How to stop people stealing your photos

How to stop people stealing your photos

More and more people are taking photographs and sharing them. Some are genuinely worried that their photos can be taken by someone and used without their permission. In this article, I talk about how to stop people stealing your photos and what we actually do in the real world.

Many people believe that adding a watermark to their photos will stop someone from stealing them. If you believe this, you are WRONG! Read on.

What is a watermark?

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a watermark is “A faint design made in some paper during manufacture that is visible when held against the light and typically identifies the maker.”

A watermark added to a photo, is visible information in the form of a text or some other image that has been added to the original photo. The added information can be solid or semi transparent to make it either easy or hard to notice the watermark.

Hahnemuhle Rooster logo watermark in mould made paper
Hahnemuhle's Rooster logo watermark in mould made paper

Watermark best practices

If you do use a watermark here are my best practice suggestions:

  • Keep your watermark simple and monochromatic. (No colour and minimal use of graphics.)
  • Keep it as small as possible while being legible.
  • Keep it close to the edge of the photo.
  • Use a semi transparent watermark
A photo with a large, ugly watermark in the center
No-one will steal this photo but no-one will want to look at it either.
A better size and position but still too bold
Lower the opacity making it semi transparent and unobtrusive

Reasons to Watermark

Photographers who share their images online and choose to use a watermark usually do so for at least one of the following reasons.

  • To stop clients printing photos that are only proofs (unedited photos).
  • As a form of advertising
  • To prevent theft
  • Add a personal touch if watermark is a signature
  • To let others know who took the photo when it’s shared by others

Reasons to not watermark

For every article telling you why you should put a watermark on your photos, there’s another telling you why you shouldn’t. Reasons for not watermarking photos include:

  • Watermarks are an eyesore and make your photo look ugly.
  • It’s a waste of time because it’s fairly easy to remove a watermark.
  • Your photos should speak for your work without having to worry about watermarking.
  • A watermark doesn’t add any value to your photo.

Is watermarking a waste time?

That really depends on what you want to achieve. If a watermark is only there to prevent image theft, then yes it is a waste of time. As mentioned, watermarks on digital photos are very easy to remove.

You may have valid reasons to use a watermark though.

Other Ways to Protect Your Work

So we mentioned it’s really easy to remove a watermark. So, the question is, how do you stop people from stealing your photos?


If you do want to put them out there for the world to see, put up low resolution images. Low resolution means small photos. Not necessarily small file size but small photo dimensions. You can see the dimension of your photos on a PC when you right click on the image and select Properties. The image size will be shown as pixels or px. 900px along the longest edge is a good size to start with. Most of the images on my website are this size.

Some people recommend embedding your information into the file itself. This is know as EXIF information but also as Metadata. However, you have the same problem as with watermarks. It’s easy to remove this embedded data. In fact, Facebook does it for you. Isn’t that nice of them? Having said that, I still recommend doing this. Information such as your name, a copyright statement at the very least. Your camera may even be able to do it for you. After all, you’re probably sharing photos on places other than Facebook.


Other things you can do

What it comes down to is how much time and effort do you want to expend to find out if anyone’s misusing your photos. And, if you find one of your photos being used without your permission, what are you going to do about it?

If you want to keep an eye on your photos, there are a couple of things you can use to help you out.

You can search for your images using Google Images. If you’re using Google Chrome, you can simply right click on your image and select “Search Google for this Image”. Google performs a reverse-image lookup, and displays websites that are showing that image, or similar ones. While many results may be other places that you have submitted the photograph to, this is a great way to see altered versions or unfamiliar websites.

Pixsy and Copytrack are free online service for photographers that allows you to upload a collection of your photographs from multiple sources. Pixsy crawls the web in order to find matches, and allows you to flag certain instances, as well as offers legal recourse for having the images removed or filing a claim.

If you’re selling or giving away digital files, have a contract that specifies what the person can and can’t do with the files. For example, files are for social media sharing only and are not to be printed/edited by them under any circumstances.

The reality is that most of the time, legitimate businesses will not steal your images. They will usually get in touch and ask for permission and pricing. This has happened to me.

Last words

What it comes down to is how much time and effort do you want to expend to find out if anyone’s misusing your photos. And, if you find one of your photos being used without your permission, what are you going to do about it? I do you Pixsy and Copytrack and have small success but apart from that, I couldn’t be bothered. I’d rather be out taking photographs.

I’d like to know your thoughts on the subject by leaving a comment below or posting to my Facebook page.

Download my FREE eBook now!

See the photos and read the stories behind 6 of my most popular photographs.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

By submitting this form, you will also receive an email about once a month to let you know about new articles, events, and products.

We will process your personal information as outlined in my Privacy Policy.

Was this article useful?

Let others know by sharing it

No Comments

Post A Comment