Those of you who know me well, know what a fan I am of sarcasm, which is a big part of what started the friendship with Michael Novo. While he definitely walks a thin line, at times sounding like he's insulting all of us, he also recognizes that he's a long way from getting his own skill set where he wants it to be. In fact, that might be why I see him at so many workshops. You might even say he's working hard to get his work to a level that people want to steal his images!
If you start to feel a little dumped on, read the whole post...he really redeems himself in the last few paragraphs. Most important of all is one point he left out that I've believed in for years...make sure you're paid fairly up front, so you don't care quite so much about what happens to your images after they've been delivered to the client.
On one hand watermarks are a pretty decent deterrent against someone looking to snatch your photos. On the other hand, they are of course ugly and intrusive. In fact the more creative someone gets with their watermark e.g. butterfly kisses, hearts or some other travesty that the photographer finds cute, the uglier the watermark usually is. So it really boils down to which route is best. Do I watermark, do I output low resolution files or should I even go as far as avoiding online posting completely?
The solution is actually simpler than you may think and avoids watermarks altogether. It’s time tested and has a success rate which is very close to 100%. You retain the ability to share your images online with the entire world and not worry about theft. In fact the system is so effective that even high resolution digitals are safe and sound!
So what is this new and innovative solution? Here it is… Your images aren’t very good and no one wants to waste their time to right click and save your mediocre photo. They especially don’t want to market their company with your images either, unless of course they’re trying to go out of business. “Is that really the solution? Did this jerk just insult my…?”
Yes…you’re welcome. You may now continue your digital life totally watermark free.
No, but seriously, your images really aren’t that amazing and there’s really no one out there who wants them in the first place aside from the client. If you have ever asked for critique of an image and one of the phrases you heard was “Well…I like the idea behind this image”, then congratulations sir or madam, your image was just stamped as being secure from theft.
There’s no one at Getty who descended upon your portfolio and said “I must have this amazingly so-so image from that photo walk this photographer was a part of.” There’s no executive at Nike who saw you posting an image of your kid playing sports and thought “AH-HA! With no watermark on this image, now is my chance to strike!” I know what you’re thinking right about now. You’re thinking “Well ‘F’ you Michael Novo, your images aren’t anything special either!” And I would have to agree with you there, which is why I don’t watermark mine either. I can compromise and say that when tagging a client on social media, it can be a possible way to drive folks to your site but even that idea is being phased out. When someone wants to find you, they will.
But every point has a counterpoint. Not long ago Sal Cincotta came across a photographer who not only stole his work, but built a good portion of his website using Sal’s images. Jerry Ghionis recently had one of his images published as an actual marketing and advertising campaign by another photographer. In fact there are many well-known photographers in the industry whose images are stolen on a regular basis. But the difference is that their images are worth stealing while many of ours aren’t (at least not yet). It’s an odd measure of security but what the majority of the photographic community has, is called ‘Security by Obscurity’. The evil-doers either don’t know about you, or if they do know then they don’t care because they would rather steal from the very best than from the middle of the road. But even the very best of the best often skip the watermark.
I reached out and asked Jerry and Melissa Ghionis about why they choose to not watermark their images knowing full well that there’s a very good chance that their images will be used by others again. Melissa told me:
“Our basic reasoning behind it is that our images look prettier without a watermark and a lot of watermarks can actually be quite distracting.” Jerry also added “The money that I will make with my images showing beautifully, with no distraction will far outweigh the money that I might lose from people copying my images. If someone is prepared to go to the extent of stealing my images then they could easily crop an image closer or remove a watermark in Photoshop. Thankfully, because of my profile and friends around the world, when someone does steal an image from me they seem to be found out pretty quickly.”
If what you are creating is art, then let the art speak for itself. Instead of worrying about ‘protection,’ focus on putting your heart and soul into your craft so that what you create stands out from the crowd. Make something that is actually worth stealing (ideally licensing). Get out there and capture a landscape image…a wedding moment…or a portrait which remains in a person’s mind long after they first saw it. Create something that an individual will look at and say “I want that image to be a part of my life.” When you capture and create something beautiful for the world, you have a much better chance of something beautiful being given back to you. So get out there, get creative and leave the watermark button unchecked.