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.