Images shot with Super-Takumar 28mm f3.5
I was doing some digging around recently when I came across something interesting.
Someone has used one of my old images on a music video on YouTube.
They didn’t ask me. They didn’t even put it on their own song.
As I tweeted at the time, I don’t really mind. I actually liked the track, until I saw what kind of guy the singer turned out to be.
Just found this cheeky swine using my photo on his music video. 😄 Don’t mind really. Quite like the song tbf. https://t.co/jnGkj8YCEH
— Lee Webb (@myfavouritelee) January 17, 2017
Still, it brings up a topic I’ve not really covered on here before.
Most people don’t like having their work stolen, but how can you protect your photography once it’s online?
Should you watermark it?
There’s no blanket answer to the question should you watermark your photography? because it depends on what you’re trying to achieve with it.
However, the question should you watermark your street photography? is, I think, easier to answer.
I’m going to argue that you shouldn’t.
When should you watermark your photography?
Here’s what I think in a nutshell.
If not watermarking your photography is costing you money, then watermark it.
- shoot family portraits, weddings, corporate events, or whatever else commercially
- sell prints of landscape images you take on location
Either way, your watermarked images are your portfolio, your advertising, your CV, your marketing, and your business card each time they get shared by you or someone else.
A watermarked photograph shared among people who’ve never seen your work before could direct new leads back to you.
Watermarks can also discourage image theft, of course, if that’s something you consider important.
Discourage, not prevent.
So watermarking is worthwhile if the taking of the images themselves, the continuing to find people who will pay you to do it for them, or the selling of prints is your business.
It’s worthwhile if the benefits outweigh the downsides.
For most street photographers though, this is not really the case.
Why you shouldn’t watermark your street photography
Because, unlike the examples above, the downsides are likely to outweigh any small benefits you get in sticking your URL or logo on there.
Unlike the examples above, your street photography most likely doesn’t have any commercial value.
People will pay for an album of family portraits. They’ll hang an aspirational landscape shot on their wall. They might even buy a street photography book from someone they’ve heard of.
But they’re probably not going to buy your moments, no matter how decisive you think they are.
There are just too many people doing street photography today for your shots to be worth money on their own merit.
Unless your work is extraordinary, nobody will want to own it; especially not other street photographers who can easily make their own instead – their own that they’ll naturally think is better than yours, purely because it’s theirs.
So the reason that commercial photographers have for watermarking – that they’re making photographs that people who can’t make them want to buy – isn’t there.
With none of the benefits present to outweigh the downsides, I believe watermarking your street photography becomes a damaging thing to do, rather than a helpful one.
The major downside to watermarking your street photography
People talk about watermarks ruining a photograph by preventing the viewer from seeing it as the photographer intended.
I think they usually mean physically. That the watermark gets in the way of details, or distracts the eye from the subject, or upsets the balance of the shot.
But when I see a street photograph with a watermark, I don’t even get that far.
Watermarks don’t prevent me from physically seeing street photographs as the shooter intended. They prevent me mentally. They turn me off before I even begin to really look at it.
I always think they come across as arrogant and petty.
Like they’re either saying ‘don’t steal my awesome photograph because I know you want to’, or ‘come check out all my other awesome photographs >>here<< because I know you want to’.
Neither are ever true.
If there was no watermark, I may have spent a little longer looking at it. I may have found I liked it. Then I may have checked out more of your work.
Your watermark prevented me from doing so.
Be better than having to watermark your street photography
Unfortunate fact: much of the street photography I see with a watermark is usually quite poor anyway.
And you know how many great street photographers watermark their work?
None, that I’ve seen.
Someone selling landscape prints is probably focused on one thing – selling a print. Selling a print can be done with one view of the product.
Person A sees it on Facebook, did they like it, yes / no…
As a street photographer, you’re probably doing more than selling single prints. You’re going deeper. You’re telling stories. You’re selling stories.
Whether that’s on a blog or in a book, if your marketing is so bad that an ugly watermark would have a positive effect then the time you spent adding it to your images would have been better spent improving your outreach.
Be better and think bigger; both with your photography and with getting your name out there.
Aim to be so good that any watermarks on your work would be redundant because people already know whose work they’re looking at, and anyone stealing it would be met with derision as people know where it’s come from.
Try to claim an Alex Webb image as your own right now and see whether people believe you.
That’s why you shouldn’t watermark your street photography.
Because you could instead be trying to be so good that you don’t have to.
Final thoughts on not watermarking your street photography
Look at the images I used in this post.
There would have been absolutely no reason for me to add watermarks to them. I doubt anybody wants to steal them.
In exchange for a link, people are free to just use them if they want.
And what would I have gained if the image used on the YouTube video had a watermark?
It’s had minimal views. Any traffic sent my way wouldn’t have compensated for the ugly watermark on the image on my site.
Think about it.
Watermark your photography if the upsides outweigh the downsides.
If you do street photography, they more than likely don’t.
They have no commercial value.
It’s you as a photographer and the stories you tell that do.
So get yourself and them out there to a degree that makes daft little watermarks redundant.
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