermark is, the mere fact that it is on your photos makes you look like an amateur! And nobody wants that, even the amateurs.

This also means that inevitably you will also reach a point where you will want to tear that distracting thing off all your images. The problem, though, is that once an image has been posted online it begins to Spread beyond your ability to remove it. Which means that for the rest of your career the Web will be plastered with your name on the work that you made when you were just learning.

I lied.

Yup, I did, don’t worry, after I am done writing this post I am going to don a pointy hat and contemplate the evils of my dishonesty.

I wrote that you should stop watermarking as soon as possible. That isn’t true! It was just sorta-true. I wanted to be dramatic. Life is just so much more interesting with drama.

You don’t actually need to completely strip your images of protection, you just need to learn to watermark in ways that do not harm the experience of viewing your photos.

The hidden watermark.

One of the biggest and most compelling arguments for keeping watermarks isn’t to stop actual thieves. True thieves usually are knowledgeable enough to clone out a watermark. It is for those people that just love your images and want to share photos on social networks.

They often do it with the best intentions and simply don’t know that what they are doing is considered intellectual property copyright infringement. If you have a watermark, though, this turns into free advertising which makes the theft much more tolerable. But it still means you must suffer a distracting watermark on every image of your website.

Or do you? Behold the top secret hidden watermark!

The Top Secret Watermark

Can you see it? Look really hard! Nothing yet? Keep looking! Ok? Give Up?

Try downloading the image by right clicking on it and saving it to your hard drive. Then view the image and see if you can find the watermark.

Ah ha! I bet you found it now. It isn’t a hard watermark to remove but it surely is good enough to be that free advertising for when people don’t care to remove the watermark before sharing it around the Web.

How to make a hidden watermark.

It is pretty simple but does require some CSS experience or at least for you to have a Web designer that can incorporate this technique into your website.

It is also important to remember that this method will only work on your personal website where you can actually have the site changed to use this technique. It won’t work on social networks.

The process is very simple. When it comes time to export an image for posting on your website simply add some empty pixels to the bottom of the photo and add your watermark there. In these examples I am using a 20px watermark but you are free to use any Size you would like.

Next, all you have to do is have your website place each image in an HTML container that has a hidden overflow and is set to be smaller than your photo by just enough to crop the watermark away.

Here is another photo that has a hidden watermark. When you roll over it though, you will be able to see how the watermark is hidden:

The Top Secret Watermark

Now, by all means this doesn’t mean your images are entirely safe. The watermark can still be easily removed. A hidden watermark is merely a compromise, it lets you shed the destructive, visible, watermark from your portfolio without eradicating all the benefits of having one.

The other hidden watermark.

There is another type of hidden watermark, that you may have heard about. It is a little different though. It doesn’t provide free advertising and costs money but it also can be very helpful. This type of watermark is called Digimarc.

Digimarc lays a visually invisible Pattern above your images when they are saved. This Pattern then allows you track how the image is used all over the internet to that you can find copyright infringers and take Action.

As you can see from the image below that has had a Digimarc embedded on it the Digimarc does not actually harm the photo from a human viewer’s point of view and is a great way to add another layer of protection to ensure that your photos are always safe from exploitation.

The Top Secret Watermark

Will this mean my images are safe?

Nope. These are just lines of defense. The only way to be sure your photos will never be stolen is to never show them to anyone else which would be quite boring! Photos are meant to be looked at and enjoyed. Photo theft is a reality all photographers Face, they key is protecting yourself as much as you can while being prepared for when it does happen.

(and no, going after infringers with a flamethrower is probably not a good idea…)

Check out some of Ryan’s work at

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    James Johnson

    I believe if you have a big ugly watermark, you have a big ugly watermark. You need to change that.

    I think of anything I post to the web as my business card. As a portrait photographer in a competitive market, I want people to see my name when they see my images, but I also take the time to make sure it is tasteful and in keeping with the style of the photo. I am not sure I would do the same if I were a fashion photographer or worked through an agent, though.

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    Jon Peckham

    Here’s a better idea. Become an expert in UCC contracting. Then if someone violates you, file a commercial lien against their property and collect it with the Sheriff bonded. That’s what I did and never set foot in a single courtroom or filed any court papers. They learned their lesson and I never worry about watermarks. In fact, theft of my images are something I look forward too because it makes me money!

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    Walt Hodgson

    Is there a tutorial on how to put the image in the aforementioned “HTML container”?

  • user image

    I guess it all depends on WHERE you put your photos. If I put them on my own website, then I either add a transparent layer on top of the photo so if they DO right click to copy…..they get the plain transparent layer, OR there’s also a small html snippet you can put on the page that will totally disable them from right clicking on anything on the page.

    That being said…..posting anything on Facebook or other social media is pretty useless to try and protect your images…I have one I would love to share with my friends on there, but I know someone would only copy and paste it somewhere or share it and….then it’s all over the place. 🙁

    • user image

      Yeah, but you can always right-click and inspect the element or view the network resources in the developer console. If it is visible, it can be saved.

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    Mrs. M

    Maybe I didn’t do it right, but the image I saved looks exactly like the image on your blog.

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    I see the watermark on the page, is something broken here? This isn’t hidden, and maybe it’s browser dependent? Chrome on Win7.

  • user image

    This secret watermark is maybe too secret…….. I copied the images many ways but no watermark.
    Am I missing something here?

  • user image

    Whats with illuminati ads on the right???? lightning bolt, one eye, pyrmaids, cube sht