Use Branded Watermarks to Protect your Photography and Build Brand Awareness

👉🏻 Portraits of Gentrification: East Austin  ©Giulio Sciorio

If you want to protect your photography online, watermark photos with your logo. Using what I call a Branded Watermark not only protects your photograph from theft, it builds brand awareness. Here's why I use branded watermarks on my photos and how you can do it too.

What is a Branded Watermark?


I define a Branded Watermark as a watermark that represents your brand with a design that is in-line with your company or personal branding. For me that means - black, white with the Giulio Sciorio logo on it.


Big Brands Know the Power of a Logo

When we think of top brands, Nike, Apple etc..we know their logo and what it means to us. Many of us proudly wear logos of other brands on our clothing, stickers on our cars etc.

Example of a branded watermark in action

Example of a branded watermark in action

What I'm suggesting we do is brand our watermarks and show them on all our work that lives outside our portfolio site. I'm actually considering using a small watermark on everything that goes on my portfolio site,

When I collaborated with Nairobi artist Wangetchi Mutu, it was part of our contract with the Austin Contemporary Museum to use a watermark when showing the images online. The reason? Track-ability. You can see a selection of the my work with Wangetchi Mutu here.

In this case the watermark is hard to read but it's there as a subtle but useful means of protection. In this case the watermark was not branded but used as a means of tracking the work in the event that someone downloads and shares it without permission.

Branded Watermarks are not a guarantee

M first battle with an infringer of my copyright was with a major record label. I photographed a rapper for a Village Voice Media cover in 2007. The artists manager did not want to pay to license the work and poorly erased my watermark then used it on Willy's Myspace page promoting the album. 

That's when I hired Carolyn Write who helped me recover my fee and damages since the photo was registered with the copyright office. At the end of a three year battle and attorney fees I ended up with a net of about $1500. Not much money at all but the point was to make them hurt - take up their time and some money and make damn sure they think twice before messing with photographer's rights.

‼️Reality Check

If you use a watermark or better a branded watermark with the © and you name, you are protected for up to $25,000 even if you have not registered your copyright. If you did register your copyright and have a branded copyright and the court is more likely to find in your favor and you will get a much larger payout.

Thing is, if someone wants to steal you work they can. It's happened to me several times in my career and it sucks. When it happens, I go through emotions...mainly I want to punch them a good few times in the face...but once I'm calmed down I take bold action. My action plan for theft (you should have one of these) includes reaching out to Carolyn's team and let them do their job. A Branded Watermark will not guarantee someone won't take your work but it does tell them that you care enough about it to let the world know it's yours. That usually is enough to deter theft but if it's not, know the law is on your side.

Questions is, do you care enough about your work to protect it?

More Info on Watermarks for Photographers

In this episode of This Week in Photo, I discuss with Craig Colvin and Frederick Van Johnson the value of a watermark, if we should use it and much more. Want a deeper dive? Head over to TWiP Episode 526 for show notes.

Watermarking advice from attorney Carolyn E. Wright

  • Always good to put a watermark on your photos for many reasons (with copyright notice is even better).

  • Eliminates possible DMCA safe harbor protection of infringer

  • DMCA claims for removal of CMI when infringing (You don’t have to have registered your photo in advance to recover under this statute.)

  • Stopping innocent infringement defense (one way to avoid the infringer’s innocent infringement defense completely is to include a copyright notice with your photos.

  • When you post your copyright notice with your images, then the infringer cannot claim that the infringement was innocent.)

  • Because it serves as a reminder that the work is protected or because the notice interferes with the use of the work when it is part of the photo.

  • A court is more likely to find that the infringement was willful when a copyright notice is posted with the photo, supporting maximum award of infringement damages.