Your Watermarked Digital Photo is Embarassing

by admin

As a fellow content creator, I understand the desire to protect your work on-line. I, too, have been the occasional victim of plagiarism. But I’ve never put much stake in the effectiveness of watermarking.

First off—and please don’t get cranky about this—I don’t think most online photography “businesses” are a very good idea. Being somewhere and taking photos isn’t a skill anymore, and hasn’t been since, oh, 2007 or so. Sure, you’ve got an expensive-ish camera, and yeah, a licensed copy of Photoshop, but when the end product is camera phone resolution, none of that matters. 

Expecting people to pay money for mediocre photography just because you happened to be somewhere and took 300 photos verges on copyright trolling. These days, you actually have to be good.

Secondly, the guys who “steal” your reduced-resolution photos for their blogs aren’t an untapped market. They’re people who want pictures, generally of themselves, for their blog. Even at fire-sale prices, most of these guys would rather crop and blur their way through your watermark than Google you, navigate your belabored site, and meet your (likely unreasonable) purchase price.

You might think the watermark functions as a type of advertising, but if you aren’t at least decent, it’s not the sort of advertising you want. At some point, nearly everyone has to hire a professional photographer; while name recognition is a good thing, constant association with bucketloads of under-processed, over-watermarked, scaled-down, lossy JPGs isn’t.

But what really irks me is that most watermarking is so damn ugly. You’re an artist, right? Have some respect for your work. Show a little creativity in propagating your brand, at least, instead of batch-processing your name all over the place. At least learn to spell before despoiling your “art”.

Copyright Paul Weisscan you tell?

If you are really intent on building a business, this is how I would do it—upload your best, unwatermarked photos to Flickr, make them available under a Creative Commons license, but keep the resolution small—500px or so. Point out that larger and print versions can be purchased from your website. 

Careful web dudes (like me) will credit you and link back to the Flickr page (it’s in the Terms of Service), creating a nice little pipeline for people to see the rest of your best material. The unscrupulous will still steal, but now you’ve got a record of your work registered with a third party in case you feel like swinging the license hammer. 

The loss of business from such a plan is negligible. While 500px is still sharp enough to be attractive, rising screen resolutions continue to erode its salability; at 300dpi, it still prints at postage-stamp size. And like I said earlier: people on the internet weren’t buying anyway. 

Digital makes things easy, but it also opens the gates to competition. Fair or not, you’re up against anyone with a cell phone now, and you’ve got to compete on quality. The watermarked, sperm-cell model is no longer viable—stop throwing away time, hosting space, and otherwise decent photographs pretending it still is.