The Alps in the Afternoon and Why I Don’t Use Watermarks

Why I Don’t Use Watermarks 2.0

BTW, this spawned a hot discussion in this Google+ Thread!

I’ve recently updated this list… so I thought you might like the new version and explanation since i get this question a lot.

I know my opinion is different than many other photographers, and that is okay.

As you may know, my work is all Creative Commons Non-Commercial. That means people, as long as they give credit and link back to http://www.StuckInCustoms.com, can use my images on their blogs, wallpaper, personal use – anything – as long as it is not used commercially. Every day, I upload a HUGE 6000+ pixel max-resolution image to the Internet. I do not have any fear at all… Believe me, it’s quite liberating living in a world without internet-stealth-fear.

People that want to license our images regularly contact our licensing team – we get many of these every day of the week.

So why don’t I use watermarks? It’s a multi-part philosophy –

1) Watermarks look ugly. Whenever I look at a photo with a watermark, often times, ALL I can think about is that watermark! It’s so distracting. Maybe this is just me.

2) Legitimate companies do not steal images to use commercially. So I don’t have any logical fear there.

3) There are other services, like Tineye (and Google) that can help my team easily find bottom-feeders.

4) We do register our images with the copyright office, so if someone uses an image commercially without a proper license, it is an easy lawsuit.

5) I don’t have to maintain two versions of each image – one with a watermark and one without.

6) NOT using watermarks and using creative commons helps more and more people to use your image freely for fun, which increases traffic and builds something I call “internet-trust.”

7) As image search and image recognition get better and better, there will be no need to watermark things. In 1 year+, we’ll be able to r-click an image and choose “Google-find the original creator” — there is a bit trail to first-on-the-internet.

8) Yes, last, there will be bottom-feeders that steal your stuff. I call this the cost of doing business on the internet. These are the Tic-Tacs that are stolen from the 7-11. It is impossible to maintain 100% of your digital inventory, so wanting “perfection” in your online strategy is an illusion.

Daily Photo – The Alps in the Afternoon

The more rugged the mountains, the better they look with a low angle of incidence of the light. Of course, they also look great in the middle of the day, but since the rugged peaks are in three dimensions, you get many extra angles of contrast when the sun is low.

These kind of shots help me remember the fake symbology built up in my head of the shape-of-mountains. I got a bit of this when I was learning to draw… when drawing a human face, it takes a long time to get rid of that thing that is drilled into you as a kid — that the eye is sort of the shape of a football. If you try to do that with a good drawing, it never works. And, it’s sort of the same way with mountains. In my head, I still have to stop thinking of them as a rugged 2D line. It’s thousands of 2D lines, crawling this way and that, but I can usually only see one of them. But, on late afternoons like this, you can start to see hundreds of more lines.

The Alps in the AfternoonThe more rugged the mountains, the better they look with a low angle of incidence of the light.  Of course, they also look great in the middle of the day, but since the rugged peaks are in three dimensions, you get many extra angles of contrast when the sun is low.These kind of shots help me remember the fake symbology built up in my head of the shape-of-mountains.  I got a bit of this when I was learning to draw...  when drawing a human face, it takes a long time to get rid of that thing that is drilled into you as a kid -- that the eye is sort of the shape of a football.  If you try to do that with a good drawing, it never works.  And, it's sort of the same way with mountains.  In my head, I still have to stop thinking of them as a rugged 2D line.  It's thousands of 2D lines, crawling this way and that, but I can usually only see one of them.  But, on late afternoons like this, you can start to see hundreds of more lines.- Trey RatcliffRead more, including a post about why I don't watermark, here at the Stuck in Customs blog.

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  • http://louisblythe.com/ Louis

    Looks amazing! I agree with you on that watermark malarkey!

  • Susan

    Wow – these mountains are beautiful and sooo large! Super photo! I am just a lover of beautiful things-no expert-but when I see a watermark on a photo on g+ – all I can see is the watermark – it takes away from the photo I think.

  • http://www.shesaidpop.com SheSaidPop

    I’ve been wrestling with the decision to use watermarks, myself (I sell my original paintings online). My thoughts on the matter are as follows:

    1) A lot of the time, a person will procure an item for free on a whim, just because they can; if they couldn’t get it for free, they wouldn’t buy it legitimately – they’d just forget the whole thing. So image thievery wouldn’t cut into my sales much, if at all.

    2) The photos I have online are at a low resolution that would look horrible printed out and framed, anyway. The real thing is exponentially better, and someone who truly loves what I do will want to own the genuine article.

    3) …On the other hand, if someone does post an image of mine on their blog or website or what-have-you, I do want credit for it.

    As it stands, I plan to put my web address in the corner of my images, but no disruptive watermark per se. That way, if someone saves a picture of one of my paintings to their computer to peruse later, they’ll remember where it came from in case they want to buy. Alternately, if someone uses one of my pictures to illustrate their blog or something, their audience will know where it came from and my site might get a little free publicity. I’m in the process of de-watermarking the stuff in my online store as we speak.

    Thanks for this article! It’s thought-provoking and informative. :)

  • http://edenbrackstone.com/2011/08/wintery-vista/ Eden Brackstone

    Interesting thoughts on watermarking, and they are much in line with my own… That being said, my works see little commercial application (that is a choice I have made, and am sticking with it for now…). I also allow full resolution access to my photos via flickr, much to the worry of my folks and a few friends. But, as I have said to them, if copyright infringement ever becomes an issue I can flick a switch and prevent original downloads in a heartbeat. I do like to trust the internet, and that people will do the right thing :)

    ‘Reflecting on the year gone by…’
    http://edenbrackstone.com/2011/10/reflecting-on-the-year-gone-by/

  • http://goo.gl/813LS Bill Dodd

    G+ was a little contentious yesterday :)
    Man, I love the shadows cast from the clouds. This one really needs to be seen in high res to get a feel of the scale, IMO..

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/35422436@N06/ George

    I wish I could find a mountain climber, or goat on the mountain to see the scale. I know the mountains are huge, but it’s hard to tell even in high resolution. Nothing to compare. But it a great shot and I exploring the mountain in high res. by scanning up and down and around. As to watermarks, I don’t bother with them. I don’t consider myself a professional photographer, and don’t try to sell them. I just hope somebody enjoys some of my images.

  • http://www.thenightboat.com Pete Halewood

    I said this on Google+ but happy to state the same thing on your website – I completely agree with all your points on this one Trey. I don’t like watermarks and don’t like borders or titles either. I take the same risks as you regarding the internet but happy to do so to see the pure image as it should be. I did try using watermarks and borders (for branding reasons not to protect my work) when I first started with photography but would never go back to that. It just doesn’t work for me.

    Great picture as well today. The light shining on the mountains is incredible.

    Not a link to a picture today but a VIDEO of my recent HDR exhibition!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSpfXm01_p0&feature=channel_video_title

  • http://none louis

    Beautiful shot Trey as you explained the low light makes it stand out.

  • Patrick Ahles

    I’ve been using watermarks (small and as undistracting as possible). Some time ago I started using borders (two black bars either on the sides or above and under the picture, depending on the orientation). When shown on a black background (think Flickr or Google+ Lightbox) they simply “disappear”. And somebody who wants to steal them (not that I’m making any money on my pictures) can just crop the picture to just show the “real” pixels. But, I’m not sure these bars really add to the picture, so I think I will drop them again.

    Great shot of these Alps, BTW!

  • http://www.phogropathy.com John

    I’ve been using a watermark with my signature and like to my website in the bottom right side of my photographs. I’ve been wrestling with the idea of foregoing this as it is time consuming to maintain both images. Also i’ve gone back and noticed that there have been times were I forgot to save the final image without a watermark – talk about protecting myself from stealing my own work!

    Anyway – You make some very valid points. Then there are some difference with where you are as opposed to where a small fish is. Not that a small fish has to worry as much about their work being stolen, but someone who only sells tic-tacs has a much great cost of doing business when their tic-tacs are stolen :(.

    I think in 2012 I’ll go watermark free and see how it works out.

  • Darren N

    Trey, nice photo! I was going to ask how to submit pictures to the copyright office… then I decided to use my 8 fingers and Google. For anyone curious as to how to submit your work, here’s a helpful link:

    http://www.ehow.com/how_5678494_register-images-copyright-office.html

  • http://williambeem.com William Beem

    Darren:

    Here’s something to bear in mind about using the Copyright Office. When you create your registration and upload a deposit, that isn’t necessarily the end of it. Your registration will wait for a week or two more in case you need to upload more deposits. Theoretically, you could register everything you shot and still create a timely registration for about $175/year.

    When you think about some of the crap-gadgets that photographers routinely buy for $200, it makes no sense not to dedicate that money toward a registration to protect your work. It’s more effective than a watermark.

  • http://www.stuckincustoms.com Trey Ratcliff

    Thanks all.

    Yes I know some people still watermark their photos — you can probably tell that I still respect that — just letting you know why I don’t :)

    William – Good point there.

    Pete – thanks for the link – looks like a fun exhibition !

  • Andy Bird

    Wow that scenery reminds me of one of the main questions in my High School Higher Geography exam – I can still name all the features seen there!

  • http://www.thenightboat.com Pete Halewood

    Thanks Trey, it was a fun exhibition and a fantastic evening. Wasn’t 100% sure you’d be cool with me posting a video link but hey, you’re welcome to post anything on my website anytime! Thanks again, Pete

  • Stephen Clarke

    Hi Trey,
    On your Google+ stream you also mentioned that you register all your photo’s with the eco copyright office. I think you also mentioned that is about $35 a pop, which comes out to almost $13,000 per year based on your daily photo output. Here in Canada it costs $123.00 to perform the most basic copyright registration, so copyrighting a significant number of photos becomes a costly proposition.
    .
    Thus I was wondering…. do you copyright every photo or just the ones that you suspect have decent revenue generating potential? I wonder this because here in the Great White North, a Copyright comes into existence automatically at the time the work was first created and in the case of a photograph, that copyright automatically lasts for 50 years. Is this the same in the US?
    If so, have your experiences shown that you don’t need to perform a copyright registration through eco for every photo you publish on your blog?
    Thanks for you insight and wisdom. You’re the man!
    -Steve

  • http://www.tlinn.com t.linn

    @Stephen Clarke

    It is not $35/image. It is $35 per upload, which can include thousands of images. They don’t have to be full res either; they can be 800 pixel JPG’s. As long they are identifiable in court. Kelby Training has a course that actually walks folks through the process. There are other tutorials like it elsewhere too though perhaps not as thorough.

  • http://www.rodmelotte.com Grinder

    I would like to know how “Creative Commons Non-Commercial” actually works. Is just the act of posting it enough? Is there paperwork? I don’t water mark because I do not believe there is no reason too. If someone really wants to “steal” the shot they will watermark or not. Most people who appreciate art work will purchase it and a business certainly will. I figure if people want my work fine. Go for it. I’m not losing any sales since they would not buy it anyway right? Pick your fights and this is one that will cause more worry then anything else.

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  • http://www.stuckincustoms.com Trey Ratcliff

    Thanks — Grinder- yes, you can embed this inside your EXIF and claim it whenever you post it.

  • Gail Moshier

    LOL, I thought I was bringing this post up, but ended up with today’s post anyway. So now I will comment on The Alps. Great photo, Trey. I’m glad you don’t use watermarks!! Thanks for sharing and hope you had a great day. :-)

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  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/tinusvanniekerk/ Tinus van Niekerk

    I enjoy photography but unfortunately do not have the equipment or the time to pursue my photographic ambitions. I therefore enjoy downloading photos from the internet and I like sharing things I like with other people, and so to give credit to your extraordinary skill to create the most awesome and perfectly balanced photos I have come across on the internet. I like to use your photos as my wallpapers and it gives me pleasure to view them as screensavers.

    I agree with you that watermarks make photographs look ugly. I normally avoid photos that I can’t download (on e.g. Flickr where owners have added that restriction) or photos that have watermarks (unless it is a small inconspicuous logo). This affects their popularity and view-ability. Your outlook on this issue is what makes your photographs so popular and is why people share your photos with others and I’m sure this have contributed to your continued success.

    I think most photographers would not try to pass off someone else’s work as their own and respect the work of fellow photographers, and most companies would use images acquired lawfully.

    I think that less well known photographers are at greater risk for theft of their work and so are more inclined to use watermarks, however your strategy and the use of “creative commons” has increase your popularity and appeal to those like me that like to search for cool stuff on the internet. In contrast if I can name an example, I found the official Formula 1 website frustrating because they have managed to restrict the download of all images from their website (But perhaps this is correct because they have many sponsors and have and have multi-million Dollar deals at risk). I have therefore not visited the website again but continue to go back to websites like Flickr and have shared my own images on the site.

    Thank you for sharing your talent.

    Tinus van Niekerk
    Johannesburg, South Africa

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