Different techniques of protecting your photos: Watermarking

Watermarking is one of the most common methods of protecting your photos in the digital world. Almost everyone does it and with varying degrees of intensity and success. The simplest way to place a watermark is to create an action in Photoshop or use the default watermark option in Lightroom when exporting your images. Lightroom will automatically embed a watermark depending on your preferences. This is obviously customizable. You can use a simple piece of text or even your business logo. Photoshop action process is a slightly more cumbersome one.

how to protect digital photos online

Lightroom and Photoshop are not the only options though. There are tons of other photo editing software available which allow you to insert a simple watermark. Watermarking ensures that your images are ‘labelled’ and people are able to see who made it. Actually watermarking serves dual purpose. The second purpose is to brand yourself. If someone is interested in licensing your images s/he has a way to get in touch with you. Obviously that means you will have to insert your contact information. There are two ways of doing it.

The first process involves inserting your contact number or email in the watermark. The other purpose is to insert your business information in the metatags that accompanies the image. Inserting Meta tags is very easy. Half the times that is done automatically when you insert an image out of Lightroom or Photoshop.

Is watermarking a fail-safe method of protecting your photos in the digital world?

Watermarking is not an absolutely safe method of protecting your photos in the digital world. I have seen clever digital thieves, using Photoshop content aware tools to paint over watermarks and or use much simpler technique of cropping to ‘cut the image to size’. It essentially means unless you put your watermark right across the middle of your image, there is ample scope of someone clever enough or good enough with Photoshop to steal, modify and use your images.


A slight variation of watermarking which uses a non-intrusive way of labelling your images. This involves putting a border around your images, usually white or black, and then putting your branding information on the border.

Editing the EXIF data

Editing the EXIF data in a photo editing tool is a decent way to ensure that your copyright information stays on the image no matter where your images go. Certainly this is not a full-proof option and any change you do to your EXIF data can be altered or removed. Still, you make that much more difficult for digital thieves from stealing your images.

What if someone still manages to steal your images?

Technology always has two faces. You can use it for the betterment of the human race or use it for self-centered conniving purposes. Unfortunately, the internet is not immune to this basic of human vices. Therefore, you have to periodically check for your images on websites whether they are being used against your permission.

how to prevent photos from getting stolen

One way of doing this is the Google image search feature. Simply drag and drop your image on Google image search box and Google’s powerful image search feature will scout it’s indexed pages for any likely matches. In the best case scenario there will be none or matches that are somewhat ‘like your images’ but not the same. In the worst case scenario, there will be some matches.

Remedies if your images have been stolen already

The U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a powerful tool in the hands of content creators and content owners. You can use this law to take down your images illegally used by people with no permission. There is an elaborate process for initiating a DMCA take down notice. The request to take down the copyrighted material has to be made by the original owner of the copyright. Someone who has been authorized on his behalf to act can also do the same. The request needs to be made to the ISP or the hosting provider of the infringing website / blog.

Unfortunately, however, the law is not that effective where the ISP is located outside the USA. The DMCA. In such situations you can send out a Cease and Desist / Demand letter that would demand that the infringer make a payment towards the usage of the images, or cease to use it. You could also ask for a link back to you, depending on your preference. Sending a Cease and Desist / Demand letter usually escalates matter, depending on whether you prefer to send it directly or through an attorney and whether or not the infringer feels that s/he has a right to use the images and therefore the matter can easily escalate into a full-fledged lawsuit.

Protecting your photos before you publish them

There are several remedies available to you for protecting your rights, in case someone steals them. Even if you can’t 100% prevent your photos from getting stolen, you can use these remedies to either get a reasonable compensation, or strike the fear of law and retribution in the hearts of these conniving con artists without faces.

tips on protecting digital photos

If your images are protected under the U.S. Copyrights office, you have a lot more power to claim for punitive damages as well claim of profits and the licensing fees that the courts will decide based on the reasonable industry standard for licensing of such images or your standard licensing fees for such images.

How to publish your images? Rights under the U.S. Copyrights law

Scott McNealy had once famously said, “Technology has the shelf life of a banana.” I would go as far as to say that the same is applicable for images. There are so many ways your images can be edited, modified and used. It is impossible to even find out that your best images are being used by someone sitting 10,000 Km away and making a profit out of it.

If you are in the US, the first thing that you should do, after or immediately before you publish your images is to register with the U.S. Copyright Office. Ditto if you live you outside the US and in a country that is not a signatory of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. This gives you the claim to recover damages up to $150,000 for an infringement that can be proved to be willful.

In order to establish that the infringement is willful you will also need to show that you had put up the words © followed by the year of first publication (of the image) followed by your name clearly legible beside the photo. Many of us get lazy at times and forget to either put a watermark or a copyright information.

In situations such as these the infringer has the option to defend himself by arguing that the infringement was not willful and that s/he had no way to know that the images were copyrighted. Additionally, in the event that the image was not copyright registered the infringer can even try to reduce the overall penalty down to only $200 citing his ignorance.

Protecting your photos on social media

Technology has certainly made it possible to freely and easily share images with clients in a way that was never possible. If you run a Facebook page and regularly post your best images to woo clients you know how important this marketing avenue is in the digital age.

protect digital photos social media

Unfortunately, an image hanging online is also susceptible to be plucked, edited and used. Thankfully, Facebook and twitter prevents this from happening in a meaningful way by reducing the quality of the images drastically. Try downloading your own images from your Facebook page and then compare them side by side on your computer. You will realize what I am trying to say.

If a persistent digital thief is still dumb enough to go for it there is a second layer of cover. You cannot simply right click and download someone’s photo like that. Ah! That’s easy you just download the whole thing and find the images right? Not that easy. But even then there are some persistent thieves who will find out innovative ways to steal your work. A good solution is to take out that interest. Upload images that are substantially reduced in size and quality.

What are the various license types?

Licensing your images is one of the most lucrative ways to make money as a photographer. Thanks to the internet stock websites have migrated and have become a lot more accessible to the general photographic fraternity. These online stock websites or micro-stock websites, as they are commonly referred to, offers several types of licensing options to you (photographers).

Rights Managed

Rights Managed are one of the more common types of licensing avenues for the photographer. Images are licensed based on usage and duration. Let’s say that a client wants to license a couple of your images for a print run. You must ask questions like how many times the images will be printed, what is the run size, demographic etc. Based on these questions you determine a price. If it is mutually accepted you give the client rights of usage for the said images.

However, please note that you are not giving away exclusive rights, nor do you give a life time license for unlimited usage. If the client misrepresents the intended usage and or the run size you can claim for damages.

Exclusive Rights

Such licensing denotes you transfer the entire copyright of the image(s) to the client buying such a license. This dissolves all your rights and the client gets to choose the run type and use of the images. There are however, some limitations, depending on what the intended use of such images. The client will also need both model and property release for such an exclusive rights.

Rights Free

Rights Free denote that you give the client exclusive (or non-exclusive) rights to use the images. This is for an unlimited amount of time but for a one-time fee. For large printing houses or web publishers this is the more cost effective way to license images as they don’t need to keep track of the usage of the images over time.

As a photographer you make more money with rights-managed licensing. But the problem is such contracts are hard to get. Almost everyone is trying to get exclusive rights or rights free licensing. Having said that some clients look for exclusive imagery and that way they look for rights managed imagery which can then use exclusively for the duration of the licensed time period.

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib’s love for the road is second only to his love for photography. Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly. He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favourite pursuits.
Rajib Mukherjee

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