Watermarking your photos

Watermarking your photos

A question I often get is how to protect your work as a photographer. Just like with everything, there are a million opinions, and most are uninformed or just flat out wrong. Perhaps the most common misconception about protecting your work is that if you say something is copyrighted, then you are safe if someone steals your work. Likewise, many believe that the one pressing the shutter or painting the image is totally protected if someone steals the work. The problem often comes when it’s time to prove that you are the owner of the work in question. It is usually about this point in the conversation where watermarks come up. What is a watermark, do you need to use them and how do you apply them to your images?

What is a watermark?

Watermarks are usually logos, stamps, or signatures that are superimposed onto photos to make them easy to identify and protect them from unauthorized use. Watermarks can be as simple as the signature of the artist or more complex including other aspects of the photographer’s marketing and branding. Your watermark will identify you so care should go into not only what it says, but how it is presented.

How to apply a watermark

Once you have your photo edited and ready for the spotlight on social media or print, what is the easiest way to add your watermark to your image? I use Photoshop and Lightroom to edit my photos, and I usually have an action in photoshop which adds the watermark with 20% opacity in the lower corner of the image. In lightroom, you can also set watermarking under the print tab. Check the watermarking box and click the selector to setup your watermark. The lightroom settings aren’t as flexible as they are in photoshop, which is why I usually do it there.

In the print module, under pages, toggle watermarking
The watermarking setup screen in Lightroom

Do you need a watermark?

It is important to understand that any work you put out in public can be stolen or used without your permission. If you share your images on social media, people and occasionally companies may “borrow” images for their needs. When confronted about unauthorized image use, the most common excuse they will cite is that everything on the internet is free. As photographers, we need to become educators about image use, and if company X uses your image for their marketing campaign you deserve to be paid. This is why we watermark right? If someone uses your work and you have a watermark it proves you own it right? Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.

I have heard so many sad stories about professional photographers – those who make their living from the art of photography, who thought putting a watermark on their work meant it was copyrighted. The truth is saying something is copyrighted does not make it copyrighted. A photographer friend of mine once had his work, a shot he took while visiting a Caribbean Island stolen by a sizeable company for a lotion campaign. He saw the lotion and recognized the image as his and figured his payday had come. When he contacted a copyright lawyer, the first thing the lawyer asked him was: did you copyright the image through the copyright office. He had not, because he read on a forum that adding a watermark and saying it was copyrighted meant it was. Long story short, the lawyer would not touch the case, and in the end all he got was the company to remove his image from the packaging. Since that day he has been very diligent about copyrighting his work through the U.S. Copyright office.

So, if watermarks don’t protect your work, what good are they? Generally, watermarks are best used for building a brand. Don’t consider your work protected, rather consider your work branded, and if you are building your brand as an artist then watermarking your work can be an invaluable tool.

Disadvantages of using a watermark

Watermarks also have some disadvantages and limitations. Besides adding no real protection legally, they can distract from the aesthetics and quality of the photo, especially if they are too large, bright, or placed in the wrong position. Before adding a watermark to a photo, photographers should consider some factors, such as the purpose, the design, the size, the placement, and the visibility of the watermark.

Watermarks can also be removed or cropped out easily by someone who wants to use the photo without permission or attribution. Below I have added a watermark to a recent image captured in Rocky Mountain National Park. With photoshops new remove tool it took me all of 15 seconds to color over the watermark and remove it. A simple crop was even quicker and both methods resulted in an image that could be used without attribution.


A simple watermark added to the lower right of the frame.
A simple crop not only helps the cohesion of the composition, it makes removing th watermark simple.
A quick color over with Photoshops new remove tool
Watermark gone! ready to steal!

Is your work worth stealing?

This can be tough to hear, but if you are a beginner, it might be worth considering if taking the time to watermark your photos is even worth the effort. Each time we take another photo, we learn more about composition, and editing. The work you show today will be vastly different from the work you show a year from now.  

The rise of Ai

On average, 350 million photos are shared on Facebook every day. Consider how many images are shared each day across every social media platform. What are the chances of your photo being stolen, unless you have an established brand or name for yourself. Compounding this, anyone can go onto Midjourney, or any number of other Ai image generating platforms and with a few words create a photo that can be used (at the moment) copyright free.  

The right way to protect your work

The easiest and by far the best way to protect your work is to copyright it through the U.S. Copyright office. Head over to https://copyright.gov/ make an account and upload your images. It costs about 50 dollars USD for 750 images, and you have to jump through some hoops for file size and creating a PDF to submit, it is well worth your time, and if your images do get used without your permission, you have the proper paperwork to fight it. It’s a government website so it can be a bit confusing, so if you need help you can find a tutorial on my site or a quick YouTube search will yield many options to walk you through the process. Take care to check the date, the process for copyrighting work is always changing and you want to get the most recent process.

There are other ways to protect your photos, such as using metadata, and digital signatures, but just like watermarks, these methods are easy to subvert or remove so don’t depend on them as your only line of defense when it comes to protecting your work. Copyright it.


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Every picture tells a story, make yours amazing.  

“Ted’s journey into the landscape of the human body is a marvelous celebration of all that is physical, sensual and diverse

About the author

Ted Tahquechi is a Denver Colorado based professional landscape and travel photographer, disability travel influencer and is almost completely blind. You can see more of Ted’s photography at:  http://www.tahquechi.com/ 

Ted operates Blind Travels, a travel blog designed specifically to empower blind and visually impaired travelers. https://www.blindtravels.com/

Ted’s body-positive Landscapes of the Body project has been shown all over the world, learn more about this intriguing collection of photographic work at: https://www.bodyscapes.photography/

Questions or comments? Feel free to email Ted at: nedskee@tahquechi.com