A big issue with photographers today is the problem of ownership protection of digital images. While there are a few methods and systems that can minimize fiduciary loss one of the easiest methods of image protection is the very basic and very simple watermark.
For those of you who may be wondering what a watermark is, let me give a brief description. A watermark is simply a logo or logotype that is placed discreetly somewhere within the frame of your image that identifies you as the owner or creator of the image. A watermark can be placed boldly onto your image or given a subtler look by applying a transparency or incorporating it into a design element.
The most basic type of watermark is simply the copyright symbol followed by your name. The watermark is then placed somewhere on your image and it identifies that image as belonging to you. For a more professional look brand the image with a logo or logotype. Anyway you decide to go, if you are going to mark up your images with a watermark my biggest suggestion is to make that mark up work for you. A © Your Name label in the corner has no real valid utility for you, or for the viewer. Let me explain.
You have taken a beautiful image that you are very proud of. You put your © Your Name in the corner and post it on your social media site. You are comfortable that no one will steal it because not only did you put a copyright symbol on it, you also sized it down to a fairly unusable size. But as with anything on the internet, it takes a life of its own. Your friends love the image and soon begin liking it and sharing it with others. After a few months of floating in cyberspace the image ends up being viewed by a company that prints calendars (hey, it could happen!) and is interested in licensing that very image.
The only clue that company has is your little © Your Name you put into the corner of the image, becoming the starting point of the search. A quick Google search offers up 5,639 possible hits on the name. Not much luck there. A search on Flickr doesn't turn up any positive results because you decided to use CutsyName69 as a handle rather than your real name. The same handle you use for your Facebook as well. Oh well, guess they'll have to use someone else's image.
To prevent this from happening to you, consider using a watermark that points the viewer back to your portfolio. That's right, put your web site on there. For one, it is already assumed that all images are copyright protected as soon as the shutter is released. To restate that is a bit redundant. Secondly, you can say more with a whole website than you can with a © Your Name shoved into the corner of an image. After all, you are more than just one single image. As the example above illustrates, you never know where your image will travel so try Photographer.com instead.
Now that you know what to put in your watermark let's talk about where to put it.
Returning back to the very basic text based © Your Name label, just about every combination of placement has been done. While one is not any better than the other, you do want to be conscious of the fact that people are more interested in viewing your image than reading your copyright. A text string tucked along the top or bottom edge is preferable to one that plays across the face of your image.
This type of watermark is my least favorite as they tend to look too editorial. If you decide that simple is better for your needs, choose your font wisely. Remember that some fonts become harder to read at smaller sizes. Find ones that have fairly open letters and don't look too crunched up. Also keep in mind that the font size has to be large enough initially in order to read properly when the image is reduced for web use. Tiny, indiscernible lettering shoved into the corner makes for an ineffective watermark.
Another nice tip about custom graphics is to apply a bit of transparency. Specially if your logo is thick and heavy. Having some of the underlying image show through allows a better view of the image and gives the watermark a subtler look. You also need to be considerate of the color choice in your watermark. Keep in mind that your watermark will be applied to images with various shades of background colors. You'll want a design that works well with both light and dark images.
There is actually one final type of watermark I should mention; the secret watermark. This type of watermark is simply one that is worked somewhere into the photograph itself. Creativity is key here. Some examples would be; placing it as an architectural detail or hidden among graffiti in a landscape photo. Making it part of a piece of jewelry in a portrait, or as part of some prop within the background elements. These can be fun as it can become a type of game for your viewers. Since they are woven into the fabric of the image itself it also becomes more difficult to remove. It does require a working knowledge of photo editing tools to implement though.
While there are many options available for branding your photos, do put some thought into it. Don't be lazy about it. If you aren't comfortable or creative enough to design your own logo consider doing a logotype. There are many great fonts out there to bolster your creativity. Take some time to create something uniquely your own. Remember, most graphics available on the internet are copyright protected, just like your photos. Don't steal someone else's graphic.
Just about every photo editing software on the market has the ability to embed a watermark onto an image, some easier than others. My favorite software is Lightroom and you can build presets that will add a watermark automatically to your images on export. You can also build actions in Photoshop that do the same thing. Explore your options and have fun.
If you have any other watermarking tips, feel free to share them with others in the comments section below.