In response to the ongoing debate of “To Watermark or Not To Watermark?”:
If a photographer is a photographer because that’s their chosen profession, career, and livelihood, their desire to protect their work should not be lessened by this debate. Why not also decry people who lock the doors of their homes or their cars? I don’t know of any restaurants, doctors or auto mechanics who “brand” their services and products then allow free use (theft) without pursuing some recompense if it does happen. If they do offer free stuff, it’s on their own terms, just as it should be with photographers and other artists. We shouldn’t be “required” to give up or give in just because people love our work so much they’d rather not pay to have it. While I also agree art is an important component of a healthy society, why are artists compelled to “gift” their livelihood to that society and others are not? Honestly, I (and other artists, probably) would do this for free if I could live without money. Perhaps artists should be exempt from paying for anything in return for gifting their work to the world. I’d go for that.
I know this is an old, old debate, and there are photographers and artists who are consumed by it, which impacts their ability to do their work, blunts their creativity, and generally makes them grumpy. I do watermark my images so people know who the maker is, not really for theft avoidance because, as you say, if they want it they’ll take it. Just like locking your doors when you go out doesn’t deter the determined thief. I do agree that obnoxious watermarks are overkill (Would you like a photograph with that watermark, sir?). During a workshop I attended in 2001 led by Jay Maisel, during an image review session I showed some images with watermarks (during a workshop, yes) and Jay stopped and told everyone he didn’t know why anyone who posted their work online would not watermark their work, simply for the ability to be able to identify the owner, if nothing else. So, I see no downside and I don’t really care if someone doesn’t like it. It’s my work and if they want to purchase a photo for themselves I’m happy to provide them with one minus the watermark. The watermark also becomes the only identifying, traceable, means to find the owner when embedded metadata is removed (by services like Facebook, for example).
There is the distinction between professional and amateur photographers as it relates to watermarks and interest in copyright protection. But more often these days companies are approaching amateurs, using their work, for the very inexpensive fees (if any at all) amateurs are willing to accept (because they are uninformed).
I’ve also wrestled with the “clients hate watermarks” issue. Some art buyers hate to see them (just like they hate websites with black backgrounds). Again, if the mark is obnoxious, I understand. But I feel less inclined to remove them from my website display. If they want comps they can have a watermark-free image via the download process.
There will always be two groups in this debate. I prefer to be identified for my work when the purpose of my posting work is to easily identify the work as belonging to me. Watermarking might afford some small amount of theft protection, but even if the photo is used and the watermark retained, I am still identified as the owner of that image and that is more important than “sharing”.