To Watermark or Not To Watermark...
There are so many articles out there about watermarking and they generally fall into two categories:
1. AHHHH. WATERMARK EVERYTHING. THEY ARE COMING. TO. STEAL. EVERYTIIIIIIIIING!!!!! IF YOU DON'T WATERMARK YOU WILL DIE.
2. meh. don't bother. what's the point? if they steal it, they steal it.
I fall somewhere in the middle. So I offer up this article to give you as much info on both sides as I can, so that you can make the best decision for you and your business.
Reasons Not To Watermark:
Cause I'm freaking lazy.
Honestly. I just don't have the time. Plus it's just another copy of another image that I have to save in another folder. Ugh.
Even the most beautifully styled watermark will detract from your image and distract your viewers which might make them less likely to buy.
I don't like to watermark stuff in my portfolio. Again, distracting. Plus the photos are not always 'mine' to claim (if they were shot while employed and belong to the company). I just try not to worry too much because they are low-res enough that it's hard to do much with it anyway. It's not like they can get it on a billboard or something huge.
Reasons To watermark:
I recommend watermarking any image with a child in it because of things like this. (You should only click on that link if you want to be horrified by the things people steal baby photos for).
Anything stock or that could be stolen for stock. On my site I have photos for sale as stock. Those are all watermarked. Why would anyone buy it from me if they could just take it? Cause they are honest and good, hopefully. But, unfortunately, that doesn't cover everyone.
If your name and website address are on your image, that makes it easier to find you. Your watermark can act somewhat like a business card. If someone sees your photo somewhere other than your website they can still find you. (And hopefully hire you)!
I watermark my fine art projects. This may be a silly one but my projects are my babies. If someone stole a stock photo I would be upset. But if someone stole a project that was more personal than my client work... I would be devastated. So I watermark the shit out of my art.
You want the image to be traced back to you. I kind covered this already with the business card idea but, specifically, I watermark anything created to be pinned to Pinterest. You should always have your web address on your pins.
Let's talk theft:
Honestly, if someone wants to steal your images they are going to figure out how. Sorry. I know that is grim. But it's true. You have to decide if spending time fighting it is worth it to you. Mostly, for me I decided it wasn't.
Here are some ways to protect your work:
Have insurance and a lawyer. You can get insurance for anything these days. Including legal representation. You pay a monthly fee, and in the event you need a lawyer, you get the help you need. If someone worth suing steals your photo? Ca-ching! You are gonna be rich! If small potatoes steal your photo, your lawyer can help you with a cease-and-desist letter to send out. Good news is metadata is your friend. If you have embedded data in your image, it may help you prove that it is yours. It isn't a perfect science but I recommend at least learning about it, which you can do here.
Learn all about copyright. Knowledge is power. You need to know your stuff.
Reverse Image Search. There are a handful of ways to do this on the web. Google has an image search page. (There are also others if you do a quick search). You just drop your photo in and it searches web pages for it. Mostly, your website and social media accounts will show up. Places you have posted your image. But, it will also find if anyone is using that image on their site and you can follow the links to see if it is being used illegally. I must say, I have never personally done this. It seems like such a time commitment and I just can't justify the time. But it is available if I ever need it and that is comforting.
The moral of the story is:
You should live without fear. Whatever makes that work for you is what you should do. If watermarking helps you sleep at night, do it! If it's too much of a pain the ass, don't.