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.
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!
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:
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.
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 http://terminalvelocity.ca