The Great Photo Watermark Debate

Why do people get so angry about photo watermarks?

You’d be amazed how polarised opinion is on photo watermarking is.

  • Many think it pointless, and will fight to the death to convince everyone so.
  • Others think it idiotic to post anything without the protection of a watermark

What is a photo watermark?

It’s a logo, text or some other “mark” you apply to a photo – in this example, the McFade watermark in the bottom right is a watermark.

leeds river 2015_12 HDR 105_6_7

In  this image, the watermark is very discrete – it has an opacity of 8% and fills the full width of the image.


Purpose of watermarks


In the photo above, the watermark identifies the image as a “mcfade photography” image. People seeing this will then know who the photo was by and if they wish to use it legally, they can google “mcfade photography” and contact us.

We can then work out a price for usage, invoice them and deliver the images.

The first image above, with the small bottom right logo, would be ideal for this.


Watermarks discourage malicious usage of an image – people may pass the image as their own, or use the image without permission on websites. This robs the photographer of potential earnings for commercial usage, or credit for amateur usage.


This isn’t something I’d really thought of till reading a thread on Facebook – but some would argue that putting your name across a photo is a form of “ego boost”.

Arguments against watermarks

They ruin an image

Indeed, they can, and often do, spoil the viewer’s pleasure.

This is an example of a watermark which ruins the image – it’s a full-screen logo at 76% opacity, and the colour tone (white) contrasts hugely against the darker background.

New Dock Leeds WY-8-2If you are posting images like this, then I think anyone would agree that you are looking firstly at the logo, and secondly, struggling to see the actual photo

A 5% opacity version of the exact same image/logo reverses the effect.

Here you see the image first, then the logo. New Dock Leeds WY-8

Logos can be easily removed

This is true for small identity logos, like in this street scene.

Anyone could easily crop the right side and get rid of the logo, or “clone” out the logo, by copying a section of pavement over it.

leeds city dec 2015 HDR 199_200_201-Edit

However, if we return to this image…

New Dock Leeds WY-8

  • The logo covers a huge proportion of the image so cannot be cropped out
  • The logo overlaps many things – like the railings and bridge tower, so is challenging and time-consuming to remove.

Whilst you can photoshop this logo out, it will take time – would the malicious photo thief want to take time doing this, or just move on to a different image?

Make it hard for people to steal, and they are less likely to do so.

If you upload at low res, they are no use to anyone anyway

It is true that a low-quality, low-resolution jpg file will look terrible in print. It’ll be pixellated and look horrible.

So this argument holds for things like weddings, where people want prints, but don’t want to pay you for them.

It also holds for flyers, magazines and anything else in print – where the low resolution will not look good.

However, most businesses use images online – for any number of uses. Any image you upload can potentially be used – no matter what resolution you use. If you upload anything, you want it to look good (otherwise, what’s the point?), so it will look just as good on an image thief’s site as it does on yours.

So should you add photo watermarks?

If the photo has any “potential future value“, then I would always watermark it.

If it’s a photo of my family around the dinner table at Xmas, then I’d not really be bothered – but the images above may all have some commercial use.

For example, the ironmongers shop may want a photo for a flyer. If they see that image and like it, but there is no watermark, then they don’t know who to contact for a high-resolution print version.

  • They lose – they can’t use that image as it’s too low res
  • You lose – you could have negotiated (say) a £100 fee

Which watermarks should you use?

Logos are better than text – they sell your brand and build familiarity.

If you don’t have a logo, then text will do – but make it interesting, use a nice font, place it cleverly.

How to I apply watermarks?



Lightroom’s “export” process has a “watermarks” section at the bottom. This allows you to choose:-

  • the logo file (use png if you can)
  • size
  • placement
  • opacity

Then you can save those settings for future use. Very powerful.

So why do people get so upset?

Who knows – photography appeals to an unusually wide range of people, from teenage girls making beautiful floral images of their friends to pensioners photographing puffins on the north sea islands.

More than any hobby, you’ll find hugely polarised opinions on just about every subject!


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