📸 Skai Chan Photography

Should I Add a Watermark to My Photos

YES, you should add a watermark on all your photos if you are posting them online.

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 much lesser value, especially if the painter is famous. Similarly, a photograph deserves acknowledgement because it requires great effort and skill from the photographer to produce it; the photographer is the artist.

The importance of watermark

  1. Theft
    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 illegal things online.

    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. Now that with professional equipment and skill, the photographs that I produce are of much better quality and thus are of higher value.
  2. 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.
  3. Marketing
    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.

  1. Sample / Storyboard
    Photographers, makeup artists and models usually need to share their ideas/mood board 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 to the original photographers.
  2. Impersonating
    thief of photographer's work caught in facebook group
    Above: A scammer stole a photograph and posted it into a Facebook group. It happened that the owner was one of the administrators of the group. The owner allowed the post to appear just to let everyone know about the scammer. He wrote:
    "Dear Maan Jutt
    You must be some special kind of stupid to steal one of my pictures and post it in a group where I am administrator. I only approved the picture to show the world what a dickhead you are. Honestly, go f**k yourself you goddamn thief!

    Impersonation can be targeting all kinds of talents, including models and photographers.

    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 or a "shoot" with them. Their photography skill is obviously bad and that is why they have to use other photographers' work. Many scammers are impersonating photographers to get aspiring models to send them private photographs for "casting purposes". I have my fair share of being a victim of impersonation as well.

    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. He does not reply when people question if the photographs are taken by him - cunning indeed.
  3. Website publishing
    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.

    photo theft

    Even a local website "lowkayhwa" (URL probably renamed now for rebranding) that used to produce contents and make money through advertisements, owned by a local novelist, had ripped my work before. My watermark that was placed at the bottom was cropped away and then it was used 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 a waste of my time.

    Here's an incident of a Singapore travel agent accused of stealing copyrighted photographs and passing it off as her own. Read a summary of it at: The Independent Singapore.
  4. Forum sharing
    This sucks, but some people enjoy sharing photographs in forums that are associated with bad contents that may insult girls.

Clients' photographs

The question: Why do you put watermark since your clients may have 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.

Reasons why some photographers do not use watermark

  1. Assume their work has no value
    Some photographers are new and thus they assume their work has no value for others to steal. Fortunately and unfortunately, every photographer's work has some value.
  2. No knowledge in photo theft
    Some (probably few) photographers don't know that people would steal their work online.
  3. Lazy
    It's actually easy to add copyright to photographs but it can be rather troublesome to do it constantly for all pictures.
  4. Don't know how to add watermark
    Some photographers may not know how to add watermark or add watermark in an efficient way.
  5. Clients have already uploaded them without copyright
    For professional photographers, it could be due to the fact that since their clients have already uploaded their work in social media without any watermark, they think they might as well not put any watermark as well, since thieves would have stolen from the clients instead.
  6. Avoid distraction
    Having a watermark on the photograph can indeed distract the viewers' sight.

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 aspiring models when I was new to photography 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 types of photography styles but somehow, many photographers do have similarities due to various reasons. When a photographer's trick becomes popular, many other photographers would start trying to imitate his style. Very experienced photographers with the necessary equipment would be able to do it well.

These are the reasons why it's difficult to identify the work of a photographer:

  1. Large 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 who are only keen in using natural light 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 even owned a DSLR. However, one photographer had created a portrait portfolio solely by using fairy light and with the help of internet, his work had gone viral. Soon after that, the "whole world" was 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.
  2. Similar equipment
    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 are using.

    Firstly, better equipment usually cost more and the differences in prices can be very wide and thus not easily affordable - unfortunately, you have to be 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. Thus, it makes most photographers difficult to outshine the rest.
  3. 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 professional 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.

    Therefore, I don't think anyone can see an art work online and be able to identify it's my work without seeing my watermark.
  4. Meeting demand
    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 photoshoot since it is more interesting but there are some clients who prefer indoor shoot for the plain background and cosiness.

    Therefore, it's not possible for most photographers to produce same personal style of work everytime.

Perhaps, if you were to show me a photograph and let me guess the photographer, given a few options, there is a chance I can make the right guess. However, I have to be 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 as 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. I know a hobbyist who has an unique editing style for his work taken with natural harsh light, and I can roughly point him out as the photographer of the photographs for its uniqueness, although in a negative way.

In contrast, I know a commercial photographer who has been doing collaboration shoot with all sorts of girls. I have witnessed some of his work that the girls have uploaded and credited to him. I'm stunned to see that the photographs look like they are being taken by an amateur photographer. The point is that the photographer doesn't seem to be using his lighting equipment for the outdoor shoot, probably because it's a free shoot. I have seen his studio work and he's definitely an experienced photographer. Therefore, his work isn't consistent as well.

You may be interested in:
- Scammers impersonating Skai Chan
- Misconceptions and myths in professional photography
- FAQ: How to hire a professional photographer in Singapore
- Photography is a sunset industry

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Page last modified on Mon, 22 March 2021