Why Watermarks Matter (And How To Craft The Perfect One)

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When it comes to protecting your images online, watermarks are not mere vanity, and can do far more than pronounce your copyright. Used strategically, watermarks are the best tool that you have.

Guest author Matthew Campagna shows you how that watermark can be subtle, seductive, and secure.

A Watermark Fail Story

One of those sketchy banner ads recently caught my eye while meandering the Internet. I don’t recall what it was advertising, but I quite liked the image and told Google to search for similar images. The uncropped version of the image presented itself as part of a larger gallery.

Your watermark should be more than a copyright notice; it should be your calling card.

The images had watermarks with the photographer’s name. So a ‘Googling’ I go, finding a Facebook profile and a Flickr account, but no website.

The source images appeared in neither place nor were there any other duplicate images between the two accounts. All the images had watermarks with the photographer’s name, but the watermarks varied in design between accounts.

In the end, I had to wonder whether I had indeed found the photographer I was looking for. I may have found images from two or three difference photographers with the same name! I gave up the search.

A Guidepost, Not a Signature

First and foremost, watermarks should assist the observer in finding you. As in the story above, simply having your name on the image is not going to cut it. I know for a fact that I am not the only Matthew Campagna on the Internet, and so my watermark is not my name. Consider this watermark:

Watermark name and date...meh.

Also the name of the following;

  • a Canadian filmmaker
  • a Canadian hockey player
  • a Pennsylvanian Allstate Insurance agent
  • a Lancaster Catholic High School senior
  • probably lots of other people.

Not a good watermark.

Do not simply have a watermark; put that watermark to work!

Instead, I watermark images using my web address, leaving no ambiguity in how to find me, the Matthew Campagna I want people to find:

Website as watermark...better.

I don’t need to put my name on my images. If someone follows through to my website, it is there that I can tell them my name and any other pertinent information about me. I can display more of my images, and provide licensing information and a means of getting in contact.

My images are all over the internet. And for that reason, my web address is an inseparable part of the image, and I’ve spared the observer having to search me out.

Adding Subtext

Your web address is, without a doubt, the most important and useful piece of information you can use to brand your images. But that doesn’t have to be the entirety of it. So with our main text in the bag, we can add some subtext.

The subtext is home to secondary information. It should be smaller, non-competitive with your web address, and used to provide additional pertinent or contextual information to the image.

As a start, we might add our simple copyright notice.

Watermark with name and copyright subtext

We’re doing the most obvious thing by putting a date and our name on the image. The prominent inclusion of our web address makes the whole thing functional. It puts the watermark to work for us.

We can also use the subtext to invite a potentially interested party into a licensing discussion by stating that terms are available.

Watermark using text to invite licensing discussion ... sweet!

If a blogger picks my image out of Google’s search results, they will know I’m willing to negotiate use of the image. They also know how to reach me to discuss terms.

The subtext can also communicate our availability to work. Make it clear that you’re not some Facebooker who managed to take a nice picture one day; you’re a working photographer, and this is what you do. Here are some examples:

I shoot professional headshots. If you’re an actor, you need to call me.

Industry specific watermark conveying availability ... and done!

I am a fine art photographer. I don’t want to shoot your wedding, but do come by my website and order some prints for your walls.

Industry specific watermark conveying availability ... and done!

I shoot weddings, engagements and portraits. Trust me to document your most precious memories.

Industry specific watermark conveying availability ... and done!

I shoot weddings abroad. Take me with you!

Industry specific watermark conveying availability ... and done!

The subtext can be contextual while your main text (your web address) maintains brand consistency. Customize the subtext for the intended audience.

In a Nutshell …

Your watermark should be more than a copyright notice; it should be your calling card. It should do more than pronounce your ownership of the image; it should create a bridge connecting you to your viewer.

Do not simply have a watermark; put that watermark to work!

In part two, we’ll dig into Lightroom and Photoshop for a practical discussion on how to create an effective watermark.

Matthew Campagna

Matthew Campagna is a photographer and web-designer, and creates Lightroom-to-Web publishing tools at The Turning Gate. He is a 2009 graduate of Hallmark Institute of Photography, and currently resides in Seoul, South Korea.