Commentary: On Watermarks

Discussions on watermarks are usually loaded affairs. The fact that some students are actually watermarking their own photos contributed to the level of sentiment weighing down on it. It does hit a bit closer to home.

There are different facets to the issue, which I would like to synthesize here:


Security and copyright

I’ll tell everybody outright. This is a fallacy. Watermarks do not ensure that your pictures will be safe from theft. Case in point: at the heels of the Mark Solis fiasco arose another alleged plagiarist. News came about of someone named Mark Lindo who apparently grabbed material from renowned Filipino photographer Manny Librodo. If you take a look at Librodo’s pictures, you will notice that he slaps a fairly large watermark on his pictures (or at least those which he posts publicly). And yet, all it took was a bit of mediocre editing to remove them convincingly enough so as not to arouse suspicion from those unfamiliar with the pictures.

Including a copyright symbol in your watermark does not mean that your pictures will actually be copyrighted. There is something called a poor man’s copyright, which involves your content, such as a poem, photograph or recorded music, and then snail mailing it to yourself. The belief is that the stamp from the postal service over your attributed parcel is enough to hold in court if the need arises. It actually makes a bit of sense. It also requires more work than your arbitrary copyright symbol in your watermark. But is it legitimate? No, it is not.

If you want to be protected by a legitimate copyright that will hold in a court of law, you need to submit your work to the National Library. Watermarks be damned.


Business and self-promotion

Yes, it can help, but perhaps not as much as some of you think.

The peculiar thing about this is that the real professionals don’t really earn much from what they post in public. Their bread and butter is off commissioned work where it is not necessarily good practice to watermark their photos either. Pros also earn reputation or street cred through word of mouth moreso than through portfolio sites.

If you do add watermarks, anyway, you’d better make sure the picture is good. For a significant number of people, a watermark can be an annoying artifact. That’s automatic negative points which the quality of your picture has to make up for. If it sucks, chances are, your name will be remembered for a longer time than the actual picture. And good luck compensating for that perception.



… or bragging, depending on what sort of light you want to shed on the matter. Let’s all admit it. Most of us started adding watermarks because we happened to take a picture that made us immensely proud.

The first time I shared the Oblation picture in this course site, it had a watermark. But as time went by, as I gained more experience taking pictures and looking at others’ works, I lost the stomach for it and stopped bothering. I felt it was too pretentious. The truth of the matter was that I just happened to be at the right place at the right time with adequate gear. Anybody under the same conditions could have taken pictures just as good. A competent photographer could have easily done a better job.

I don’t have a watermark because I have my personal sentiments and that I feel it does not significantly add anything of value to my pictures. However, this is just my opinion.

If, after all the things I have said, you still firmly believe that you need to add watermarks to your pictures, that’s your personal choice. Again, there can be value in it, but perhaps not as much as some of you think. At the very least, learn about whatever good practices there are in creating watermarks and employ them — strike that compromise between the pros and cons.