Jessica Humphrey

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Your need to know - Watermarks

What is a watermark?

Watermarks. Watermarks are one of those bits of photography that some love, some hate, and some are puzzled about. 

"Watermarks" in general, first came about in Italy in 1282, and was created by coating a metal stamp in water, and pressing it onto your paper. Their purpose was for everything from signing and identifying creative works, to imprinting currency and documents to try and thwart counterfeiting. If you take any high denomination bill and hold it to the light, you can probably see a watermark on the bill. For our purposes, we want to talk about "digital" watermarks.

 

This is a very old photo, with my original mark. It's not too obnoxious, but it's very busy and unoriginal.

This is a very old photo, with my original mark. It's not too obnoxious, but it's very busy and unoriginal.

DIgital watermarks (and for simplicity we'll just cover the visual one, not the data and encrypting type), are used by all types of artists and photographers for several purposes. Some are used to prevent photo theft, and some are used to just identify the creator. When the discussion of watermarks comes up, you'll usually meet two groups of people:

  1. People who swear by them and believe it prevents theft
  2. People who swear that only "noobs" use watermarks and people will steal anyway

Both groups are right. If you have a big enough brand, your watermark alone maybe enough to thwart theft, but that can't be attributed to the mark alone. At that point people will know your work enough to know that it's yours - watermark or not. If someone is REALLY intent on stealing your work, the effort that they could have spent making a photo, will go into stealing yours. Anyone clever enough and determined enough with photoshop can remove a watermark. 

Some watermark locations are even as simple as just cropping them out. Remember that. People who really want to steal, will steal anyway.

Ok, you've told me what they are. Now what?

Now let's get to the fun part. You're aware of the pros and cons of watermarks, and you want one anyway. If you use lightroom for managing and editing your photos, when you go to export you will notice watermark options.

This drop down menu lets you create and select watermarks that you've made before.

This drop down menu lets you create and select watermarks that you've made before.

If you have already made watermark presets for yourself, you'll find them in the dropdown menu. You can also edit watermarks to update your current ones, or make a new one.

Choose a text based WM or an image.

Choose a text based WM or an image.

Ok. So I still want one. How can I get one that looks good?

NOTE: Even if you have previously made or received an image watermark made in a different program, you can adjust the opacity in this menu.

Once you have chosen your watermark or created a text based one, you can further customize it by changing the location. Most people new to watermarking will slap it right in the middle of the photo. This is not only obnoxious, but it's also the fastest way to annoy people and make them not want to view your pictures. You want your watermark obvious, but not intrusive. 

A common pattern for people that use SMACK IN THE MIDDLE watermarks, is to also use a crazy font. This is another NO-NO. You immediately steal the focus away from whatever is in your image, and draw all of the attention to the mark.

I really had to force this. FUN FACT: My actual watermark is on the right side of the image. 

I really had to force this. FUN FACT: My actual watermark is on the right side of the image. 

The above example is the best I could come up with. I've seen MUCH more obnoxious ones than that. If you're going to use a big centered mark (which I strongly, STRONGLY, urge you not to do), you don't want to pile on the suck by using a frilly decorative font. Consider something simple like your company name, in a strong but simple font, and have it either along one of the sides of the image, or somewhere not in the center of the photo.

 

Ok. Here's the meat of it. What do you want in a watermark.

NOTE: Be aware that a watermark is not the same as a logo. Your logo should be consistent all across your business and your brand. Your watermark is just an identifying marker, and can change. For example you have a mark you use for boudoir photography, and another one for family photography.

  • You want it obvious but not competing with your image.
  • You want it professional. Anyone with a free image creator can make a watermark. You want one that is inviting and true to you but that doesn't end up looking like something your 5 year old made in MS Paint.
  • You want it to match your brand and name. If you are "Excalibur Photography", and you do a lot of work with Medieval stage performers and shows, you don't want a watermark that has flowers and hearts on it. The same goes if you do primarily children's photography, you don't want a watermark with "sharp" elements and skulls, etc. Know your target audience, and make sure that your mark FITS.
  • AVOID the frilly and cliche'. You may think it fits with your name and work, but if you even do a 5 minute search on facebook, you will find many, MANY photographers who use the same elements: frames, scrolls, hearts, cameras, apertures, etc etc. These are cute and fun, but you can't separate yourself if your watermark looks like 20 other people's.  Also you risk putting off a group. If you want to cater to a broad audience, anything too masculine, or too feminine or you risk alienating the other side. 
  • Be flexible. One watermark will not fit all photos. Your photo colors will vary, so you'll need different marks that will show up on different colors and backgrounds. You may like the white text, but if you have a high key photo, or one with lots of white in it, it will be useless.
  • Don't skimp. If you're just a hobbiest, whipping up your own little mark in your program of choice won't matter. You're not marketing to an audience and trying to build a clientele, so it's not a big deal. If you're a professional, or inspiring professional, either consider hiring a professional to create one for you ( a good, solidly created one will not be dated, and will survive beyond trends). Consider it an investment. If you STILL decide to make your own, Google is your friend. Research at least basic design principles, and learn the key parts of creating beautiful, eye-catching and unique designs. 

 

Well, I want someone to make one for me. What then?

Most of us are familiar with this.

Most of us are familiar with this.

If you choose to have one made, as with anything else, BEWARE. There are plenty of people who will happily take your money, and give you something that you could have made yourself within 5 minutes. There are also people that will take your money and give you nothing in return. You must be careful when dealing with people online. Some ways to stay safe when commissioning work for someone (this is also helpful if you are a creator):

  • Try to use paypal if you can. If something DOES go wrong, you can take advantage of their dispute resolution center. 
  • Keep records of your conversations. If things go wrong you can report them to Facebook as well.
  • Look at their work. Either they have samples, or something you can readily see to prove that they can do what they say they can. If they can't provide anything, or you don't like what you see, move on.
  • Don't pay everything up front. Ask the creator if they're willing to accept split payments - half up front, and the rest on completion and delivery. This protects both parties a bit better because they can't take all of your money and run, and for the creator, this shows that the person is serious and not just wasting your time. If the person is not willing to work with you, consider if it's worth the risk.

Hopefully this has been helpful, and will help guide you in the murky river of watermark land. Have any other questions? Visit my Contact page, and email me, or comment below. I will answer every question.

 

I'd be silly if I didn't mention that I do offer watermark creation services. For the very affordable price of $30, You'll get:

  • 1 Custom Design
  • 3 formats (Jpeg, PSD and PNG)
  • 2 Colors (Black and White)
  • 3 Free Alternate colors of your choice
  • Original guarantee* (your watermark will not be sold as a template and will be unique to you).
  • Free Consultation

If you're interested in this service, visit the Branding & Design page, and choose the appropriate option from the drop down menu (if you wish to do a partial payment, a separate invoice must be done).