Why I Stopped Watermarking My Food Photographs

Like most food bloggers, I want to do everything I can to stop thieves from stealing my photography and using it on their own websites. After all, if I take the time shop for ingredients, cook, set up lighting, shoot, and edit my photos, it seems only reasonable that I would get to enjoy the sole benefit of their use on the internet, without worrying about some unscrupulous jerk stealing the pictures and posting them all over the place.

Like many food bloggers, I have been watermarking my photos with a small, unobtrusive text link that mentioned my website’s name, rendered at about 30% opacity so as not to detract from the beauty and composition of the photograph. I’ve been doing that for about two years, and I’m going to stop. Here are my reasons why:

1. Subtle watermarks like mine are doing nothing to protect my photos. Small, unobtrusive text links back to my site, as on the watermark I’ve been using, may be more attractive and less damaging to the photo, but they’re also easily cropped out by anyone interested in stealing it. That’s the funny thing about watermarks; for them to be effective, they need to be big, plainly visible, and probably preferably in the center of your photograph. Placing big watermarks in the center of our images makes them less beautiful, less appealing, and ultimately runs contrary to our goal as food bloggers and photographers: To make food look beautiful.

2. Since I have begun watermarking, legitimate news organizations don’t seem to be using my photography as often. This one may be all in my head. But I’ve noticed that since I started applying a watermark to my photos, large food news blogs don’t seem to be approaching me about using my photos quite as often. I used to get a photo used on the Huffington Post, The Daily Meal, Food and Wine, or Foodbeast at least once a month, which was a great source of traffic and exposure for my blog. Since I’ve started watermarking, those requests have dried up, which leads me to wonder if the big boys don’t like reprinting watermarked images.

3. Any use of my photos by a legitimate news source are going to include my name and my blog’s URL as the source, anyway. The types of sites that are the only ones capable of sending you any real traffic, are probably also crediting your photos, watermark or no.

4. Any ownership or copyright claims made by watermarking can just be embedded into the photo as metadata in Photoshop or Bridge. Most casual thieves aren’t scoping the metadata of the photos they’re stealing, and it’s much more difficult to scrape out.

5. Watermarking takes up time that I could be using to do something else. As anyone who writes a food blog knows, time is precious. The less time I spend in post-production on my photos, the more time I can spend on actually promoting my site, submitting photos to food porn sites, responding to commentors, etc.

So if watermarks don’t deter thieves, are inferior to using embedded metadata, and are a waste of time that I could be spending on something else, but they DO make my photos less appealing, and make big news sites less likely to use them, why on earth would I continue watermarking my photos? That’s easy. I’m not going to. The battle against the little scammy scraper sites can probably never be won, but in the meantime, I am going to make my photos as big, bold, and beautiful as they can possibly be, retaining maximum appeal and publishability by legitimate channels, while embedding invisible copyright information for my own peace of mind. For now, it seems like the best solution. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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  1. Janice 6 years ago

    Great points. You have given me a lot to think about.

  2. Tiffany (NatureMom) 6 years ago

    Half the time I forget to watermark because it requires an extra step or two. Maybe I just need to forget it entirely. Thanks for this perspective!

  3. Eric | carpeseason 6 years ago

    Totally agree. I’ve always thought that even a subtle watermark creates an obnoxious focal point tension within the photograph. It will be interesting to see if you start getting more requests from the news org’s again.

  4. Couldn’t agree more…I am not a food blogger, but I do post a good bit of pictures. I have never felt that watermarking was a good idea, for the reasons you stated above. I looked at it from a thief’s point of view — if I want the pic, I’ll crop it out, if you make it unclickable, I’ll just screenshot it anyway. Those are the cold hard facts, whether we like it or not, and the bottom line is, my pictures look way better without a watermark, which is pointless anyway.

  5. For a long time I didn’t think my photos worthy of stealing so watermarking wasn’t an issue. Now that I’m getting better, I look at the photos with thumping big text all over the food and think, “I don’t like that,” so mine are just plain photos.

    Good post.

  6. The Red Bistro 6 years ago

    Quite agree Malcolm. I started my food blog a year back and have never watermarked photos, unlike a friend and fellow food blogger who stamps hers religiously with a large watermark. It’s like shouting, ‘hi, blog visitors, great for dropping by but I already suspect you might be a photo thief’. I boycotted a supermarket once where I live as they searched your bag on entry to the shop! I don’t like being guilty before proved innocent.

    And the whole watermark thing, even if subtle, won’t stop photo theft anyway, as you say. In the days of Pinterest, we’re all reposting and sharing all the time (hopefully with backlinks and credits). Like the previous commenter, I didn’t think my photos ‘good enough’ but they are shared a lot on Pinterest and pick up traffic from Foodgawker, so something my be working. I simply go into Google images from time to time, google my blog and see what comes up. If I find a real a usage that I take issue with, then I’d contact the site / blogger etc and see if I can get credits etc. The best we can do I think in this day and age as amateur food bloggers when pro photographers are being sacked from major newspapers/portals anyway.

  7. LaCuisineHelene 6 years ago

    I want to produce quality food pictures for my blog in order to be featured on FG and other site. I think when you watermark it does not look as good.

  8. mjskit 6 years ago

    Very good points! I started adding a watermark a while back but now I’m having second thoughts. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience!

  9. Michael 6 years ago

    Hello all, I am the owner of FoodPinup.com. I appreciate that it was mentioned in these comments. We are still in our infancy state and the site is growing fast. I will plug everyone who lists on my site and feature you on the first page for one week. Register and post your food. Share a link to your site, you can even post it in the photo if you like. We are open to new ideas and new partnerships.

    Thank you and I look forward to your post.

  10. Jerry 6 years ago

    I’m not a food blogger but do post original works on several sites I operate and do not watermark. But this article and everyone’s comments are very helpful as I am considering adding a recipe collection to one of my sites and photos will be an important element.

  11. Granted we just started taking our food blog seriously, we thought for weeks about how to handle pics and we just agreed that if people really want your pics, no matter what, they will figure out a way to get them. That and the watermarks do take away from the photo in my opinion.

  12. I wholeheartedly agree. These days, photo thiefs can easily get rid of a watermark on photoshop, anyway. I’m going to have to investigate more into the metadata embedding.

  13. Pop 6 years ago

    I have been debating whether to use watermarks since I started my blog recently. I always thought they looked a bit cheesy whenever I saw a watermarked image, so have been in two minds about it. I use Tynt but am not sure whether that adds attribution text on images if others were to post elsewhere.
    But it’s really useful to know that you can embed metadata in Photoshop, I wasn’t aware of that at all. Great post!

  14. Morgan Wood 6 years ago

    Oh, THANK YOU! Between that, and how much work it takes JUST to post to other sites… a sigh of relief!

  15. Petra 6 years ago

    I have never even thought of this, it does make sense so guess I will have a think and stop doing it!

  16. Ankit 6 years ago

    Excellent thoughts.

    This blog post also talks about why not to watermark your food photographs. These essence is that it takes away the viral effect of the photograph because it makes people less prone to use the photograph. The element of serendipity is lost.

    (Disclaimer: I work for Cucumbertown. It is a social platform for sharing your recipes and encouraging even average cooks to showcase their craft by starting a food blog)

  17. Michelle 6 years ago

    Best argument yet and I’ve been reading a few this morning. I just went into lightroom and resaved my export presets to no watermark. I will definitely keep up my metadata because that also brings traffic to my site with google image search. Thank you!

  18. JC Gibbs 6 years ago

    This was a great post and I agree with your perspective, and I’m not a know food blogger no not big channels share my material, but some others have taken my pictures and claimed that someone else shared it with them so they could never tell the source.

    I started watermarking my photos and I really dislike how it affects the composition, and I know anyone can crop out the mark, but for me the extra step is really quick and it doesn’t bother me and if it means that someone who’s trying to steal my picture has to also go an extra step I rather keep it like that for now. Maybe I change my mind in the future.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  19. Sandra 6 years ago

    Thanks for the different point of view.

  20. Tina Jui 6 years ago

    This is a really interesting article. I am new to food blogging, and I have not watermarked any of my photos, mostly because I don’t feel like I have a big enough audience to worry about it. Is it common to get a photo stolen (without a watermark – or even with a watermark cropped out) ? And if I don’t go the watermarking route, is there anything you would suggest to do going forward? What do you mean by embedding invisible copyright information? Thanks for any help!

  21. Kristin 6 years ago

    I agree. I stopped marking my photos. I use EXIF data. Quite a few photographers from CreativeLIVE stated the same thing. It’s unfortunate that people choose to misuse photos w/o permission. But, wasting my precious time is something I can control. Not to dwell on the negative and to move onward and upward in the positive.
    Thank you for your article!

  22. Ricardo Caicedo 6 years ago

    I not only don’t watermark, but also stopped looking at all for possible picture thieves. It’s not like I’m selling the pictures, anyway.
    As you say, time is precious, so the less time I spend on this aspect the better.

  23. Deepali Jain 6 years ago

    Interesting point of view and lot for me to mull over. Thanks for the perspective

  24. LaylaLovesFood 6 years ago

    I have noticed a lot of people on pinterest reusing my images in a wrong way so I am still a bit unsure.

  25. Connie | URBAN BAKES 6 years ago

    I have been fallen victim of small-timers stealing my photos and it’s frustrating. But you do have a good point on the big-boy sites. Haven’t been noticed yet on one of them but I guess I could give non-watermarking a try for some time and see how this goes. Thanks!

  26. Finally, validation! Every time I would be spending (too many) extra minutes setting up my watermark on a photo I’d think how easy it would be to crop out the watermark and “this really is a pain”. So, I’m done with watermarking, too! 🙂

  27. Ray 6 years ago

    I think you are really on to something. First, since your photo requests dried up that alone is a huge indicator of what’s going on. The other point you made about reputable sites using your photos would post a link back to your site anyway giving you credit. Those are the ones that you want using your images and articles. I was using them in the beginning and since have stopped. Good Post, thanks!

  28. Croque-Maman 6 years ago

    Thank you for this post! I am a new blogger and I have been using watermarks on my picture. To be honest I saw them more as an opportunity to advertise my website. Especially because as they are small and non intrusive and as such they can be easily cropped out. However I did not realise it could have the opposite effect and put people off sharing… I think I’ll try without watermarks now 🙂

  29. Lechon Lover 6 years ago

    some of my co-food blogger easily removes my watermark with photo shop
    i don’t know how he did it! maybe my food pic was too delicious 🙂
    there are always ways on how to steal no matter how secured things are.
    see my lechon food blog 🙂

  30. Now that you’re a few months removed from your decision to stop watermarking, have you noticed a change in requests to feature your photos/recipes? I am interested in a follow up.

  31. Susan 6 years ago

    Very interesting. I fought using watermarks for so long and finally started using a very subtle one. Your comment about Huff po, etc., really caught my interest. I was also featured on that site quite a bit. I haven’t been featured since I started using watermarks. And it does seem that when ever I find my photos on other blogs (scraped) the watermark has been eliminated. So, you have given me a lot to ponder here.

  32. shiv singh 6 years ago

    Really good Article.thanks for this knowledge…

  33. Edible New England 6 years ago

    Amen! I chose to leave my images without watermarks for the exact same reasons.

  34. You are SO right… I won’t waste my time with watermarking! Thanks for the article! 🙂

  35. Cj 6 years ago

    Excellent article that I completely agree with – Gonna share with all my foodie friends 🙂

  36. Joanne T Ferguson 6 years ago

    G’day! I totally agree with you too!
    Once photos hit the net, one’s photos seem to lose privacy and in some cases ownership.
    I am sure with the time you have saved, you are a lot happier with whatever else you have chosen to do!
    Glad I saw your post today and spreading the word too!
    Cheers! Joanne

  37. Jake 6 years ago

    Definitely some really good food for thought in this post (pun intended). I always knew it was quite simple for folks to remove a watermark in a photo if they chose to but still tend to recommend it for a sort of brand recognition if nothing else. But then again, you’re right about the meta data – that’s probably a better and more effective long term strategy for protecting images as much as possible. Many thanks.

  38. Interesting article. I work for CheenaChatti. I am interested in learning more about saving the copyrights as EXIF data. Wont this data be lost when the person crops the original image and save it as a new one?
    Would love to hear the thoughts of other foodbloggers too.

  39. I’m with the majority here. I’ve been considering dropping the watermark for some time and you’ve given me all the reasons why I should. Thanks so much.

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  41. Susan 6 years ago

    I think there is a javascript that can prevent right click thieves.

  42. Thanks for this perspective. I was considering adding a watermark but decided after reading this not to bother. You are totally right- the battle against scrapy sites is not worth detracting from your own quality for. Focusing energy on positive initiatives (creating fun and awesome photos) is often a better and more satisfying use of time than actions which spring from a negative (trying to prevent theft).

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  44. Stephanie 5 years ago

    This is SO interesting, and something I never even considered. It’s been such a pain keeping my watermarked photos in one folder on my computer, and the watermarked ones in another- I used the non-watermarked ones when I upload to Foodgawker and sites of that nature but the whole thing is a big pain. I guess I wanted to make it clear that the photos were ones that I personally took after making my recipes- I wasn’t quite so worried about other people stealing my pictures because as mentioned already, that can easily happen with or without a watermark. Thank you for the insight!!!