When photographers post photos online, their main concern is, “What happens if someone steals this?” Stolen photos are lost sales, and the attribution photo watermarks provide is good for marketing. With this in mind watermarking your photos is not necessarily the best solution for protecting your work online– here’s why.

Reason 1: Your photo may be published without a watermark anyway

Pixsy has encountered many cases of unauthorized use in the past where the infringer clearly removed a watermark. However, it is easy enough for an infringer to find a copy of the image without a watermark to begin with: on the website of a photographer’s client, for example.

In order for watermarks to be truly effective, all users of a work must display them. This presents a clear problem– clients aren’t going to display your watermark on their website, where your photos are also likely to get the most views.

Our suggestion: Remember that your work can be stolen from anywhere, and clients probably don’t want to display your watermark. Ask clients for text attribution with a link to your website instead.

Don’t become so risk-averse to image theft that you turn off paying customers. Watermarks may needlessly jeopardize the visual appeal of your work.

Reason 2: Watermarking photos can jeopardize the visual appeal of your work

Recently discovered in the kitchen at Pixsy HQ. There are more polite ways to claim ownership (don’t worry, the sign isn’t from us).

Photos carry powerful messages. The right photo lifts us to another world, and watermarks throw us back down to reality. They not only distract from a message, but also often add a message of their own: “I don’t trust you not to take this.” Wouldn’t it be great if viewers could remember a work for its beauty instead of the “Copyright 2015” watermark slapped across the middle?

As a photographer you may only have one opportunity to catch a viewer’s eye, and watermarks can dramatically alter the appearance of a photo. Compare the two images below– which do you like better? If a potential client were comparing works from two equally talented photographers– one who watermarks and one who does not– who do you think they would pick for the job?

Don’t become so risk-averse to image theft that you turn off paying customers. Watermarks may needlessly jeopardize the visual appeal of your work.

Your watermark style dramatically changes the visual impact of your work.

Keep picture watermarks as subtle as possible.

Our suggestion: Consider how your watermark might affect the appeal of your work. How can you watermark as non-intrusively as possible?

Reason 3: There are better alternatives

Pixsy reverse image search

Reverse image search in action.

Generally speaking, watermarks are an effective deterrent to image theft, and we encourage photographers to take every means possible to protect their work. We also see them as a last resort, and support solutions that provide as much protection as possible without impacting the viewing experience.

That’s where reverse image search solutions like Pixsy come in– it’s now possible to track your work everywhere on the web whether it was used with permission or not.

This opens up a lot more opportunities for sharing your work. No one likes the thought of their car being stolen, but it’s a lot less scary if you know you’ll be able to find it later.

With this in mind we encourage our photographers to not be scared about sharing their work in its natural form. Feel free to share your work on social media, and don’t worry so much about potential clients lifting your work. Many of our photographers have felt more comfortable sharing their work and have reduced their use of watermarks at the same time. Others have opened up their work for use under Creative Commons, knowing that they’ll know if the license terms are ever abused. This is a win-win for creators and users alike.

At Pixsy we hope to create an ecosystem where artists can share freely and users can view work in its natural form. We know there are many situations where watermarks are still advisable, but photographers may wish to reevaluate when and how they use watermarks.