Thursday, December 2, 2010

Digital Photography: Watermarks

A watermark is a recognizable image or pattern in paper that appears as various shades of lightness/darkness when viewed by transmitted light (or when viewed by reflected light, atop a dark background), caused by thickness or density variations in the paper.
- Wikipedia, Watermark

Though the original meaning of "watermark" has changed, its general purpose through time has remained the same. It a type of visual citation, which identifies the source of what you are looking at. In the case of paper, it tells you the mill the paper came from, and frequently tells you the type of paper and fiber content as well.

In the case of photography, watermarks work a little bit differently.

Because digital photography has grown in recent years in leaps and bounds, many photographers feel a need to protect their intellectual property by watermarking their images. These watermarks identify the image as having come from them, and prevents (to a degree) other people from using the images.

So why should I use a watermark? And when?
While we would love for everyone in the world to be honest and above-board, the fact of the matter is that the internet makes theft incredibly easy. Taking someone else's image and claiming it as your own is a common practice, and one which can have some really nasty consequences.

As an example, scammers on sales communities (such as eBay, Etsy, and LiveJournal) often use photos taken from others' collections to convince buyers that they have an item which they do not really own. Others will use photos to create a false identity all together, compromising the reputation of the person whose photos have been stolen.

One way to protect your work (and your identity) from this type of theft is through the use of a watermark.

It's not always necessary for you to do, such as when you post a coordinate snap or photographs from a meet-up on your personal journal, but there are times where it comes in handy. Watermarks are particularly useful when you're posting professional-level photo shoots and sales posts in particular.

How does digital watermarking work?
Digital watermarking is simply an identifier on a digital file. It can be applied to video, photography and even audio. In the case of visible watermarks, the video or graphic will have some text, logo or other marking which cites the original creator. 

Another way in which you can protect your photographs is through the use of an invisible digital watermark. This type of watermark doesn't leave anything visible on the photograph, but saves your copyright information into the file such that it will survive manipulation, cropping and renaming.

It takes considerable more effort to remove this form of watermarking than a visible one.

This particular form of watermarking is more practical for people who are selling their images, rather than the items in them. Their primary functions are in regards to photography are copyright protection and source tracking.

There are specific programs that are designed solely for the purpose of creating robust digital watermarks, but graphics programs like Photoshop can be used as well.

Using Photobucket's type tool and layer opacity, you can create
a simple, but functonal watermark. I just threw this together with an image
that I already had on the account.
How do you make a visible watermark? 
You can make a watermark using many different methods. The most common means of watermarking a photo is through digital photo editing software such as Photoshop, or even MSPaint. Many image hosting services (like Photobucket!) can also produce a watermark for you.

What the watermark looks like and how much of the image it covers or interacts with is entirely up to your discretion. A watermark can be as simple as writing "COPYRIGHT" across the image, or adding the copyright symbol with your name and the URL of your website, journal or portfolio. Alternately, it can be as complex as a custom logo, with the date of the photos and the location where they were shot. These are all up to your personal tastes and sense of aesthetics.

Ideally, the watermark should be placed somewhere such that it is difficult to remove due to the texture around it, but it should not interfere with the overall photograph.

If you need step-by-step information on how to create a watermark, try these tutorials:

What makes a good watermark? 
Everybody has a different idea of what makes a good watermark. The basic idea is to protect the image and mark it as yours. For some people, this means putting a small mark in one corner, so that it doesn't obstruct the image. However, since it's easy to crop out a small watermark, many people opt for a semi-opaque overlay, which spreads across the entire image.

Some dishonest sellers will add their own watermark right over yours, but most people have enough common sense to realize that this means the image was stolen, and that the seller is running a less-than-reputable business. And if they don't, well. Not much you can do to stop them from being foolish beyond that!

In any case, how good a watermark is depends on the purpose to which you put it:
  • For a photographer displaying photos in a portfolio, a good watermark will not disrupt the view of the image or distract from the photograph itself, but will identify its original source. 
  • For a professional studio showing test shots to a client, a good watermark typically disrupts the entire image in small sections, to make use of the image difficult.
  • For a sales post, the watermark should be difficult to remove or modify, so that others cannot use it. For this purpose, a larger watermark can be used as long as it doesn't disguise details of the garment in question. 
  • For meet-up or outfit snaps, a watermark with your username will trace the photo back to you should anyone want to know the original source.
In all of the above cases, uploading a medium resolution image rather than a large or print resolution image will also help discourage theft to a degree. Manipulating and removing watermarks is easier to accomplish from a higher resolution image.

Now that you know a bit about the purpose of watermarks and how to make them, you can decide whether it's something you want to add to your photographs or not.



watermarking tho is rather easy to take off. most of the time.

focusing the lens

@ Chris: Very true, but this is primarily targeted at cases of image theft lolita communities, where scammers are typically too lazy to do more than crop them out.

Case in point:

Rather than remove the original, they just added a new one, making it pretty easy to tell the photo isn't their own.

Colin B

I lol'd at the ebay watermark :x

I've always been too lazy to put watermarks on my stuff, even though it only takes a minute, oh well


I like the type of watermark you used in your pics above. It's really distracting when people use a big, fuck-off colourful one.

Also, this tutorial is pretty handy if you want to watermark lots of things:


There are some really nice watermark software's out there


The piano watermark is the nicest. I really hate all-over watermarks because they are so disruptive but I get why people feel they are necessary :/

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