In a previous post, I commented on the value of watermarks and on ways to protect your photographs from unauthorized use. The bottom line: if someone really wants to use your work without your permission, they will find a way to do so.
That said, there is both artistic and practical value in marking a photograph as yours. This post looks at some of the more popular ways to do that.
So why mark a photograph at all? In some situations, it isn’t appropriate, such as when your image has been selected for publication. Credit is given in other ways here. It may also not be appropriate when you offer an already printed image for direct sale to the public. This latter depends on how you include your identity – is it a logo/business identifier or a signature? The two are not the same.
Artists throughout history have signed their work, validating its authenticity and saying to all that they are proud of the work. This practice has become acceptable, even desired, with photographic prints. The signatures are typically unobtrusive and neatly tucked into a corner, more and more not even on the image itself but on the border of the image. They in no way interfere with the work itself.
There are also prints offered for sale where the identity mark is a stylized “logo” (see extreme fake example on the right). Some are proudly displayed in the body of the print. Few are in a border. Some are on the back of the print. My first impression: this is a production line product – not one of a kind. But more importantly, the logo itself is an artistic creation – it directly competes for attention with the content of the image. And most logos offer nothing practical about the identify of the maker, even if they do “brand” the work. Most photography logos, let’s face it, are not instantly recognizable like Coca Cola or Microsoft. You would still need to check your purchase receipt or fully scan the back of the print to confirm who actually created the work. In my view, logos have their place, but not on finished photographic prints.
One disclaimer: the above comment does not apply to typical family momentos, such as vacation prints, school photos or family portraits. Here, the company identity is more important than the identity of the photographer, who is often randomly assigned to the event. The logo will be featured prominently in all final products. But this is, after all, production line work. The company logo is great advertising for the next project the company might want to do with that client, their family or their friends.
Back to those signatures. In this age of identity theft and misuse of any personal information, is putting a signature on a piece of work a good idea?
Yes, it still is. The challenge, though, is to create a written presence that cannot be used for any purpose other than identifying your work. In other words, don’t use the same signature that you use to sign legal documents or obtain money. That’s actually good advice for another reason too – for many of us, our real signatures are ugly and illegible anyway. So what do you do instead?
Collections of signature fonts are available for free or for purchase to allow you to sign your name with a flourish. They can directly match your photographic style, whether that be in your face loud or soothing and calm. Is your work street saavy and grungy? – find a signature font that has a lot of angles and sharp lines, that might be a bit messy and unpredictable. Does your work look like pastel watercolour or are you about creating relaxing moments from nature? – find a signature font that is light and flowing and takes the reader on the journey with you.
Remember to balance that artful font with legible, easy to read information. Some of the more script like fonts are very hard to read. Don’t go there. Try your hand using any of the free or paid signature fonts that are available today. Here is one such list:
You can also hire some help. One of the more popular services today is Photologo. Ignore the fact that they are labelling their products as “logos”. Technically they are, but they really are not – they are signatures. You do have the option of including one or two word subtitles with your signature, which might then classify it as a logo. Most popular is the word “Photography”.
If the artistic side of signatures isn’t your main interest and you are really looking to brand your work against theft, there is one new option for watermarking: invisible, unremovable unique identifiers embedded directly into your image file.
Why would you need this? There is intelligent software that can easily remove a pixel-based watermark, no matter how skillfully it is positioned in the image. So some inventive people have created a digital version, embedded in the image data itself. Special scanning software can pick up the watermark and display the copyright holder’s name and other details. Removing the watermark is nearly impossible without compromising the integrity of the image file. One provider of this service is Imatag, profiled last year in DP Review:
Advantages of this method: no visible watermark on the image to detract from the full impact of the image and of course, the ultimate in security.
Disadvantages of this method: no visible watermark to easily identify the work as yours and unfortunately, extra work and cost for the viewer to identify who you are.
I elected to have someone design my signature. I like it very much. It’s a lovely blend of simplicity with flow and movement AND it’s legible. When do I use it? I never watermark when posting on my website or on social media or when preparing photos for electronic display. I do have a large signature banner on my website, as you may have noticed. I do now “sign” any printed work, and do so unobtrusively, in the bottom right corner, in the border of the print. And of course, my new signature is now my identity for any business cards or other marketing materials.
Branding and identity is about choices. Every one of those choices should help your audience find you, know you, recommend you. If you keep that in mind, you will always make the best of choices.