As Weird Al might have put it ‘Don’t Download This Photo

Melanie, who’s checking out the Aperture & Lightroom class asked this question:

I am just starting out to become a professional photographer and I wonder if you might answer a question. In looking at your photographs to try and learn from them, I noticed that you don’t have any kind of watermark on them. Is there a reason?

And here are my thoughts on watermaking my images on the ‘net, giving clients and subjects extra value, and how cool it is that we can easily be generous:
A quick first thought… remember why you got into photography… How fun it is to take a good shot and give it to a friend. Please don’t let business crowd out the pure fun of great images being seen by lots of people and making subjects and clients excited by your work!

Now on to the practical list:

• I don’t really do the sort of work that I’m trying to sell as stock, or resell. It’s really PR/Journalistic/Theatre work that I do.

• I always felt I make my money shooting, and while I try to make a bit extra here and there on print orders, etc… but the goal is to make enough shooting to not be pushing for sales of this or that

• I’m an open-sourcer at heart and really buy into the whole thing about the ‘net and sharing. If someone I photograph wants to snag a low-res shot I’ve posted online and put it on their Myspace or blog or whatever, I just think it’s part of the cool way the web works. I’m also a Christian, and like to be working in a positive, generous, caring way… and giving back to subjects (that often put up with a lot from us shooters!). I think photogs have always been anal about rights and reuse fees and scratching for every last cent. I realize I’m totally on the outside on this issue compared to other shooters. I remember reading a newsletter from one of the big photo associations and it was all about ‘clients pushing me for this, and they’re awful jerks because of that, and so cheap’ and I thought… ‘wow, what fun meetings they must have’ 😉

• In a business sense, I think that looseness can be good advertising. The site gets tons of traffic. Like I’m very liberal with theatre playwrights (like Greg Coffin Convenience and Five Course Love ) and will let them post shots from plays I’ve shot that they’ve written… I just think it’s cool how we can do that now with digital: Give that extra value with minimal work on my part.

• I think watermarking usually looks tacky and ruins the look of the image. It says loudly ‘I care little about how this image looks but tons about your stealing it from me (you big nasty thief visitor to my site)’ 😉

• Being loose with this an reuse just seems like the most justifiable position to me… it’s what I’d want if I were on the other side hiring a photographer. (For more on my reuse policy, read’s ‘Clients Info’ area.) Related story: I caught myself scraping to save a few bucks by buying equipment online (and not like buying at B&H, but trying really to go cheapest places). I felt bad about that, and really try to give the local guys a chance now. I’ve also had some bad online buying experiences (with expensive stuff and big companies).

How’s that for a bouquet of reasons. YMMV. Every photog makes her own decisions, and if your work were one of a kind art, that needed to be posted high-res, and you were dependent on sales of prints… then you’d have to protect your images. But you also have to price reasonably for the market so that they are willing to pay it. It’s the iTunes theory of music download. Most people won’t steal stuff if it’s reasonably priced and simple/fun to get. And then there’s a hardcore percent that will steal it anyway and crop (or clone) the watermark out.

The other side of the issue:
Just to be fair, you can do a small watermark, like I have to do with my online lab Here

Also, I really don’t like when business clients try to publish photos I give them for editing and design…If you check out my client info HERE, I note that the big issue there is quality. Just using a photo that’s not been prepped is a crapshoot and makes us both look bad. I only charge $10-$20 to prep an image, and I think that’s a fair amount for a business to pay to ensure they look fantastic in print. And from a business, it’s just respectful to pay a photographer to use his images.

The same would be true of someone swiping images off of my site for any business purpose… that’s obiouvsly wrong, and if you’re in business, you should be able to pay for photos you want to use.

Hope that helps as you are making your decisions. Thanks for getting me thinking about it…

(PS: The Photos Above…that’s Mom & Dad and my Niece Alexa with boyfriend Drew from a family reunion)

Let me know your comments below.

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