Watermark - The Importance
Watermark is the digital signature of each artist and it represents that the art work is done by him. A painting without the signature of the original painter has less value. Similarly, a photograph deserves acknowledgement because it requires great effort and skill from the photographer to produce it.
Identify the photographer without watermark
There is an argument that viewers can tell who the photographer is simply by looking at a photograph. I have heard of it from a couple of model-wannabes when I was new and they obviously had little exposure to different photographers.
Well, it could be true for the case of a handful of photographers in the entire world - I have no idea which photographer has such unique work though. I have mentioned that different photographers have different shooting styles but somehow, many photographers do have similarities due to various reasons.
Number of photographers
Basically, anyone who owns a camera is considered as a photographer. As the prices of cameras drop, more people are able to purchase and own one. There are just too many photographers around! If you have used Instagram, you should have seen many. Of course, most of these photographers are amateurs and have no drive to go into professional photography. Let's just look at the number of photographers who are playing with artificial lighting, you can easily meet such photographers doing a shoot on the street - just too many.
Back to the point of being able to identify the photographer just by looking at a photograph, I can assure you it is near impossible when there are so many photographers and some will eventually be doing the same style.
Let's take for example the use of fairy light. I have seen portrait photographs that have made use of fairy light since long before I have even own a DSLR. However, one photographer has created a portrait portfolio solely by using fairy light and with the help of internet, his work has gone viral. Soon after that, the "whole world" is playing with fairy light too. Although most of the photographers are amateurs, I'm sure there are some professional ones. Therefore, you cannot simply tell a photograph is taken by the popular photographer just because it is done with fairy light.
The point is it is difficult to be unique when there are too many photographers.
Take myself for example. I love going for the softest light possible for my entire portrait shoot and this is one of my styles. Even though I often do not have an assistant with me for outdoor portrait shoot, I always try to bring along the best light modifiers possible, which are heavy and bulky. However, there is a limit to both the quality and quantity of equipment that most freelance photographers can use.
Firstly, better equipment usually cost more and the differences can be very wide and thus not easily affordable - unfortunately, you have to extremely wealthy or popular enough to be certain to get more good clients who can truly afford to pay for good photography. Secondly, "better" light modifiers are usually heavier and bulkier. For example, a 70' inch umbrella can produce much softer lighting than a 43' inch umbrella, but the latter is much more convenient to be carried around. Comparing a more powerful portable studio strobe to a speedlite, the weight and size make a much bigger difference.
There is a limit to the lighting equipment different stages of photographers own and there many photographers in the same stages.
Playing with different styles
Take myself for example again. Sometimes, situations do not allow me to keep to the same styles. There are places where I cannot even set up any lighting.
Apart from the quality of light and equipment, I always work on different styles of shoot. I go for sensual, lifestyle, elegant and all other kinds of themes. I play around with the arrangement of my light.
Doing professional photography work sometimes means that you have to try to accommodate to your clients' demands to a certain extent. Unless you are too popular and have no lack of clients, you can demand all clients to follow your style.
For me, I prefer doing outdoor shoot since it is more interesting but there are some clients who prefer indoor shoot for the plain background and cosiness.
Perhaps, if you were to show me a photograph and let me guess the photographer out of a few photographers, there is a high chance I can make the right guess, given that I'm able to look at their previous work. Or, if you were to give a hint that the photographer is popular (in either a good or bad way) and from a small country with fewer people who can appreciate art work, such as Singapore, it may be possible to guess him without seeing the watermark.
It is true that there are some photographers in Singapore who can produce very unique work, such a self-proclaimed coach who always has young "ah lian" doing sexy shoot with him, and the photographs usually turn out to be porn-like.
Some photographers do not use watermark
Some of them are obviously newbie - amateur photographers. Some of them do not care or have not experienced having their photographs being thieved (or perhaps, they do not know even about it). For professional photographers, it could be due to the fact that since their clients are already uploading their work in social media without any watermark, they think they might as well not put any watermark as well. Some photographers may find it a chore while some may not even know how to add a watermark. There are likely to be many other reasons.
The necessity of a watermark
The most important reason is due to theft. Internet users are more daring to steal photographs because of the difficulty to track them down. So, they assume it is okay to do most minor illegal things.
Even since long time ago when I was using a 0.3 mega pixel camera and I was far from being a professional photographer, people have been stealing my photographs. People usually rip photographs because of the pretty girls inside and some have reposted the photographs in forums/websites that are offensive to women. Now that with professional equipment and skill, the photographs that I produce are of much better quality and thus are of higher value.
Representation of the photographer
If you have taken a photograph that you dare to showcase to the public, you must be proud of it. Let the viewers know it is done by you.
Marketing is crucial for photographers, especially when it is highly competitive. There are too many photographers, especially amateurs, who are flooding the market with low rates, which they keep for a long time. Even though these photographers will eventually realise it is not sustainable in the long run and give up, more new amateurs will continue to flood the market.
If you see a well taken photograph, you may want to know who the photographer is. Even if you are not interested in the photographer, seeing good photographs with the same watermark often will definitely catch your attention. In future, the same photographer will come to your mind when you or your friends need one.
Reasons thieves steal photographs
There are various reasons and certainly more than what I know of.
Sample / Storyboard
Photographers, makeup artists and models usually need to share their ideas with their team-mates before creating the art work together. Therefore, they will have to source for similar theme, poses or clothes online. This is normal and is legal as long as they do not upload the photographs without giving proper credits.
Impersonation can be as either the model or photographer.
There are many scammers who will create fake accounts in social media. They will steal photographs and upload to the fake accounts to attract other users. There are many kinds of motive, such as to scam money, market a service/product/for another account or even just to prank people.
The impersonator can be acting like the photographer to fool models into getting a shoot with them. Their photography skill is obviously bad and that is why they have to use other photographers' work. I have encountered a self proclaimed photographer with very bad reputation and skill, and he uploads other people's work as his Facebook Cover photos to mislead models and does not reply when people question if the photographs are taken by him - cunning indeed.
Human beings are visual animals. Reading large chunks of texts may be boring and thus photographs can help to create interest. It may not a necessity but would definitely help a lot, especially to express the contents.
Even a local website "lowkayhwa" that produces contents and makes money through advertisements, owned by a local novelist, has ripped my work before. The team cropped away my watermark that was placed at the bottom and used it as the cover photograph of one of their articles. Well, they did remove the photograph soon after I sent them an email but it was definitely wasting of my time.
This sucks, but some people enjoy sharing photographs in forums that are associated with bad contents that may insult girls.
The question: Why do you put watermark since your client has already uploaded the photographs that come without watermark?
It's my responsibility to keep the photographs as safe as possible. Even if my clients do not know how to or do not want to protect themselves, it does not mean I should not do my part.
Is watermark 100% foolproof?
Nothing is foolproof but watermark will reduce theft by a huge percentage - I do not have a statistic for it but I assume a thief with a sound mind would prefer to simply steal "clean" photographs if they are planning to use for bad purposes. They usually have to crop away the watermark or "draw" over it, which will definitely need extra time and effort. By cropping away some part of the photograph, it may not look as good, and by drawing over the watermark, it may give an obvious hint that the photograph is thieved - the thieves might as well steal those photographs that do not have any watermark.
For lazy thieves who steal photographs to create fake profiles in social media profiles, it is possible for the viewers to trace the owners of the photographs through the watermark and eventually expose the accounts.