Watermarking Your Portfolio is a Bad Practice

Seriously, unless you are selling stock images from an online store or selling portraits with “soft proofs” where you put a gigantic “COPYRIGHT..” in the middle of the image to make it useless, your watermarking does you more harm than good.    I am so adamant about this that I wanted to take a moment to collect my thoughts and share this post whenever I see a photographer who has otherwise gorgeous work putting logos, copyright symbols, dates, urls, etc. on their online portfolios…hate that!!!

The way I see it, you are an artistic photographer who wants your potential clients to have the most “wow” factor from your portfolio; the way fine art is sold is by “being there” and having the image be viewed in the best possible circumstances.   If your image was in an art gallery, you would have a wall with great color correct lighting covering the image, with enough space around the work to let the viewer really get drawn in.   Anything that detracts from that is to be avoided; you would use a tiny card with your name, the name of the image, etc. away from the framed print.   Your online portfolio is the virtual version of that gallery experience as much as it can be.   They already are on your “page” (so they know who you are) and they begin the process of being captured, viewing more and more of the work.   Now, a distracting blob, logo, esignature, advertisement anywhere near that image (on it, on the side, anywhere) is a distraction from that “best you can be” experience.   It cheapens the work, lets the viewer know that you are in the same league as the other proud shutterbugs and aren’t successful enough to not sweat the small stuff.   The logo mars your image both figuratively and literally.

In the commercial world, your images sent to an art director have one shot at standing out in a sea of other portfolios; you may have your name label on the back of the image or on the portfolio cover itself, but that portfolio is supposed to be that visual treat just like it would be in your high end art gallery.  Your “value” goes up when your image portrays “high-end”.   Logos do not help you here.

I used to do this myself, ok, so I am not a stranger to the “why I watermarked” argument.   “Need to promote my business” or “keep it from getting ripped off on social media”.   But I was advised by a very successful photographer that they would never muck up a great image with that watermark.   Do a search for “world’s best photographers” and have a look at some of the best photographers out there today.  You will not find watermarks on their portfolios….they want that viewer experience to be the best.

A few other points to think about:

1. Watermarks can be easily removed today with photoshop unless the watermark is horrendously ugly and renders the image useless (again, not “high end” looking)

2. Any screen can be captured to steal the images, watermarks or not….but what is a thief going to do with that image that prevents YOU from getting your photography commissioned?

3. You don’t need a watermark for a copyright; you have that the second you clicked the shutter.

4. Putting a Copyright with a date completely “dates the image”; I have tons of copyright watermarked images that basically look like they are “old” simply because that date is there.   A huge pain to go back and gen up new “clean” versions.

5.  Watermarking is a pain in the butt to do regularly in a workflow for editing “masterpiece” images.  Yes you can automate them, but really do you need one more thing to worry about in your process?  Updating a watermark from year to year or if your logo/business name changes?

Some other articles on the topic:


Watermarks: Protecting Your Images, or Damaging Your Business?