Watermarks and signatures on photos. When, where and why?

I’ve been having a dilemma. Should I put watermarks and signatures on my digital and printed photos. At what places and in what occasions.

There are many problems here that I think every photographer solves for himself but it’s often wrong.

Let’s break it down into two categories printed works and digital works.

Printed works

Obviously with printed works I don’t put any watermarks across the images but my dilemma is with signatures. And with printed works it’s not the question of protecting the work but about what’s better looking, better practice and what adds or decreases the value of the final product.

As a no-name photographer, should I put my signature digitally on the front of the image (left or right corner) or should I sign it at the back and leave the front of the print clean?

Do I loose or gain any value by signing it at the front for everyone to see? Does it reduce from the experience?

Should I and what should I write on the back?

Digital images

Here the issue is mostly about protecting the work but also about branding. Images are often shared and reshared without a credit. Should one put a signature on every “pro” image shared online to increase it’s branding presence and establish his/her name or does that look amateurish?

Obviously when delivering images that to the client for selection I put a watermark at the middle of the image. And the final deliverable is a clean image without any watermark or signatures.

The issue is with websites and social media. Should I put a signature at the corner? Should I put a watermark at the corner? Should I put it in the middle of the image?

I’ve had images on social media with a signature in the lower right/left corner but that didn’t stop a company to steal it, crop it and start producing magnets, post cards etc. That’s when I removed everything.

Recently I’ve heard a suggestion that I should publish my work online without any watermarks or signatures and just call a lawyer to make me some larger sum of money when somebody steals my work. And that I should basically bait people to sue them later for a good sum. That was told to me by some lawyer. I find that idea repulsive but the guy has a point tho. If I’ve sued or just ha a lawyer send the invoice every time someone stole my work I could have probably earned more money then by selling digital images and prints. They did make money off of my work after all.

Also this issue seems to be the same in printed works, people buy your print, scan it or just take a picture with their phone and start using your image in their products.

What do you think? Is there some sort of established practice for this? I mean using signatures and watermarks, placement etc across various mediums? Would I be a bad person to basically post everything online and just have some guy suing and sending invoices to everyone? I was assured that most people pay up without the case ever going to court. And I’m talking like 4-5k eur per photo which is roughly half what a person makes here in a year.

Btw, this was told to me by a lawyer at some print shop and not the official consultation. I think he hangs around there and gives out cards to every photographer so he might be just baiting me and others :stuck_out_tongue:

Bonus issue

Now this one is a real head spinner for me but makes complete sense and a real danger in today’s world of IP as I understand it (with my little understanding of IP besides GPL, BSD, MIT and CC). I’ve heard recently that even a signature can be stolen and that if one is serious about it he must trademark it. Otherwise someone might take your signature, create a trademark and sue you.


It’s a balancing act. If the public doesn’t see your photos you won’t sell anything, but whenever a photo is out in the public there’s a chance someone will rip it off, sometimes just for a personal Facebook post, but sometimes for making products they sell at a profit.

For social media I put a copyright notice along the bottom of a photo, along with my email address. These are low resolution files, generally 800 or 1000 pixels on the short side, saved at about 70% jpeg quality. I’ll often make these posts public and even encourage people to share. After all, it’s free advertising, and I’ve made numerous sales from customers contacting me because of my email address right on the photos. Sure, somebody might rip it off and make a fridge magnet but that’s a trade off, and with the resolution they can’t do much more than that. Personally I don’t like copyright notices right in the middle of photos as it distracts from the beauty of the image, and sends a message to the client that you don’t trust him.

Prints: Lately I’ve been offering customers the option of having a white border all around the photo, for example a 16x20 inch image printed on a 20x24 inch paper so there’s a 2 inch white border on all sides. In the bottom white border I’ll write the title of the photo on the left and the signature on the right. I’ll also provide a certificate of authenticity printed on a separate piece of paper. This adds value for very little cost and effort and the customers really like it. I don’t like to write in the image area.


What I’d consider the decent version of this is: Send the offending party a notice, explaining how this is your property and offering them a business deal to make the usage legitimate. Thus you might get a new customer and generally show that you are a well-meaning, reasonable person to trade with. If they do not comply, then you have every right to sue and I don’t see anything repulsive about that.


Personally I read a visible signature as a sign of a low tier photographer.

The signature has no impact on how people use your digital images (as you have found out). It might help people find you when they want to. My personal experience is that people do anyway. I use exif, xmp to tag my images annoyingly many sites clear that data. Lots of my images are shared on Pinterest which I dislike not because of the sharing but because they lock people out and make money though walling my images in.

I think one shouldn’t put images online if afraid of sharing. Its the only solution. You cant get the free advertising and the lock in at the same time.

If you think its worth it follow the lawyers advice. I doubt it will make you a lot of money though.

For prints sign the back.

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I send invoices to those companies that without permission use my pictures. During 10 years I have only sued one company that didn’t want to solve things out.

I wanted €300, he didn’t want to answer and when he did after a month he said €30. I said €50 if he paid immediately but he just said “€30 or you will have to sue me to get more”. So I did.

€300 + €90 for the court fee. He never answered the court and lost because of that.


For what it’s worth, I think about the same things but don’t really have a definitive answer.

Social media - you have to make a deal with the devil. I put watermarks in the corners and never post anything above 1k. Just know that once you post it the site generally has the right to do whatever they want with the photo. But as has been said, it’s “free” advertising. Even with watermarks though, it’s very easy to crop or brush out watermarks so if it concerns you, you really shouldn’t post it.

Illegal use - I agree with Peter. If someone is using your photo without permission, just contact them and try to work out a deal first because lawyers cost money.

Prints - That’s a tough one. In some ways, signatures can detract from an image but at the same time, I’d hate to think someone has my print hanging and when someone looks at it, they can’t figure out who the artist is, or the buyer “forgets” where they got it from. If I did my own prints I would at least put my name on the back. If you are hand signing your own prints, perhaps you can ask the client what they want.

Not much help I’m afraid, but my two cents.

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Thanks everyone for your answers. There are some good advices and opinions here!

I was thinking about that. What kind of content do you put there? Do you have any unique serial number or something?

I don’t put a serial number unless it’s a numbered or limited edition. Here’s a sample of one I provided with a print from a negative my father took.
Certificate of Authenticity Vallarta with photo.pdf (105.2 KB)

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Thanks, this is helpful. I was thinking of putting some serial or even stamping it but maybe that’s not even that important. So it’s more to provide some context to the image rather than a formal document.

I haven’t been using a stamp, but it’s not a bad idea. There are pros and cons to limited edition, but I haven’t been doing that.

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