Why I don’t Use Watermarks

Watermarks Get in the way of the art

I know my stance on this is not popular, but I don’t really care. The photography-media is out there trying to scare you into protecting your work with watermarks… I urge you not to live your online life and make your online decisions based on fear. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. A little green friend once told me that.

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 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.

This does not prevent licensing of the images. We do a ton of this activity when people contact us through the website.

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

Updated List o’ Reasons

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. Also, I find that I begin to psycho-analyze the photographer based on their font choice. I can tell immediately if they are a cheesy wedding photographer or someone that has no sense of graphic design couth. Now, maybe this is just me. But I don’t want to spend any time thinking about the watermark. I just want to look at the image. And, conversely, I think this is what people want when they look at my images.

2) Legitimate companies do not steal images to use commercially. So I don’t have any logical fear there. *In case of emergency, break glass and see #4

3) There are other services, like Google Reverse Image Search that can help me easily find bottom-feeders that DO re-post your images.

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. Easy. We’ve had many many wins (often which happen even before you go to court), but we can’t talk about them because it’s always in the paperwork. But there are many online articles you can find out about our lawsuits… everyone from Time magazine to the Sydney Newspapers.

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.” If more people link to your images, then you get more Google juice that flows down your river.

7) As image search and image recognition get better and better, there will be no need to watermark things. In a very short time, we’ll be able to use online tools to find the original creator of an image.

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.

Hangout about Watermarks

This article ended up inspiring this hangout. We even got an attorney on to talk about orphan works and whatnot. If you want to watch it with the Questions Interface (so you can scrub back and forth and find the part you want) See This Version of the Hangout.

Daily Photo – San Francisco and the Sony NEX-7

Yes, yes. I’m working on this switch to the NEX-7 story in the background… it’s taking a while! I took this photo below of San Francisco just recently with the NEX-7, btw. Also, we were contacted by Sony after my first article came out a few weeks ago. Sony offered me free cameras and lenses – unlimited! That was nice of them, but I told them no. In fact, I just bought another one as a backup (an NEX-6)… paid full price and everything. So… yes… the article is on the way… just been busy lately! 🙂

San Francisco and the Sony NEX-7

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2013-05-21 00:00:00
  • CameraNEX-7
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1.6
  • Aperture4
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length13.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

  • Great philosophy! And it looks like it is working out beautifully for you as well. Thanks for being a constant source of inspiration and a great educational resource!

  • BalaclavaBivvyGuy

    This is something of a contentious subject. One problem with your approach is that many image pilferers find an image from google image search, download it and re-upload to their site or blog. There’s zero attribution or SEO benefits to this. In fact if your site happens to be the weaker pageranked – there’s a penalty.

  • Great Philosphy but alas not getting anywhere:

    – pinterest & tumblr: if there is a good watermark it lowers the chance that people steal images and for those who do there is a visible sign of the author; these backlinks from social media are useless; even if they bring traffic it’s the wrong kind of traffic.

    – backlinks in general: like you pointed out: most big companies won’t steal images. Those are the ones with a good pagerank. Cheap little click-bait-farms will steal. Since Penguin you won’t get a valuable backlink but in fact a penality. A lawyer won’t really get you anywhere with a click farm in east asia.

  • Arnab Dutta

    I think most of the people will be able to recognize your work without Watermark. The photo itself is the signature of your work.

  • Yes, watermarks are very looks ugly for readers

    Get photoshop cc now

  • danieljcox

    Wow, good for Trey for making his living doing it differently. I would be very curious how many of these other guys who are adamant against watermarks actually make their full time living doing NOTHING but selling images. In fact, you can argue that even Trey doesn’t make his full time living selling images. From what I see, I don’t know for sure, Trey makes his living by attracting people, through his photography, who then buy his software, buy his ebooks, buy his Lightroom presets, and the many, many other things he sells on his web site that are not photos. He does have a few photos for sale but I have my doubts his main income is coming from selling his photography. That’s not to say he’s not successful and he certainly does still get to take lots of pictures. But earning his living selling pictures, I doubt is his main income. If it were he wouldn’t be posting full rez images to he web.

    Finally, to each their own on watermarks. I’m the poster child described by the guy wearing the Google glasses who spats on anyone stupid enough to want to protect their images with bad Helvetica type and a web address attached. And you are right “I don’t trust you”. I wasn’t born this way, I was made this way. 40 years of photography with 20 years on the internet has sealed my thoughts on this. Thankfully, Mr. Google Glasses isn’t in charge of all that’s on the web. If so he would certainly unfriend me wherever my worked appeared with a watermark. This entire hangout reminded me of a good old boys club with all on the same team other than the token lady shooter from Australia and the female attorney. This was my first Trey Ratclif video and all I can say is I was seriously unimpressed. Thank goodness for the freedoms we all have to make our own choices.

  • There’s a lot of assumptions in what you wrote here, but remember that regardless of where he is now, Trey wasn’t always well-known, and he didn’t use watermarks even then. Trey’s living actually is made largely through licensing and selling images, and the tutorials and stuff at store.stuckincustoms.com.

    Of course you can make your own choices – Trey’s just expounding on his particular choice.

  • danieljcox

    Assumptions in what I wrote? What about the many, unfounded assumptions by the overtly anti watermarking panel stacked in favor of no watermarks. Mr. Google glasses immediately discounts anyone who doesn’t follow his no watermarks philosophy and assumes they have nothing to offer. He then goes as far as “unfriending” them. I found a huge amount of arrogance from several panelists EXCEPT for the courteous and humble young lade in favor of watermarks and the attorney. It really did look like a good ld boys club, all of them sitting around snickering at those of s who don’t get it.

  • Assumptions regarding how Trey makes his living. The tone of the video, which is meant to be humorous, isn’t to your taste. I get it.

  • StephStephanieSteph

    Thanks for the article about watermarking. I linked this article and I went on a little rant. Lol here’s my post https://plus.google.com/107316049459533323157/posts/Hf7V1MiVSyu

  • Is it just me or has the Hangout version disappeared. Was hoping to look at the comments in the hangout

  • Hi Mark – looks like the post didn’t survive the transition to the new G+, but the post is still there with all the comments.

  • Thanks for the update.

  • I do have one question that I’m hoping wasn’t already answered in the other comments that I didn’t see.

    This question is for +Trey Ratcliff or any other photography who cares to comment.

    At what point did you start registering your images with the US Copyright Office? Did you do it right from the start at the creation of your Stuck In Customs website? After you sold your first image? or sometime later.

    I understand why you would want to register them now that you are well know, but when you did your first registration, what prompted you to go through the process and pay the fee.

    And is there a limit to how many you can register at once. I know one of the Hangout members mentioned a limit by year, but I don’t think I heard a limit on batch registration. Basically looking for anything to keep the fee’s down, but cover me as much as possible.

    Thanks, Mark

  • Jackson Grey

    I can agree with this on some point, but not completely. I think sometimes it is good to have watermarks on photos, especially if you share your photos on social media. I learned from this guide: http://www.paintshoppro.com/en/pages/watermark-photos/ a few months ago how to add watermarks, and when it is necessary, when it is not, and so far they are working lovely. I see some people add watermarks thru some online editors, and they easily get removed unfortunately, so there is no point at the, but I had no problem because like this, it is much harder to remove the watermarks 🙂

  • David Rouchet

    Hey Trey,

    in section #4, you mention “We do register our images with the copyright office”, could you elaborate on this?

    Thanks, David

  • Stu – SIC

    Hi David, in your area/country there will be a national body which handles copyright for images. In some places copyright is automatically assigned to the creator of the image (or their employer in some cases). In others you need to actively register any important images to fully protect yourself. The best idea is to Google your location and image copyright to see the correct rules for your images.

  • David Rouchet

    Thank you Trey :+1:

  • ian taylor

    I’m a kids photographer, my stuff has been taken and used a lot. I agree 100% with Trey. I remember reading this blog post years ago and it really helped me to formulate my position on this issue.
    I always tell other photographers that watermarks are like a gigantic zit in the middle of your photograph’s forehead. They rob your work of the initial impact. The viewer sees the zit first most of the time, then they peer behind it to see the image.
    I used to get really angry about people grabbing my images, then I started asking myself two basic questions:
    – Has this usage hurt my reputation?
    – Has this usage hurt my business?
    99% of the time, the answer is “No”. Gotta get over the hubris.
    Put your best work out there and stand behind it.

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