Watermark Example (there was surely a good photo here somewhere)

Watermarking and Captioning Photos

By now you’ve probably noticed the photos I share have two distinct attributes. First, none of them are watermarked with a name, company or otherwise. Second, the photos come with titles and (relatively) long captions. Furthermore, I work to give you access to the highest possible resolution of each photograph. Why? I’ll fill you in on my process, and offer some tips about what you should do both of these very contentious ideas in photography.

Here’s why I’ve never thought watermarking was right for me: I feel it destroys the value of your photo. Your presentation of the visual elements is a delicate balance of contrast, light, distance and visual weight. When any kind of watermark sits on a photo, it takes a certain weight of its own. Some try to hide that with transparency, or place them in corners or hard to see spots, but there is always some weight (and impact) stolen from your composition. And, to me, they’re ugly and tacky.

When should you add watermarks to your photos? There should be very few of us that do this and only in the most obnoxious way possible (such as Shutterstock selling photos). For the rest, you should seriously consider why. What if people steal your photos? So what? Your watermark won’t stop that, trust me. Rudimentary technology is easily available to either delete or crop out these stamps. So, be obnoxious about it and sell, sell, sell your photos, leave off the damn watermark.

Without the need to add watermarks, you can think about titles and captions. When looking at any of my photos, you see them not only titled, but also with healthy captioning. In fact, most of the accompanying photo articles include behind the scenes details and much camera specification details as I can offer. Why do this when, as some say, these added details lead people in forced directions when photos should be cleanly discovered? I do this for the same reason I take photos in the first place: I’m telling a story. I want to tell you a story with each photo. It’s ok that you may interpret the photo away from the story I tell (you can), but I believe each photo is enriched by telling that story. I’m a storyteller at heart.

Should you do the same? Are titles and captions always required? No. In fact, the art of photography is open. You may be a more abstract photographer and want your audience to interpret these abstract ideas in a  wholly independent way. This choice is personal. I really enjoy the thought of someone seeing and reading about my mistakes and perhaps learning from them. Another photographer wouldn’t dare post any error-laden work. The truth is, the hard work is learning to express your ideas as your own; As perfectly close to your style as you can get them. Do. Try. Make mistakes and learn.

One great example of the right mix of captioning and watermarking is the great Trey Ratcliff at Stuck in Customs. I love how he opens up his process in an effort to help other photographers in their journey while telling great stories along the way.

Of course, these are very meta considerations. When deciding to photograph a subject, there are many more factors at play than whether you decide to share the photo’s ISO setting. Whatever you do, take a measured approach and think about the good you’re doing by sharing a wonderful photograph with the world. That is what will live on past the both of us. Imagine a gallery in the future showcasing wonderful photography, yet all of them tainted by unnecessary watermarking. Not cool.

If your photos are free of watermarks, but you need better focus, subscribe to my newsletter.