Are Watermarks a Necessary Evil?

2 mins read

It is remarkable the number of my photos that I discover on blogs, tumblr, websites, desktop background websites and even in print.

The internet makes sharing images remarkably easy and I actually wonder how professional photographers survive and protect their work.

If you want to see the scope of your work select one of your best photos and head over to Google Image Search, upload it by clicking on the little camera in the search box and have Google search for it across the world.

One example I posted a few years ago is my frozen ivy photo. There are literally dozens of examples of it used in a range of different ways including a poetic video. (click on the thumbnail).

To this end I have decided to reinvestigate the dreaded watermark. I don’t particularly like watermarks on images but if it protects the work then perhaps they are essential.

I do particularly like the new Getty Images watermark so I thought something subtle in the same style might be worth considering. The problem is Lightroom doesn’t allow me to mix a PNG image file (for the gradient) and text. Therefore the PNG file has to also include the URL which then loses its sharpness when render and to be honest is also quite distracting. You can see it in use over on flickr.

Another form of watermark I am considering is the QR code (See top image) a simple square on the bottom right of the page that can be scanned to reveal copyright information or take the user to


So, is the conclusion that the QR is the best of a bad situation or do I just live with the images being shared thousands of times on tumblr with no credit? All opinions greatly received.


David is a documentary and landscape photographer covering everything from dramatic long exposure landscape photography through to live music. David is a former Official Fujifilm X Photographer.


  1. I had the QR code on mine for a while but its for machines really and imho not useful for humans as it requires too much process.
    Now I just have my URL subtly down the bottom right. I like your and getty’s idea though.
    I only use the watermark on Facebook & g+ btw, flickr has the full size photos available to all sans watermark.

  2. @Matthew, you were the inspiration for the QR code. Do you think there is more chance of copying from Facebook and G+?

  3. Haha thnx.
    No probably not, I guess it’s my (miss?)perception of the majority of users on Facebook and g+ (maybe not so much on g+ in all fairness) to understand the good karma in crediting the photo.
    I understand people could easily get my photos from Flickr but I hate it when I see an apparently amazing image on Flickr but its either too small or watermarked beyond recognition so i decided no watermarks and photos are full size for all and (afaik) they are.
    Strictly speaking the license though requires y permission (for what it’s worth) and when asked (and i have been) if it’s not a major commercial project I’ll just ask for the URL for my site to go with the photo.

  4. I enjoy gorgeous photos and on the flip side I get really frustrated when photos are not attributed because I like to look up other work by the same photographer. I personally like the QR code better because it’s pretty unobtrusive and it still gives me the info I want. I do see though that lots of people will not bother to scan the QR code because it’s an extra step. So I think you’re left with the watermark if you want to limit unattributed copying of your images.

  5. Some time ago I worried about this issue a lot. There are some watermarks which appear to distract from the central focus of the photographs. While I’m posting watermark-free photos at low-resolution, I’m staying tuned to various kinds of “watermark” solutions.

  6. I’m having a similar dilemma. I’m currently favouring a subtle domain name in a corner. I’m yet to find the perfect watermark…

  7. I used to “guard” every image after being infringed upon several times. 4 years later, I’ve learned it’s just life. As long as no profit is being made; share! Gives us more global exposure. Pretty hard to profit on a resized, watermarked photo that is published via multiple Social Media sites anyways. Just my opinion.

  8. I’ve reposted images from other sites and photographers, but I personally always credit the photographer/agency. If I wanted to share one of your images and links to your posts, I’d wouldn’t want a watermark on it. Obviously, I know my intentions are purely photographic, non-profit on my part.

    Images on my site are set to below 800 pixels, so would be limited use for print, and I was contacted by the Wolf Conservation Trust about using some images and getting hires supplied, so there are some good guys out there!

    Didn’t know you could do the google search thing – will try that!

  9. I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks now having found a couple of shots being elsewhere without my permission, at first I think it was because I was annoyed someone elses was doing a better job of promoting my work that I was, one of the shots was on a tumblr page that credited me as the artist and even linked to the original shot on Flickr, but it had hundreds and hundreds of likes that I hadn’t seen on my Flickr page, so were the viewers even aware It was my shot or were they assuming it was taken but the blogger on tumblr?

    But I hate watermarks, as you’ve said above they distract my eye which means I could actually be looking at the most amazing shot I’ve even seen but I’m just not paying attending to anything other than the watermark, now I’m not suggesting any of my work falls into that arena and maybe that’s one reason I still haven’t watermarked my work, I’m not sure I want anyone thinking I assume my works worth stealing so I think at this point I’m going to ask in the description area of my shots on flick from now on that people only use my shots with permission and remind them i own the copyright and hope that people adhere to my request, obviously my view may change when and if I ever being to make an income from my work or I suppose more importantly some else does?

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