How To Avoid Getting Your Work Stolen :: Digital Photo Secrets

How To Avoid Getting Your Work Stolen

by David Peterson 16 comments

You may have noticed, while browsing the web for photos, that some of the photos you see have a transparent signature in the bottom corner. Watermarks like these help professional photographers to keep their work away from the prying mouses and keyboards of the web. They help deter people who will take those photos and put them to use without giving any recognition or royalty to the photographer who took them.

Should you start doing this? It all depends on your priorities as a photographer and how much trouble you are willing to go through to put your watermark on every photo. If you plan on selling your photos, the watermark is an absolute must. You want to make it as difficult as possible for someone to take your photos, put them online, and use them without your permission. You might not be thinking this is too serious of an issue right now, but i've heard more than enough stories of professional photographers who saw their photos published in magazines, websites, and other media with no payment given and no permission asked.

Most social media sites are NOT safe

If you put your photography up on Flickr, or any other social media website, almost anyone can easily download your pictures and use them for their own projects, free of charge. Flickr does have some settings that allow you to control which photos are available for download, but this still isn’t a perfect safeguard. Anybody with screen capture software can easily go in, take a screenshot with your photo in it, and then crop your photo out of the screenshot. In the end, it’s no different from having the photo online and available for download.

Photo piracy is so widespread on the internet that many sites selling photos have taken to using watermarks on all of their preview images. is a good example. Every photo you look at has a big white “X” through it so you can see the photo, but you can’t use screen capture software to steal it. Because no sane person has the time to go through each photo and try to remove the watermark, this is a practically foolproof way to protect them.

Most photographers don’t go through the trouble of putting a big white X through their photos, but they do use a watermark with a drop shadow in the lower right corner. This is a little easier to pull of in Photoshop, and you still get the benefit of showing the user your work in an unobstructed way.

How To Create Your Own Watermark

Creating your own watermark in Photoshop has never been easier. Just open up the photo you want to place the watermark on, and click on the text tool (the button with the T) . Next, bring the text tool to the lower righthand corner of the photo, and click where you want to place your watermark. Don’t worry if it isn’t exactly where you want it right now. You can always move it around later.

Now pick a color and font for your text, and then type your name with the year you have produced and copyrighted your image. Once that is done, you will want to make the text more transparent by changing the opacity of your text layer to 50%. The toggle for this is located just above the text layer.

Now it’s time to add a drop shadow for a more professional look. To do this, head over to the layers control panel and select the text layer with your name on it. Down at the bottom on the layer menu, you will see a little cursive f symbol that looks just like the symbol Adobe uses for its Flash platform. Click on that, and select “drop shadow.”

From the drop shadow menu, you can modify the appearance of the drop shadow underneath your watermark. I usually like to change the angle to 135 so my drop shadow moves from the center of the photo outward. You can also make the shadow more dark or change its distance from the text. Once you’re finished, click ok and save your photo. That’s all there is to creating a watermark.

In another tutorial, I’ll show you how you can automate this process and apply it to an entire folder full of photos. That way, you can take a bunch of shots and automatically watermark them for distribution on the web with zero extra effort. Until then, keep sending me your best shots for the weekly critique. I promise that I won’t steal them and use them in a magazine!

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  1. Stephanie says:

    Wonderful, informative articles and forum. Thank you for great tools for many of us!

  2. Brenda Grogant says:

    Thanks for all your help, I will be back in touch with you.l am new at taking pictures to try and sell I have always taken pictures of my family.

  3. Mary Riedel says:

    Great help, thank you. But does a watermark protect a photo from being copied or saved as a jpeg by another? If not, is there a method to secure a photo? I don't use Photoshop by the way. I use Nikon NX2. Thank you.

  4. Darryl says:

    Thank you I've already had a picture or two stolen. Then I started water marking everything. I do keep the originals "untouched," it's a bit of work that is worth the strain. I've learned the hard way to back up copies of everything I shoot asap.

  5. Lisa says:

    How do you prep a photo so that a person can't right click and copy the image?
    Thks for watermark tips, very helpful

  6. lowbudgetphotog says:

    P.S. Always make a copy of your photo to work with!! (Just in case, you know...) I then save it as "filenameWM" to know it's been marked.

  7. lowbudgetphotog says:

    In Microsoft Paint, you can use the text box feature to create a simple watermark signature. Use "transparent background" and modify the font size and color. Be careful, sometimes if you click outside the box you may have to start over, but it works pretty good.

  8. gopal says:

    thnx is a good idea...many times we forget to put the watermark on the images.

  9. David Peterson says:


    Unfortunately, GIMP is still to hard to use and learn, so I have avoided teaching it. It has loads of potential, but isn't there yet.


  10. Les Powrie says:

    Dear David

    Thanks for this and many other tips.

    I am trying to seriously use GIMP as my primary editing software so that I can teach others who do not have Photoshop. I find it a bit difficult navigating my way around it after using Photoshop Elements. It would be really useful if you could give directions around GIMP as well as around PS, if you are reasonably competent with GIMP. Sorry that this will result in extra work, but it would be a real help to me, and I am sure to many others.


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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.