Ask the Geek: How Do I Copyright my Photos? And Should I?

Have a question for Ask The Geek? Send it to me.


Dear Ask the Geek,

I have a quick question about the copyright info you have on the photos on your blog. I have just started my blog, and I love posting my photos. Should I be concerned about doing that? I was hoping to ask your advice and a bit of your wisdom on the matter since you have more experience blogging. If one adds the copyright sign like you do, does that protect the images? Also, on a technical note, how do you add that to your photos? I use a Apple with iPhoto, but I also use a PC.

Any advice would be so helpful!
Budding Photographer – Blogger

Dear Budding Photographer – Blogger,

On my food and travel blog Ms. Adventures in Italy you might have noticed that I have “” on all my photos, but that’s not to say that it’s the right thing for everyone. Let’s look at each of the issues of your question in more detail.

  • The Difference between a Watermark and Copyright
  • All Rights Reserved and Creative Commons
  • How to Create a Watermark

The Difference between a Watermark and Copyright

First of all, let me clarify that the semi-transparent text you see on my photos is not a copyright. It’s a visible digital watermark that is an opaque text layer that I insert in my photos. Invisible digital watermarking takes the process much further and actually embeds identification information digitally into the file which cannot be seen. This is not very widely used and would be the sort of thing a professional photographer may do. It usually requires special software.

A watermark does not necessarily protect the photo’s copyright. To learn more about copyright, Read the { When I Have Time A Guide to Copyright and Creative Commons } In it, I touch on the fact that copyright is inherent with original works of art like photos. In short, you automatically “own” the copyright to your photos. It’s up to you to decide how you’d like your work to be shared/modified/re-worked by anyone that finds it.

A watermark, more than an actual legal mark is what I consider to be a social deterrent that serves two purposes:

  1. deter the user from stealing the photo which is unusable for many (profitable) ends
  2. help render it recognizable by the author or others in the case that it is re-used somewhere else

While it won’t stop your photos from being taken, modified or re-published, it may deter someone interested in taking the photo since they don’t have a pristine photo available for their means.

All-Rights Reserved and Creative Commons

I decided to keep my photos All Rights Reserved except for a small selection of photos on Flickr that I have released under the Creative Commons license: Attribution-Non-Commercial which means I expect to be attributed as the original author but that people can re-publish/modify/build on for non-commercial means.

Depending on your objectives, you might also decide to change your license terms on your photos. I suggest you read the When I Have Time A Guide to Copyright and Creative Commons and decide what’s best for you.

How to Create a Watermark

There are several ways to create a watermark, and several programs you can use to do it. Most are specifically photo editing software, and some are even free!

Some include plugins or actions to create a watermark, but there is a simple method to do it that will work in almost any program:

  1. Open your photo file (Geek tip: always work on a copy of the file so the original remains untouched)
  2. Create a new layer or text layer
  3. Type in the text you’d like to appear (your name, your blog’s name or your URL)
  4. Adjust the opacity or transparency of that text layer so that it is visible to the degree you prefer.

Some prefer to create a “frame” to the photo with their URL or to not use transparent text at all but rather the full text color, but it’s completely your preference.

Photo-Editing Software to Make Watermarks with:

Here are some suggestions of software to get you started. Making a watermark is something you’ll have to learn the first time you use a software program, just like any software, but once you know the steps it’s quite quick and easy, and you can set up a batch to do it on a group of photos in many software programs for your next blog post.

Good luck, and start experimenting!

Sara Rosso (aka WHT’s In-House Geek)

7 replies »

  1. Very comprehensive advice here. As a professional commercial photographer I use photoshop but I don’t tend to watermark as I tend to only make website images available in low resolution. It’s a bit of a balancing act of what looks acceptable and what protects your images.

  2. My husband bought me a Canon EOS Rebel T3i for Christmas, I am planning to take Portraits of people and nature. I would like to make it so that they can not make copies, but don’t know how to go about it. Any suggestions.

  3. I must take time to read the book you have written on copyrights. I’ve just started blogging and have been warned about people “stealing” photos. Thanks so much for your post on this subject! Greatly appreciated!

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Director of Product Marketing @ HubSpot. Early hire @ Automattic / Founder World Nutella Day. MBA Alumni Advisory Board @ Santa Clara University.

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